A Dish Best Unserved

Doormat Christianity  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:51
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Now for those of you that grew up with siblings, you understand the concept of revenge quite well. Growing up with brothers and sisters around your age leads to many opportunities to pay them back for the insults and injuries received from them.
Now I had two younger brothers, the youngest of which drove me nuts constantly. He would say things to irritate me and I would beat him into the ground.
I remember the very first time that he went to a youth camp with me. He was in seventh grade and I was in tenth grade. I had a plan to humiliate him in front of the entire camp in retaliation for being such a pain in the butt for so long.
At lunch one of the first days he was being particularly annoying and so I decided to put my plan into action. I finished my food quickly and ran back to our cabin. I got into his clothes and took out all of his underwear. I then proceeded to hang them up all over the outside of our cabin. When he showed up after lunch he turned bright red. He screamed and chased me into the cabin trying to hit me. He actually connected with one of his swings and a switch clicked in my brain. I then delivered one of the most severe butt whoopings of my older brother career. Let’s just say it was bad enough that my youth pastor had to get involved.
Now even if you did not grow up with siblings, you still can relate, right? We all have this drive in us to want to get people back for what they have done to us. We want to repay them for the injustices we have been served. But is this the way of Jesus?
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, meaning getting someone back is better when you delay it. But as we will see this morning, Jesus says that revenge is a dish best served not at all.
We have been in a sermon series called Doormat Christianity, where we have been examining how we are called to live in a world that oppresses and takes advantage of us. What are we supposed to do when others walk all over us like human doormats. The call of Jesus is a radical one and not natural. In Jesus’ kingdom the way up is down and victory comes through defeat. Humility is valued more than pride and service is the key to greatness. We now turn to the subject of revenge. Is getting even with others consistent with following Jesus?
Our text today comes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus has been teaching people about what life in his kingdom looks like and to do so he has been redefining and reinterpreting key understandings of God’s law. Our passage continues this address, considering what the law had to say about retaliation.

You have heard it said...

Matthew 5:38 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’
What the law meant
This is a repeated principle in the Old Testament law. It was given in order to put limits on the amount of revenge that could be extracted in the court of law.
Let’s say for example that someone broke your arm in a fight. You could not then turn around and cut their entire arm off in retaliation.
Typically, they would ascribe dollar amounts to the various offenses and would pay out rather than physically extracting payment.
The basic idea was that the punishment should fit the crime.
How the people understood it
Unfortunately at this time people twisted this law to allow for personal vendettas. They took what was originally given to limit revenge as a justification to go get revenge.

But I say...

Do good to those who wrong you

Matthew 5:39–41 ESV
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. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
Jesus has the authoritative interpretation as the author of the law
Notice what Jesus is doing here. He has just quoted the Old Testament law. Now, he is placing his words on even ground with the Scriptures.
It would be like someone quoting John 3:16 and then someone saying, “Well I SAY...”
Jesus is implying that he has the authority to declare the original intent of the Scriptures. Why? Because he is the author. Jesus is claiming to have divine authority, something that only God himself can have.
Do not resist evil.
Jesus is not only saying don’t seek out revenge for those who wrong you, but even to not resist those who wrong you. This is radically different than what we are used to. Jesus is calling us to do good to those who have wronged us. He gives three examples.
Offer your other cheek when slapped
A slap on the right cheek with a right hand is a backhand. In Jewish culture this was a deeply offensive action. It was more of an insult than an assault.
Jesus is telling his disciples not simply to ignore insults. He says to offer the other cheek. Invite another insult.
We want to smack them back. We want to hurl insults their way. But Jesus says let them do it.
Offer your cloak when sued for your tunic
Your cloak was the only thing the Old Testament forbid be used as collateral in the court of law. The reason being, the person would need a cloak in order to survive the cold nights and functioned as a blanket.
So if someone sued you to take your clothes, Jesus said to offer them what is legally your right to keep.
We want to defend what is rightfully ours. Jesus says to freely offer it up.
Offer to go two miles when forced to go one
The Roman emperor allowed soldiers to force people to carry their equipment as they walked along. The law limited the distance to one mile.
To be commandeered in this way evoked outrage, especially among Jews who saw their Roman occupiers as illegitimate. But Jesus tells his disciples to go an extra mile (where we get the phrase from).
We want to be outraged when someone takes advantage of us. Jesus tells us be even more helpful.
We are called to abandon the mindset of ‘I’ll show him!’
We want to get revenge on those who insult us, take what is ours, or exploit us. Jesus says we cannot do this. We want to be able to have an “I’ll show him” mentality. More than just not seeking revenge, Jesus calls us to actively do good to those who wrong us.

