The Greatest Sermon in History Part 11
How Do I Cope with My Adversary?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 18, 2004

 

Main Passage: Matthew 5:38-42 (NLT)

 

There’s a story about a man from PEI who went to a football game in New York and ended up sitting beside a professor who had graduated from Harvard. Trying to strike up a conversation he asked, “Where are you from?” Smugly, the professor said, “Where I am from we do not end a sentence with a preposition.” And so the man from PEI said, “Okay, where are you from, Jerk?”

I heard about a woman who went to her high school reunion for the first time in many years and she was stunned at how old everybody looked. So she blurted out in front of everyone, “This can’t be my class, everybody looks so old.” She leaned down to a man who looked particularly old and asked him, “What year did you graduate?” And he said, “1948”. She said, “That’s my class, then.” He said, “Really? What’d you teach?”

When somebody hits us, we instinctively want to hit them back. When someone insults us, we want to make sure we get the better of them. In fact, if you’re good at returning sarcasm, the world applauds you as being quick-witted.

How do you react to your adversaries… the people who make life difficult for you? We all have those types of people in our lives. Maybe it’s a co-worker that always tears you down. Or perhaps an employer that you just can’t seem to please. Or the neighbour who’s always belittling you. Maybe it’s a family member you find to be controlling or even threatening.

I think the natural reaction is to strike back. If someone insults you, you come back with a real zinger. If someone belittles you, you put them in their place. If someone bosses you around, you stand up for your rights and declare your independence. That’s the natural response, but I believe Jesus instructs us to be supernatural. He tells us to be counter-cultural.

Robin just read for us some of the words of Jesus in The Greatest Sermon in History, the Sermon on the Mount. "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, don’t strike them back. Turn to them your other cheek instead. If someone’s going to sue you for the shirt off your back, throw your coat in for free. If someone imposes their will on you and forces you to walk for a mile with them, don’t stop there. Walk with them for two miles." It’s counter-cultural. It’s unnatural. And it’s only possible over the long haul because of the work of God in your life.

Robin’s been here now for a couple weeks. I’m a PC user, he uses Mac. I’ve tried sending him files for him to open, but they just don’t work. Our computers operate on two different operating systems. And the files I give to him won’t work unless they first go through a conversion process. I have to put them in a format that can be read by a Mac.

What Jesus calls us to do in this passage is counter-cultural. Our natural inclination is to operate according to this world’s operating system. And in order for us to work on His operating system, we need to go through a conversion process. We need to allow Him to change use from the inside out. We need to let Him transform our code. Only when our lives have been transformed by His power and presence in our lives can we live the way He has called us to live.

This morning we’re going to talk about how we can respond in a God-honouring way to our adversaries. Who is your adversary? It may be someone you work with, someone you work for, someone in your family, perhaps an in-law, even an ex-spouse, maybe it’s your loud obnoxious neighbour, perhaps an authority figure… who is your adversary? Who is the person you just don’t get along with? Who continuously puts you down? Who’s always looking for a fight? Who tends to push all the wrong buttons? Whoever that person is, you may want to keep them in mind this morning. Because I believe Jesus meant these words for you.

What I want to do this morning is take a closer look at these words of Jesus and draw from them three principles that we can put into practice… Principles that can make a difference in our adversarial relationships.

 

Principles for Responding to Your Adversary:

 

1. The “Farewell to Arms” Principle

Matthew 5:38-39 (NLT)
“You have heard that the law of Moses says, `If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.' But I say, don't resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too.”

Let’s talk about that “Law of Moses.” In the Old Testament, this is the instruction God gave the Israelites through Moses…

Exodus 21:24-25 (NLT)
If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it. Similarly, the payment must be hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

What’s the deal with that? That doesn’t sound like something God would say, does it? In fact, it sounds pretty vengeful. But really, it wasn’t. Because at that time in society, if someone did something to you you’d do something even worse to them. If someone threw an egg at your car, you’d run over their car with a bulldozer. If you caught someone in bed with your spouse, you might go at them with a machete. Whatever they did to you, you’d try to “one-up” them. You can still see that today. Look at Ireland, or the Middle East.

