Turning the Other Cheek

A man and a woman lived in paradise. No conflict marred their relationship and everything they needed was supplied. They even had a special friendship with the King, living in a perfect place He had provided, sharing intimate times of friendship with Him.

Until one day. That day, someone asked, “Did God really mean what He said?”

All of us now live with the consequences of their debate and reaction to that question. And the question still comes today, whispered into our minds by the same enemy — Does God really mean this?

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One of the things so wholly foreign to us humans, so utterly Christ-like that we cannot believe God really expects us to live it out is this command from Jesus:

But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. (Matt. 5:39)

Surely God does not expect us to be so weak. Surely God does not intend that we let evil actions go unchallenged and unpunished. Surely God wants us to stand for what is right. Surely Jesus did not mean that when someone strikes us, harms  us, demeans us, takes advantage of us, then we are to give them another opportunity to do the same thing again!

Surely God does not mean what He said.

***

A man dies in wracking pain, executed for wrongs he did not commit. But with the last breaths in his battered, bloody body, he utters this request: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Just a few years later, a lynch mob drags another man out of the city. As he falls under their blows, he prays, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.”

A man shoots ten young Amish girls. Five of the girls die. Amish and non-Amish alike, families of the children and families of the murderer, the entire community—all are ripped open by the killer’s brutal actions. The Amish say, “We will forgive.”

God says, “Do not repay evil for evil. Love those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who work against you. Offer the other cheek also.”

***

While I am asking God to show me how to live this, a friend tells me her story. She owns a summer home relatively secluded from neighbors. While she was away, someone broke into her home and stole from her. She knew who had done it, yet she did not accuse; the young man already had a record, but she did not file a report with authorities. She saw the young man as Jesus saw him, loved him as Jesus loved him. The end of the story? Like Zaccheus, he returned some of her possessions and paid her for those he had already sold and could not retrieve. And she turned the other cheek—now, she asks that same young man to watch over her home while she is away.

“Turning the other cheek,” she says, “is seeing others as God sees them.”

***

Off the other cheek also. At one time, I thought this simply meant we were not to return injury for injury. We’re not to seek revenge. But let us be honest. If all Jesus is commanding us to do is refrain from striking back, then we still have a big problem—the anger within, the bitterness, a sense of injustice, perhaps self-righteousness, the need for punishment and revenge.

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (Matt. 5:39-41)

We’re not only to refrain from striking back, we’re to do good things for those who harm us! Jesus calls us to a new way of living, but we cannot live that way if anger and bitterness or a desire for revenge or insistence on justice soaks our soul. We can only live in this way if the Spirit gives us new hearts and new minds. We can only live in this way if we can see others with Jesus’ love and compassion.

I am far from understanding the depth of this command and far from being able to live it out consistently in my life. Every day, even in the little, day-to-day irritations and conflicts and misunderstandings, I must make a choice. I do know there are things in me that must die if I want to love others as Jesus loved me.

But I also know this–

Turning the other cheek means loving another as God loves us. Do we deserve His mercy and forgiveness? Do we deserve His patience with us? I’m ashamed that at times I still slap Him in the face; I do not always live a life worthy of the calling I’ve received (Eph. 4:1). Yet He sees me as a beloved child of His, with a new heart and spirit given by Him. He sees me as He intends to make me. How often has He turned the other cheek to me? Seventy times seventy times seventy times seventy?

How do I “see” those who strike me? Can I see them as God does? Can I see the plans He may have for them? Will I live by the Spirit of Christ and love and forgive them, rather than letting my natural human tendencies govern how I deal with them both now and in the future? They might very well slap me again; can I forgive 489 more times? Will  I forgive 489 more times?

Turning the other cheek brings God’s grace into both lives. Whether it be enemy who harms me or friend who disappoints me, if I turn the other cheek I extend love, mercy, and forgiveness to the other person instead of anger and judgment. This is the calling given to the children of God; we are called to the ministry of reconciliation; we are called to continue Christ’s mission in this world, showing the world the mercy and forgiveness of God.

And I believe Jesus asks me to turn the other cheek because it’s part of God’s plan to change me, to transform me into the image of Christ, who has turned the other cheek to me and shown me His mercy and forgiveness so many, many times.

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. (Eph. 5:1-2)

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All Scripture from the New Living Translation

Chosen to do the impossible

From a rocky farm at the tip of the Point o’ Maine, ocean and sky look endless, especially to a Midwesterner who grew up knowing only creeks and ponds. As I stood and tried to imagine the dimensions of the sea, words of the old song about the love of God hummed in my head: “If we could ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,” we could not even then have enough ink or space to write the depth of God’s love for us.

What does God’s love mean to you? How does God’s love change your life?

Here’s what God’s love means to me:

  • He forgives and forgives and forgives. He doesn’t keep a record of how often I’ve failed Him. He gave up His life for me before I knew Him. While I was still His enemy, He loved me and came to my rescue.
  • He loves me even though I don’t deserve it. What is it in me that makes me beloved by the Lord of the universe? Absolutely nothing. My human nature has proven that, time and again. He loves me only because He has chosen me to be His child and has chosen to love me.
  • He takes action in my life. He works for my good in everything. He leads me along right paths. He sees me through His eyes of mercy and love; He sees me as He intends to make me—full of the glory and image of Christ.

