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Turning the other cheek is the very nature of Jesus' posture towards us.  It defines His way.  This is true in the OT as much as the New.

It is a response to being wronged.  (Note that being sued and forced labour are the parallel cases in Matt 5:40,41 - it's not just about non-violence, it's about our posture towards any and every kind of assault).

When you are wronged the natural response is either retaliation or retreat.  You either strike back or shrink away.  Jesus commands an entirely different response - standing firm in meekness.  Offering the other cheek effectively says:

It hasn't worked has it?  You want me to diminish myself - either to run or to descend to your level.  But here I am in an apparent weakness that hides unnatural strength.  You have not won.  I have taken the blow and remain unaffected.  I have arrested the cycle of violence and now I stand here confronting you with your own wickedness.   I'm outmaneuvering you.  I have entirely changed the terms on which we are relating.   You may change them back again, but each time I will disempower you by refusing to perpetuate your aggression.  I may look like I'm losing.  But in reality you lost the minute you struck me.  And I refuse to join you.  My way - the way of voluntary weakness - is really the only way to win.

Now we know how this tactic has worked en masse.  Think of Gandhi's non-violent protest.


But here I want to think about it's transformational power in personal relationships.

Imagine three families where one of the members acts as a kind of scapegoat.  The scapegoat is the member of the pack who becomes the perpetual butt of every gag.  The family only properly functions when the scapegoat is to blame.

In family A the scapegoat eventually hardens into a sharp-tongued, spikey wise-guy. 

In family B  the scapegoat shrinks into a self-blaming, shy, clutz. 

But what about a third way?  Imagine if the scapegoat finds Christ.  And in Him finds a power to receive the very worst blow and neither to lash out nor to shrink down.

And so this time the barbed comment comes their way....

Father:  You just crashed the car, you stupid clutz!  You're always doing that.  What's the matter with you, how can you be such an idiot?!

Now scapegoat A would fight back.  Scapegoat B would crumble into tears.  But in family C the scapegoat says...

Oh Dad, I'm much worse than a clutz.  My life is chaotic, I'm always running late, I never look where I'm going.  There are some deep seated problems that I'm praying through right now, and 'stupid' doesn't even touch the depths of my problems.  But Dad, let's forget about the car for a second and let's talk about why your first response to my car accident was to abuse me?  Seems like there's something pretty wrong in our relationship if that's the case...

Wouldn't that be a powerful?  Wouldn't that be turning the other cheek?

Or a marriage (could be any marriage!) where the husband comes home late after some ministry activity:

[Fuming] You said you'd be home half an hour ago!

Response A:

Honey, it was for the gospel!  And if you were for the gospel you'd understand!

Response B:

I give in.  I can't win.  I'm off to blog...

Response C:

You're right.  There were some unavoidable delays, but at heart you're right - and it's worse than you think.  I have this horrible need for people to think I'm a funny, personable guy so I stick around to crack jokes.  I put my image ahead of my word to you and that's awful, I'm going to pray about it.  But first can we talk about a better way of communicating in these situations?

You refuse to retaliate, you take the blow in all its fullness and then you turn to address the relationship (not the fight).

Now you have a go.  Is there a situation where you need to turn the other cheek?  How will you do it?


PS - for a brilliant example of Bob Kauflin turning the other cheek to a guy stealing his car battery, listen to the first 5 minutes of this

I've had the blogging equivalent of getting my face wiped with spit on a hanky.  My mother (long-time reader, first-time commenter) could keep her silence no longer when I failed to mention Old Testament incidents of turning the other cheek.  Well in keeping with my theme I graciously submit to the correction and ask that others add their own examples.

I'll just mention four.

First from the law:

"If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him." (Exodus 23:4)

Note that this comes in the same body of law in which 'eye for eye' is found (Ex 21:24).  Eye for eye never precluded loving your enemy. 

Second I can think of Esau meeting Jacob in Gen 33.  Jacob feared Esau and had every right to fear him!  Yet, verse 4:

"But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept."

No wonder Jesus uses these words to describe His own father-like response to sinners (Luke 15:20).  This is a paradigmatic example of turning the other cheek.  And Genesis itself has set us up for this.  Just as Jacob saw Jesus face to face (Gen 32:30) and found blessing, so he found the same grace in Esau's face:

"To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably."  (Gen 33:10)

Esau had shown grace to a scumbag just as Jesus had done the night before.  Turning the other cheek is not just an honourable human action, it is the very character of the Face-to-Face God.

Third example is David sparing Saul.  The whole Saul - David interaction parallels Adam and Christ.  The first ruler looks promising but leads the people down into shame and defeat.  The world sees Saul on the throne, but God has anointed another king.  Those in the know sing about David and follow him even though they respect Saul's outward kingship. 

