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Looking after the Interests of Others

Matthew Chapters Five through Seven

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your Yes be Yes, and your No, No. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” Matthew 5:33-42

How often we hear sayings such as, ‘You have to look out for yourself!’ ‘Don’t let anyone take advantage of you!’ ‘Stick up for your rights!’ Each of these sentiments places self above others. This is not of God, as Holy Scripture teaches, “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches what it means to look out for the interest of others. He gives examples regarding oaths (vv. 33-37), injuries (vv. 38,39), legal matters (v. 40), compulsory service (v. 41), and charity (v. 42).

When the Pharisees in Jesus’ day tried to convince people that some oaths are less binding than others, they were looking out for their own interests. In that way they felt justified in not being true to their word or promises. Jesus exposed their faulty ethics by revealing that every oath is serious and binding. When it comes to daily conversation, the Lord impresses upon us that we shouldn’t need oaths to convince people we are telling the truth and will keep our promises. Since God is the Father of all truth, the same will be the case with His children.

When a person is injured by another, the sinful self wants to get even. By referring to an Old Testament Levitical law (Exodus 21:23,24) the Pharisees mistakenly believed God approved of this. Jesus teaches that the expression “an eye for an eye” is not authorizing personal revenge but rather teaching judicial authorities that the punishment should fit the crime. The Bible is very clear about vengeance (Romans 12:17-19). The way of the child of God is to turn the other cheek when one is struck, not resorting to paying back or getting even.

In today’s society the civil courts are filled with cases by which vindictive people try to get one-up on their neighbors by suing them. Since as Christians we wish to live at peace with everyone, we want to make use of every means available to become reconciled to one another. This may require suffering injustice or loss rather than exerting our civil rights.

Jesus’ counsel to go the extra mile was spoken in the context of the Roman practice of compulsion in occupied lands. Roman soldiers could require their subjects to carry baggage or cargo for a mile. While the sinful self bucks against such imposed servitude, the new self worked in us by the Spirit of God leads us to serve our neighbor willingly in what is required, and at the same time to go beyond what is expected. Think of Simon of Cyrene who was compelled to carry the cross of Christ as our Savior made His way to Calvary (Matthew 27:32).

Finally, in matters of Christian charity Jesus says, “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” The spirit of selfishness might cause us to turn a deaf ear to those who are truly needy. However, the spirit of Christian love is unselfish, spurring us on to be generous benefactors.

In putting others before ourselves in all things and at all times, we find no greater example than that of our self-giving Savior, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul therefore gives the following exhortation, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8, ESV).