Responding Righteously to the Unrighteous – Matthew 5:38-48

February 08, 09

INTRODUCTION – One of the primary objectives of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ was to lay the foundations for a people to be formed, who would be an ever burning light in the ever growing darkness of the world they live in. Before Jesus Christ ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, He sought to bring together a group of people who would be His arms, His legs, His mouth-piece, His ears and eyes, His heart – His very life to a lost and dying world.
For this people to come together in unity and love, and remain in relationship with God and one another – and to be the kind of vessel that can effectively carry the very life of Christ to a needy world – they had to learn to walk in righteousness.

And for Jesus to bring that about in them, He first had to expose the unrighteousness or lack of internal righteousness of the religious leaders of His day – the Pharisees and Scribes. Only then could He reveal or demonstrate what true internal righteousness looks like.

Jesus Christ made it very clear that unless His followers’ righteousness surpassed that of the Pharisees and Scribes – – they would not even enter His amazing kingdom, much less be used to bring others into it. For the first and most overarching characteristic of His kingdom as opposed to satan’s – is that of righteousness.

One of the greatest obstacles to learning to walk in this kind of true or internal righteousness is that our culture wreaks of unrighteousness – – and especially when it comes to how we deal with people who wrong us, or demand much of us.

It is at the core of our fallen nature to retaliate – – to demand our rights to what we believe is ours – – and to resist the demands of unrighteous, evil – or just extremely needy people around us.

And for those of us who have had the privilege of parenting – – you see it as soon as your child has the ability to move around a bit and grab something he wants, or shriek at the top of his lungs and go in attack mode – when another child grabs something he feels is rightfully his.

It is our nature to resist, to retaliate and to get revenge. It is our nature to hold on to, to clutch, to demand our rights.

But there is a better and higher way. Jesus Christ modeled it for us; and in this passage He teaches us how to attain to it. There are two major principles in these last 11 verses of Matthew chapter 5. Here is the first one:

I. THE RIGHTEOUS DO NOT RESIST THE UNRIGHTEOUS &/or the NEEDY- vs. 38-42 (read it)
A. The O.T. setting – perversion of – – vs. 38- –
Ex. 21:22-25 (read it) Not given to individuals, but rather to judges (note end of vs. 22)
Lev. 24:10-23 (two men got into a fight – – one of them blasphemed God’s name; witnesses heard it and detained the man; then they as a people waited on the Lord to know what to do about it; God revealed His will or judgment to Moses and in the process these words “an eye for an eye, etc.” were again spoken)
Deut. 19:16-21 (read it) (context = judges investigating a crime and offering a judgment – civil in each case, not individuals)

These laws were never meant to be carried out in a literal way – such as literally plucking out someone’s eye. The principle is: The punishment should be in keeping with the offense or crime. And the judges of the people of God are the ones to determine what that punishment should be.

God knew the awful tendency of man to fly off the handle at an offense and seek one’s own revenge – – and sometimes in the heat of the moment to retaliate in a far more excessive way than is warranted.
He also knew there would be those who would claim we all make mistakes. And we really should just keep forgiving and extending mercy to those who commit violent crimes – knowing it was their environment that caused them to do so. So He gave Moses specific instruction on how to deal with crimes among His people so that justice prevailed; and that just punishments provided the necessary deterrent from even more violent crimes being committed. And that justice lie in the hands of judges and rulers – – and not individuals.

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth was never meant to be a guideline for individuals to work through their conflicts with individuals. The Pharisees of all people should have known this; but their hardness of heart caused them to pervert this principle to justify their own unrighteousness.

What I want to make sure you see this morning is that the way of Christ that is expounded in vs. 39-42 does not come out of thin air. God’s way has always been to not take things into our own hands – – to extend mercy to our enemies – – and to let God – or God ordained authorities – take care of needed justice and vengeance.

Prov. 20:22 “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”
Prov. 24:17 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or the Lord will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him.”
“Prov. 25:21,22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.”
Isa. 50:6 “I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.”

B. Do not resist an evil person – vs. 39

C. Dealing with lawsuits – vs. 40

D. Dealing with dominant demanding folk – vs. 41 – – specifically gov’t officials. The Romans in that day held the right to at any time grab someone perhaps out working in their garden and command them to drop what they were doing and help carry the baggage of a soldier or soldiers. Jesus said, not only should you do that and not do it grudgingly, but you should be glad to go even beyond their intial command. Why? Because as a citizen of God’s kingdom, we have no rights, and all of our needs are already taken care of. And how else are these hardened soldiers going to know there is another life, another kingdom, another way – – unless one of His children demonstrate it?

E. Dealing with borrowers – vs. 42 We are not to be stingy – – always clutching our possessions as if they could possibly run out – – thinking that we have worked hard for those and that we somehow deserve them. We are not to respond in a condescending kind of disgusted way towards those who for whatever reasons are just on the edge of survival.

In a nutshell – true righteousness does not demand its rights to retaliate or to refuse or resist unrighteous acts towards us or demands of us; or to refuse requests for help by the very needy.
So let’s say you go to work tomorrow morning and your business has a small parking lot – – spaces are often hard to find – – you see one left – – you start making your way towards it – – and the one guy in the office who seems to live to make life miserable for you – – in his brand new sports car – – darts in front of you and takes your spot. Righteousness would cause you to slam on your brakes and let him have the spot; and you would continue to look elsewhere – even if it means down the road a bit.

