Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:Nonresistance and Non-retaliation
When someone hurts you, is unkind to you, or treats you disrespectfully, what do you do? What do you think? Do you plan to retaliation and “get even” in some way? Or do you even think of doing this?
These words, per se, are not found in the New Testament, but the essence of the words is found repeatedly on the sacred pages. By them, we mean the willingness to not resist evil men and the determination to not retaliate for wrongs done to us. Jesus our Lord is our example. We might think that Jesus, more than any other, would have a right to resist those who would unjustly oppose Him. He would have a right to lash out with words and actions against those who would treat Him with contempt. But notice His response in these circumstances:
You have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:21-23; cf. Matthew 27:12-14, 34-44).
Jesus refused to revile or slander those who slandered Him. He refused to utter rightful threats against those who cause Him unbearable suffering. He didnt lift a finger to physically oppose his cruel persecutors. Instead, He committed Himself to the just Judge of the universe, God His Father.
The defenseless Son of God calls on us to follow in His steps with the same loving response. Notice some of these instructions. Peter gives this command, To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing (1 Peter 3:8-9).
This is the very response that Jesus modeled for us. He didnt return evil for the evil that was placed on Him, and neither should we. He prayed that God would forgive those who crucified Him, and we are to give a blessing to our persecutors. Notice also an extended passage from Romans 12. Paul writes:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (vv. 14, 17a, 19-21).
This is the very opposite to the way of the world. The world often urges revenge, retaliation, getting even with ones enemies. The way of Christ says to bless our persecutors, to feed those who are hungry among our enemies, to give drink to them when they are thirsty, and to overcome evil with goodnot with harm. Do we have this kind of nonresistant attitude? Do we refuse to retaliate against our enemy?
We all will face situations in life in which someone offends us, or treats us unkindly, or is responsible for our losing money. Maybe they take advantage of us or harm us or our property in some way. Will we overlook the offense or will we try to get even in some way? David describes those who treated him wrongfully and shamefully (Psalm 109:2-5):
They have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me;
They have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
They have also surrounded me with words of hatred,
And fought against me without cause.
In return for my love they act as my accusers;
But I am in prayer.
Thus they have repaid me evil for good
And hatred for my love.
What would you do? Would you retaliate for such cruelty, unkindness, hostility? Or would you love them, do good to them, bless them, and pray for them? (Luke 6:27-28).
Christ gives further instruction in the Sermon on the Mount: 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 an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also (Matthew 5:38-39). A slap to the cheek would be provocative, but Jesus says to do the very opposite of what human nature would deem proper and right. Christ also directed His disciples, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27-28; cf. Matthew 5:43-44). This is the heart attitude that should characterize our life.
This is the very outlook that Paul had: When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate (1 Corinthians 4:12b-13a). This would not be acceptable among Americans or to any other citizens of the world. The apostle explains further, See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people (1 Thessalonians 5:15). They say, You must stand up for your rights! Act like a man and defend yourself! In reality, it takes more love and courage to do good to those who harm us.
However, our response is not just negative, the refusal to retaliate or to resist the evil person. Instead, the Christian is called on to be positive in his approach. Jesus said to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44), to express an outgoing, patient, active love that seeks the highest good of the enemy. The way of Christ is vastly different from the ways of the world. We not only refuse to retaliate and refuse to get even, we actively try to find ways to express outgoing love, care, concern, and helpfulness toward those who hurt us.
One example of nonresistant love is that of Dirk Willems who lived in the Netherlands of the sixteenth century. At this time, the Catholics dominated this country and opposed the nonresistant Anabaptists. Dirks story has often been retold:
Dirk was caught, tried and convicted as an Anabaptist in those later years of harsh Spanish rule under the Duke of Alva in The Netherlands. He escaped from a residential palace turned into a prison by letting himself out of a window with a rope made of knotted rags, dropping onto the ice that covered the castle moat.
Seeing him escape, a palace guard pursued him as he fled. Dirk crossed the thin ice of a pond, the “Hondegat,” safely. His own weight had been reduced by short prison rations, but the heavier pursuer broke through.
Hearing the guard’s cries for help, Dirk turned back and rescued him. The less-than-grateful guard then seized Dirk and led him back to captivity. This time the authorities threw him into a more secure prison, a small, heavily barred room at the top of a very tall church tower, above the bell, where he was probably locked into the wooden leg stocks that remain in place today. Soon he was led out to be burned to death.[i]
What would you have done? What would I have done? Would we have allowed the persecutor to drown in the icy watersor would we have rescued the man out of Christian love?
Consider a few questions to determine how you respond to evildoers: (1) When someone cuts you off on the highway, do you refuse to become angry? (2)When someone is rude toward you in the store, do you refuse to become abusive and instead reply with kindness and gentleness? (3) When someone has been unkind toward you, do you try to go the second mile and do something good for him? (4) When a neighbor treats you badly, do you not only refuse to retaliate but also look for ways to do something good for the person? (5) When a family member criticizes you, or says an angry word, or slanders you, or gossips about you, do you guard your tongue and choose to respond with love and kindness? Our walk with Christ is not only theoretical, but it is very practical in the way we refuse to retaliate and choose to lovingly respond.
[i] Goshen.edu/mqr/Dirk_Willems.html; a fuller account of this incident may be found in Dean Taylors A Change of Allegiance (Ephrata, PA: Radical Reformation Books, 2008), pp. 127-130.