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: Our Great Example
Now I want to go on. But before I do, I want to deal with an objection that someone may be raising. You may be saying, “All of what you say is well and good, but isn’t it true that there are situations in which this standard need not be followed? In fact, didn’t Jesus even refuse to turn His face Himself when He was struck by the high priest? And didn’t He say, ‘If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?'”
Well, the first answer to that question is that although Jesus said, “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me,” He did not turn around and punch the high priest in the nose. Even to state it that way is ludicrous. And it shows the wide gulf that exists between our reactions and the conduct of Jesus, for we would want to retaliate. That is part of the answer. The full answer, however, is that the situation here involved the law. Christ was being tried by law, and He insisted rightly that the Jewish maxims about not striking an accused person be enforced. The New Testament values law, as does the Bible from beginning to end. And none of these statements suggests that the Christian is to forego the protection that the law affords him. In fact, he is to be thankful for it, and to pray for the authorities.
On the other hand, where the law is not involved, there the Christian is to forego his rights and to refuse retaliation. In other words, his conduct is to be like that of Jesus “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” (1 Peter 2:22-24). To this standard all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have been called.
There are other examples in this section of Matthew’s Gospel. The next verse talks about things: “If any man sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also” (v. 40). There was a Jewish law that limited that for which a man could be sued. A man would have many undergarments, which were light and would correspond to a suit or a dress in our time. But he would have only one cloak, the heavier outer garment that corresponds to a coat. Jewish law recognized that this garment was necessary for a man’s well-being, and hence, although he could be sued for his suit, he could not be sued for that which alone would keep him warm in winter or protect him from the chill of the night air if he slept outside on the ground (Ex. 22:24, 27). Naturally, all of the poor (and the rich) among Christ’s listeners knew this law. So when Jesus said that they were not to be unwilling to spare their cloak, He was actually saying that even if the law protected then, they were still not to live by the rights to their possessions.
What does that mean for us? Well, it refers to our property at least—to our homes, automobiles, clothes, food, and other things. It tells us that these things are not ours to hold and guard jealously. Instead, we must recognize that all that we have comes from the Lord and is to be used in the best possible way to His glory.
Explain Jesus’ teaching about retaliation in the context of His actions with the religious leaders after His arrest. Why is it incorrect to say that Jesus was violating His own standard?
What principle does this teach concerning our possessions?
Reflection: Do you tend to regard your possessions as your own, rather than God’s? How can you better use them to help other people?