Sermon: Have We No Rights?
Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42
In this week’s lessons, we see that we are not to demand our rights, but instead, like Jesus, we are to pattern his self-sacrifice and service.
Theme: The Right to Retaliation
The first right that Jesus teaches we are to forego is the right of retaliation. It is the first of four rights listed here, and although the list is not comprehensive (and is not intended to be), it is sufficient to indicate the type of character that God requires of us. Jesus said, “Resist not evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
This is hard teaching, of course. A tendency to insist on our own rights lies deep in the heart of man, and it is nowhere more apparent than in the natural human instinct for retaliation. We believe in fair play. Indeed, so strong is our sense of it that we naturally tend to justify retaliation as “evening the score” or “giving the other man what he deserves.” C. S. Lewis found this idea so universal in the human race that he even used it as the basis of his argument for moral law and for the existence of God in the opening pages of his most popular book, Mere Christianity.
Jesus says that this is not the way a Christian is to live. Instead of insisting on our rights we are to yield them up, particularly our imagined right to retaliation, in order that the preaching of the Gospel might not be hindered. We shall be abused. We shall often be persecuted. But we are not to fight back. In fact, we are to do as Paul, who also learned this lesson, teaches: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath; for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).
Perhaps you are saying to me, “Dr. Boice, that sounds good on paper, but it cannot be done—not in the kind of world we live in. Those words are meant for heaven.” Nonsense! It can be done. It is being done. And what is more, if you are not doing it, you are not living the kind of Christ-like life that God has set before you.
Let me give you an illustration of someone who is doing it. Not long ago we talked on this program with the black evangelist Tom Skinner, who was converted to Christ while he was leader of the largest, toughest, teenage gang in New York City, the Harlem Lords. His conversion was so real that he left the gang the next day, turning from a life of fighting and violence to preach the Gospel. There was an immediate victory over crime and cruelty. And soon there was victory over hate and bigotry also. Several weeks after his conversion he was playing a football game in which, as his assignment on one play, he blocked the defensive end while his own halfback scored a touchdown. As he got up from the ground to head back to the huddle, the boy that he had blocked jumped in front of him in a rage and slammed him in the stomach. As he bent over from the blow he hacked him across the back. And when he fell he kicked him, shouting a racial slur at him and telling Skinner that he would teach him a thing or two.
Skinner said that, under normal circumstances, the old Tom Skinner would have jumped up from the ground and pulverized the white boy. And he could have, too. But instead, he got up from the ground and found himself looking him in the face and saying, ”You know, because of Jesus Christ, I love you anyway.” Later, Skinner said that he even surprised himself. But he knew that what the Bible had promised was true. He was a new creature in Christ, and it was no longer necessary for him to operate on the old level of tit for tat, hate for hate, or retaliation. Moreover, when the game was over and the opposing end had had some time to think about it, he came to Tom Skinner and said, “Tom, you’ve done more to knock prejudice out of me by telling me that you loved me than you would have if you’d socked my jaw in.”
Do not say that the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be followed. They can be, if Christ lives in you. What is more, they must be followed. If you are serious about them, why not begin by yielding to Christ’s words about retaliation?
Can you cite any recent examples of retaliation you have observed? What characteristics of fallen human nature does retaliation reveal?
When we refuse to retaliate, what biblical virtues are we practicing?
Application: When have you been tempted to retaliate for a wrong done to you? What did you do or not do? Were your thoughts and actions consistent with Jesus’ teaching?
Key Point: Do not say that the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be followed. They can be, if Christ lives in you. What is more, they must be followed.