Text: Matthew 5:38-42
Title: Our Rights?
Theme: As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to remember the human personal relationships are not built upon fairness or rights, but on love.
What are some of your responses to these few verses? It is difficult, it’s impossible. Some of you probably would say, if I follow these verses, then I would be a “吃虧的人”. We can all handle 吃苦, but 吃虧 is another matter. Especially living in the west, we want justice, we want fairness, we want our rights. Therefore Jesus'' teaching here sounds unreasonable.
The passage before us is also known as the most basic ethical principles of God's kingdom. It challenges the very core of our existence: our inner desire to revenge, our honor, our rights to possession, time and money. In it, we’ll discover a simple but hard truth: with Christ as our example, we do not insist on our rights. Our relationship with each other is not based on fairness, but on love.
I. The oldest ethical law. Vs.38.
In ancient Chinese history, very often when an official spoke the wrong word to the emperor, it could cost his and his entire family’s life. The punishment is certainly not proportional to the offense.
In vs.38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’” This is one of the oldest common laws in the ancient Near East. It is also found in Exodus 20. The original intent was to be used in a legal court. Its purpose was to restrain, setting a limit for the maximum punishment. For example, if someone hurt your eye, in the legal court, the most you can do is to hurt the other person’s eye. This is to make certain that the punishment is proportional to the offense. This law is the foundation of the Principle of retribution.
However, in Jesus'' time, the Pharisees had applied this law to personal relationships. The original intent was to restrain the punishment. But now, it was used to see how far one could go. If someone has wronged you, what is the maximum you can do in response. The next 4 verses are Jesus' response to the Pharisee’s teaching.
II. Followers of Jesus Christ need to learn to give up that desire of vengeance.
Most, if not all of us, have that inner desire of wanting to get even when we feel we have been treated unfairly, we want to revenge. We want justice done. We want to be fair. We want to get even. We think of law suits, want to see what is the maximum we can get out of this. None of us wants to吃虧. For this reason, it is so difficult to us to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “do not resist the one who is evil.”
What does it mean? To the Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, it meant there should be no police, no soldiers and no courts. To Gandhi of India, it meant total non-violence. To others, it means Christians must not join the army or the police force. It must be total pacifism.
The GNB translates it this way. “do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you.” To those who have hurt us at a personal level, Jesus said, don’t revenge. Peter wrote in 1Peter -23, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Christ was wronged, yet he did not revile in turn; he did not revenge.
To follow Christ means there will be times when we are wronged, we do not fight back. Why? Romans , “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’”. Spurgeon said, we are the anvil when bad men are the hammer. We trust ourselves into the hand of the God who judges justly.
Jesus then gives us four examples of what it means not to fight back. What it means to 吃虧.
III. As a follower of Jesus Christ, we learn to give up personal loss when insulted.
Vs.39, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” What does this mean? In a normal situation, you are right handed and standing before this person. What will it take to slap his right cheek? Its very difficult, isn’t it? The most natural way is to use the back of your right hand. However, according to the Jewish law, to slap someone with the back of the hand is a double insult. So Jesus is saying, when you are doubly insulted, what do you do? Don’t fight back.
What does it mean to us? Not too many of us may have been slapped, but insulted? At the department store, the salesperson was impatient with you because you spoke Chinese English. You felt angry and humiliated, vowing you would never come back again. Someone damaged your reputation, your personal honor was at stake. You felt that people in this church, especially the leaders despise you because you are not educated or you don’t have too much money. They only pay attention to the educated, capable and well to do person. This burns you and you say you will never come back again. When individuals whom you consider as friends start to talk negatively about you behind your back. Or you were left out of an important party or meeting. This hurts, right? What do you do? We want to fight back. We want to clarify our name. We want the world to know that we are innocent and the other person is wrong.
Jesus'' teaching is quite simple, isn’t it? Don’t fight back. You see, when we chose to follow Jesus, we also agree to that take up our cross and deny ourselves daily. This includes denying our reputation, our honor, our ‘face’. This also means we are willing to 吃虧.
