Often people toss around the phrase “an eye for an eye” to justify their responses to being wronged. Believe it or not, this is actually part of The Law that God instructed Moses to ensure that the standard was upheld by the Judges who ruled over the Israelites (Leviticus 19-21).
But it wasn’t meant to encourage retributive justice.
Rather, it was intended to limit excessive punishment as was customary among many ancient cultures (1). God did not want His people to engage in excessive punishment, but to guarantee the punishment fit the crime.
Jesus further limited the restitution rights of those wronged when He instructed us not to “resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39).
And the Proverbs remind us, “Do not say, “I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29).
Instead, we are to follow the “Golden Rule” Jesus taught us in Matthew 7:12. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Not as they have done to you. Treat people the way you want to be treated.
If you need mercy, be merciful.
If you desire grace, give grace.
If you long for kindness, practice it.
If you hope for encouraging words, speak them.
If you want to be forgiven, forgive.
For Jesus also taught us that if we fail to forgive others, our Father won’t forgive our own sins (Matthew 6:15). That is some pretty strong motivation to pardon another’s “trespass against us”(Matthew 6:12). In fact, King Solomon says it is to our glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).
And if you need any more motivation to treat even your enemies as you would like to be treated, Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”
As Christians, we are called to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and not let them lead us into sin by exacting retribution. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
When our enemies see us acting contrary to the customary law of the land, may they acknowledge their own need for repentance and call on the power of the cross to lead them toward God’s righteousness.
Show me how to overcome evil with good. Make me an example of Your great love and forgiveness to all people, especially those who don’t yet know of it. Help me to love my enemies, so that they may in turn love You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(1) Study Notes, page 216, The Nelson Study Bible, NKJV.
Author: Liz Giertz