Turn the Other Cheek

Published by DonDavidson on

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he famously said “whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other toward him also.” (Matthew 5:39; Luke 6:29 is similar)

Did Jesus actually mean that we should take that literally? That when someone wrongs us, we should do nothing in response? The clear answer from scripture is Yes.

At a minimum, Jesus is challenging the idea that we should answer a wrong with another wrong. But he goes even further than that, insisting that we answer a wrong with kindness. Not long after his comment about turning the other cheek, he says that we should “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27 and Luke 6:35 are similar)

The early church understood Jesus’ remarks to mean that they should have mercy on their persecutors rather than seeking revenge. Thus, when Stephen was stoned to death, his last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)[1]

In Romans chapter 12, Paul is very clear that we must not seek our own revenge, but leave that to God:

Never repay evil for evil to anyone. . . . If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.[2]

In 1 Corinthians 6:1-6, Paul criticizes the Corinthians for bringing lawsuits against one another in the secular Roman courts, where they were judged by non-Christians. But then he goes even further, criticizing them for having such disputes at all:

Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather suffer the wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

Paul realized that treating a fellow Christian like an enemy was contrary to Christ’s teaching, for Jesus instructed us to “love one another.”[3]

Furthermore, treating an enemy with kindness and mercy could turn that enemy into a friend—someone who might then be receptive to the Christian message. And the early Christians were more interested in spreading the gospel and saving souls than they were in their own personal grievances.

With that said, I’m certainly not saying that turning the other cheek or loving enemies is easy—or fun. Far from it. If someone hits me or slanders me or insults me, the natural human reaction is to strike back.[4]  

But Christ commands us to ignore our human nature and act instead with kindness and mercy. And for me, that is one of the great proofs that the Bible is from God, for what ordinary human being would come up with a doctrine that is so clearly contrary to human nature?[5]

[1]. Similarly, when Jesus was crucified, Luke 23:34 quotes him as saying from the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) However, while that verse seems consistent with Jesus’ character and teachings, it is not contained in the most reliable early New Testament manuscripts, and therefore may not have been part of Luke’s original Gospel.

[2]. Romans 12:17-21, quoting Deuteronomy 32:35 and Proverbs 25:21-22

[3]. John 13:34-35, 15:12, and 15:17; see also Romans 12:10 and 13:8, Matthew 22:35-40, Mark 12:18-31, and Luke 10:25-37

[4]. Hitting back is particularly easy to do on social media, where anonymous insults are easy, and frequent. But as Peter points out in 1 Peter 2:19-23, enduring suffering while acting righteously is exactly what Jesus did, and this “finds favor with God.” For other examples of Christian endurance despite unjust suffering, see Matthew 10:22, Mark 13:13, 1 Corinthians 4:12, 1 Thessalonians 2:14, 2 Thessalonians 1:4, 2 Timothy 3:11, Hebrews 10:32-34 and 12:1-3.

[5]. The New Testament contains many other teachings that seem strange and contrary to our human nature, as I discuss in Chapter One of my book, Beyond Blind Faith, entitled “Christianity Is Different.” You can find a description of that book here, and a list of chapters along with chapter excerpts here. Or you can click on “Don’s Books,” above, to find information about all five of my books.


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