Greatest Sermon in History Part 11
How Do I Cope with My Adversary?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
April 18, 2004
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
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
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
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
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
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
- Get ahead (Revenge)
That’s the natural response. Hit them back harder.
- Get even (Justice)
That’s what the law entitles you to.
- 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
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
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?
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?
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
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
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.