“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. ~ Matthew 5:38-42.
A Christian must always do good to others, even when he can insist on an enforceable legal right and even when enemies oppose him. His generosity will evidence his desire to follow God’s directions, as far as possible. His perfect heavenly Father is his standard.
“an eye for an eye” (v.38) — This is an allusion to Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. This law, like divorce certificates, was originally intended to deal with a societal problem by attempting to limit personal revenge. It did not allow individuals or families to take revenge, but was a guideline for the court. It was often reduced to monetary equivalents by the Jewish judges. However, the principle of limited personal revenge remains.
This was a series (vv.39-42) of five examples of Jesus’ new ethics concerning our attitude toward others, both insiders and outsiders. These are historically conditioned examples. They advocate an attitude, not a hard and fast rule for every society or age. It is the spirit of the believing offended party which should issue in positive actions of love. This should not be interpreted as covering inappropriate or repeated requests from tricky or lazy people.
“an evil person” (v.39) — This could, in context, refer to the first century legal system in the sense that it is better to endure additional insults than take a covenant brother to an unbelieving judge.
“tunic … cloak” (v.40) — The first item of clothing refers to an under garment and the second to an outer garment. This is a hyperbolic statement. This is an allusion to Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13. The central truth of this entire section is that Christians should go beyond what others expect of them. The purpose is to encourage unbelievers to be attracted to God by His people’s actions (cf. Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12).
“And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (v.41) — This is historically conditioned to a time when one nation militarily occupied another. It came to be the term used for forced labor of any kind by an occupying military or civil government. An example of this is Matthew 27:32. Christians are to go beyond even what is demanded or expected.
“Give to him who asks you” (v.42) — This was not meant to be taken as a hard and fast rule about lending, but an attitude of love and openness toward others, especially the poor, needy, and outcast (cf. Exod. 22:25; Deut. 15:7-11; Pro. 19:17).