Turn the Other Cheek

by Matthew Clark

Let’s be honest, turning the other cheek is not a natural reaction. When I was growing up, the social norms encouraged us, boys in particular, to stand up for ourselves. Fight back! The competitive urge to get even or to win is an earthly reaction deeply ingrained in us.

Jesus, on the other hand, gives us a different paradigm for handling potential conflict – one of meekness and humility. He says:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

Matt 5:38

Originally the legal aspect of “Eye for Eye, and Tooth for Tooth” was to limit retribution to be in line with the crime and avoid excessive punishment. In time, this principle was taken to make a quid pro quo response a requirement. Paul expands on these words of Jesus encouraging us not to repay evil with evil, but to counter evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Obviously, we do not just accept evil. Jesus would tackle evil, as he did when he cleared the temple of moneychangers. However, when Jesus talks about a “slap on the right cheek” he is discussing insults. Jesus is asking us to take criticism or insult and not resort to a verbal tit for tat.

The Spirit inspired ability to accept insult without fighting back is a key component of Christian living. It is also important that we do not simply swallow insults, but let them go, forgive and bless those who (apparently) oppress us. Recently our company had a good example of this approach in action with one of our key customers.

The Background

The challenge was that our participation in a client’s meeting did not go well. There were a number of issues, and the client was concerned about the impact on their customer relations. Some of the points our client raised in the follow up were well deserved criticism, some were moot and some were a little personal.

We resolved to defuse rather than excuse.

Everything we do is for Christ

Every action we take reflects on us as Christians. Our reactions can bring glory or dismay to Christ and His Church. When we are under pressure, we should always have a vision of the intended conclusion to a challenge as well as the handling of the challenge itself. When all is said and done, we must be prepared to ask ourselves:

Have I behaved as a Christian and glorified God?

We should always conduct ourselves in such a way that the answer in the final analysis will be YES.

We stand for Christ, even in small things that are apparently outside of our classic ideas of evangelism. If we set our eyes on Jesus at the earliest possible opportunity, we greatly increase the strength of our witness.

Listen and Learn

As we tackled the criticism, I have to say that the Director I spoke to was very gracious, and her gracious handling of the situation inspired me to behave likewise, which I sincerely appreciated. In this first follow up call I listened; I had no prepared comebacks and I supressed those that flashed through my head.

The book of Proverbs is a rich source of practical pointers for this situation

Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity (Proverbs 21:23)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues. (Proverbs 17:28)

Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end. (Proverbs 29:11)

I was determined not to make matters worse by arguing and I turned the other cheek. Patience is a wonderful virtue in these situations.

Our Problems belong to God

We should never forget the intimate presence of God when we face tests. The bible verses that have had the biggest impact on my life are the words of Jesus talking to the disciples about prayer. These verses have been a constant source of comfort to me and were comforting once more:

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

Matthew 6:6-8

The beauty of Jesus’ promise here is that he reveals that our Father knows what we need even before we come to Him. When we share our problems in faith with God, the solutions will flow, and we need God’s strength to be patient, kind, gentle in all our dealings.

This cycle was no exception. Sharing the problem in prayer and meditation lead me to conclude that acceptance, peace and grace were our best way forward.

Turn that Cheek

We must not forget that when someone gives us a slap, there is a strong possibility that we deserved it! In the heat of moments such as this we often think we are right. On reflection in this case, turning the other cheek for a slap was meet and right. We did deserve to be criticised. Proverbs again was a useful source of advice:

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. (Proverbs 19:19)

Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. (Proverbs 19:20)

Had we reacted immediately, we would have lost out on some valuable information to help our business in the future, and maybe even lost the business that we had.

The Blessing Followed

Indeed, what followed was a series of fruitful discussions. The old me would have reacted and missed out on some valuable lessons. The old me would have foolishly fought gracelessly and lost.

As we emerged from the darkness, we knew that we had given a glimpse of our transformation in Christ. Indeed, it was the Light of Jesus that guided us through a very earthly problem.

My dear Brothers and Sisters, life was never advertised as an easy exercise. God is gracious and blesses those who follow him. We must remember that we will be judged according to our actions by Christians and Non-Christians alike. We are all ministers for Christ by example, not just in our holy moments but in all aspects of our daily life.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

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