December 24, 2011 by Chris French
When was the last time one of your rights were taken? At first glance you think, “I’ve always been able to vote and I can go where I want and say pretty much anything I want to say.” Take a second glance though. We have a right to happiness. That one is actually written into our Constitution. We have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When was the last time someone’s actions infringed on your right? They were rude to you and they didn’t have any right to talk to you like that! Or they asked something of you that was a big deal and they didn’t have any right to ask that of you. Most of the time when someone makes us mad we can trace our anger right to one of our “rights” being taken away, whether that was an actual right or a perceived right.
In Matthew 5.40 Jesus says, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Your tunic would be the shirt you’re wearing while the cloak would be your coat. You couldn’t legally take my coat. The law of Moses forbade it (Ex. 22.26). If I owed you money I could give you my coat as a pledge that I was good for the rest of the owed money, but come night fall you had to give me the coat back. Jesus says that if someone wants your shirt you should give him your coat also! Is He saying Christians should give all our coats away? Of course not, but He is giving us a principle to live by. If someone wants to take away our rights we shouldn’t retaliate.
For a moment, and just so I’m clear, let’s go to the extreme of taking away someone’s rights. Picture a house being broken into late at night. The robber is trying to kill the family. Should they allow him to take away their right to their lives? I don’t think so. There’s a difference between “stopping them” and “retaliating”. Jesus forbids retaliation, but I think you can stop someone trying to take away your rights. Retaliating is offensive, stopping is defensive. Put yourself on the football field. You’re on the offensive. You’re trying to score. You’re taking actions to get to where you want to be. In retaliation I think Jesus forbids this kind of offensive actions against someone trying to take away your rights. You can’t take action against them, but you can stop them from hurting you. That’s defensive. I’m not acting, I’m stopping them from taking action. The word Jesus uses for “resist” is used a couple more times in the New Testament and it seems every time that there is an offensive angle to the word (i.e. people took action to get what they wanted). Check out 2nd Timothy 3.8. Jannes and Jambres are apparently the Egyptian magicians who tried to copy Moses’ miracles. (These two are not mentioned in the Old Testament, but Paul introduces them without introduction so they must have been well known to his audience. Pliny, who is living and writing at the very beginning of the 2nd century tells us that they were the Egyptian magicians so it’s pretty reasonable to believe this to be the true identity of these men). They were taken active steps to oppose Moses. They weren’t trying to stop him. They were trying to beat him. Another example is 1st Peter 5.9 when Peter urges us to “resist” Satan. There are certain offensive steps that we can take to make Satan’s job of derailing our faith harder. We’re not trying to stop him from tempting us. We’re trying to beat him! So I shouldn’t resist, or take offensive actions, to keep my rights, but I can stop the person from hurting me.
That is an extreme example and it will probably never happen to you, but your rights will probably be taken away on a weekly basis. How are you going to react? I think Jesus is forbidding us from retaliating when people take away our rights.