As a child, when I suffered some wrong from another, I would sometimes run to my dad to complain about the injustice I had received. My godly father would tell me: “Learn to take it.” I didn’t appreciate what he was teaching me. It seemed right to me that justice needed to be served. I wanted my father to come to my aid and somehow correct the wrong that I had suffered. But he had a godly principle to teach me. Look at what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:38-39 “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.” The “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was given in the Old Testament in Exodus 21:22-25 “If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman’s husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”
In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus is teaching differently from the “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” He is teaching us to “take it”. The evil that another might give to us, we accept and do not respond in kind. He also demonstrated this principle in His own life. When He was arrested and brought before the High Priest and the council of elders, they reviled him and accused him, they spit in His face, they beat Him, and they struck Him with their hands saying, “Prophesy to us, Christ! Who is the one who struck You?” (Matthew 26:67-68). He could have called for twelve legions of angels to rescue Him (Matthew 26:53); as the Son of God, He could have struck them all dead. But instead, He took it. He took all the abuse they gave to Him and did not retaliate. The apostle Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 2:18-24 “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh. For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Jesus did not revile; He did not threaten; He did not strike back. Instead, He took it and committed Himself to God. When you and I do good, suffer and take it patiently, this is commendable before God.
I believe there are several important principles here. First, to suffer while doing good and to take it patiently is to have great faith in God and be in submission to Him. Faith is to trust that God is in control in all circumstances. Faith is to trust that all things work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28). In a sense, to fight back would be to also fight against God, since God is allowing the suffering to occur. To accept it patiently would be to submit to God and accept what He is allowing to happen. When Jesus suffered without fighting back, He too was accepting what God was allowing to happen.
Second, to give an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth would be to respond to an evil action with a corresponding evil action. He that does that makes himself a wicked person just like the other one. Instead of returning evil for evil, Jesus teaches us to return good for evil. Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” To return good for evil is to be like your Father in heaven. It is also to be like Jesus. While Jesus was suffering on the cross, Luke 23:34 “Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.’”
Third, to give an eye for an eye is to take vengeance. Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” God is the one to take vengeance – not you.
My encouragement to you is to learn to take it. There are many circumstances in life where you will be doing good but you will suffer from the words or actions of others. It could be at home, at work, at school, on the highway, at the store or any place where you interface with other people. It could even be from fellow Christians. When you do good but suffer for it, accept what God is allowing to happen to you. Do not repay evil for evil. Do not take vengeance. Overcome evil with good.