Nobody likes being treated unfairly. When we see injustice in the world it can be easy to turn the other way, but when it happens to us, it’s nearly impossible to ignore. The sense of being treated unfairly draws out feelings of anger and outrage otherwise kept at bay. The urge to retaliate against a personal injustice begins already as children. What child enjoys seeing all his friends get a chocolate but not himself? Where is the child who is willing to take the blame for what her brother did wrong?
We never really outgrow that feeling of outrage in response to injustice. When life is not fair to us, angry feelings start to boil deep inside and we look for ways to right the wrong. It should be said that these feelings are not necessarily wrong. Injustice is a result of the world’s sinful rebellion against God’s perfectly just rule and we ought to hate it as God hates it. As Christians we ought to be at the forefront of efforts to correct injustices.
However, when an injustice is done against the church, or against individual Christians, it is a different matter. Our response to personal injustice must be informed by the words of Jesus who has instructed us to “turn the other cheek” and to “go the extra mile”. Such commands go against our natural desire to lash out at the injustice done against us. We want to strike the cheek of the other person, not turn our own cheek. We want to take a stand, not go the extra mile for someone who is mistreating us. But the Christian is one who walks in step with the Spirit of Christ and does not follow wherever sinful desires lead. When we experience injustice, we cannot be content with reacting as the world would react.
Now, what exactly is Jesus saying to us? Jesus is not advocating that we passively accept all injustices done against us or that we collapse into the fetal position and surrender. The boldness of the apostles and the early church serves to make that much clear. When the angry mobs came at Paul with stones and false accusations, he didn’t edge a little closer to the crowd so they had an easier target. We have means at our disposal to peacefully correct injustice and to show the world what real justice looks like. So, again, what is Jesus teaching us?
The Apostle Paul experienced his share of injustice and in his letter to the church at Corinth he has some wise words for us which reflect what Jesus taught about “turning the other cheek”.
The church at Corinth was easily impressed by worldly wisdom and power. They liked the philosopher who could debate with clever phrases and lofty prose. They applauded the teacher with the long list of credentials who was not afraid to boast. So, it’s no wonder they were disappointed with Paul’s style. The Apostle Paul wasn’t into showmanship or boasting. When he was pushed around he didn’t try stand up like a man and flex his power. When Paul was criticized, he didn’t try crush his opponents with insults and arguments. In the eyes of the Corinthians Paul was a pathetic weakling with a ministry marked by failure.
What the church didn’t understand was that Paul’s ministry was patterned after the life of Jesus. When Paul experienced personal injustice, as Jesus often did, his aim was to respond as Jesus had responded: with humility, grace, endurance, and blessing. Paul explains this to the Corinthian church:
When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we respond graciously.1 Corinthians 4:12
Hatred, persecution, and slander are forms of injustice. When Paul experienced these injustices, he did not respond with outrage, revenge, or constant complaining. Rather, he sought to respond as Jesus did – willing to suffer personal injury so that the grace of God might be put on display. Our rights and our justice are secondary to the purposes of God – to make known to all the world the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Next time you are slandered or reviled or treated unfairly consider the aim of your response. Are your seeking revenge or asserting your rights? Or is your primary concern to display Christ – to bless, to endure, and to demonstrate the subtle power of the grace of God?