Important Sayings in the Gospels

Christ and the Law

Swear Not At All

Matt. 5:38-42


Matt 5:38‑42

38        Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39        But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40        And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

41        And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42        Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. KJV


This is one of those passages of the NT that is so challenging that many people simply prefer to leave it sit where it sits and move on to something else.  It is also one that has been taken to some extremes by others, producing a life style that is very foreign to most of us.  I think particularly of the Amish who have as one of the founding principles of their faith and their lives not ever to use violence in any way no matter the provocation.  This has led to frequent hardships on families and communities of the people but, to their credit, they have remained faithful to their beliefs.


We look at it and ask the question, even if not out loud, “really?  Never use violence, ever, no matter what?  Give in to every request, give everyone what he wants no matter the cost?”


This text points out the dangers of taking every passage of scripture in an absolute sense.  While the scriptures are absolutely true, always, not every statement is intended to be taken in the most absolute way.  Things are said in a setting, concerning particular issues, and concerning general principles.

Consider some of the reasons why some things cannot be taken in the absolute.

– The person speaking never intended it to be taken that way,

– Other things said in other places indicate that there are exceptions to what is being said,

– The absolutist view will lead to an illogical, ridiculous, and, sometimes, unbiblical conclusion.


But we are torn here because moving away from an absolute interpretation of a text has its own dangers.

– It can undermine the authority of what was actually said,

– It can substitute human reasoning for Biblical authority,

– It, too, can lead to illogical, unbiblical and ridiculous conclusions.


So, we are duty bound to approach this text carefully, keeping in mind always that the One Who uttered the words in the first place is none other than God Himself in human flesh, the Judge to Whom we will all give an account on the Last Day.



  1. The principle “do not render (return) evil for evil” is, indeed, a biblical principle dating from the writings of Moses and Solomon.


Lev 19:18

18        Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD. KJV


Prov 20:22

22        Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee. KJV


Prov 24:29

29        Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work. KJV


David lived out this principle in his interactions with King Saul.  Twice he had Saul’s life in his hand and could have killed him if he wanted.  On both occasions Saul was hunting for David with the intent and purpose to take his life.  But rather than take vengeance on Saul, David spared him, partly because he was the king and partly because David lived by this principle.


So, Jesus was not inventing new theology here, simply reminding the Jews of their own scriptures and making an emphasis for His disciples who would be treated shamefully in many ways and in many places until Christ returns.


This teaching of Christ has been greatly debated and some, as we have said, have made some really difficulty commitments in regard to it.


Some have developed the notion that a Christian should never defend himself (or his family) ever, never go to war no matter what the reason for the war, never take a life, even that of a grievous and horrible criminal.


Let me say here that even though I do not fully agree with some of these notions, I deeply respect the integrity with which some have held to their convictions and suffered greatly because of it.  Some of them are Anabaptist people through whom we trace the lineage of our faith.


But these words must be balanced with other things that are said, also under the authority of Jesus Christ.



  1. Evidences that Jesus did not intend to be understood in an absolute way concerning these principles.


When Roman soldiers who had converted to Christianity asked John what they should do, he did not tell them to leave their profession.


Luke 3:14

14        And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages. KJV

Luke 3:14

14        Some soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And what about us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages.”  NASU


If Jesus was to be taken absolutely, John could never have endorsed their continuing as soldiers.


Just before His crucifixion, knowing that His disciples would soon be scatted into the world, He encouraged them to purchase swords, the equivalent of a modern day sidearm.


Luke 22:35‑36

35        And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing.

36        Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. KJV


If they were never to resist evil, never to do violence no matter what, the swords really were pointless.  It seems, if that were the case, that He should have instructed them to sell their swords and buy extra clothing or provisions.


Paul made the bold statement in 1Tim. 5:8 that the man who does not ‘proved for his own’ has denied the Christian faith.  Certainly we know that this means food, clothing and shelter, but what do those things mean if he does not also provide protection?


We are told in the story of Paul’s ministry that Luke recorded in the book of Acts that Paul did not passively accept all of the circumstances of life that came his way.


– When sought by the authorities in Damascus he escaped, being let down by the wall in a basket, 2 Cor. 11:33.

– On the isle of Paphos he confronted a sorcerer and had him smitten blind by the power of God, Acts 13:8-11.

– When arrested and falsely accused in Jerusalem, he appealed to the government to enforce his rights as a Roman citizen, Acts 22:25-29.


