Responding Graciously

This image humorously illustrates two people engaged in conflict. A woman, wearing boxing gloves, is punching a man in the face and their expressions are exaggerated to evoke humor.

None of us can avoid or prevent conflicting situations with others all of time. There are many times we would much rather vent our anger toward others who have been offensive than to choose responsible and Godly behavior in its stead.

The world’s philosophy is to deal with such conflicts through retaliation with an “eye for an eye” type approach. That viewpoint was what Jesus was addressing when he said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 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. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (Matthew 5:38-42).

At the heart of each issue in each of the conflicts listed in the above scripture is the question of one’s rights. When a person reacts against injustice directed toward him, he is protecting “his turf”. Jesus did not endorse one’s attempt to protect himself through human means. He especially didn’t sanction any form of reprisal or efforts of retribution.

If one were to look carefully at the conditions listed above, he would find four basic abuses (physical, legal, political, and economic) that a person would be subject to in an occupied country where the first century church was birthed. They were faced with a corrupt religious structure that accommodated the enemy in a quisling role.

Jesus was particularly concerned that they learn how to be “more than conquerors.” For one to be more than a conqueror is to emerge as an overcomer in debilitating and/or oppressive circumstances without any material change in one’s outer circumstances. Instead of reacting in a retaliatory fashion, an “eye for an eye” or just “taking it” with a stiff upper lip, Jesus encouraged them to take charge of the situation by offering more than their oppressors demanded of what they demanded.

Obviously, this makes no human sense unless one understands the apparent objectives of the Lord Jesus. The real concern of Jesus was that they develop the kind of inner convictions, faith, and spiritual stability that would cause them to rise above the potential contamination of such oppressions.

When one succumbs to a tit-for-tat kind of mentality, instead of soaring spiritually, conversely, he lowers himself to the attitudinal level of his oppressors.

It is important that one learn how to function in light of his spiritual resources rather than to depend upon the worldly. Paul declared it in this fashion, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20).

To rise above the downward press of oppression by obtaining grace in one’s time of need, Jesus offered the following strategy: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Jeff

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