Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Standard Is Unchanged
Matthew 5:38-48

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: Mt 5:39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.   Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” (Matthew 5:38-42)

The Old Testament law specified that harm to another person required the guilty to suffer the same hurt they had caused the other.  If they had stolen something, they were to replace it with interest to make up for the loss of use of the item.   If they had caused bodily harm such as the loss of an eye or limb, the injured party had the right to demand they experienced the same thing, or to demand some redress for their actions.  If they had killed someone deliberately they were to have their life taken in return.  If they had accidentally killed a person they could give up their life voluntarily by going to a city of refuge. If they chose not to go to the city of refuge, the victim’s family had the right to demand their execution.

Jesus was not saying such a standard was wrong nor did he change it.  In Matthew 5:17, he said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  The standard is still the same. But a righteous man ought not be so concerned with himself.  He ought to be willing to go beyond just what benefitted himself. 

Unfortunately some have twisted this statement to imply that we are never to defend ourselves or punish wrong doing.  Jesus himself taught that if a person was doing wrong and refused to stop he was to be punished, in Matthew Mt 18:15. “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.  But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”

A righteous attitude would go the second mile to give a person a chance to make things right and be sure they were doing him unfairly.  That did not mean they condoned wrong doing.  If he persisted they were to deliver fitting punishment.  In much the same way. If a person needed food they were to make it available, but they were not obligated to keep supplying if the lack was because of his choices.  In II Thessalonians 3:10-12, we are reminded, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.  For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies.  Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.” 

Every person is to take responsibility for himself, and others should only help with what they are unable to do.  If they refuse to do for themselves others ought not intervene.  Frequently when this standard is not followed, so many resources are expended on those who refuse to help themselves that nothing is left to help those who can’t help themselves and may not be able to let others know about their need.  The effect is the same as if you simply refused to help, in that the helpless person still wasn’t helped.

"Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;  That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? ” (Matthew 5:43-48)

The law provided that every person had the right to defend himself.  Even those who made no claim of serving God got were nice to those who made it clear they liked and agreed with them.  Jesus was not setting aside that right to defend themselves, but pointing out that God was willing to forgive those who hated him and love them in spite of their hatred.  If people are to emulate him, they would need to have a similar attitude, being nice to their enemies.    

Even God’s forgiveness is contingent on repentance.  I John 1:8-9 states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  While we should not be holding grudges and avenging ourselves and should try to develop a better relationship, we are not obligated to just ignore their wrong doing either.

Under the teachings of Hillel and his followers, the Pharisees and Lawyers were focusing on very limited interpretations of the law to excuse an unforgiving and vengeful attitude to justify their rebellion against the Roman government.  Jesus is making it clear the intention of the law was not to define what a person could get by with, but to indicate what is right.

The Jewish attitude was much like the person today who says it is okay to drive five miles over the speed limit because they don’t give tickets if you are not going faster than that.  While they may not get s ticket, they are still breaking the law.  What Jesus was advocating was like deliberately driving five miles under the limit so there would be no question of breaking the law.  He was not lowering the speed limit, he was not changing the law.

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