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Matthew 5:38, 44 (ESV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil…”
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
RESISTING WITH LOVE
Jesus’ disciples were familiar with personal oppression. Various Roman commanders heavily taxed the residents of Judea. They mounted physical attacks for minor infractions, seized assets for personal gain and often forced the Jews to choose between their livelihood or their allegiance to the Emperor. Since at least two had come from a Zealot upbringing, some if not all of the disciples would have been looking for a cue as to when to strike back with violence.
Yet, Jesus taught them the opposite - for His kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36).
When we hear the phrase, “do not resist,” unfortunately we tend to think that Jesus advocated for ‘no action’ in the face of evil. That simply is not true. He taught them to respond by displaying grace to an oppressor by willingly giving up more than what had been demanded, by praying for and blessing them in order to minister to their real needs (Luke 6:28, Rom. 12:20).
In the face of evil, disciples are not called to do nothing. We are called to ‘resist evil,’ in a manner of speaking, with sacrificial love.
If we are honest, returning injury for injury, comes very naturally. In addition, our secular culture, continues to lead us toward the refrain, ‘You have every right to take this injustice into your own hands.’ For these reasons, and many more, exchanging violent retribution with loving actions is so difficult and often appears to be completely irrational.
Yet, this was not only affirmed throughout the New Testament, it was also the lifestyle of the Early Church.
Ten out of the twelve disciples were killed for their ministry. In their afflictions, they never modeled anything other than, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves (Rom 12:19a).” If any had encouraged violent resistance, the inspired quill of the Spirit would have recorded such uprisings.
Instead, Jesus’ words regarding enemy love were vigorously taught by various church leaders for the next two hundred years. Consider three:
“We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table. We pray for our enemies and try to win those who hate us” (Justin the Martyr, ~150AD).
“If injured, we are forbidden to retaliate, lest we become as evil as our attackers. No one can suffer injury at our hands” (Tertullian of Carthage, ~200AD).
“We have become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.” (Origen of Alexandria, ~240AD).
Unfortunately, this theme became a whisper when Christianity was deemed a ‘state religion’ in 381AD.
If the cornerstone of our faith is the cross of Jesus, and His work there proves that self-sacrificing love is ultimately stronger than all schemes of evil, then shouldn’t we deny ourselves even in the face of a violent enemy as Jesus commanded? We should…even though this is easier said than done.
Jesus, help us to resist every form of evil (within and without) by modeling your supernatural love at all times and by prayerfully pointing our adversaries to the cross of Your salvation. Though Jesus, Amen!
NOTES: For those interested in reading more about this topic within Early Church history, consider this article
published by The Gospel Coalition.