What is the application Jesus' command to turn the other cheek?

In a section from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-41, Jesus says this:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.’ 39 But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41 Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

Here it is again from Luke 6:27-36:

27 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31 Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

There are at least two things that are difficult for us moderns about this teaching. First, it requires me to ask myself, “who is my enemy?” To even ask yourself the question feels like a violation of some kind. We shouldn’t have enemies! We should love everybody! But we think that because we’re stupid. Jesus’ entire teaching here depends on our ability to make distinctions and to be able to identify who our enemies are.

So who are my enemies? I’ve been thinking about this in light of the social upheaval going on all around me. Are my enemies the marxists who live in CHAP? The liberal arts professors who teach at Indiana University? Church leaders who desperately want to be applauded by the culture, and therefore despise Christians who believe the Bible? What about the thief who comes to my house? Surely he’s my enemy, right? What about the guy in my church who makes life difficult for me? Or what about the family member who despises me? Is he my enemy?

It may not be politically correct to notice it, but here’s my observation: I’m white, Christian, male and heterosexual. It is clear to me that many in this country hate me and wish that I would just die. Surely such people should be considered my enemies.

Once we’ve thought about who are enemies are, we can then go on to the question of what it means to actually apply Jesus’ teaching here. It popped out at me this morning that the passage from Matthew 5 doesn’t even use the word “enemy” actually: “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

Don’t resist and evil person? Are you serious? How does that comport in any way with gun-toting, conservative American Christianity? Am I really supposed to acquiesce to the demands of an evil person in order to obey this teaching?

If you say “no”, then show me how, practically, to obey this teaching.

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I should add that this post by Lig Duncan got me thinking about this, also. There is no question in my mind that those screaming loudest for the removal of the state flag are the enemies of the church. They want to burn it to the ground.

But does this passage mean we should let them?

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Yes, definitely; you have to love me, Lucas!

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I’ve been thinking about Matthew 5:39 much recently as well. This is kind of the direction I was hoping this other thread might go.

I don’t have an answer for you, but I have long had similar questions. In my mind, the command to not resist an evil person would be simple enough for me to obey if my own life were the only one I were responsible for. Then I would be free to be a personal pacifist and take my licks unto the grave. But as a husband, a father, a son, a neighbor, etc., it seems that obedience to Christ demands that I be willing to resist an evil person in many contexts.

Learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause. - Isaiah 1:17

Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. - Proverbs 31:9

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives (i.e. to tend to their bodily needs, which doesn’t exclude physical safety), and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. - 1 Timothy 5:8

How do we marry all these types of things together with Matthew 5:39, coherently? I’m not sure, so I’m just going to be over here cleaning my .45 and let wiser men respond.

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My understanding of the phrase “slaps you on your right cheek” is not so much a place holder for all sorts of evil, but rather specific to a particular kind of offense, a backhanded insult. I simply cannot read into scripture that God is teaching passivism in this verse. But he is teaching us to be slow to anger and slow to be indignant, even when wronged. Our tendency is to react to such things with wrath and vengeance.

As for gun toting Christians, we need to be slow to anger but not slow to do right. I’ve always said, no amount of law classes or concealed carry seminars can make a wicked man suddenly moral. That is our task as protectors who wield the power of masculinity, and labor against a fallen world. Thistles and thorns must be dealt with.

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That was the same teaching I got in the past, Ken. I’m not sure if I could give you the source, but the explanation was that there was a difference in how you slapped a person.

First, it’s important to note that a slap could only be given with the right hand; to slap with the left is to invite retribution on yourself.

Second, there’s an assumption the two are facing each other. So a slap on the right cheek would be with the backhand. Culturally, that was considered demeaning; that’s how you treated somebody who was far under you. However, a forehand slap was not so demeaning and could be used toward an equal.

So what Jesus is saying here is that you need to have a spine. It should be noted, though, that either way, you’re still getting slapped.

I have heard this same thing. I could tell you which liberal church I was sitting in and roughly when, but I wouldn’t consider that source authoritative.

I’m pretty sure I first heard it from Sproul.

I read a book once called Fight about “non-violence.” It was by Preston Sprinkle. It dealt with this issue among others. I couldn’t recommend skipping that book enough. Unless you like gobbledygook. In that case it will be perfect.

I can’t imagine Jesus is saying never use violence, never defend yourself or another person. There are times when you must come to the aid of a person in need, when defending that person means hurting another person. Do it and be glad you could do it. I dont think you should have to feel bad about doing the right thing - at least not past what the actual act entails.