During this overlap of reigns, Saul seeks to kill David and David would have every right to kill Saul.  Yet he spares Saul's life twice (1 Sam 24 & 26).   David will not bring in his kingdom that way.  When Saul realises the grace shown to him he weeps, confesses his own sin and David's righteousness.  (see 1 Sam 24:16-22 and 26:21-25).  This seems to be a model of how turning the other cheek can shame an enemy into confessing their wickedness.

That's a prominent theme in my fourth example: Proverbs 25:21-22

 21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. 22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.  (Prov 25:21-22)

What an incredible piece of advice.  We think retaliation is the best way to show someone God's opposition to their sin ('burning coals' - Ps 11:6; 18:8; 120:4; 140:10!).   Actually kindness to enemies - that's what will really reveal the judgement of God.  

In the next post I'll think about what turning the other cheek would look like in various practical examples.



when you are struck...

don't strike back, take the blow

don't protect yourself, expose yourself

don't lead with justice, lead with mercy

don't retreat into safety, advance into danger

don't retaliate with strength, retaliate with weakness

don't shrink into self-pity, move out into self-giving

don't insist on your rights, open yourself to wrong

don't cower in defeat, hold fast in meekness

don't stand on your dignity, stand on your shame

don't harden into bitterness, soften into tenderness


be defiantly peaceable

be immovably vulnerable

be steafastly gracious 

be victoriously wounded

be like Jesus.


Who, when we lashed out at Him...

did not come in violence.  nor remain in indifference

did not strike back.  nor shrink back

did not retaliate.  nor harden


He absorbed the blow

And He turned again to us.

He upheld His offer.

Arms outstretched, even to His killers.

Especially them

Only them

You, even.


There is strength in this weakness.

Strength to redeem the world.


It begins with surrender.

Laying down your arms.

Receiving His peace.


It continues with service.

Following His way.

Absorbing your own blows.

Today. Every day.  Turning your cheek.

To this you are called.


To be lower than a door-mat.  Far lower.

A door-mat is passive

But you thow yourself under the feet of your enemies.


To be lower than a slave.  Far lower.

A slave walks his alotted mile grumbling in his heart.

You walk two miles with a glint in your eyes.

For you know the power of this weakness.

It reconciles the world.


This never made it into my sermon 'Why the Cross?'  It's a side thought raised by the question why God doesn't simply forgive us...

Forgiveness is always costly. Whenever people say ‘Why doesn't God simply forgive?' I often wonder what they mean by the word ‘simply'. Anyone who says forgiveness is simple has clearly never tried it. Forgiveness is always painful, costly, messy, heart-wrenching. Forgiveness always involves sacrifice.

Look at this verse from Proverbs:

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Have you ever been in an argument where you're exchanging harsh words with another. And, as this verse describes it, anger is being stirred up and stirred up and stirred up. In that situation what is it like to answer a person with genuine gentleness? They speak harsh words to you - what's it like to answer with gentleness. It is painful, it is hard, it is a sacrifice. It is not just water off a duck's back. It's not a simple matter of forgiving and forgetting - it involves sacrifice.

And this proverb describes it is as a sacrifice. You see the phrase ‘turns away wrath' is a special phrase in the bible that's almost always associated with sacrifices. It's sacrifices that turn away wrath - anger is turned away from you because it's turned on the sacrifice. And this verse says: if you're in an argument and you answer someone gently it's like being a human sacrifice. If we've ever tried it, we know that's how it feels. Forgiveness is always sacrificial.

And nowhere is this more true than at the cross. In the bible, the cross is described as the place where Jesus turns away God's wrath. At the cross the wrath of God is turned away from us and turned onto Jesus. So think of the cross as the place where all our harsh words against heaven are met by the gentle answer of Jesus. His grace heals and restores us but it's costly to Him. The cross is the costly, sacrificial forgiveness of God. But there really is no forgiveness that's not sacrificial.

Think of it from another angle.  When Jesus tells us to pray ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us' the prayer literally is ‘forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.' Our sins are like debts. Now if you cancel someone's debt - that's great for them. But the debt doesn't just vanish. There's still a cost - it just means that now you bear the cost, rather than them. It still hurts, it's still costly, it's still sacrificial to forgive.

So again, think of the cross as the place where all our debts to God are cancelled - it's wonderful for us. It's massively costly to God - He absorbs the debt, He makes Himself liable, He pays off our arrears. That's the cross. It is free and full forgiveness for us, but it is a costly, sacrificial forgiveness, for God. Because all forgiveness is sacrificial.


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