When I lived in China, I had an American friend who was radically committed to bringing the gospel to that nation. He mastered the Chinese language until even the Chinese thought he spoke exactly like them, with no foreign accent; and he aggressively shared Jesus at every opportunity. Once he was attacked by thugs, and rather than use his larger size to fight back he obeyed Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. His pummeling increased my admiration for him, though I also think he missed Jesus’ point.
Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is not a caution against self-defense. He assumed that there was a place for self-defense (Luke 12:11, 22:36), and Paul repeatedly defended himself before others (Acts 22:1, 24:10). Neither does Jesus mean that we should simply stand there and take a beating, for even He slipped away when crowds tried to kill Him (Luke 4:28-30; John 8:59, 10:39).
The key to understanding Jesus’ point is the direction of the slap. In a right-handed world, a person who is slapped on the right cheek would be slapped by the back of the hand, which signifies insult and shame. The Roman world of Jesus’ day was consumed with honor. Emperors went to war over slights and snubs, both real and imagined.
We still do. Someone snidely remarks, “Your work isn’t half bad, it’s mostly bad.” Backslap! We reply that we didn’t know they could tell the difference. Backslap back! And just like that, our mutual disrespect can escalate into a verbal war. Imagine how much trouble we could avoid if we followed Jesus’ command to deflate the argument by turning the other cheek!
Anyone who attempts anything meaningful will at times be disrespected. You will be backslapped. Don’t backslap back.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Luke 2:41-52
Read Romans 12:9-21 to learn how we should respond to those who hurt us.
When have you felt disrespected? How did you respond? What would have been a Christlike response?