Link back to index.html
The Cloak and The Second Mile
“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 5:38-42 KJV)
The passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount,” published as Second Edition in 1976 by Inter-Varsity Press.
Principles in Interpreting the Sermon on the Mount
We saw at the beginning that there are certain principles of interpretation which must be observed if we want to know the truth concerning these matters. We should remind ourselves of some of them now.
First, we must never regard the Sermon on the Mount as a code of ethics, or a set of rules to cover our conduct in detail. We must not think of it as being a new kind of law to replace the old Mosaic law; it is rather a matter of emphasizing the spirit of the law. So that we must not, if we are in trouble as to what to do at a particular point, rush to the Sermon on the Mount and turn up a particular passage. You do not get that in the New Testament. Is it not rather tragic that those of us who are under grace always seem to want to be under law? We ask one another, ‘What is the exact teaching about this?’ and if we cannot be given ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as an answer we say, ‘It is all so vague and indefinite’.
Secondly, these teachings are never to be applied mechanically or as a kind of rule of thumb. It is the spirit rather than the letter. Not that we depreciate the letter, but it is the spirit that we must emphasize.
Thirdly, if our interpretation ever makes the teaching appear to be ridiculous or leads us to a ridiculous position, it is patently a wrong interpretation. And there are people who are guilty of this.
The next principle is this: If our interpretation makes the teaching appear to be impossible it also is wrong. Nothing our Lord teaches is ever impossible. There are people who do interpret certain things in the Sermon on the Mount in such a way and their interpretation must be false. Its teaching was meant for daily life.
Lastly, we must remember that if our interpretation of any one of these things contradicts the plain and obvious teaching of Scripture at another point, again it is obvious that our interpretation has gone astray. Scripture must be taken and compared with Scripture. There is no contradiction in biblical teaching.
Bearing all this in mind, let us consider what our Lord teaches. (277-278)
Die to Self
WE have already dealt with verses 38--42 in general, and laid down certain great principles (see above) that it is essential to consider before we can even hope to understand the meaning of this challenging paragraph. How often do we tend to forget that the most important factor when we come to Scripture, and especially to a difficult statement like this, is the preparation of the spirit. It is not enough to come to Scripture with a mind, however clear, powerful or intellectual. In the understanding and the elucidation of Scripture, the spirit is very much more important even than the mind. Therefore it is fatal to rush at a statement like this in an argumentative or debating mood. That is why we have taken some time in painting in the background or, if you like, in preparing our spirit and making sure that our whole attitude is one which is set and prepared to receive the message.
We come now to deal with it in detail. It is not that our Lord is giving us here a complete list of what we have to do in every circumstance and condition which we are likely to meet in life. He tells us first that we have to die to self. What does this mean? This paragraph shows us how we can do that; it shows us some ways in which we can test ourselves as to whether we are dying to self or not. These are just three illustrations that He takes, as it were, almost at random, in order to illustrate the principle. It is not an exhaustive list. The New Testament does not provide us with detailed instructions of that kind. Rather, it says: ‘You are called; remember you are God’s men. Here are the principles; go and apply them.’ Of course it is a good thing that we should discuss these things together. But let us be careful that we do not put ourselves back under the law. . . . . They think that it is the business of the Church to give them a detailed answer to every little question, and they are always worried about these things. We must get right out of that atmosphere into the realm of great principles.
The first principle is this whole question which we generally refer to as ‘turning the other cheek’. ‘I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’ What does this mean in the light of the general principles we have enunciated earlier? It means that we must rid ourselves of the spirit of retaliation, of the desire to defend ourselves and to revenge ourselves for any injury or wrong that is done to us. Our Lord starts on the physical level. He imagines a man coming along and, without any provocation, striking us on the right cheek. Immediately the instinct is to hit back and punish him and to have vengeance. The moment I am hit I want to retaliate. That is what our Lord is concerned about, and He just says simply and categorically that we are not to do it. ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.’
