Today we wrap up the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, and what a standard to meet here! There are a lot of commands in Christianity which are duplicated in other religions, such as the prohibitions on murder, adultery, theft, etc. But there's no equivalent to this in any other religion or philosophical system. The closest you’ll find to it is the pacifism in some Eastern religions, such as advocated by Mahatma Gandhi. But nowhere else are followers commanded to love their enemies like Jesus does here.
Now, as always, let’s look at some background for this passage, which might avoid misunderstandings.
• Slapping on the cheek probably doesn’t refer to threatening someone’s life, but more of a personal insult.
• As far as giving to someone who asks you for something, this needs to be taken into the context of the rest of Scripture, which is just as inspired as these verses are. Christians are to always promote love in their giving, and Paul commanded us not to give to someone who can provide for themselves. This is for the sake of both the receiver (who becomes dependent) and the giver (who no longer has the resources to give to more worthy causes). To enable someone to continue a self-destructive lifestyle by giving money to them is not loving them.
• Roman soldiers could command a civilian to carry his personal equipment for one mile, and the Jews were famous for measuring out exactly one mile and dropping their packs without giving one extra inch of service to the hated Roman oppressors. But Jesus came along and commanded his followers to “go the extra mile” (yes, this is where the phrase came from).
Do you want to be like your Heavenly Father? Every true Christian does, right? Then one way you can be like him is how you love the unlovely. I heard someone say there are three ways you can treat someone who mistreats you. Imagine if someone purposely damaged your car. You can say “Damage my car, I break your face!” Or you can say “Damage my car and I won’t do anything.” Or finally you can say “Damage my car and I’ll wash yours.” You can tell from this passage which one Jesus wants us to say.
So how do I do this? It’s one thing to forgive someone who slapped my face, it’s another to forgive someone who really, purposefully, maliciously set out to hurt me. Well, aside from the standard answer of “through the power of the Holy Spirit,” there’s at least one practical solution which Jesus mentions here: praying for them. I’ve experienced this myself: I was really angry with a co-worker who seemed to “have it in for me.” I felt absolutely no love or compassion for her, nothing but self-righteous anger, even bordering on hatred. Then I started praying for her, and my Lord started changing my attitude towards her. I thoroughly believe that it’s impossible to continue to pray for someone and also continue to hate them. Either one or the other will drop away. As you spend time talking to your Lord about your enemies, he starts to let you see them with his eyes. He’s in the process of conforming you to his likeness, and you won’t look like him until you do this. Like I said, pretty high standard, huh?
Lord Jesus, there's absolutely no way I can do this without your help. Please change me. I want to see the people around me with your eyes. Your eyes of compassion, your eyes of mercy. You're so quick to forgive me, and you expect me to do the same to others.