Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 5:40 “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat,
let him have thy cloke also.”
Few things more tempt anyone to a spirit of animosity and revenge than being threatened with a lawsuit. “Coat” refers to the long close-fitting robes worn in Jesus’ day. “Cloke,” the large and flowing outer garment worn over the coat, was like an afghan, and often used as a blanket at night. Since the cloke was more valuable than the coat, Jesus was once again saying His followers must be willing, before retaliating, to endure a second, and even worse, blow than the first one.
Christ was not condemning rightful use of the courts. As noted in our last lesson, Paul resorted to legal recourse often. Christians may go to court if the case meets three conditions. First, the matter must be significant. Jesus opposed going to court over trivial matters. One should not want to enter a legal battle over a coat; court fees alone would be more than a coat would cost. To go to court over trifles reveals a contentious heart anxious for vengeance. It is better to be subservient to people who harm us than to be slaves to our own out-of-control revenge.
Second, Christians may go to court if their motive is justice, not vengeance. Courts do have the right to enact revenge, but be sure it is never a motive in our own hearts. The proper spirit was shown by Jewish religious leaders who asked that the Nuremburg trials be conducted as a pursuit for justice, not vengeance.
Third, Christians may go to court if the case will not embarrass the cause of Christ. Especially prefer to be wronged than to enter into litigation against another Christian (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Do not let our infernal pride cause us to lose our testimony. Ever be willing to suffer some degree of loss. View the decision to forego a trial as not a surrender, but a strategy of operations to win people for Jesus.
Matt. 5:41 “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him
To prove we are Christians, and to demonstrate to the world Christ’s love, be willing to suffer injury and insult (5:39c), to give up property and possessions (5:40), to lose time and dignity (5:41). In Jesus’ day, the Holy Land was under the iron grip of Rome. By law, a Roman soldier could command a civilian to help carry baggage. For example, Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross (MT 27:32). Subjecting conquered citizens to arbitrary military conscription reinforced their sense of oppression and oft reminded them of their lowly place of subservience. Such impressment, like a slap or a lawsuit, could easily spawn feelings of resentment. My Puckett ancestry yields an apt illustration. England conscripted three Puckett brothers, living in Ireland, to fight in the War of 1812 against America. Rather than yield, they fled their country and came to America to live.
This military conscription, a practice too common in Jesus’ day, was odious to the Jews. They hated being reminded of their subjugation. Being an indignity and a terribly inconvenient loss of time, the Jews performed this duty reluctantly and with complaints. This snarliness was deemed normal, acceptable behavior.
Jesus, though, changed everything. He altered the paradigm, the way of viewing things. Irksome tasks are a part of life, and Jesus taught us to use these unwelcome situations as opportunities to disarm our enemies completely by doing twice as much as they ask us to do. Christians never have a right to do the bare minimum. We must overfill the cup, overstep the necessary. By always doing more than is required, we will for sure never neglect anything which is required.
Some are tempted to think Jesus’ words here are a burden, a kind of slavery. Not true! All of Jesus’ commands are given as a kindness for our best good. The concept of going the second mile is a major key to finding fulfillment in life.
In the second mile we find the joy we desperately seek in life. Charles Allen, the Methodist pastor, relates William James’ concept of “our first layer of fatigue.” The great psychologist said most people spend their lives within the limits of this first fatigue. Doing only the bare essentials and what is required, life is a drudgery, a burden, a despondency. The only way a person can break life’s fatigue barrier is to go past duty. Athletes know what it means to get a second wind. After a period of exertion, the body seems ready to give in, but suddenly a burst of energy hits and enables greater heights. This is what the second mile does for a Christian. Life spent in the first mile of duty is tedious and tiresome. The second mile provides the thrilling, stimulating adventure.
In the second mile we sense God’s applause cheering us on. Isn’t this what we want more than anything else on earth, to sense His “Well done” now in anticipation of hearing it audibly someday? Go the second mile joyfully, as an act of worship, knowing we are doing something pleasing to the Lord. Never do things with a scowl or grumpily, for our murmuring is heard by God, whose very sovereignty and providence allow these events to enter our lives. We should be joyous and gracious as we do deeds more numerous and far better than anyone expects. The first mile is compulsory, our duty unto people, the second mile is voluntary, a joy unto God. Do it smiling unto God and bask in His responded smile toward us.
In the second mile others see Jesus in us. A part of our duty in the second mile is laying down the sting and frustration of the first mile. In the second mile we drop our anger and bitterness as we lift our hearts to the Lord. By the end of the second mile, let our antagonist no longer be able to see anger in us, the meanness of his deed having been forgotten. Before we lay down the irksome outward load, be sure to lay down our inward load of anger. Once we lean over and put down the baggage, as we stand erect again, be sure others see Jesus in our face.
Go the second mile at church. The Gospel pleads to be taken from our four walls to the four corners of the earth, from our common house to our common world. A lost world beckons us. First mile mentality, doing minimal business as usual, will not accomplish our World View.
Go the second mile at work. Arrive five minutes early, stay five minutes late, take five minutes less than anyone else for lunch. If this causes you trouble with fellow workers, then just commit yourself to being the best worker in your workplace. As your standard, accept nothing less than going the second mile.
Go the second mile at home. For a home to be run efficiently, tasks need to be assigned, but the instant a married couple and their children make lists of “Husband, do these chores,” and “Wife, do these chores,” and “Children, do these chores,” our obligation is clear. My list is my first mile, everybody else’s list is my second mile. A Christian must do his or her own list plus try to help everyone else with theirs, too. The way to make our households a haven, a heaven on earth, is not by trying to avoid the first mile, but by gladly going the second mile.
Learn to live beyond the first mile. In the second mile we find the joy of living, hear the applause of God, and let others see Jesus in us.