Do good to those who have not earned it

Matthew 5:42 ESV
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
Jesus also calls us to do good to those who have not done anything to earn good from us.
Give when others beg you
When others come to you in need, even though they have done nothing for you, Jesus calls us to help if we can.
We would rather keep what is ours than help someone in need.
Lend when others want to borrow from you
When others ask to borrow something that is yours we are called to lend to them without interest.
We are called to abandon the mindset of ‘What’s in it for me?’
We normally approach helping others with the mindset of getting something in return. Jesus calls us to abandon an attitude of “What’s in it for me?”
We are called to be generous and give free of charge

You have heard it said...

Matthew 5:43 ESV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
What the law meant
Now this is not totally in the Old Testament. The law does call Israel to love their neighbor. It does not say to hate your enemy.
How the people understood it
However, most people understood their neighbor to only include those within Israel. You were allowed to hate those outside the people of Israel, their enemies.

But I say...

Matthew 5:44–45 ESV
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Again, Jesus has the authoritative interpretation
Love your enemies
Jesus calls his disciples to love their enemies and pray for them. This is again, a radical request. You don’t love your enemies. Jesus says not only to love them but to ask God to bless them.
Love is not simply the idea of mere sentimentality. Love is an action, always. Jesus is calling his disciples to do good to the very people that most of us want to get even with.
Why? Why does Jesus want us to do good to our enemies?
Then you will look like sons of your Father in Heaven
The Father does good to his enemies. He causes the sun to rise on good and evil and gives all people rain. God extends general grace to the entire world. We all deserve immediate death for our sins, yet God let’s us live and enjoy life. He gives good gifts, even to those who hate him.
If God is really our Father then we will have a family resemblance. We will love our enemies just like God loves his enemies.

Unremarkable Love

Matthew 5:46–47 ESV
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
There is no reward in loving those who love you
Everybody does that anyways. Simply loving people who love you doesn’t uniquely reflect God. That’s easy.
There is nothing remarkable about loving the people who love you. Truly remarkable, Godlike love, is loving those who do not love you.
To return evil for good is devilish. To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is divine.

Be Perfect

Matthew 5:48 ESV
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Instead we must be perfect as our Father is perfect.
This is an echo of the command in Leviticus that we are to be holy for God is holy here.
We are called to reflect the God who called us. He is perfect in all his ways and we are to strive to reflect his perfect character.
This is quite the command. We are literally called to strive to be as perfect as God is. But that’s a problem because none of us is as perfect as God, not by a long shot.
Rather than reflecting God’s perfection we have behaved as God’s enemies and deserve God’s justice for what we have done.
Fortunately for us, God shows love for his enemies.


On the night he was betrayed...
Communion remembers the ultimate reversal of revenge. Rather than God taking revenge on us for our sin he takes it out on his Son for us. When Jesus hung on the cross God emptied all of his vengeance against us upon him. Communion is the reminder that God no longer holds anything against us but only does us good. So too are we then reminded to do good to those who have wronged us. Communion tells us, “You have wronged God, but Christ was wronged in my place.” We must go and do likewise.
If you are a follower of Jesus you are welcome to take communion with us. But before you do, I would ask that you consider how God is calling you to respond to his word today.
Who do you need to start returning good for evil? Who has wronged you recently that you need to actively start doing good for?
How often do you express outrage for something? We live in an age of outrage where we love to broadcast our personal offenses to the world. You need to drop the outrage. Outrage for language. For behavior. For politics. For lifestyles. For worldviews. For everything. Forsake your outrage and instead seek to actively do good to those who you find outrageous.
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