I recently preached on Luke 6:29, but does “turning the other cheek” require a faithful Christ follower to suffer abuse or just take it? I advocated complete dependence on God in situations of unfairness in my sermon. However, there are deeper issues of life that we must take into account as well.
Yes, God has promised consistently throughout scripture that He will be our defense, that He will fight for us (Exodus 14.14, Joshua and the city of Jericho, Gideon’s army, and 2 Corinthians 4:7 are examples). However, while we see Paul getting stoned and beaten for his faith in Christ, we also see him being lowered in a basket through the an opening in the city wall to escape a murder plot in Acts 9:25, sneaking away by night in Thessalonica (Acts 17:10), and hightailing it out of Iconium (Acts 14:6).
It’s obvious that a Christian is not commanded to simply be someone’s whipping post. Any sane person would counsel someone in an abusive situation to get out and get safe as soon as possible. The problem comes when it’s not in your power to do so.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were helpless to resist the will of the king in the book of Daniel. They had to submit to his power and authority over their lives. In that particular instance, their faith led to flames, with the very presence of Another to affirm them in their stand and submission. (Daniel 3:16-18)
It was their profound refusal to bow to an idol that led to their supposed fate in the fire. Should they have meekly bowed to save their life? Should they have turned the other cheek in that moment to live for God another day?
The “turn the other cheek” passage in Luke 6 is not a command to simply suck it up and take it. It’s an instruction to willingly suffer loss when it is no direct harm to your person. In both cases that Jesus describes, the intent is to confound the person who demands something from you with patience, kindness and radical generosity.
It leads to Jesus’ amazing command for us to love our enemies. And pray for them. It’s also a command to stay the course. Be faithful and trust God even if it leads us into suffering. His ministry to us will be radically sufficient in our suffering. Our suffering for His sake actually destroys the power of evil rather than magnifying it.
The overarching principle in scripture is not as simple as “turn (the other cheek) or burn.” There are consistently great rewards and examples promised to and made of those who persist, stand firm and refuse to relent in their commitment to God in the face of persecution. However, we’re also given examples of escape. It’s not wise to stay in situations of persecution or abuse when you have the power and freedom to remove yourself from it.
If you can’t get out, stand firm. Be faithful. Be humble. Resist with an other-worldy confidence in God who is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” It should come as no surprise that a follower of Jesus experiences intentional persecution for our faith. In fact, it’s proof of it.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4.12)Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3.13)
A few thoughts in conclusion:
- If you’re experiencing physical abuse or danger and it’s in your power to do so, get out and get safe.
- If you’re experiencing consistent emotional or verbal abuse, seek counsel and pray hard about whether you’re called to remain or leave the environment.
- Reflect deeply on the causes. If it’s due to your faith in Christ, the way you respond is critically important.
- Examine scriptural examples of persecution to compare them to your situation. God is able, and He will be just as present for you in similar situations. Scripture is given to us as a guide, encouragement and instruction in how to respond and even stand firm if God should call us to do so.
- Your suffering, however intense, may be exactly what God uses to increase your eternal reward, lead another to genuine faith and bring glory to Himself.