Let me give you two illustrations of men who, we must all agree, put this teaching into practice. The first is about the famous Cornish evangelist, Billy Bray, who before his conversion was a pugilist, and a very good one. Billy Bray was converted; but one day, down in the mine, another man who used to live in mortal dread and terror of Billy Bray before Bray’s conversion, knowing he was converted, thought he had at last found his opportunity. Without any provocation at all he struck Billy Bray, who could very easily have revenged himself upon him and laid him down unconscious on the round. But instead of doing that Billy Bray looked at him and said, ‘May God forgive you, even as I forgive you’, and no more. The result was that that man endured for several days an agony of mind and spirit which led directly to his conversion. He knew what Billy Bray could do, and he knew what the natural man in Billy Bray wanted to do. But Billy Bray did not do it; and that is how God used him.
The other is a story of a very different man. Hudson Taylor, standing on a river bank in China one evening, hailed a boat to take him across a river. Just as the boat was drawing near, a wealthy Chinese came along who did not recognize Hudson Taylor as a foreigner because he had affected native dress. So when the boat came he struck and thrust Hudson Taylor aside with such force that the latter fell into the mud. Hudson Taylor, however, said nothing; but the boatman refused to take his fellow-countryman, saying, ‘No, that foreigner called me, and the boat is his, and he must go first.’ The Chinese traveller was amazed and astounded when he realized he had blundered. Hudson Taylor did not complain but invited the man into the boat with him and began to tell him what it was in him that made him behave in such a manner. As a foreigner he could have resented such treatment; but he did not do so because of the grace of God in him. A conversation followed which Hudson Taylor had every reason to believe made a deep impression upon that man and upon his soul.
These are but two instances of men trying to implement and, indeed, succeeding in implementing, this particular injunction. What it means is this: we should not be concerned about personal injuries and insults, whether of a physical kind or any other. To be struck on the face is humiliating and insulting. But an insult can be given in many ways. It can be done with the tongue or by a look. Our Lord desires to produce in us a spirit that does not take offence easily at such things, that does not seek immediate means of retaliation. He wants us to reach a state in which we are indifferent to self and self-esteem. The apostle Paul, for instance, puts this perfectly in 1 Corinthians 4:3. He is writing to those Corinthians who have been saying some very unkind things about him. He had been the means of establishing the church, but rival factions had arisen within her. Some were boasting about Apollos and his wonderful preaching, while others were saying they were followers of Cephas. Many had been criticizing the great apostle in a most insulting manner. Notice what he says: ‘With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self? He means that he has become indifferent to personal criticism, insult and abuse, and to anything that men may do to him.
That is the broad principle which our Lord lays down. But let us be careful that we do not violate one of the principles of interpretation to which we drew attention earlier. This is not so much a qualification, as an elaboration of the teaching. Our Lord’s teaching here does not mean that we should be unconcerned about the defence of law and order. To turn the other cheek does not mean that it does not matter at all what happens in national affairs, whether there is order or chaos. Not at all. That, as we saw, was the error of Tolstoy, who said that there should be no policemen, soldiers or magistrates. That is a complete travesty of the teaching. What our Lord says is that I am not to be concerned about myself; my own personal honour and so on. But that is a very different thing from being unconcerned about the maintenance of law and order, or about the defence of the weak and unprotected. While I must and should be prepared to suffer any personal insult or indignity that man can ever inflict upon me, I should at the same time believe in law and order. I assert on biblical authority that ‘the powers that be are ordained of God’, that the magistrate is a necessary power, that evil and sin must be restrained and restricted, and that I, as a citizen, am to be concerned about that. Therefore I must not construe our Lord’s teaching at this point in that general way; it is a personal word to me. For example, it makes our Lord’s teaching ridiculous to say that if a drunken man, or a violent lunatic, should happen to come along and strike me on the right cheek, I am immediately to turn the other cheek to him. For if a man in that intoxicated condition, or a lunatic, should so deal with me, what is happening is really not any personal insult or injury. This man who is not in control of his faculties is behaving like an animal and does not know what he is doing. What our Lord is concerned about is my spirit and my attitude towards such a man. Because of the alcohol, this poor man is not aware of what he is doing; he is not really concerned to insult me, he is a man who is doing harm to himself as well as to me and to others. He is, therefore, a man who is to be restrained. And, in the full spirit of this injunction, I should restrain him. Or if I see a man ill-treating or abusing a child I should do precisely the same thing. The teaching has reference to my concern about myself. ‘I have been insulted, I have been struck; therefore I must defend myself; and my honour.’ That is the spirit our Lord is anxious to banish from our lives.