"Violence escalates because people hit back harder than they were hit to begin with."

So God steps in and says, “Whoa there. Hold on a minute. If someone pokes out your eye, don’t chop their head off. And if someone knocks a tooth out, don’t take a sledge hammer to them. An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” What God was doing wasn’t endorsing or encouraging violence, he was limiting it.

And by the way, people weren’t literally going around poking eyes out. This very quickly evolved to be monetary compensation. If someone hurt you in some way, a monetary value would be placed on the damage and that’s what you received. It became the basis of their court system, and it’s the same system we use in Charlottetown, PEI today.

So along comes Jesus. And he says, “Listen. I know the Law of Moses tells you that you can demand compensation for whatever injuries you sustain. That’s your right. But here’s an even higher way of living… If someone hits you, be willing to absorb the blow. Don’t feel you have to hit them back. That will only make matters worse.” In other words, say a farewell to arms, put your weapons aside, and be willing to take the hit. Whether those weapons be words, fists, lawsuits, whatever… put them aside.

Georges Clemenceau was twice the prime minister of France, and played a major role in the treaties that concluded WWI. At the Versailles conference, Clemenceau was on his way to a meeting with President Woodrow Wilson's adviser when he was shot at by a young anarchist named Emile Cottin. As Clemenceau's car sped away Cottin fired at least six more shots, one of which struck Clemenceau near his heart. Cottin was captured and during his sentencing the French Court asked for Clemenceau’s input. Clemenceau was first inclined to let him go free, but then he had a second thought:

"We have just won the most terrible war in history, yet here is a Frenchman who at point-blank range misses his target six times out of seven. I suggest that he be locked up for eight years, with intensive training in a shooting gallery."

 

When someone hurts you, you have three options:

  1. Get ahead (Revenge)

    That’s the natural response. Hit them back harder.
     
  2. Get even (Justice)

    That’s what the law entitles you to.
     
  3. Get beyond (Mercy)

    This is the higher way. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:4 that we shouldn’t only be looking out for our own interests but also for the interests of others. Understand, if you respond with mercy when someone else attacks you, your response can change their lives. It can soften their demeanour. It can disarm them. It can open up opportunities for you to share with them about what God has done in your life.

 

Doesn’t that mean that people will take advantage of you? Well, sometimes maybe. But, let me clarify. Jesus isn’t telling you to be a doormat and let people walk all over you. When Jesus was arrested and put on trial, a temple guard struck Him (John 18:22-23). Jesus didn’t fight back. But He did point out that what he was doing was unlawful.

“Jesus was not forbidding the administration of justice, but rather forbidding us to take the law into our own hands.”
~ John Stott

In Acts 22, Paul was arrested, tied down, and was about to be whipped. So he pointed out that it was illegal to whip him without a trial because he was a Roman citizen. Neither Paul nor Jesus responded with anger or vengeance, but they did point out that they were being unjustly treated.

So the next time you’re in a restaurant and the waitress short-changes you, you can point it out and ask them to correct it. But if they insist they gave you the correct amount back, don’t go insisting to talk to the manager. Be willing to lose five or ten dollars for the sake of that relationship. Because if you become adversaries, you forfeit the right to shine the light of Christ into their lives possibly forever.

1 Corinthians 10:33 (NLT)
I try to please everyone in everything I do. I don't just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved.

And one more thing. From what I understand, in that society the highest form of insult that you could receive was a slap to the cheek, specifically the right cheek. Most people in that day, as it is today, were right handed. So if they were going to slap someone they would use their right hand. That means, for someone to slap you on your right cheek it would be a backhanded slap. Probably the closest equivalent in our society would be if someone spit in your face. The highest form of insult. So it’s quite possible that Jesus was saying, If someone insults you don’t feel the need to insult them back.”