So you walk into the office, hang your coat, sit down at your desk, and you get a phone call from your next door neighbor from hell. This man has kept you awake more nights than you can remember with loud parties, loud music, shouting and yelling. Often after these parties you walk out the next morning to get your newspaper and there are tire treads and beer cans in your front lawn. But last night, a big rain and wind storm rolled through your town, and one of the limbs on your big pine tree – broke off and fell on his roof and knocked off a shingle – unbeknownst to you. Your neighbor is incensed – – claims he is going to sue you for the damage to his new roof and the emotional trauma – – yelling at the top of his lungs – – as if you yourself threw the limb at his roof.

Now because of all of his offenses over the years, most of which you have been amazingly patient towards – – your flesh says you should tell him where to get off; but instead an apology miraculously rolls off your tongue, and you assure him that whatever his homeowner’s insurance will not cover, you will cover immediately; and you then call your wife and ask her to consider taking them dinner tonight.
You hang up, take a deep breath – thank God under your breath that you didn’t say any of the sharp, sarcastic things you considered saying, and start to attack the piles on your desk.

Five minutes later, your supervisor, who lives to delegate so she can talk more on the phone to her gossip buddies, walks up to your desk – and informs you that she needs you to drop what you are doing and drive over to the sister company and sit in on a training OSHA seminar – in her stead. No significant reasons given. You start to defend yourself and remind her that this is the Supervisor’s responsibility. But you catch yourself, grab your keys, and your coat and head out the door. Just as you have cooled off while walking down two flights of steps to the bottom floor you run into Jerry – the infamous bum/warehouse manager. Jerry rarely brings his lunch, nor money to go buy his lunch. He always has a fresh excuse for such. And seems to live to bum money off of whomever to be able to purchase some lunch. Internally you want to rehearse for Jerry what your day has been like so far; or at least remind him of how often this scenario seems to take place – – but instead you reach into your pocket and give Jerry 3 dollars towards some lunch – knowing you will never get it back (at least from him).
So you mean I am just supposed to be a doormat; and let people run all over me, and abuse me, and I just have to smile and say Jesus loves you?

Well all I can say is – this is probably one of the most rationalized away passages in the Bible. If we were absolutely confident that Jesus Christ would provide for us and protect us; if were absolutely confident that He would bless our generosity towards the poor; if we had come to the point in our discipleship with Him – – where we held all of our possessions with an open hand – – and could say with Job – the Lord gives, the Lord takes away – Blessed be the Name of the Lord – – none of these things would be that big of a deal.

Not only do the righteous not resist the unjust demands of the unrighteous;

II. THE RIGHTEOUS LOVE AND PRAY FOR THEIR PERSECUTORS – VS. 43-48 (read it)
A. The O.T. setting – perversion of – vs. 43 – – Note capitalized phrase & non capitalized phrase.
Ex. 23:4,5 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.”
Lev. 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”

B. Command to love and pray for your enemies – vs. 44
This is obviously something we are not naturally geared to do; and for some of us who have long time vicious enemies – – it might seem like a very unfair impossible command to obey. Thus the following verses.

C. The motivation, promise or standard for doing so – vs. 45-48
1. so that you may be sons of your Father, who is in heaven. Vs. 45
a son reflects the image of his father. We don’t become a son of God by doing these things. We prove or demonstrate that we are indeed a son of God by doing these things. And we enjoy the privileges and intimacy that come to a son who lives and walks like a son.

2. God the Father makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good (equally) and He sends rain on the just and the unjust (equally) vs. 45

3. Some kind of reward comes to those who obey – vs. 46

4. Anyone can love back people who love them. The reality of our righteousness and sonship with God the Father is that we go way beyond that to loving those who do not love us and who do not greet us, and who may even persecute us and hate us. Vs. 46b, 47

What I want to make sure you see this morning is that the way of Christ that is expounded in these 11 verses does not come out of thin air. God’s way has always been to not take things into our own hands – – to extend mercy to our enemies – – and to let God – or God ordained authorities – take care of needed justice and vengeance.

Prov. 20:22 “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”
Prov. 24:17 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, And do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; Or the Lord will see it and be displeased, And turn His anger away from him.”
“Prov. 25:21,22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the Lord will reward you.”
Jesus’s Example:
Isa. 50:6 “I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting.”

I Peter 2:21-23

5. The standard – the plumb line is the very perfection or character or nature of God. Vs. 48
James 3:2 “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.” I used to think…

C.S. Lewis re: the command to “be perfect”
CONCLUSION – Andrew Murray on the command to be perfect – p.14,15
1. Ask for this perfect heart – – p. 30 (bottom),31 andrew murray

2. Books – Fenelon’s “The Seeking Heart”
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
How to Be Perfect by Andrew Murray

3. Get out of your four walls – – and or comfort zones – – when is the last time you reached out to someone that could have slapped you, or sued you, or persecuted you?

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