In Matthew 5:39, Jesus commanded His disciples, “Do not resist an evil person.” This command is a part of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus preached in Matthew 5—7. In this sermon, Jesus discussed many topics including anger, sexual immorality, marriage, fasting, relationships, and more. Through this sermon, He taught His disciples how to live a pure and righteous life before God and others.
When Jesus says, “Do not resist an evil person,” He’s revealing God’s heart for how we are to treat those who wrong us. Here is the context: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles“ (Matthew 5:38–41). Instead of seeking revenge, Jesus tells us that we should “turn the other cheek.” In other words, we should adopt an attitude of humility and seek to be peaceful with those who have wronged us.
It’s important to note that by saying, “Do not resist an evil person,” Jesus is not requiring us to be pacifists or to never resist evil forces. In fact, James 4:7 and 1 Peter 5:9 command us to resist the devil and his evil practices. If a believer or his loved ones are threatened or attacked, it’s not wrong to take up a defense or to seek appropriate justice against the wrongdoer. What Jesus does require by commanding us not to resist an evil person is to not retaliate. We do not respond in kind, and we shouldn’t try to “get even.” And, when the offense is nothing more than a personal slight, we can ignore it altogether.
By not seeking revenge or retaliation against people who have personally wronged us, we are actually able to reveal to them what God is like. God, in His grace, does not retaliate against those who wrong Him; He does not try to “get even” with sinners. Rather, God invites them into a relationship with Himself and, in Christ, offers to forgive them of their sins.
Perhaps the most important reason we should not resist an evil person is that Jesus Himself did not. Jesus practiced what He preached. When He was arrested and crucified, Jesus did not fight back or resist. He did not seek revenge or try and “get even” with His tormentors. Rather, He loved them and died for them, and He asked His Heavenly Father to forgive them for the wrong they committed (Luke 23:34). Following Jesus’ example, we should not resist an evil person. We, too, can choose to love and forgive those who have wronged us.
As believers, we should not resist an evil person. The Lord teaches us that it’s wrong to retaliate and seek revenge, and we should model the example of our Savior. The apostle Paul sums it up in Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”