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21. No Resisting Evil People?

“Do not resist an evil person”, the Lord Jesus.

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.

Bible reading Matthew 5:38-48.

This instruction, vs39, seems an impossible, or even foolish, command – until we notice that it was our Lord Jesus who spoke it. He directed it to His followers in what is called His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapters 5-7. In the Bible it is placed just before Jesus’ command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, Matthew 5:44. He says this is an outstanding, visible quality in His genuine people, those who truly do have God as their Father. In other words, it shows up. People around us can see it in us.

The ‘different from the rest’ reaction our Lord Jesus expects a Christian to have to any provocation, is emphasised in the Bible text:

“You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth”. But I tell you, “Do not resist an evil person””, Matthew 5:38-39a, Exodus 21:23-25 (italics mine).

When Jesus says “But I” He does not contradict the Old Testament law. Rather, He concentrates our understanding on fulfilling the spirit of the law, at a much higher level. It is a harder thing to do than any mere traditional or legal observance.

Try to see the purpose of the law. If you can get to that purpose in a specifically Christian way, a loving and serving way, then do so. Compare these Old and New Testament Scriptures:

“One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offence they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot”, Deuteronomy 19:15-21.

“But I (Jesus) tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you”, Matthew 5:39-42.

Do not take the law into your own hands. Let God’s law be the law. And obey it in the Spirit of the law.

I’m sure it will help at this point to think about our Lord and Saviour Jesus. His enemies mocked Him with a thorned- crown; they spat at Him, hit Him, then crucified Him. But He did not resist – either Himself, nor did He allow others to resist for Him, on His behalf, see Matthew 26:51-54,67-68; 27:20,26-31,35.

For a correct understanding of “Do not resist an evil person”, and therefore a right application of this Bible verse into our daily lives, we must realise that Jesus is talking about our individual responses to life’s circumstances.

Paul was to write very similarly later on, using three negatives, and one positive:

1. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil …

2. do not take revenge …

3. do not be overcome by evil,

4. but (positively) overcome evil with good”, Romans 12:17-21, (italics mine).

Our State or Country governing authorities do have the rights under God to confront evil by just and legal punishments, see comments below on Romans 13:1-7. But remember, we as individuals – or as non-governing groups, even though we are Christians – do not have such a God-given responsibility. If we take it onto ourselves, we are on our own, bringing on to our own heads whatever happens, and we cannot truthfully claim God’s backing. This is what often leads to one tribe fighting another – no respect for God-given mutual and neutral government at whatever level. Always remember that the duties of the State and those of individuals or non-governmental groupings are quite different. Our responsibility is to keep praying for our governing authorities regularly. Giving instructions for corporate worship Paul tells Timothy:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, Who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth”, 1 Timothy 2:1-4.

This was written when Rome set the authorities in place throughout the Empire. And remember, they were generally rather anti-Christian. Are we praying what we should be?

Further on in his Roman letter Paul wrote:

“the authorities that exist have been established by God … the one in authority is God’s servant for your good … but if you do wrong … they are God’s servants to bring punishment on the wrongdoer”, excerpts from Romans 13:1-7.

God expects us to “respect” and “submit to” our appointed governing authorities. Remember, at that time the Romans were a foreign power occupying Israel’s land and they ruled in a very oppressive, non-Christian (even anti-Christian at times) way. Does this parallel situations in Sudan and South Sudan today? What is God saying to us about this?

“Respect” and “submit” to them? ……. YES!!!


Because God says so.

Following the command “Do not resist an evil person” Matthew 5:39 Jesus gives us four examples where “we are to allow the ‘evil’ person to double the injury” to us, see verses 39,40,41,42. We must embrace more suffering while we inwardly trust in the Sovereign Shepherding of our God. Heaven is our real home and must mean more to the Christian than anywhere on earth.

As we choose to obey our Lord we “entrust ourselves to God who judges justly”, 1 Peter 2:21-25. Because a true Christian is ‘self-less’ he or she will not try to satisfy himself or herself with revenge. He/she will instead try to seek the best for the people who hurt him/her. This is not easy. It will probably mean standing against our ‘own fellows in the crowd’ who may well be baying for ‘revenge blood’.

Yet it is a Christian discipleship test for us – will we pass or fail? (That is: In God’s sight?).

While we were still His enemies God came after us, in 100% love for us and, sacrificing Himself bought our salvation from sin with reconciliation to God, Romans 5:8-11.

When our Lord Jesus could not put His hands together because of the nails, He nevertheless prayed for His accusers, His torturers and His executioners, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”, Luke 23:34.

“Do not resist an evil person”. A very hard challenge placed by God before us all. To ‘resist’ has three meanings in the Macmillan School Dictionary I often use:

1. To stop yourself from doing something that you would like to do;

for example: she couldn’t resist asking him where he had been.

2. To oppose someone or something, or to fight against them or it;

for example: antibodies in injections may help us resist infections.

3. To not be affected or harmed by something; for example: these shelters are designed to resist bombs and fire.

Whenever our Lord Jesus tells us to do something that is difficult we must remember He will always help us do it. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” Matthew 7:24. Jesus’ word is our ever solid and strong foundation.[1],[2]

Discussion guide

1. What do you say is the purpose of this law: “ But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise”, Exodus 21:23-25?

2. Can this be done Christianly? Explain how. Ask yourself, ‘How would Jesus respond?” faced with this?

3. In God’s sight what are the differences between responses made by individuals and responses made by the legitimate authorities? See Romans 13:1-7.

4. ‘God makes proper authorities’ to limit evil influences in our world. True or false? Why? Compare with 2 Thessalonians 2:7. How can Christians best help?

5. List constructive ways of ‘resisting’ in Matthew 5:39.

[1] Prepared using ideas from John Stott Christian counter-culture (IVP: Leicester) 1978 pages 103-124. Note: ‘Resist’ – Greek: anthistemi – ‘to withstand, to oppose’. Compare with Ephesians 6:13; 1 Peter 5:8-9. [2] Adapted from BiMonthly Encouragement No. 44, 1st October 2016.


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