The second illustration our Lord uses is this matter of the cloak and the coat. ‘If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.’ Now what does this mean? It can be put as a principle in this way. Our Lord is concerned here with the tendency to insist upon our rights, our legal rights. He gives this example of a man coming and suing me in a Court of Law for my inner garment. Now according to Jewish law a man could never be sued for his outer garment, though it was legitimate to sue for an inner one. Yet our Lord says, ‘If a man comes and sues thee for thy coat, instead of resisting him let him have thy cloak also.’
Here again is a very difficult matter, and the only way of dealing with the problem is to pay close attention to the principle, which is this tendency of men always to demand and insist upon their legal rights. We are all familiar with this at the present time. There are people who are never tired of telling us that the real problem in the world today is that everybody is talking about his rights instead of his duties. It is with this tendency that our Lord is dealing here. Men are always thinking of their rights and saying, ‘I must have them.’ That is the spirit of the world and of the natural man who must have his pound of flesh, and insists upon it. That, our Lord is concerned to show, is not the Christian spirit. He says we must not insist upon our legal rights even though we may at times suffer injustice as the result.
That is the bald statement of the principle, but once more we must elaborate it. There are passages of Scripture which are most important in this connection. Here we see most clearly the importance of taking Scripture with Scripture and of never interpreting it at one point in such a way that it contradicts the teaching at another point. Our Lord says here, ‘If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.’ But He also said, ‘Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.’ He also goes on to say, ‘If he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more. . . And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican’ (Matthew 18:15—17). In other words, He does not seem to be telling us there to turn the other cheek or to throw in the cloak in addition to the coat.
Then again in John 18: 22, 23 we read, ‘And when he had thus spoken, one of the officers which stood by struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, saying, Answerest thou the high priest so? Jesus answered him, If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil: but if well, why smitest thou me?’ He protests, you see, against the action of the officer.
Let me remind you, too, of what we are told of the apostle Paul in Acts 16:37. Paul and Silas had been thrown into prison at Philippi and their feet were made fast in the stocks. Then, next morning, after the earthquake and all the other events of that memorable night, the magistrates realized they had made a mistake and sent down an order that Paul and Silas should be set at liberty. But see the reply Paul gave: ‘They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.’ And the magistrate had to come down into the prison in order to release them.
How do we reconcile these things? Our Lord here in the Sermon on the Mount seems to be saying that invariably you must turn the other cheek, or if ever you are sued for your coat you must throw in your cloak as well. But He Himself, when He is smitten on the face, does not turn the other cheek, but registers a protest. And the apostle Paul insisted upon the magistrate coming down to release him. If we accept the original principle, there is no difficulty at all in reconciling the two sets of statements. It can be done in this way. These instances are not examples and illustrations of either our Lord or the apostle insisting upon personal rights. What our Lord did was to rebuke the breaking of the law and His protest was made in order to uphold the law. He said to these men, in effect: ‘You know by striking me like this you are breaking the law.’ He did not say: ‘Why do you insult me?’ He did not lose His temper or take it as a personal affront. He did not become angry, or show concern about Himself. But He was concerned to remind these men of the dignity and honour of the law. And the apostle Paul did exactly the same thing. He did not make a great protest about having been thrown into prison. His concern was that the magistrates should see that by throwing him into prison like that they were doing something that was illegal and were violating the law that they had been appointed to carry out. So he reminded them of the dignity and honour of that law.