– When brought to trial, he vehemently defended himself against the false charges, Acts 23.

– When the ship he was on was caught in a storm and ultimately wrecked, Paul used all resources available to him to survive, Acts 27.

– He apparently had occasions in which he fought off bandits, 2 Cor. 11:26.

– And, it seems, that he was once thrown to wild beasts in Ephesus and had to fight them off, 1 Cor. 15:32.


He also taught the church at Thessalonica not to give food to some hungry people who were members of the church, 2 Thess. 3:10-12.  So, the believer is not required always to give to the person who would ask something of him.


For these reasons we believe that Paul did not take the words of Christ in Matt. 5:38-42 to be absolute principles with no exceptions.


I. So, how do we understand the words of Jesus?


First of all, the true saints of God across the centuries have chose to err on the side of caution here.  When in doubt, they would submit to mistreatment rather than fight.  But, when their backs were to the wall, as in the case of the Waldenses on many occasions, they would fight to protect home and family.


God’s people have always been a generous people, giving out of love to the unfortunate and to the spread of the gospel.  Many of the schools and colleges built in our country in the early years were built by Christians.  Many of the hospitals began as institutions of mercy funded by Christians.  Charity organization to feed the poor have been built and maintained by Christian people.


Even though Christians have made different decisions on some particulars concerning the applications of the teachings of Jesus on this subject, there are some things that we can be sure that are meant here.


  1. 1. Retribution (an eye for an eye) and revenge, the desire to ‘get even’ must not be a controlling principle in our lives.


One need only to look at the Islamic countries and their laws and practices concerning vengeance and retribution to see how that this type of dynamic breads hatred, suspicion and mistreatment of the weak.  This type of life is one that is governed by anger, bitterness and, ultimately, brutality.


This entire mindset is the opposite of that taught consistently and powerfully in the NT.


Eph 1:3‑4

3          Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

4          According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: KJV

Eph 3:14‑19

14        For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15        Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

16        That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

17        That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

18        May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

19        And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. KJV


Eph 4:1‑2

1          I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

2          With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; KJV


If you think for a minute, all improper anger is associated with the desire to get some sort of revenge on the person toward whom the anger is directed.  They must be ‘punished’ in some way either by angry words, physical violence, or some other sort of injury.


Christian love is that which ‘forebears,” deals in love, mercy and forgiveness.


  1. 1.  We are sure that the words of Jesus teach us that as much as is possible we are to live in peace with others.


Rom 12:18‑21

18        If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.

19        Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

20        Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.

21        Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. KJV


We are to be known to the world around us as people of peace, not war; love, not anger; gentleness, not bitterness.


  1. When persecuted for religious reasons, we may avail ourselves of all possible legal means to defend ourselves, but we cannot fight.


We may even escape to avoid capture, run away rather than be imprisoned, but once found we are to yield ourselves peaceably to the authorities.


We are to remember and consider that it is the Hand of God that has delivered us over to our enemies and whatever they do to us God will use as an instrument of furthering the gospel message and, at the same time, deepening the judgment against the wicked.  Remember that even the centurion in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion saw that He was indeed the Son of God.


The martyrs across the centuries committed themselves into the hands of God and endured the sufferings brought upon them.  But their testimonies have inspired millions to serve God and be bold in their faith.


  1. 1. When we find ourselves sin dire straits from the events of life (not persecution), we  may (and should) use all available means in our struggle for survival, except for violence against others.


  1. 1. We are allowed, probably even commanded, to defend our loved ones with force if necessary if they are in danger.


  1. In summary, the people we know, the ones with whom we interact on a regular basis must know us as people who are gentle, kind, giving, gracious, and full of godly love.


And, the ones who know us best, our families, our mates, should be the special recipients of that gentle, godly love.  How many times have the heard or seen the stories of people who make a point to make sure that everyone outside of the family thinks of them as good and kind but whose families dread them because all of the love and gentleness is for a show.  The life at home is brutal and unkind.


Our families know who we really are.  If bitterness, revenge, cruelty, and ‘eye for an eye,’ rule our hearts, they are the targets of it.


Men, your wives should be able to honestly testify that you are what Jesus describes here in our text.  Wives, your husbands should be able to do the same for you.  Children should be able to say this about their parents and parents should be able to honestly say that their children are this kind of person.


Matt 5:38‑42

38        Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:

39        But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

40        And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

41        And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.

42        Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away