Give to the One Who Asks

Matthew 5:38-42: “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. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

In this passage, Jesus is not giving us a new law that covers every aspect of life. If he means that it is sinful to resist evil, then we should not pay people like police officers to resist evil or pay judges to hand down sentences to lawbreakers. If you think that this text means that Christians cannot have any part in resisting evil, then you had better stop paying your taxes and move to an island somewhere and live in solitude for the rest of your life.

I’m not going to use this article to say how much or when or to whom we should give. Instead, I want to focus on Jesus’s teaching here as one in which he is speaking generally to the individual Christian and describing a kind of righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees. And one question that arises from this passage is, “Am I generous?”

Going Back to the Law

Before we can answer that we need to think through our Lord’s words and His use of the Old Testament law here. On the first read, it seems like Jesus would agree with Gandhi when he said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Is Jesus fixing or rewriting this law? Is an eye for an eye bad?

Most commentators and pastors agree that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was never meant to be a law given to encourage the Israelites to take vengeance for themselves. Rather, this law was given to limit revenge.

Dinah. Defilement. Dead.

For one example, in Genesis 34, Dinah, daughter of Jacob, was sexually assaulted by men from a town called Shechem. In response to this, her brothers killed the entire family and plundered their city! Now, what the men of Shechem did was certainly wicked, but killing the whole family in retaliation? That is quite the response. This mentality is what makes feuds between gangs so awful. They grow! When someone gets revenge, they get revenge with something added, and the other party responds in kind, and so it continues. This is true of human nature. Sin tends to grow, and it doesn’t die without effort.

So, we need a justice system, but that justice system should indeed be just. The punishment ought to meet the crime, not exceed the crime. That’s the real purpose of the “eye for an eye” law. And when Jesus comments on it, he is saying for you, individual Christians, your righteousness is not found in giving just punishments and taking rightful revenge. Your righteousness is found in generosity, even to your attackers.

Called to Give Back, not Get Back

Jesus is not saying that our aim should be to get as much revenge as we can. You take my cloak, I take your cloak; you hit me in the face, I hit you in the face. No! Jesus is saying, in general, Christians ought to be the kind of people who are not concerned with revenge at all. We trust that God will make everything right in the end. There will be no injustice that does not get made right, and so we are not concerned with revenge. Revenge is not what we are seeking in situations where something is being taken from us, whether it is our comfort or dignity or possessions or time or money. No. Instead, Jesus is calling us to be generous people. Instead of seeking revenge, we seek to give and even go above what people ask of us. If someone takes our coat, we give them another.

In Which Direction Do You Move?

However, doing what Jesus calls us to is incredibly difficult. Can you relate? Recently, my wife and I were outside enjoying a meal when a man came up speaking loudly and asking our table for money. It was awkward! First off, it must be tough to be a beggar nowadays because nobody carries cash with them. But here is what happened inside of me when that guy approached: Annoyance. Dude, we are eating our dinner and enjoying the weather. Do you really have to come here and try to beg us for money right now? My first response was annoyance! God bless one of the gals that we were with, she just took out five dollars and gave it to the man.

I am confident that you have experienced something like this, too. You stop at a stoplight, there is a person there with a sign right next to you, and you try not to make eye contact. Why? Because for whatever reason you don’t want to give! But Jesus is saying that our hearts ought to be the sort that sees someone stealing from us or begging from us and we respond in compassion and generosity. We move toward that person.

In general, when someone takes from you, what is your heart posture? Do you move toward that person or away from them? Is your internal motivation to seek to bless that person, or cling to your own blessings? What is happening in your head and heart and emotions when someone comes and asks you for something?

When It Hits Home

This is something that I want to grow in. For example, we had some friends reach out to us because they wanted to adopt. My wife and I both agreed that we wanted to help, but after she told me how much she wanted to give I was concerned! I thought, do we even have that much money?! I felt like I was being generous by giving at all, but my wife really showed me what generosity looked like. I can remember I was thinking about the situation while I was driving home, and in the car the Holy Spirit was bringing all these scriptures to mind about the deceitfulness of riches, and how God became poor to make us rich, and He started to convict me. I remember thinking, “Dang it, He got me!” I was wrong and my wife was right. But my initial instinct was not to be generous.

Made Rich by Christ’s Poverty

Why should Christians be generous? We should be generous because Christ’s generosity makes all our generosity small by comparison. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” What will enable us to be generous people? Meditating on the mind-blowing generosity of Jesus. I would invite you to join me in that for a moment. Meditate for one minute on this verse.

We were bought at a price. It actually cost God something to purchase us.

The God of the universe, forever worthy of praise, veiled his glory, was mocked by wicked people, and hung naked on a cross for hours on end! He became poor for us. Yet I don’t want other people to mock me even for five minutes!

The Lord Jesus, though He owned everything, became the son of a carpenter and had nowhere to lay His head! Where am I sleeping tonight? In my bed! And what if somebody asked me for my bed? Would I give it? I don’t really know. But Jesus gave up His eternal dwelling to come down and lay His head in the dirt to sleep so that we could rest with God.

How can we believe those things are true of Jesus and then not give? How can we believe that and then grumble in our hearts when a brother or a sister asks us for a ride, or asks us for our time, or asks for our possessions or money?

The Danger of Poverty

There is certainly a danger in being materially wealthy, but there is also a danger in having an impoverished mindset because you can turn into a hoarder. If you think you are poor, you will not give very much. Instead, you will accumulate objects for yourself and become stingy with your money.

Only those who know that they are richly blessed in Christ will give. Only those who are filled with the fruit of the Spirit give generously and joyfully. The impoverished tend not to give, and if they do, usually it’s with a grumbling spirit.

The Lord loves a cheerful giver. Why? Because He is a cheerful giver, and he wants to recreate us into His own image. That means that we reflect the God who willingly gave Himself for us. He didn’t drag His feet. In love, to glorify the Father, Jesus gave Himself with full willingness to redeem us from the curse.

Bringing it Home

I don’t intend to tell you exactly how you should respond every time someone asks of you. But I do think you should ask yourself a few questions. Am I generous like Christ? Do I know the cost of His death? Do I know the riches of my salvation? Am I living in accordance with that truth?

It is my prayer that you will actually be changed by Jesus, hear our Lord’s exhortation, see his life, and in response, give when someone asks and turn the other cheek, doing so in full joy and faith.

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