IV. As followers of Jesus Christ, we need to give up our right to possess.
Vs.40, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Tunic is undergarments made of cotton or linen. Even a poor person may have several spare ones. Cloak is the blanket like outer garment. It is used as a robe during day time and at night, as a bedding or blanket. An individual usually would have just one cloak. The Jewish law has a special provision to protect this cloak. It was considered as an inalienable right for the person to possess it. No one could take it away. One could not accept it as an overnight pledge. It is the person’s right to possess, protected by the law.
So, what does Jesus mean when he says, “….if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Something is rightfully and legally yours, yet there maybe occasions when you have to give it up voluntarily. Don’t we have the right to possess? Yes, but as followers of Jesus Christ, we may have to give it up. The truth that Jesus wants to bring it to our attention is: do we treasure our possession more than people? do we treasure our homes, cars, clothes, food and other things more than people.
So often in this society, when we perceive that our rights had been violated, we go to court and file a law suit. We see Christians and churches, insisting on their rights to certain building and lands, would go to all lengths to the courts. Jesus'' response to this at times seems too simplistic: don’t revenge. Let them have it. The kingdom of God is not about fairness, it’s about love and kindness, it’s about willing to give up one’s legal rights, it’s about willing to 吃虧.
V. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are to give up our personal time and liberty.
41, “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” To
understand this, we are to remember the Jews were living under the Roman
occupation. The Roman law would allow a soldier to compel a citizen to work for
him without pay. He could compel the individual to carry a load for one mile.
You remember the incident that when Simon of Cyrene was in the vicinity of
I am very much encouraged to see how some of you are helping others sacrificially. Of course you’d rather be at home sleeping at 1 or 2 in the morning. Yet because your friend’s mother is very sick in the hospital, you went there to be with him. You’d rather stay home and relax after a long busy Sunday, yet you went and spent many hours at someone’s house to help them resolve a family feud. I also think of those who came to church two Saturday’s ago, spent a large portion of the day to clean up the place. You have to give up something, your right to use your time on yourself.
Don’t we have the right to our time and space? Yes, but there are times we have to let go of it.
VI. As followers of Jesus Christ, there are times we’re to give up our right to our money.
Vs.42, “Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” You must be thinking: it is unreal. If I follow this, I would be broke. We work hard for our money. As a matter of fact, every year, most of the salary we earn till mid-April would go to Uncle Sam. We pay a lot of taxes. If you don’t work, you don’t have money. If you don’t have money, let the government take care of you.
First we need to see what Jesus does not mean. He is not talking about those professional beggars, who because of laziness, refuse to work and depend on others. Proverbs addresses this issue clearly. Paul also teaches that, “…..If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat…” (2 Thess. 3:10b) Jesus is referring to people with genuine needs. What should we do when they come to us for help? The answer is quite clear, isn’t it? Yes, it is your hard-earned money, but when someone with genuine need comes to you for help, help him. Yes, its our money, but we are told to share it with those with needs. In 1 Timothy 6:17-18, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. 18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,...” God has given us the riches of the world, for what? So that we can share with others.
Recently I read about a family who early on made a decision to live simply. They would not increase their standard of living as their income increases. This way, they were able to give to those who are in need.
Certainly we are all very careful with our money. We don’t want to help the wrong person. And very often this has become our reason for not helping at all. When we help those in need, it is risky, right? For we will never know whether or not this person’s need is genuine. Its ok. Sometimes we may need to take a risk in helping the wrong person,. If we refuse to take any risk, we may miss the opportunity of helping those who are really in need.
The passage we had just studied is short yet it is acknowledged as one of the most difficult parts of the ethics of God's kingdom. In these few verses, Jesus was challenging our very core of existence. He challenges us on our right to possess, our right to clear our name, our right to our time and liberty and our right to the money we earned with our blood and tears.
It is also unmistakably clear that if we are to obey him, our life will be full of 吃虧. But come to think of it, isn’t this what Jesus' life is all about? In Philippians 2:4, we have these words, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”. Humanly speaking, Jesus has also 吃了虧.
You see, 吃虧 is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it is a symbol of strength. It tells the entire world that human relationship is not built on rights or fairness, but on love. This love motivates us to be willing to give up our rights. This is not weakness. This is strength from above.