To your question about the enemy, I would say that His teaching to turn the other cheek (over against an eye for an eye) and his teaching on loving your enemies are closely inter-related but not equivalent.

Turning the other cheek is what you do in the face of a personal insult. You can love and give of yourself and be willing to suffer to show that you consider others better than yourself, and you consider Christ better than all and thus obey him. As an minor-ER doctor, I can’t always give people what they want, and I face a lot of insults and evil responses to that. I could always just point to the door and tell them to beat it. I rarely do this. I try to meet them where they are and give them even better care, even more compassion anyway, than I normally do. I try to “go the extra mile” as it were.

Thats my take, generally. I appreciate seeing what other brothers have to say.

A couple of asides…

I had an acquaintance who asserted that we should get rid of capital punishment and lock murderers up for life because that was turning the other cheek. I didn’t see how locking someone up for their entire life was turning the other cheek, though. (That was in a social justice class taught by Russell Moore. How the times have changed…)

Its funny how “liberals” like to say some bits of scripture were only for that situation way back then but not today - but they never say that about turning the other cheek.

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Helpful responses here. I’m kind of embarrassed about my question now that the cat is out of the bag, because, upon further reflection, I think it demonstrates some serious muddle-headedness. Nonetheless, I think that if I have the question, many other do, too.

In thinking this through, and in reading the responses here, my mind went to the section on the eighth commandment (do not steal) in the Westminster Larger Catechism. In answering what sins are forbidden by the eighth commandment, it includes this:

… as likewise idleness, prodigality, wasteful gaming; and all other ways whereby we do unduly prejudice our own outward estate, and defrauding ourselves of the due use and comfort of that estate which God has given us.

Essentially, what it’s saying is that it’s a sin to steal from yourself. I think the Westminster divines demonstrate wisdom far greater than ours with this kind of observation. Turning the other cheek cannot mean that a pastor would allow a wolf to come and destroy the sheep under his care, and it cannot mean that I allow a thief to come and steal from me, thereby impoverishing not only myself but my family and anyone I might have served with what God has given me.

It does mean that I think of others as better than myself, and that I be quick to overlook an offense where I can.

These observations really help in thinking through the social upheaval going on right now in the church and outside of it. A hostage isn’t “turning the other cheek” when he acquiesces to the hostage taker’s demands.

Thanks for the discussion, brothers.

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Yes, in an Arab or Middle Eastern culture, to be slapped with the left hand is the sort of thing which will start off a war!

Speaking personally, when I switched from Christian to public school in Junior High, and then my first year of High School, I was in pretty violent schools in Elgin, Illinois, where tensions between greasers, Hispanics, and blacks were severe, and hence lots of fights. After getting in too many myself, I decided I was a pacifist and refused any longer to rise to the occasion, which made me more vulnerable at 6’2" and blond. Then came time for me to register for the draft and I told the draft board I was a pacifist, registering as a conscientious objector (the Viet Name War was still on at the time).

A few years later, I was visiting my older sister, Deborah, in Chicago and that evening a young man began to make fun of her and threaten her physically. It was outside on exterior stairs hanging on the back of an apartment building. My sister is six years older and the man was older still, but I stepped in and told him to shut up and leave my sister alone. It was not at all clear he would do so, and as I stood there waiting to see whether he would disengage, it came to me that if he attacked my sister, I would kill him and it would be good. So that was the end of my pacifism.

Years later, at a conference I heard Chuck Colson say Christians don’t fight in wars and practice capital punishment because we despise life, but because we hold it in so much reverence that we are willing to kill and be killed in its defense. Does this mean there is no place for turning the other cheek?

No, but I’d now limit it to the personal such as sustaining insults against myself, then freely admitting I’m not so good at it. Love,

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This is a little surreal for me because I just preached the passage from Luke a few months ago at the height of the COVID 19 crisis, and that there were incidents of anti-Asian attacks. My admonition at the time was that if you are facing personal verbal attack, to turn the other cheek, not curse back, do good and pray for the person. My reasoning was that, someone’s business may have been ruined or someone lost a loved one because of this, and if they take out on someone like us because of our looks, understand and move on. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t defend yourself from physical attack. I came armed to my Chinese Church in the event of vandalism or something worse during those times.

But I think today’s hatred is different than what I experienced. The hatred today is actually against authority itself, and that’s why there’s attack on white heterosexual male, especially Christians. Love still applies, but I think you do have to answer the rant.

You guys are in my prayers.

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