“You Christians love to tell others how they’re messing up, but you too refuse to follow Jesus!” he charged.
I asked Bob what he meant. He responded, “Jesus taught you to turn the other cheek, but you want to bomb the snot out of ISIS. Jesus taught you to give to anyone who asks, but you won’t give me a miserable $20!”
This is a serious charge. If Bob is right, then we are hypocrites, telling others to follow Jesus, while we refuse to follow him.
I wanted to answer Bob, but I knew that the answer would not be satisfying. It required more than a one verse rebuttal. Besides, Luke did write:
- "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:27-30)
Admittedly, this is a difficult set of verses to interpret. One reason that it is difficult is because it seems to contradict many other verses. Paul had instructed that we shouldn’t give to everyone who asks. If someone refuses to work, we would be doing wrongly to support him (2 Thess. 3:10). Even Jesus taught that there are occasions when we shouldn’t give. We shouldn’t waste our pearls of wisdom on those who will turn against us (Matthew 7:6). Even Jesus did not give to all who ask. James and John requested Jesus to make them His co-regents once He’d set up His kingdom. However, He turned them down!
Do we then have a contradiction, or is there a way to resolve this apparent contradiction? Yes! Jesus spoke in parables, often using hyperbole (exaggerated language):
- And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matthew 5:30)
No one takes this literally. If we did, the church would be filled with handless people. Likewise, no takes Jesus’ command to “pluck out your eye” literally. However, His hyperbolic language makes a powerful point: “If cutting of your hand could keep you from sin and hell, then it would be a small price to pay!”
For years, I had struggled with Jesus’ elusive teachings. Should I turn my cheek when my students were misbehaving, even to the point of threatening other students? Fortunately, I decided against this kind of turning the other cheek. It would have brought utter disrespect upon me and upon the church.
It eventually became apparent to me that if I took Jesus literally, I would violate other biblical commands. If my friend asked to borrow my gun so that he could shoot his wife, such giving would violate the law of love. Perhaps, a ridiculous looking interpretation of giving is ridiculous and wrong-headed.
I began to ask, “Does the context of this teaching give me the justification to take Jesus’ teaching hyperbolically.” I dreaded the idea of misapplying His teaching merely to enable me to live with it. However, I did find grounds in the following verses:
- “Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:31-36)
Often, Jesus gives us the key to unlock the interpretation. It seems that He had in this case. When I began to see His teaching on giving in the light of the over-arching principle of love and mercy, it began to make sense.
I had to be ready to give to others in love. If giving isn’t in the best interests of the other person, then I shouldn’t give. I had to learn the difference between destructive, disempowering, indulgent giving and giving that would empower. Paul had argued against the church supporting certain widows because this would enable them to sin. Instead, he argued that the younger widows should marry and that the widow’s family should support her where necessary (1 Tim. 5:3-8).
Jesus argued that our mercy should reflect the wisdom of God’s mercy (Luke 6:36). What does that look like? It looks like what’s been written in the Hebrew Scriptures, what else! There, we find giving accompanied by accountability. God displayed a major interest in the welfare of the poor and needy but in a loving way. He wouldn’t de-motivate them with handouts but instead required that the fields be available to the poor to glean the remains.
We have a weighty responsibility for the poor, but it must be exercised wisely, lovingly, and Scripturally. Also seen from the point of view of God’s revelation, “turning the other cheek” was not a command to fire every policeman and tear down every jail. Instead, it was a warning against taking the law into our own hands to seek revenge. (Watch out, ISIS!) Instead, it reflects the Bible’s emphasis on the civil magistrate (Romans 13:1-4) as opposed to vigilantism.
Bob would not sit still for this explanation, but at least I can assure myself that I am not a hypocrite.