It is an astounding word that Jesus gives us in the Sermon on the Mount when He says, “But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39). Unbelievable, but you can believe that it came from Jesus and He knew what He was talking about. I suppose every one of us has one to a dozen times each day that would be a good cheek-turning moment and occasionally we may even grab that opportunity to say, “I’m not going to retaliate or even just to have mental response toward you, but I will turn the cheek.”
The trouble with cheek-turning is that it never comes at a good time. You know, it doesn’t come when you’re all filled with the Spirit, devotionalized to the hilt, and living in the confidence of Jesus to help you do the right thing to turn the other cheek. No, it always seems to come at a moment when you’re emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually drained, pushed to your limits. There you stand on the front edge of the battle and you hear Jesus whisper, “Turn the other cheek.”
I suppose it would be great if you had just returned from a week-long conference on the cheek-turning event and you had listened to some great Bible scholar interpreting what Jesus said and how you and I can go about responding to people even when they’ve hurt you, disappointed you, or just slapped you upside the head, but even if you had been filled with all the insights and wisdoms of some great theologian or biblical scholar you’d probably still miss the moment to turn the cheek.
One of the bad, bad things about cheek-turning is that you might could do it 10,000 times, but the one time people remember the clearest is the time you didn’t do it. So for a moment, would you spend some time not just reading this article but listening to Jesus speak to your heart and mind?
Let’s begin by looking at some difficulties. One is weakness. Here’s the problem. If you were to be slapped upside the head and gently turn your head and say, “Here’s the other side. Hit it, too,” you would see yourself and think most people would see you as weak, not a strong, take charge kind of person, but a weak and wimpy one that would let anybody and everybody come along and hit you and take advantage of you. You don’t want to appear weak and in truth, turning the other cheek is anything but weakness regardless of how others perceive it.
Another difficulty in turning the other cheek is wrongness. By that I mean usually you’ve been done wrong and the person who did it knows it and you know it and the whole world knows you were done wrong. Why in heaven’s name, turn the other cheek? If you were to walk through the paths of life with Jesus, you would discover He never did wrong and repeatedly throughout His entire life He was done wrong and repeatedly would not just retaliate but turn the other cheek.
A third difficulty is weirdness. I’m not talking about you being weird. I’m talking about the weirdness of the moment. So often, when a cheek turning opportunity comes to a Jesus follower, everything in you says the opposite. Every piece of reactionary fiber whether it’s physically or mentally or emotionally or even spiritually, responds to double your fists up, clench your teeth, and hit and hurt back. It’s weird. It’s about the only way I can describe it. It’s just pure weird that you would hear Jesus’ voice in one part of your heart and your big, strong, ready-to-wipe-out-the-people-in-front-of-you ear of your heart says go to it.
Yet Jesus says this is the thing He wants you to do. You can see the difficulties mounting as you think and talk about them. A second thing to give some consideration to is the discernment. How do you deal with this? How do you act and react in life because there are times when you just boldly, courageously, take your stand and say, “This is as far as I can go. The Lord would have me not go any farther.”
There are times without a doubt that a fight is called for, but it’s not a daily occurrence in every one of our lives to stay all pent up and ready to hit somebody in the nose. How do you deal with that? How do you think about that? Where do you get the discernment of dealing with the issues like that?
For one thing, always keep principles primary rather than personalities. Deal with the principles of Scripture. Deal with the principles of what is the right thing to do moving forward and what is the right thing to do in regard to anyone who may be on the other side of the picture for you. Keep principles, the truths of God, and what you know that He is leading you to be and to do, keep that paramount.
A second thing that will help in you discerning what to do is to remember that most of the time when it’s just you, your pride, your position, your prominence, that could be affected, don’t worry about it, but if doing something other than turning the other cheek is called for, make sure that it involves the needs of others. Maybe realizing that there are individuals that need to be protected. Maybe even innocent people that rather than just standing there and being struck by someone, you could step in to say you’re not going to hit them again. It’s not always clear but oftentimes pretty evident that some people are acting out of their own prideful attitude and position. Let that go. Don’t you do that, but where it helps others, you be their advocate and sometimes block them from being hit again.
The final, ultimate thing to think about it the display. What is the display? The display is fixed in your heart and in your mind where you see Jesus hanging between heaven and earth on a cross, scourged, nailed to that tree, bleeding, and being ridiculed to the Nth degree. That Jesus on display for all of us did not deserve any of that for us, but He took it because it was the only hope for the future for you and me.
Staying fixated on His gift, His being struck again and again, His willingness to turn the other cheek is absolutely overwhelming. While the song says and the Scripture indicates, He could have called 10,000 angels but He died alone for you and me. For while the Scripture says He could have done that, may I point out to you an even greater truth? He didn’t have to put up with any of that, and He who is the creator, who holds all things together by His own power, could have in a moment of time not just annihilated some soldiers driving nails in His hands and feet. He could have wiped out not only the entire city of Jerusalem and the country of Israel, He could have literally by the power of His breath destroyed the planet and all of us included and done so by His own strength, but He didn’t.
Today you may have opportunity to turn a cheek to someone you don’t even know or maybe someone you deeply love and you turn. For the ultimate help and hope would be when those moments come, we would look at the display of heaven where God said this is the way you respond to the brokenness of this world. Continue to love them. Forgive them. Stay focused on serving God and His purposes in your life and let God be glorified as He comes and does a mighty work, not only for them but in you.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jim Futral