Maintaining a Christian Heart

Epiphany 7 Wednesday

Matthew 5:38-41

“You have heard that it is said: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you that you should not resist the evil. But if anyone strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other as well. And if anyone wants to sue you to take your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.”

What do these verses mean when they apply to your person individually, when you are hurt or treated unjustly–should you, too, defend and protect yourself by force? Answer: No. For here even the secular and imperial law teaches: Striking back creates unrest, and he who strikes back is in the wrong. For thereby he interferes with the judge’s office whose job it is to punish and takes away the judge’s privilege. This is just like in other cases: If someone steals something from you or robs you, it is not your job to steal or rob something from that person and to take it by force. But we are usually clever enough that we, before long, have avenged ourselves. But this should not happen. But if you do not want to put up with it or unable to do so, you may take the person to court and present your claim there. For Christ permits you to claim your rights so long as you do not have a vengeful heart. Just as a judge is permitted to punish and kill while he is forbidden to have hatred or vindictiveness in his heart, as commonly happens that the office abused to settle some personal scores. But if this does not happen and you only seek to protect yourself against violence and outrage, not to avenge yourself or
to harm the neighbor, you do not act wrongly. For where the heart is pure, everything is done rightly and well. But this course of action is not without risk since the world along with flesh and blood is evil and always seeks its own advantage while it adorns itself with such appearance and covers its inner rogue. Thus, it is not forbidden to go to court and to complain against injustice, violence, etc., so long as the heart is not false, but is as patient as before and is only about upholding what is right and resisting what is wrong and acts out of true love of righteousness…For it must not and should not be that you should permit everyone’s wantonness, keep silent about, and do nothing about it where it can be prevented in an orderly manner, although we nevertheless should and must endure when injustice and violence is done to us. For we must not approve of injustice but testify to the truth and may well invoke the laws against violence and outrage. An example of this is Christ before the high priest Annas, John 18:22-23: When struck, Christ invoked what was right, but nevertheless put up with being struck. He not only offered the other cheek, but his entire body…Therefore, when a Christian goes to war, when he sits in judgment, when he punishes or accuses his neighbor, he does not do this as a Christian but as a soldier, judge, lawyer, etc. But he nonetheless maintains a Christian heart as one who does not desire to do evil to anyone, who is saddened if his neighbor is harmed. In this way, he lives as a Christian toward all people who
suffers many a thing in this world while he also, as a person of the world, observes, uses, and does what the law of the land demands. In summary, a Christian, as a Christian, does not live for any of the things one observes in him in this outward life. For all this pertains to the imperial government which Christ does not wish to overthrow and which he
does not teach as something we should flee to abandon the world or our office and station in life. Instead, he teaches us to use such office and order and to be joined with others under it, while we inwardly live for another government that does not have anything to do with the former, that does not hinder it, but can well coexist with it.

St. Louis ed., 7:470-473.

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