Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World: Wise words from the New Testament

Whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also, Matt. 5. 39

Perhaps you, like many others, have little time for the Lord Jesus. Some deny He is the Son of God, saying He was deluded in many of His claims, especially when He said, ‘I am the way … no man cometh to the Father but by me’, John 14. 6. Yet, even some dyed-in-the-wool atheists or agnostics are prepared to admire the ethos of the Sermon on the Mount and what they see as Jesus’ teaching about living in society, about being selfless, sincere, patient, even being a pacifist. From this record of teaching in the Sermon come such popular expressions as being ‘the salt of the earth’, ‘going the second mile’, ‘keeping on the straight and narrow’.

The expression ‘turning the other cheek’ comes from another one of the Lord’s sayings. It involves more than a mere refusal to retaliate,however: it implies a willingness to endure wrong, to bear an insult, for principle’s sake. The lex talionis of the Old Testament law (‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’) allowed redress at law if it was claimed. But our Lord here teaches that retaliation and redress are to be rejected by His followers. Instead, when insulted we are to be prepared to be insulted again; when hit by another, we should be willing to be hit again. Why? Perhaps it is because by willing submission and generosity of spirit we may win over our adversary. It is one thing to approve the principle, but quite another to put it into practice, and it is here that our Lord sets the example, never instructing others to do what He Himself was not prepared to do. When men beat, mocked and crucified Him He refused to retaliate. ‘When he was reviled, [he] reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously’, 1 Pet. 2. 23; He was brought ‘as a lamb to the slaughter’, Isa.53. 7; He could say, ‘I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting’, Isa. 50. 6. And why did He do so? His love for sinful men and women, and His love for the Father, made Him suffer willingly, ‘the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God’, 1 Pet. 3. 18. The spiritual dimension of His sufferings on the cross as He faced the judgement of God in the place of sinners, was unique, and cannot be shared by any other. God then ‘made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’, 2 Cor. 5 .21. Yet, His physical sufferings were part and parcel of the cruel process of crucifixion and the mockery He endured in addition was a result of His rejection by men. Peter reminds us that ‘Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps’, 1 Pet. 2. 22. Are you unjustly condemned and abused? Turn the other cheek, and commit your cause to Him who judges righteously. Here is the supreme example of patient suffering seen in One who is the Saviour of all who trust in Him.