In verses 33-37, Jesus talks about oaths. While this may not seem an issue today, the summary of this command teaches us an important lesson. Jesus says “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one” (verse 37). Jesus doesn’t want us to try to justify our actions by referring to vows or words. Rather, he wants our hearts to be transformed to the point that we can do the right thing because it has been put on our hearts to act like Jesus, as opposed to doing the right thing to hold to a vow or code. I understand the concept of purity rings and WWJD bracelets, and I think they can serve as reminders that we are to conduct ourselves in a godly manner, but sometimes I believe we place too much importance on holding to the ideas that wearing a bracelet or ring somehow makes us more holy or devout, and that if we didn’t hold to these symbols, we wouldn’t act like Jesus or obtain our purity. And it’s this sort of thinking Jesus wanted us to avoid: that an oath or promise is more important than the conditions of our hearts. We must remember that it is our internal attitude, not our external promises or oaths, which lead us to true obedience in Christ.
The next verse is a tough one for Christians to accept and practice. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you” (verses 38-42). Let’s break this down piece by piece. First, I love that Jesus always addresses the previously held thought by people, and then gives a command that runs contrary to that thought. I frequently hear people point to karma when bad things happen to people they don’t like. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth reminds me of that karma idea. It’s seems to be a fair system. You do something bad, something bad happens to you, and vice versa. Everyone gets equality. Yet this isn’t a fair system, and it really isn’t even practical, because it doesn’t account for grace. We’re all sinners. If God held us to our eye for an eye law, we would get wiped out for wickedness, because that would be just. Yet God shows us grace, and He holds us to that standard of grace as well. Let us be grateful that God shows us more grace and patience than we hold for others. So if the standard here isn’t our relative idea of justice, what is it? Jesus tells us to not resist evil, and if someone slaps us on the cheek, we must turn to him the other also. This is quite difficult. When we are confronted by people, we often choose to compromise our Christian standard of living in order to stand up for ourselves, to show people we won’t be walked on, that we are dignified and proud individuals. Yet this isn’t what Jesus wants. As Christians, we are surrounded by people who hate us, and many will treat us cruelly. We can’t control that. What we can control is our response, and it must be one of love and selflessness. If someone wants our clothing, we are to give it up. If someone desires us to help them in any way, we are to do what they request, and even more than that. Jesus wants us to act as servants to people, and to do even more than what people expect so that God may be glorified. It isn’t our place to question the intentions of those who request things from us. This is hard to accept in a culture where we seek as much information as possible and lack faith that our serving people is actually beneficial. True commitment to Jesus requires that we serve people as long as it doesn’t require us to do anything against God’s name or nature. It isn’t our place to question what people will do with our service or money or giving. We are simply to serve people because Jesus commands us to, and we are to carry out that serving with cheerful hearts that are only concerned with carrying out Jesus’s commands for the glory of God and the advancement of His kingdom.