The Christian is not to be concerned about personal insults and personal defence. But when it is a matter of honour and justice, righteousness and truth, he must be concerned and thus he makes his protest. When the law is not honoured, when it is flagrantly broken, not in any personal interest, not in any way to protect himself, he acts as a believer in God, as one who believes that all law ultimately derives from God. That was the tragic heresy of Tolstoy and others, though they did not realize they were being heretical. Law and laws ultimately come from God. It is He who has appointed the bounds of every nation; it is He who has appointed kings and governments and magistrates and those who are meant to maintain law and order. The Christian, therefore, must believe in observing the law. Thus, while he is prepared for anything to happen to himself personally, he must protest when injustices are being done.
It is obvious that these questions are all tremendously significant and important in the lives of large numbers of Christian people today in many countries. There are many Christians in China and in the countries behind the so-called ‘iron curtain’ who are facing these things. It may well be that we ourselves may have to face them also, so let us try to keep these principles clearly in our minds.
The next principle involves the question of going the second mile. ‘And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.’ That is to be explained in this way. This compelling to go a mile is a reference to a custom which was very common in the ancient world, by means of which a government had a right to commandeer a man in a matter of porterage or transport. A certain amount of baggage had to be moved from one place to another, so the authorities had the right to commandeer a man at any place and they would make him carry the baggage from that stage to the next. Then they took hold of someone else and made him take it to the next stage, and so on. This, of course, was a power that was especially exercised by any country that had conquered another, and at this time Palestine had been conquered by the Romans. The Roman army was in control of the life of the Jews, and they very frequently did this sort of thing. A man might be doing his own work when suddenly a band of soldiers would come and say to him, ‘You must carry this baggage from here to the next stage. You must carry it for a mile.’ That is the kind of thing our Lord had in mind and He says: ‘When they come to you like that and compel you to go a mile, go with them the second mile.’ Go beyond what they have demanded, ‘go with them twain’.
Here again is a most important and a most practical matter. The principle is that, not only are we to do what is demanded of us, we are to go beyond it in the spirit of our Lord’s teaching here. This passage is concerned with a man’s natural resentment at the demands of government upon him. It has reference to our dislike and hatred of legislation of which we do not approve, to Acts of Parliament, for example, which we do not like and which we have opposed. ‘Yes’, we tend to say; ‘they are passed by Parliament. But why should I obey? How can I get out of this?’ That is the attitude our Lord is condemning. Let us be perfectly practical. Take the question of the payment of taxes. We may dislike and resent them, but the principle involved is exactly the same as in being willing to go a second mile. Our Lord says that not only must we not resent these things, we must do them willingly; and we must even be prepared to go beyond what is demanded of us. Any resentment that we may feel against the legitimate, authoritative government of our land is something which our Lord condemns. The government that is in power has a right to do these things, and it is our business to carry out the law. Even further, we must do so though we may entirely disagree with what is being done, and though we may regard it as unjust. If it has legal authority and sanction it is for us to do it.
Peter in his Epistle (1 Peter 2) says, ‘Servants, be subject to your masters. . .’ and goes on to show the spirit of our Lord’s teaching---‘not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.’ Christian people are often heard quoting that about servants: ‘Ah’, they say, ‘the trouble is that servants are always talking about their rights, never about their duties. They are all rebellious and do not do things in a good spirit. They do everything grudgingly and reluctantly. Men no longer believe in work’, and so on. Yes; but the very same people speak about the Government and about Acts of Parliament in exactly the same spirit which they condemn in servants. Their attitude towards income tax or the law at certain points is just the one they condemn. That has never occurred to them. But let us remember, if we are employers, that what Peter and our Lord say about the servant applies to all of us. For we are all servants of the State. The principle, therefore, can be put in this way. If we become excited about these matters, or lose our temper about them, if we are always talking about them and if they interfere with our loyalty to Christ or our devotion to Him, if these things are monopolizing the centre of our lives, we are living the Christian life, to put it mildly, at the very lowest level. No, says our Lord, if you are doing that job and this soldier comes along and says you have to carry his baggage for a mile, not only do it cheerfully, but go the second mile. The result will be that when you arrive this soldier will say: ‘Who is this person? What is it about him that makes him act like this? He is doing it cheerfully, and is going beyond his duty.’ And they will be driven to this conclusion: ‘This man is different, he seems to be unconcerned about his own interests.’ As Christians, our state of mind and spiritual condition should be such that no power can insult us.
