Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
I’ve faced some difficult lessons as of late, including the following – that one of the most covert places for toxicity to hide is within the realms of religion. Many actions are justified by the misapplication of scripture. I understand, however, that this is a controversial topic to address, because for many of us, religion is personal and close to our hearts. Nevertheless, given our current environment, I believe we are being called to reevaluate the way we view our relationships with God.
In order for us to truly grow, we have to start questioning the biases that we have when we open our Bibles. We have to ask ourselves if we are reading for confirmation or for edification. Are we applying scripture to fit our personal narratives, or to see what God is calling us to do? Without divine discernment, we’ll let darkness lead us, and when that happens, we will have lost our way.
Turning the Other Cheek
One such example of this concept is the idea of turning the other cheek. In Matthew 5:38 & 39, Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
On the surface, such a statement could feel like pacifism or the suggestion that we should simply take abuse from others. Many people have subjected themselves to severe mistreatment or expected others to endure their toxicity based on this scripture. But does that seem right? Do we think this is what Christ is really asking for us to do? Does this appear to be in line with His character and the example He left for us during His time here on Earth?
When we face such a conundrum, it’s important to keep studying the scriptures before arriving at a conclusion. If we keep reading the New Testament, we eventually reach Romans 12:19. This scripture states: Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Combined with Jesus’ statement in Matthew, we have a better understanding of His direction. We aren’t to spend time focused on vengeance, because if we’re looking for an eye, then we’d have to give one up too. Instead, we must trust that God will take care of whatever is to be repaid.
A Look Back to the Old Testament
To give even deeper, we go back to Leviticus 24, which gives us insight to God’s original intentions. The “eye for an eye” statement was a part of a set of instructions given by God regarding the punishment of particular transgressions. For example, if you killed someone, your punishment was that you too would be killed. This speaks to the concept of reaping what you sow, which holds true throughout the Bible. But let’s be honest – even today, we’re obsessed with the idea of justice on our timelines, and in our own way. We want to be the purveyors of accountability, but often move outside of the bounds of God.
In Leviticus, God’s required accountability similar to the way we would want to hold someone accountable via the legal system today. However, we know that you do not go to jail for every offense. Yet there are times when our need to keep track of every wrong that has been done to us overshadows the love of Christ in our hearts. Jesus saw this perversion and wanted us to realign on the idea that our responsibility is to be the best that we can be, no matter the actions of another person. We give our best because that is what Christ gives us every day… not because we deserve it, but because He loves us anyway.
But What is Our Best?
To give our best means that we are stewards of Christ – allowing His character and love to shine through us as we navigate through difficult challenges. So, for example, we can give our best by turning the other cheek, but that does not mean that friendships have to be renewed. Forgiveness is a sign of God’s love, but this does not immediately mean that trust is rebuilt, and connectivity stays intact. We can be stewards of Christ without enduring the toxicity of others. Discernment isn’t just about who or what you let in, it’s also about what you actively keep out.
Furthermore, we should not expect for others to stay through our hurtful dysfunction at a detriment to their own well-being. Such a request is selfish and self-serving, but unfortunately, we tout this concept as the Christian thing to do. This is wrong. In fact, such behavior is damaging to the people who have had to endure consistent pain with minimal accountability. It is true that no one is perfect, but in self-love, we have a right to set up boundaries. We get to decide what level of imperfection turns into toxicity and when to allow for some space.
If you think this idea is incorrect, then consider the example of Jesus when prophesying of Peter’s denial. Jesus told Peter: But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” (Luke 22:32) Jesus knew that Peter would fail but wanted to make sure his faith endured through the darkness. In love, Christ prayed for Peter so that Peter would have the encouragement needed to return to Christ after such a tragic mistake.
Jesus also understood that Peter would need to leave to figure some things out, so He created a space for Peter to come back to Him. Such an action is the definition of turning the other cheek. It’s allowing someone to show back up in our lives after they have gone astray… should they choose to repent and want to come back in. Instead of seeking vengeance, we decide to lead with compassion, meeting imperfections with grace. Above all else, we embrace God’s love, but that doesn’t mean we have no boundaries.
The Upward Call of God in Christ Jesus
Christ did not intend for us to use His words to excuse toxic behavior. Instead, I believe God wanted us to search the scriptures with all of our hearts, so that we are not applying His words in parts, but instead considering them in whole. If we search the word of God with an open heart and mind, we begin to remove the layers we’ve added to the messages God has given us. We better understand how to apply the meaning of turning the other cheek, among so many other pieces of wisdom that Christ gave us throughout the Bible.
Paul wrote that we should run this race toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. I pray that we are all open to God’s call, and that we allow Him to lead us, as we study His word.
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