Matthew 5:38-42, “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.”

Jesus here is speaking to what’s known as the law of retaliation. This law forbids a Christian to have a vengeful, wrathful heart. This law protects God’s people from bitterly plotting the destruction of a perpetrator. God, our ultimate Judge, sovereignly placed earthly punishments for crimes in the hands of magistrates. In our passage today, Jesus quotes the Old Testament (Ex. 21:24; Lev. 24:20; Deu. 19:21) to give the proper context for his disciples on how He assigned this particular role to a particular people. God expects the magistrate to give equitable justice (see Rom. 13 for example). It was an eye for an eye, not a life for an eye. In God’s economy, the punishment fits the crime, and the punishment is administered by the authorities over us (Rom. 13).

As for individual Christians, apart from the law of self-preservation (protecting one’s life if possible and protecting one’s family if possible), we are to look to Christ who did not avenge or defend Himself. He not only is our Savior, but He’s our example (Phil. 2). Christ had every physical harm inflicted upon His body, but He patiently endured- He suffered well because He was committed to reconciling His people to the Father by the power of the Spirit. Like Christ, we are committed to a ministry of reconciliation- that is our primary purpose as ambassadors for Christ. Therefore, we must be willing to suffer and endure much for the sake of the gospel.

So, leave fair punishment to those God has ordained to administer it. Better yet, trust our just God who sees all (Heb. 4:13). And as you trust the Lord, commit yourself to be released of all anger, malice, and thoughts of revenge by reflecting on how God in Christ forgave you of your sins (or even crimes!). After you reflect on this, busy yourself with the ministry God’s called you to- the ministry of reconciliation.