April 27 – Jesus and Non-retaliation: Security

If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.—Matt. 5:40

Most people in New Testament times owned just one coat and likely just one or two shirts. Shirts were undergarments, and coats were outer garments that also served as blankets overnight. This kind of coat was important, what the Mosaic law required be returned to its owner “before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body” (Ex. 22:26–27).

Jesus’ reference here is not to a theft, when someone wants to steal another’s garment, but to a legitimate lawsuit in a legal court. In those days the courts often mandated that fines or judgments be paid in clothing. The illustration is that a genuine follower of Christ will be willing to surrender even his most valuable coat to an adversary rather than cause offense or hard feelings. The judge could not require a specific coat in payment, but the person could voluntarily give it up.

Even if a settlement against us is fairly arrived at for a certain amount, we should be willing to pay more to demonstrate sincere regret for the wrong done and the pain inflicted on another. Most of us have probably never considered this option, but it shows the love of Christ and genuineness of our faith.

ASK YOURSELF
Notice again that this series of scenarios from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount consistently calls for more than the law demands. What does that tell you about the way we ’re supposed to respond in situations in which our personal integrity or the cause of Christ is being challenged?[1]

Security

And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. (5:40)

The shirt mentioned here was a type of tunic worn as an undergarment, and the coat was an outer garment that also served as a blanket at night. Most people of that day owned only one coat and probably only one or two shirts. It was the outer garment, the coat, that Mosaic law required be returned to its owner “before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body” (Ex. 22:26–27).

Jesus is not speaking of a robbery, in which a person tries to steal your clothes, but of the legitimate claim of anyone who wants to sue you. When a person had no money or other possessions, the court often would require the fine or judgment be paid by clothing. The attitude of a kingdom citizen, one who is truly righteous, should be willingness to surrender even one’s coat, his extremely valuable outer garment, rather than cause offense or hard feelings with an adversary. The court could not demand the coat, but it could be voluntarily given to meet the requred debt. And that is precisely what Jesus says we should be willing to do.

If a legal judgment is fairly made against us for a certain amount, we should be willing to offer even more in order to show our regret for any wrong we did and to show that we are not bitter or resentful against the one who has sued us. In so doing we will show the love of Christ and that we are “sons of [our] Father who is in heaven” (v. 45). It is better even to be defrauded than to be resentful and spiteful. (Paul later instructs Christians regarding lawsuits in 1 Cor. 6:1–8, emphasizing a similar principle of willingness to forfeit one’s due rather than be vengeful.)[2]

40 Although under Mosaic law the outer cloak was an inalienable possession (Ex 22:26; Dt 24:13), Jesus’ disciples, if sued for their tunics (not equivalent to our underwear but to clothes worn under the “tunic” but customarily worn next to the skin), far from seeking satisfaction, will gladly part with what they may legally keep. Luke 6:29 says nothing about legal action but mentions the garments in reverse order. This has led some to think that Luke had violent robbery in mind because then the outer garment would be snatched off first. But perhaps the order is simply that in which the garments would normally be removed.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 126). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 334). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 190). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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