 

2. The “Burning Coals” Principle.

I’ll explain why I call it “The ‘Burning Coals’ Principle” in a few minutes. Jesus said…

Matthew 5:40 (NLT)
If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too.

If you were to live in Jesus’ day, you would probably own a lot of shirts, called tunics. You’d have a different shirt for every day, and if one got torn or lost or worn out, it’d be no big loss. You’d just toss it and get another. But you’d probably have only one coat or cloak. You’d wear it like a coat during the day, and at night you would use it as a blanket. Unless you were rich, it’d be the only one you owned, and it’d be of great personal value. And since it was seen as essential for survival, it was actually illegal for anyone to take it from you even through legal action. You could be sued for a lot of things, but not for your coat. That was off limits in Jewish society. Exodus 22 taught that every person had the absolute right to their cloak because it was vital to their existence. So if all you had left was your cloak, you were considered bankrupt.

So along comes Jesus. And He says, “If someone decides to take you to court and sue you to take your shirt, throw in your coat for free. They can’t legally take it from you, so just go ahead and give it to them.”

Why? What’s the deal with that? Well, let me ask you, why would someone be taking you to court?

PARTICIPATION

If someone is litigating against you, you have probably harmed them in some way. If they are suing you for your shirt, they are accusing you of causing them harm, roughly equivalent to the price of your shirt. Now, I suppose it’s possible that you’ve been falsely accused, in which case you should defend yourself. Admitting guilt where there is none is the same as lying. But if someone is taking you to court, there’s probably good reason for it. You’re probably guilty of harming them in some way. They may not be able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, but you know if you’re guilty or not.

So assume that you are guilty. Instead of compensating them with the bare minimum, say, your shirt, you should throw in some extra form of compensation, say, your coat, in order to make amends and salvage the relationship. Jesus didn’t say you had to go to extremes and give them the keys to your house, but give them a reasonable compensation.

One day Jesus met a man named Zacchaeus. Zack was a rich man, a tax-collector and a leading citizen in the community. He carried a lot of influence. But there was a problem. Zack, like most tax-collectors of the day, had cheated the people. He had charged more taxes than was required by law and pocketed the excess for himself. But after spending the day with Jesus, he changed. He regretted cheating people. So he told Jesus that he was going to go the people he had overcharged and repay them four times the amount he had taken from them.

What do you think the responses of those people would have been?

PARTICIPATION

I imagine there were some that were still bitter. Some that questioned his motives. And others who would have recognized Zacchaeus as being very sincere. They would have recognized that there had been a change in his life. Perhaps they would have asked him what had happened, and he would have had the opportunity to tell them about his encounter with Jesus and how He had changed his life.

Hostility and resentment would have been defused, relationships would have been restored, and I expect people would have entered the Kingdom of God as a result of Zacchaeus being generous when making amends for the wrongs he had done.

Now, as for the “burning coals”, that comes from an Old Testament Proverb.

Proverbs 25:21-22 (NLT)
If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals on their heads, and the LORD will reward you.

If someone is taking you to court, they are obviously your enemy. You can become defensive, bitter, rationalistic, or even antagonistic. Or, you can respond with kindness. You can diffuse the hostilities. You can melt them down with love.

 

3. The “And Then Some” Principle.

Matthew 5:41 (NLT)
If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.

Here’s a guideline for understanding the Bible. If you really want to understand what a passage is trying to say, you need to understand what the speaker or writer meant to say and what it meant to the original audience. If you come up with an interpretation that conflicts with how the original hearers or readers would have understood it, then you’re wrong. Because all passages of Scripture need to be understood in the context of the whole Bible, meaning no part contradicts the rest, and in the context of the times.