I know no other love like that. Do you? Amazing love. Contemplating the love God shows us fills us with joy, does it not?

Then other words come to mind, too, words from the one I call Lord. These are Jesus’ words:

“This is my commandment: love each other in the same way I have loved you” (John 15:12 NLT).

But here we stumble and balk. Yes, we even make excuses for not obeying this command of the one we say we’ve given our lives to. He asks us to love like God does? How does He expect me, in my selfish humanity, to do that? Father, you know how limited, how human I am; how could I ever love others the way You have loved me?

Yet Christ asks me—no, He commands me—to love like that. He has chosen us, He says, to do this. Chosen by Jesus Christ to do the impossible!

He takes it a step further… He doesn’t just want us to show love to others, He wants us to do it fully, abundantly, in a big, stupendous, astounding way – like a branch so productive that it hangs low with full, luscious, giant fruit.

But we are dried up, puny twigs with nary a green sprout. Without Him, we are nothing. Without Him, we will never be able to keep this one commandment that is so important to Him. Without Him, we cannot even begin to love as He has loved us.

No, we cannot love others as God loves us. And yet Jesus commands us to; and He promises His Spirit will produce that love, if we live in step with Him. His life will be lived out in us. We have been chosen for that!

“I am the vine,” Jesus says. “Remain in me, and you will bear fruit, so much fruit that God will be given much glory.” If we give ourselves to the life of the Spirit, we will see the fruit the Spirit brings. We will do the impossible, and only God will deserve the glory.

Will we believe what His Word promises? Will we live it?

I want to believe-live, Father. So I think again about how You love me, and ask You, Spirit, to teach me how to love others in the same way. I know I can’t do it on my own; only You can produce that kind of love in me.

I want the full, overflowing joy that comes to a life lived as You have commanded; I want my actions to reflect my love and thanks to You.

So don’t give up on me, Lord. (And I know You won’t!)

Out of Agape – Home

You’ve heard statements like, “This is what I was born to do.” Or “They were made for each other.” You know what’s implied here — everyone will be happiest, most satisfied, or most productive, when they find that one thing that seems to be their purpose in life, or the one person who seems to be a perfect complement.  

Here’s a most amazing verse:

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity, the Holy One, says this: “I live in the high and holy place with those whose spirits are contrite and humble. I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.”

The Holy God who lives forever has chosen to live with us; He brings those who are humble and have contrite hearts into a high and holy place. 

I am thinking again about that veil in the temple, setting apart the place that was the earthly dwelling of God. Jesus tore apart that separation from God. Now those who have humble and repentant hearts are the holy dwelling place of the eternal God. A breathtaking and humbling thought.

Jesus said the same thing:

Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.”

He follows up that statement with the promise to send the Holy Spirit who gives us power to do what He has taught.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Another mind-boggling statement! 

God comes and makes His home with each one of us. He works in us, so that we can do what Christ gave us life to do. We were born again to bring glory to the eternal and holy God. And His agape makes it happen.

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And although it’s a bit off-subject, just one more Sunday-morning thought: 

He has made His home in every other believer. He is working to give each heart the desire and power to please Him and bring Him glory. The enemy would rather we look up and down the pews and criticize or judge those around us. God would rather we see what He has done and worship Him.

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Scripture: Isaiah 57:15, John 14:23, Philippians 2:13 (all NLT)

Out of Agape – What we do not deserve

Jesus cries out one last time, and then dies on the cross.

At that moment the immense, heavy veil in the temple is torn apart, ripped from top to bottom. 

The veil set apart a place in the temple known as the Holy of Holies, a place where only the chosen high priest could enter into the presence of God. Something like 60 feet high and 4 inches thick, it represented the barrier between sinful man and the holy God.  

Christ’s blood gives us what we do not deserve.

We deserve to be banished forever from the presence of the Most Holy God.

Yet He loved us so much that He died to tear apart the barrier between us. And now we can walk into the presence of God. I don’t deserve to enter there, but His love opens the way and invites me in.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.

He tore apart that veil because He loved us. So, as the writer of Hebrews goes on to say, let us enter in, completely trusting Him and His love.

he does not treat us as our sins deserve
       or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
       so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
       so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

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Scripture: Hebrews 10:19-22 (NLT); Psalm 103:10-12 (NIV)

Out of Agape – Life and the Power to live it

For a child of God, all of life springs from agape, the love of God that focuses on loving action.

We were dead in our sin; He gave us life.
We are dust; He is making us immortal.
We were sinners; He is changing our nature into the nature of God.
Our hearts were deceitful; He created a new and clean heart.
The life we live is Christ living in us. He created it and He lives it.
He supplies the power and produces the fruit.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6)

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Philippians 2:13, bold added)

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)

The love of Christ gave us life. The Vine sustains us and bears much fruit. We can do everything through Christ, the One who gives us strength.

Truly, all of my life depends on God’s agape.

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All Scripture from the New Living Translation.