I have discovered that some people actually like to fight. It is not even an issue of what they are fighting about, it is just that they like to scrap. They like to debate. They like to argue. They always need to have one over on their opponent. And the way you can recognize such a person is that as soon as one issue is resolved, another one takes its place. They like to be in some kind of confrontation in some way, shape or form.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about a person like this, someone who nurses bitterness, who actually allows the anger to grow. Where does this anger start? Often it starts with envy. After all, the first homicide was committed by Cain, who killed his brother Abel. Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God, and Cain’s was not. Therefore, Cain was envious.
That is how it often starts. Someone gets something you want. Someone has something you don’t have. Envy begins to develop, and envy turns to anger. Then anger turns to bitterness, and bitterness turns to hatred. And effectively you are murdering that person in your heart because you are spreading lies about him and slandering him. And that is what your whole life becomes about.
Jesus said this should not be true of a child of God. The Bible says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15 NIV). Notice this verse does not say, “Anyone who hates his brother is like a murderer.” Rather, it says that he is one. This is how severe hatred is in God’s eyes. Another verse reads, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9 NIV).
If you hate someone, if your heart is filled with deep malice, then the Bible is saying you are not really a Christian. And if this is the way you feel toward others, then you need to ask God to change your heart.
Of course, we all have been angry. The Bible is not saying you can never be angry. There is even a place for righteous indignation. And there are times when we are angry with each other. Kids get upset with their parents and parents with their kids. Husbands get upset with their wives, and wives get upset with their husbands. Friends get upset with friends. Christians get upset with other Christians. It happens. And sometimes we say things we should not say and find ourselves apologizing for it. This is normal day-to-day living.
What Jesus was speaking of in the Sermon on the Mount was not a situation in which someone has a little anger here and there. He is talking about a person who has become bitter, someone who is developing a grudge and is nursing it and feeding it.
Jesus said, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).
What did Jesus mean by “Raca”? There is no modern equivalent for this word in the English language today. A literal definition would be something along the lines of “brainless idiot,” “empty head” or “bonehead.” It is not so much about the word as it is about the attitude. It is an attitude of superiority over another person, an arrogant contempt. So if you say to your brother, “You are worthless,” or if you say, “You fool” (meaning godless person), both of these ideas convey the attitude of someone who sees himself above someone else.
However, the Bible does not expect Christians to be doormats. It is acceptable for Christians to defend themselves and to exercise their rights. Even the Apostle Paul, when he was falsely charged and beaten, exercised his rights as a Roman citizen.
So what did Jesus mean when he said, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (see Matthew 5:39)? These are not mechanical rules, but principles for responding to the personal wrongs we are confronted with.
Turning the other cheek is not so much referring to a punch in the face. It is more the idea of an insult that is delivered, because back in Jesus’ day, a slap in the face was a deliberate insult – a demeaning and contemptuous act. A modern equivalent might be using certain words or gestures to insult a person. When this happens, you want to return the insult or even worse. But Jesus was saying don’t do that.
There are times, for the sake of God’s kingdom and for the salvation of a soul, that a Christian will take the hit. He will turn the other cheek. She will go the extra mile. The apostle Paul said in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Is this an easy command to live by? Absolutely not. It is very difficult, in fact. Even the great apostle Paul struggled with it. But as Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend.”
Do you have some enemies right now? Try to win them over, not just as friends, but as followers of Jesus Christ. This attitude will amaze people when they see a Christian willing to forgive, a Christian willing to turn the other cheek, a Christian willing to go the extra mile.