Gospel: Matthew 5:20-37
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Lesson: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm: Psalm 119:1-6
CLB Pastors Network – Rev. Omar Gjerness
This is a hard text to deal with. Let me start with two personal experiences with this text. Feel free to use any such material, or to disguise it and use it.
1. When I was in grade school we had several bullies on the playground. My parents stressed this Bible section, and I was bound not to retaliate, but to tell my problems to the teachers. They did nothing, and I became a target. The reputation of being a “tattle tale” did not do me any good. Finally pastor Veum’s mother intervened on my behalf with my parents and they “took the gloves off” I had 7 fights on the playground in one day. Never again. They left me alone from then on. Mine was not a fight prompted by revenge but self preservation.
2. At Wagner college I met a girl coming out of class visibly disturbed. The professor had spent some time saying the Bible erred and was inconsistent. In the Old Testament it said “an eye for an eye.” In the N.T. Jesus said turn the other cheek. “So the Bible contained errors and was inconsistent. I responded by saying “An eye for an eye is perfect justice. Jesus is saying don’t take it in your own hands. Leave judgment to God and the government.” And that is one thing you should deal with in this text. This is not a reversal of the Mosaic law. Look through the surrounding text of this Sermon on the mount. “Do not think that I have come to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” I think therefore it is necessary to urge against revenge on a personal level, but in the process not to make Christianity a religion that tolerates evil. Lenski says “Those misunderstand its meaning who demand a ‘non-resistance’ which would ignore or overthrow all righteousness. The law of love is not intended to throw open the floodgates to unrestrained cruelty and crime”
You could use several topics, revenge, get even, retaliation, pacifism. For my outline, I use the following:
1. As it influences the Christian
2. As it impacts society
3. As it illustrates Grace.
You can find many illustrations for an introduction to this text. Terrorism. Hatred in society. Car bombings. The media talk about a divided society. There are several things you can use in developing the first point. The example of Christ, who prayed for forgiveness for those who scourged him and crucified him. You can speak about how soul destroying a spirit of revenge can be. I use as an illustration how my wife had her purse picked in Israel and lost twenty dollars. That evening she told me “He got my twenty dollars. I won’t let him have my peace.”
The passage from Exodus 21:24 was to insure fairness in the judgment of courts. Moses, who brought the commandments from God, also said in Lev 19-18 “Thou shalt not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but shall love thy neighbor as thyself.” I think you should point out that grudge retaliation is not the pattern of the Christian church. It is love for the lost. Also think about how a spirit of “get even” has at times destroyed churches. My own anger at being abused may also affect me so that I become unfair in my retaliation. The Lord’s prayer tells us to “forgive as we are forgiven.” Your desire for revenge can also become a stumbling block for your adversary to come to Christ.
For the development of the third point, I also have some suggestions. As I mentioned, take care not to say the Bible was in error. Jesus is saying “leave justice to God and the government.” Romans 13:4 is appropriate at this point. I refer you back to the quotations from Lenski. Christianity cannot become a religion that opens the flood gates for cruelty and crime. This text is not a negation of scripture, but an interpretation and ramification. It does not sit in judgment on God’s law.
The final subject I have suggested is to point out the long suffering of God, and the present extension of grace. But there will ultimately come a time of reckoning. Again I will share a personal experience. In a college class on psychology, the discussion came up about preaching about hell. One class member was a friend of mine, but a card carrying member of the Communist party and an atheist. A Jew by birth but not by religion. He said “That is what I like about Jesus. He had positive things like the sermon on the mount.” I then pointed out to Dan that Jesus mentioned hell in Matt 5:29-30.
There is a final reckoning.
God Bless you as you wrestle with this. It is a difficult text.
People’s Bible Commentary – Matthew
“The Old Testament Scriptures contain many exhortations to love one’s enemies. For example: ‘If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him’ (Exodus 23:4). And Paul reminds us of God’s words in Proverbs 25:21- 22. ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head’ (Romans 12:20). To heap burning coals on his head means to put him to shame for his bad conduct. The desired result would be that the enemy truly repent of his hostile acts, receive God’s forgiveness, and become one’s friend instead of enemy.”
Albrecht, G.J. and Albrecht, M.J., People’s Bible Commentary – Matthew. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1996.
Commentary on Romans
“We should incite those who have hurt us to repentance by doing them good… Good deeds have the power to consume our enemies spirit, or to grieve them. So God converts those whom He does convert by showing them goodness. It is only in this way that we can convert a person, namely, by showing them kindness and love. Whoever is converted by threat or terror is not truly converted, as long as he adheres to the outward form of conversion; for fear causes us to hate those who convert us. But if anyone is converted by love, then the whole person burns against himself and is more angry with himself than anyone else could be angry with him, for he detests himself with the greatest vehemence. It is not necessary to forbid anything to such a person, to watch him, and demand satisfaction from him, for love will teach him all.”
Luther, M., Commentary on Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976.
The NIV Application Commentary – Matthew
“To love one’s enemies is to pursue a primary characteristic of God (5:45), but Jesus’ disciples are to emulate God in every area of life. In the antitheses, Jesus has used representative selections from the Old Testament to clarify its intent as God’s will for his people. The Old Testament is a reflection of God himself. Therefore, as the disciples pursue its intent and motive as Jesus has clarified it, they are in fact pursuing the perfection of God himself. Matthew’s use of the future tense here (lit., ‘you shall be perfect’) has an imperative thrust, as the NIV indicates.”
Wilkins, M.J., The NIV Application Commentary – Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.