Community Group Study Guide — Living Love When You Want to Fight
In order to expose our need for a righteousness that exceeds the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20), Jesus shows us the incredible gap between our moral actions and our hearts. You may have not committed murder, adultery, divorce or broken a formal oath but all of us have hated, lusted, misused power and lied. Jesus wants us to see our need for a new heart and show us a better way to live as people who are redeemed and brought into his kingdom. For that reason, he turns his focus to how we treat others when we are wronged. This study guide will focus on our sinful desire for retaliation and the next week’s study guide will focus on a call to proactively love our enemies.
Jesus begins this passage by saying, “You have heard it said, ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth.’” Jesus is quoting an area of the Mosaic Law referred to by scholars as Lex Talionis or “law according to kind”. You can find this verse in places like Exodus 21:24-25, Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21. This sort of law was common in parts of the ancient world, but it also stood out compared to some ancient near eastern cultures that would allow one to exact a higher degree of revenge or punishment then the crime deserved. That means that while our modern culture may find these words to be harsh and abrasive, they actually are full of grace. Instead of giving someone permission to take out their anger and their own twisted sense of justice on someone who has harmed them, this law would say that the punishment must fit the crime. Justice should be “just” and fair. By quoting this verse Jesus is telling us that this is the bare minimum standard for the people of God, but he does not stop there, he also shows us a better way! Returning evil for evil leads to more evil. Instead, Jesus tells us how to overcome evil with good by blessing those who curse us.
We all know the experience of wanting to fight back when we are wronged. This means we often desire to not just get even but to see someone else suffer for the harm they’ve caused. This is a very fleshly and sinful response that is common to all of us at some point in our life. Others will sin against us in this world, and that means that some of us have faced untold abuse and suffering. We long for justice and we can praise God because he promises justice (Romans 12:19-21). However, the Lord desires to produce a spirit in us that does not seek immediate retaliation when wronged or harmed. We can pursue justice and freedom from abuse but the Lord desires that we leave vengeance in his hands. Jesus will instruct us to control what we can control, and instead of cursing our enemies we should bless them.
Jesus teaches us this principle and then models it by giving us 4 examples in Matthew 5:39-42.
- First, if someone slaps you turn the other cheek. Being slapped was an act of being demeaned in that culture, similar to being verbally slighted today.
- Second, if someone sues you to “take your shirt” give them your cloak also.
- Third, if you’re forced to go one mile go two.
- Finally, give to those who beg from you and do not refuse.
What do we make of all of these examples?
First, these are wisdom sayings that would point us to make different ethical choices than we’d naturally make. Likewise, they are not meant to be exhaustive or without exception. For example, if you were being physically abused Jesus’ statement about turn the other cheek would tell you that the loving thing would be to remove yourself from harm and pursue justice instead of seeking to physically harm the other person in return.
Second, these statements show us that those in Jesus’ kingdom are marked by purposefully doing good to those who seek to do them harm. Take the second example Jesus gave where someone sued you to take your tunic (they took your shirt!), his admonition is to try to help those who are even pursuing a legal case against you. Jesus’ third example shows us that we should be willing to be inconvenienced… the phrase “to go one mile” refers to a practice where Roman soldiers, who were hated by 1st century Jews, could pull you off the street and hand you their equipment and bags and force you to carry it for a mile. The follower of Jesus ought to consider blessing that solider by going a second mile even if it was inconvenient. The last example of giving to those who beg or borrow is not a command to give blindly if someone asks for the keys to your car or if they’re the kind of person who borrows stuff and never returns it. For example the scripture tells us that if one does not work they should not eat and the thief should labor to have something to share (2 Thess 3:10, Ephesians 4: 28). However, to give to those who beg means followers of Jesus ought to consider if we are willing to give to others even if we do not think they deserve it and know they cannot repay.
All of these examples likely call into mind times of abuse, mistreatment or inconvenience. The natural self would seek to return evil for evil however, follower of Jesus you can overcome this evil with something greater. You can overcome evil with good. Paul’s point in Romans 12:17 and 12:21 is that the spiritual and Christ-like response is to give good in return when we receive evil. Returning evil for evil will not change another person’s heart, when we go the second mile, give them our cloak, turn the other cheek and give to those who beg we get to model Christ’s generous love to us that even though we were enemies he died for us. Think about times when someone’s action has changed your heart towards them. Has it been because they sought revenge or because they blessed you when you did not deserve it? Jesus would have his followers consider how they can seek the good of their enemy and thus overcome this cycle of returning evil for evil or seeking retribution, even limited forms of it such as the “eye for an eye”. By showing good to those who harm us we can show Christ to them and limit the destruction of how returning evil for evil multiples harm.
Jesus calls his followers to bless those who persecute them and seek to overcome evil with good. Instead of seeking revenge or retribution, we ought to consider how to generously bless those who harm us. This is difficult, but it is modeled and empowered for us by Christ who gave up his life for his enemies. Likewise, if we want to see hearts and lives transformed the best way for that to happen is to show good to others when they do not deserve it.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 5:38-42 and Romans 12:17-21.
How is the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law a gracious response for the ancient world? How does Jesus demonstrate that this is the “bare minimum” and that his followers should have an even more gracious response when wronged?
How do the four examples Jesus gives go against our natural tendencies?
Can you think of a time when you were wronged and you chose to respond with kindness instead of seeking to return evil for evil? How did it change the situation and did good come from it?
Read Romans 12:17-21. What specific commands does Paul give us that reinforce Jesus’s words form Matthew 5:38-42? How does God’s vengeance/justice free us up to bless others?
How is seeking to harm those who harm us a form over “being overcome by evil?” What steps can you take to grow in showing good to others in these types of situations?