Turning the Other Cheek

Matthew 5:38-40, (NIV)  
38.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth.’
39.  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 
40.   And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”  

  What do we do with verses like this when confronted with domestic violence, or with abusive people who lack boundaries?  Should we allow ourselves to be abused?  

In verse 38, Jesus tells us we are not to resort to revenge, retaliation, or punishment.  In verse 39, resistance is being connected with such retaliation or punishment. This is different than exercising healthy boundaries for protection, or leaving the presence of those who intend to harm us.  Jesus, David, and Paul all had to avoid or flee harmful situations and people at times.  Proverbs 27:12 (NIV) advises, “The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”   Certainly verse 39 tells us not to battle someone entrenched in evil behaviors.  In the case of domestic violence and abuse--which are evil behaviors--many abusers will use a victim’s combative resistance (or even self–defense) as an excuse to call the police and put the victim in jail.  

There is another reason why Matthew 5:38-40 does not mean a victim should keep letting herself be harmed by an abuser.  Abuse is sin, and Jesus said in Luke 17:3 that we should rebuke people who sin against us.  Webster’s Dictionary defines rebuke as reproving, reprimanding, or forbidding.  It is, in essence, setting boundaries.  Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson points out in his book Love Must Be Tough (Word Publishing, 1996) that maintaining strong boundaries and limits with those who have boundary or self-control problems is a loving thing to do.  

Do verses 39 and 40 of Matthew 5 suggest that victims should let abusers take what is rightfully theirs or try to use the courts to abuse them?  The teaching in Matthew 5:30-40 is also found in Luke 6:29, and there it is part of a larger passage about loving our enemies and dealing with abusers by coming in the opposite spirit, not about giving away necessities.    

It is helpful to view Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek in the context of His other teachings on dealing with someone who abuses us.  When we do so, we see that believers are to avoid retaliation or combativeness, and are called to speak the truth in love while promoting accountability and repentance. 


Discussion Questions:  

1.      In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus provides guidance on how to rebuke a boundary violator.  How does each step outlined in this scripture promote a progressively greater degree of safety for the victim?  

2.      What did it mean to the Jews to treat someone like a tax collector (Matthew 18:17 )?  How does this set a boundary or consequence?


Copyright 2007   Judy Kennedy