“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to” (Luke 6:27-31 ESV)
“I only punish you because I love you.” Yeah, thanks mom. But it’s true. In Hebrews it says that God does the same thing. So how does letting someone abuse me show them love? Why here does the lack of a secure boundary demonstrate love but in every other circumstance to punish is loving. This is really a rhetorical question, because the answer may already be obvious to you. For those for whom this is not obvious, you’re in for an “aha” moment. For those of you for whom this is obvious, stick around, I’m often unexpected. You never know.
The basic issue has to do with who benefits from our response. We should always take the hit for someone else’s benefit. So we punish to help someone else for whom we have responsibility, or over whom we have authority, grow and mature. It’s when the choice is whether or not to defend ourselves that this passage applies. And honestly, from the context, it especially applies to times we are mistreated for our faith.
Taking The Hit
Suffering because we’re evil is normal and is what is supposed to happen. And let’s face it, we’re all evil. But suffering because someone else is evil is not what’s supposed to happen, but is pretty typical, if not normal. The grace of our Master, the free gift of external life, is neither normal nor what we deserve. When we live our lives within this amazing gift from our Master, then we are expected to respond differently when evil picks on us. We are to also respond with an undeserved gracious gift.
Jesus purchased the gift He gave us by taking the torture and death we deserved, but then rose from the grave conquering death to deliver the gift personally. In a sense this is how we are to respond. We are to accept the undeserved punishment from those who really deserve it, and then give them goodness in return. This demonstrates that we believe in the free gift of our Master even if they don’t. It demonstrates our gratitude to our Master for what He has given us by “paying it forward”. He commands it, and in loving gratitude, we obey Him.
When we have a responsibility to care for or to lead others (or both), then we may respond to them in ways that make them uncomfortable or even hurt. But all hurt should be aimed at their benefit. Setting the benefit of the group ahead of their own individual benefit is what makes leaders great. It’s neither easy nor necessarily obvious to those involved, whether leading or being led. Here again, Jesus remains the supreme model. He has no trouble rebuking Pharisees and His own disciples. Yet He is kind to the sick, the poor, the crowds following Him; and also to His disciples and the Pharisees. Like a prophet, Jesus warns the people, cities, and so on, but like a prophet, He let’s them choose not to listen. In other words, Jesus sets boundaries with people, and suggests them to people, but ultimately He let’s them choose to follow or not.
Appreciating the difference between influence and control is not easy. Control is easy to attempt, but impossible to achieve. Influence is difficult to attempt, but easy to achieve. Jesus settled for influence because it showed the most respect for the people He came to save. He also set an example for leaders after Him to follow. Jesus cared for those under His authority and modeled a “shepherd” form of leadership. So, as the Shepherd, He corrected even when it hurt. And as the Shepherd, He laid down His life for the “sheep” under His authority. In this way Jesus demonstrated His love, even in correction of those He came to save.
The saying in psychology is that, “hurt people hurt people”. It’s a play on words that makes it easy to remember that the pain people cause stems from the pain they have suffered. In a sense they pay forward the pain they have received. Regardless of how you might view the validity of their perception, Jesus commands us to respond to them by also ” paying forward”, but paying forward what He has done for us rather than what they have done to us. What we declare with such a response is that Jesus has done much more for us than any hurt can overcome.
Another tenant of psychology is that hurts affect us more than happiness. The conclusion that is typically drawn is that we have to work harder to overcome pain, where happiness seems easily overcome. Jesus seems to either disagree or implies that the good He has done for us outweighs any hurt we can ever experience. Either way, He commands us to behave as if the pain doesn’t matter as much as the happiness He gives. Any review of the life of Jesus reveals a clear understanding on His part of human suffering. But while He doesn’t deny the suffering, He denies the effect suffering should have on our lives.
These two concepts are debatable and I’ve refrained from unpacking them or supporting my assertions from Scripture. Feel free to disagree. My conclusion from them though is that followers of Jesus are not to defend themselves from evil people. The reason is that followers of Jesus then become living proof of what Jesus has done; testifying at the most fundamental level of an assurance that our future victory complete overwhelms our present defeat.
So When Can I Fight?
I am a gun-toting Second Amendment supporter living among a whole state of such people. But I didn’t carry over even purchase a gun until was in my mid forties. I never had a problem before, so why would I start so late in life? Partly because I always was a supporter, but never had an opportunity before. But then, when the opportunity presented itself, it was for the defense of others that I took the opportunity. I don’t even know if I could bring myself to defend myself with deadly force. But to defend my family? No problem. To defend others, oppressed persons, when their lives are in danger? You bet. Let’s just say the church I attend isn’t safe for those who seek to prey on Christians. It would be a “life-changing” experience.
So that’s my view. It’s not perfect, complete, nor even well thought out. But I believe the basic bones of my position are sound. Do not resist the evil person except in defense of another when able to do so.
What’s your view through the knothole?