Turning the Cheek, Standing the Ground

We are so easily insulted. We take offense at the smallest of things. We use the word “hurt” for our feelings as much as we do for bodily injury. Our automatic response to being insulted, offended or hurt is almost always self-defense. We must defend our pride. We must not let them get the upper hand. We can’t just let them step all over us. So we naturally enter fight or flight mode. We mount our skillful defense with heated exchanges, cold shoulders and sneak attacks. For many of us, our not-so-skillful defense is just to run away. At least the conflict is somewhere else. Jesus speaks to us, the easily insulted, when he says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. ’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:38-39

It’s helpful to note that a slap to the right cheek was likely a backhanded slap, which is not done with the violent intent to hurt your body. It hurts your feelings. It’s a major offense. You’ve just been insulted.

It’s Not About You

We hate this passage. It goes against everything we hold dear. What are we supposed to do, just stand there and let the next insulting strike land on the left? Yes. Repeat if necessary. How can Jesus ask us to do this? He’s not asking. He’s commanding (Mt. 28:20). It’s a part of being in his Kingdom. When we were brought into Jesus’ Kingdom, we were given the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins. We don’t have to fight for ourselves. Jesus has fought for us, and he’s already won. So, it’s not about you. We boast in Jesus and we humbly follow him. Pride has no place! The backhanded slap has lost its punch. It’s impossible to insult someone who has no pride.

Love Stands its Ground

To insult a Jesus follower is to cry out for help. In Matthew 5:3, Jesus blesses those of us who see our own spirit-poverty, which is our complete dependence on God and our pitiful, selfish attempts at happiness. In the next verse, he blesses those who mourn. Who are we mourning? We mourn all the rest of humanity, who lives in the same spirit-squalor that we do… and so many without Jesus. So, what’s the appropriate response for the Jesus follower who takes an insult? Love. Compassion. Tears… not for yourself, but for the one who slapped you. What kind of inner turmoil has led to this insult? What painful realities of daily life are now being vented? What can I do to be merciful? The first step is to stand your ground and turn the cheek. You can’t love someone when you’re defending yourself, and you certainly can’t love someone when you run away. Love stands its ground. “Real love is not afraid to bleed.”*

Known for Love

What if all the Christians just started turning the cheek and standing our ground in love? Would a Christian be recognizable by just the way they live? “I’ve said the worst things to Tim but he’s still always pleasant to me.” “I’ve broken so many promises to Janet, but she’s still the one I can go to with my problems.” “I keep telling Dan to stop hounding me about my addiction, but he’s the only real friend I have left.” When God’s people put away pride and embrace a heart of humility, righteousness and love, our actions will do most of the talking for us. After all, wasn’t Jesus insulted? Did he defend himself? No. He was willing to stand his ground and bleed because he loved us. When we model our lives after Jesus, we carry the message of the cross in the way we live. After all, what do you want to be known for? Loving yourself, or loving others because Jesus loved you?

*From “The Cost” by Rend Collective Experiment

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