So how would the people on the hillside that day listening to Jesus understand what He was saying. “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” At the time Jesus was speaking, Israel was under Roman occupation. And they resented it to no end. They despised the fact that Rome was in control. After all, they were “God’s chosen people”. How dare the Romans make them subject to Caesar?

One of the benefits of being a Roman soldier was that you could take any non-Roman and require them to carry your gear for a distance of one mile. The Jews didn’t like this, but it was the law. So many Jews knew exactly how far a mile was. They may have even walked out their front door, turned left, travelled one mile and put a stake in the ground. Then they would have gone back to their home, gone to the right, and put another stake in the ground. So when recruited by a soldier to carry their gear, they would grudgingly pick up the gear, march right up to one of those posts and dropped the gear on the spot. They knew exactly how far the law required them to go, and they weren’t going to go one step further.

But along comes Jesus. And He tells the people, “Go beyond the bare minimum. Go beyond the requirements of the law. Go the required distance, and then some. Not grudgingly, not legalistically, but cheerfully.”

This would have been radical teaching. They hated the Roman occupation. I’m sure some of the people listening to Jesus would have gotten up and walked out on Him.

How does that relate to us in 2004? Well, we all have authority figures that we answer to. And we all have things that we’re required to do… some of them not so pleasant and enjoyable. Do you refuse to do those tasks? Or do you do only the bare minimum? Let me encourage you to go above and beyond. Do what’s expected, and then some. Put in a full days work for a full day’s pay, and even go in 15 minutes early or stay 15 minutes later. Don’t gripe about your employer and tear them down behind their back. Instead pray for them. Support them. Encourage them. Protect them. If you’re a volunteer, don’t just show up and put in your time. Invest yourself in what you’re doing. Take pride in it. Do more than you’re asked to do. Even in the church, if you’re helping in an area of ministry don’t try to figure out what you can get away with and what’s “good enough”. Strive for excellence. And do it cheerfully.

You just don’t see a lot of that today. Most people are only concerned about their own comfort. They’re not even going to do what’s required, let alone “and then some.” Set yourself apart.

2 Timothy 2:15 (NLT)
Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.

Paul wrote those words to Timothy as a preacher. But I don’t think it’d be a misuse of the passage to say those words apply to all believers. “Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker who does not need to be ashamed…”

Years ago, I made a decision. I decided that I would always strive to put more into the churches where I work than I get out of them. Because I don’t work for you… I don’t work for money… I don’t even work for myself. I work for God. And He deserves nothing less than my best. Everything I do reflects on Him. Not because I’m a pastor but because I’m a believer. So I try to do what’s required, and then some. And I encourage you to take the same approach to whatever you do. The believers in the church in Ephesus were told…

Ephesians 6:6-7 (MSG)
Don't just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ's servants doing what God wants you to do. And work with a smile on your face, always keeping in mind that no matter who happens to be giving the orders, you're really serving God.

Missionary Karen Watson understood this. She recently went to Iraq to provide humanitarian relief in the name of Jesus—but she was gunned down in the very country she came to serve. On March 17, 2004 there was an article about her in the Los Angeles Times entitled, Missionary Slain in Iraq Mourned.” In the article, it revealed that before Karen left for Iraq, she had left a letter with her pastor. The letter began, "You're only reading this if I died." It included gracious words to family and friends, and this simple summary of what it meant for her to live for Christ: “To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, his glory my reward.”

 

Those are three principles for responding to your adversary: the “farewell to arms” principle, the “burning coals” principle, and the “and then some” principle. Who is your adversary? How might these principles affect that relationship? Are you willing to give them a try?

Romans 12:17-19 (NLT)
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.
Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God.

“Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible.” The truth is, it’s not always possible. There are some people who will never make peace with you, no matter what you do and how hard you try. But that’s not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to trust the words of Jesus and put them into practice. If your adversary responds positively, that’s great. If not, then at least you’re doing what you can and living in obedience to God.


 

 

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