There Was Once Two Kingdoms
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” – Matthew 5:38-42
I’ll give a little warning at the start here. This post is a little longer than normal. Normally, I try to keep the blog posts to a few paragraphs, but I felt this topic needed a little more.
Evil is all around us. We live in a fallen and sinful world and we can’t go a day without someone doing something that harms us…or we doing something that harms someone else. But how are we, as Christians, to respond?
The passage from Matthew 5:38-42 can guide us, but we need to understand it in its proper context. At first glance, this passage can seem to take a different approach than Jesus previous statements in the Sermon on the Mount. In previous statements, Jesus expounded on a commandment, taking the listener from a purely surface level understanding (don’t kill), to a deeper understanding of the principle behind the command (don’t hate or harm). In this passage, Jesus seems to be completely changing the Law. However, He’s not.
The original command, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” is recorded in Exodus 21:24-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21. Unlike the 10 Commandments, which were given for all people, the context of this command is where God is giving commands for how the new Israelite government is to be run.
Basically, God is telling the government that the punishment should fit the crime. It both enables and limits the government. It enables the government to give adequate punishment and restitution but limits it from excessive punishment. If the perp took a tooth, you don’t just give him a stern talking to nor do you take off his head.
The issue, however, is that many people were taking that command and applying it to themselves, personally, rather than keeping it for the government. This person punched me. Instead of letting the judge deal with him, I just punched him back. That’s a misuse of the command.
The key to understanding this passage is the doctrine of the two kingdoms. The doctrine of the two kingdoms says that God operates in the world through two kingdoms, the church (which offers grace and mercy) and the government (which has laws and the power of the sword). The two kingdoms are distinct and should not be confused or mixed.
What Jesus is saying here is that the Christian does not seize the power of the government and exact revenge on those who wrong them. They should allow the government to perform it’s role, while they perform their role, to love and forgive.
I think there is an analogy in the game of Football. There are times in games when one player breaks the rules and pushes another player after a play. For the player who is pushed, their responsibility is to let it go and keep playing football, that’s their role. They are to let the officials call a penalty on the other player, that’s the role of the officials. The problem is when the player who was pushed, pushes back. Then they take on the role of the official to punish the penalty which is not their role. What happens? Usually, that player who pushed back gets called for their own penalty.
So, how are we to respond when someone harms us?
This is a little tricky at first, but it makes sense if we keep the two kingdoms separate. Each of us, as Christians, have multiple roles in life. I am a Christian/child of God, but I am also a father, husband, citizen, etc. Each of these roles brings different responsibilities and we must live them out simultaneously.
In my role as a Christian, Jesus is saying that I should not resist evil and should not seek to avenge myself when I am wronged. My concern is not with worldly things and I am to love all people and seek their forgiveness and salvation.
In my role as a citizen, father, husband, etc. I am to obey the laws of the land and uphold my responsibilities. If the law of the land is to report crimes, even crimes against me, then I should do that. I do not avenge myself, but I allow the government to fulfill its responsibility in punishing wrong-doing. My role as a father, husband, neighbor, etc. is, in part, to protect and defend my children, wife, neighbor, etc. So, if someone threatens my family or neighbor, etc. I am to act to defend them. This also applies to police officers, judges, soldiers, and other government officials who are to fulfill their roles of protecting and applying justice fairly.
Where these two realities collide is where we find that Jesus is actually doing something very similar in this passage as He had in previous passages. He isn’t throwing out the old command, he is correcting those who would take the role of the government into their own hands and addressing the condition of the Christian’s heart.
As a Christian, we are to love all people, seek their well-being, and forgive their wrongs. We are not to harbor hatred or malice in our hearts nor seek revenge. We are called to keep this condition in our hearts as we also live out our other roles, where we are under the authority of the government and are to protect and seek the well-being of our family and neighbors.
So, in regards to myself, I am to not resist evil (against me) and be willing to give up my cloak or walk the extra mile. In regards to the government, I am to obey the law of the land and allow justice to be done when I am harmed, but I should do so without holding malice in my heart towards the one who harmed me. In regards to family and neighbors, I am to act to protect them and seek their well-being, but once again, do this action without hatred or malice in my heart towards the one who threatens them.
Unfortunately, our sinful natures constantly push us in the other direction, demanding revenge, demanding that we should be able to retaliate, and justifying our “righteous” cause the whole time.
Thankfully, Jesus deals with us as He commands us to deal with others. He loves us and seeks our forgiveness and salvation. When we seek revenge or hold malice and hatred in our heart, we can go to Him and confess our sin and received forgiveness. We can ask for help that we might forgive and He will help.
Protect us this day and every day from the evils of the world. When those evils do come, help us to respond with love and forgiveness in our hearts. Help us also to allow the government to perform it’s duty instead of taking matters into our own hands. Please also be with our government officials, that they might rule justly and perform their roles faithfully as your stewards.
In Christ’s Service,