There are thousands of Christian people who are in this position today in occupied countries, and we know not what may be coming to us. It may be that we shall be subjected ourselves some day to a tyrannous power which we naturally hate and which will compel us to do things we dislike. This is the way in which you are to behave in such circumstances, says Christ. You do not stand up for your rights; you do not show the bitterness of the natural man. You have another spirit. We must get into that spiritual state and condition in which we are invulnerable to these attacks which come upon us in different ways.
There is one qualification which must be added. This injunction does not say that we are not entitled to a change of government. But this must always be done by lawful means. Let us change the law if we can, as long as we do it constitutionally and in a lawful manner. It does not say that we must take no interest in politics and in the reform of law. Certainly, if reform seems necessary, let us seek to achieve it, but only within the framework of the law. If we believe that a particular law includes injustices, then in the name of justice, not for our own personal feelings, nor for our own private gain, let us try to change the law. Let us be certain however that our interest in the change is never personal and selfish, but that it is always done in the interest of government and justice and truth and righteousness.
The last point, which we can only touch upon, is the whole question of giving and lending. ‘Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.’ Of course, this again could be interpreted in a mechanical and literal manner so as to make it ridiculous. But what it really means can be put in this form. It is this denial of self once more. It is just our Lord’s way of saying that the spirit which says, ‘What I have I hold, and what is mine is mine; and I cannot listen to the request of those other people because ultimately I may suffer’, is completely wrong. He is rebuking the wrong spirit of those who are always considering themselves, whether they are being struck on the face, or whether their coat is being taken, or whether they are compelled to carry the baggage or to give of their own goods and wealth to help someone in need.
Let us now go immediately to the qualification, realizing that that is the principle. Our Lord does not encourage us here to help frauds or professional beggars or drunkards. I put it like this plainly because we all have these experiences. A man comes to you under the influence of drink and asks you to give him some money. Although he says he wants it for a night’s lodging you know he will go immediately and spend it upon drink. Our Lord does not tell us to encourage or help such a man. He is not even considering that. What He is considering is the tendency of a man because of self, and a self-centred spirit, not to help those who are in real need. It is this holding on to what is mine that He is concerned about. We can therefore put it like this. We must always be ready to listen and to give a man the benefit of the doubt. It is not something we do mechanically or thoughtlessly. We must think, and say: ‘If this man is in need, it is my business to help him if I am in a position to do so. I may be taking a risk, but if he is in need I will help him.’ The apostle John gives us a perfect exposition of this. ‘But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:17, 18). That is the way we are to follow. ‘Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need.’ The man under the influence of drink who asks us for money is not in need, neither is the man who lives by this sort of thing and is too lazy to work. Paul says of such: ‘If any would not work, neither should he eat.’ So your professional beggar is not in need and I do not give to him. But if I see that my brother is in need and I have this world’s goods and am in a position to help him, I must not shut up the bowels of my compassion from him, because, if I do, the love of God is not in me. The love of God is a love that gives of itself in order to help and strengthen those who are in need.
Finally then, having simply studied these injunctions one by one and step by step, and having considered this teaching, we should see clearly that it takes a new man to live this kind of life. This is no theory for the world or for the non-Christian. No man can hope to live like this unless he is born again, unless he has received the Holy Spirit. Such people alone are Christian, and it is to such that our Lord addresses this noble, exalted and divine teaching. It is not comfortable teaching to consider and I can assure you that it is not an easy thing to spend a week with a text like this. But this is the Word of God, and this is what Christ would have us be. It deals with our whole personality, down to the little practical details of life. Holiness is not something to be received in a meeting; it is a life to be lived and to be lived in detail. We may be truly interested and moved as we listen to wonderful addresses about giving ourselves, and so on. But we must not forget our attitude towards legislation which we do not like, and the rates and taxes and the ordinary pin-pricks of life. It is all a question of this attitude towards self. God have mercy upon us and fill us with His Spirit. (284-293)
Link back to index.html