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Knowing When (and When Not) to Turn the Other Cheek

  • Cliff Young Contributing Writer
  • 2020 23 Jun
Knowing When (and When Not) to Turn the Other Cheek

I was eleven years old when I got into my first (and only) schoolyard scuffle. The confrontation could hardly be considered a "fight.” It was more like a slow-motion flailing of limbs directed at one another. To this day I have no idea what our mime brawl could have been about, since my adversary and I always seemed to have been friends (and he was almost twice my size).

I obviously had some growing up to do physically and mentally. My weak conflict resolution experience would have been a worldwide comedic hit had it been recorded, but is now just a poor reminder of how not to live out Matthew 5:39.

"If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too."

Even though I never technically experienced being struck and having to consider this verse literally, I have always wondered what the reason was behind Jesus instructing us in this way.

Christians as a whole seem to have a hard enough time with public image without allowing ourselves to take a beating at every conflict.

What "Turn the Other Cheek" Really Means for Christians

As I have journeyed my way through Matthew 5:39 and the concept of “turning the other cheek,” I have begun to make a little more sense of it and discovered areas where it can be applicable in my life.

Just the other day, I was driving down a crowded highway and noticed a car approaching rather quickly from behind. There was a little room to my side and a small gap in front of me. I just knew the driver was going to cut over to the other lane and squeeze back in front of me.

Seconds later he was car lengths ahead of me.

The old-thinking me would have closed the gap to keep him from doing so, tail-gated for a while or possibly some fashion. However, as the incident transpired, “turn the other cheek” came to mind. Instead of feeling violated or upset for some silly reason, I celebrated the fact I was able to foresee it happening before it occurred.

I happily resigned to becoming a spectator as I watched the driver dart back and forth through traffic rather than a participant in some pointless activity.

Too often these days we seem to get so worked up over something minor or incidental and end up leaving our imprint in the way of an action, a gesture, a post, a comment or even worse. Someone takes a parking spot we were waiting for, expresses their opinion about a subject matter, or says something that may offend us (without even knowing) and we go ballistic with a retaliatory exchange.

We see this happen every day with responses made to remarks on the internet of those who have a need to bite back or air their opinion, not realizing they are putting something out there for the world to see, re-post and attach to our character.

This is not to say we should freely allow someone to confront, intimidate or threaten us or our family, allow ourselves to be walked on and taken advantage of or stand down on every disagreement, but why get worked up over little matters that don’t really make a difference in the big picture?

Several years ago, Richard Carlson wrote a book which became a quick bestseller called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

It talks about living in the moment, not worrying about getting the recognition for everything, choosing your battles wisely and living each day as it might be your last.

As of late I have been choosing to keep those thoughts along with the expression “turn the other cheek” at the forefront of my mind, and as a result I experience more peace-filled days.

Applying "Turn the Other Cheek" to Everyday Life

I refuse to allow my joy to be disrupted because someone cut in front of me in line, didn’t reply to a text, seems to be getting preferential treatment or has more than me.

I don’t worry about the little things people say (oftentimes in passing) which I can construe as being offensive. I don’t concern myself with comments I may disagree with. I don’t (always) get upset when things don’t go my way anymore, and I seek to find a godly perspective when “life happens.”

Adopting this demeanor can also greatly affect our personal relationships. We can accept others as they are, overlook minor annoyances (because we all have them), avoid needless arguments and reconcile our differences instead of trying to make others accommodate to our ways and desires.

Mainly, I find by turning the other cheek in the face of offensive behavior speaks more to those who don’t know the Lord than my words can.

"Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9) - those who choose not to act on pure emotion, but rather in love.

We all have some sort of struggle going on in our lives. Instead of reacting immediately and emotionally to every situation, consider what others may be going through which causes them to act in such a manner. Taking into account the way I have responded at times to difficult circumstances, I try not to judge the actions of others at face value.

"What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" (James 4:1).

God created us to be in community with and commanded us to love others (Matthew 22:39), yet at times we find ourselves doing the opposite. We don’t turn the other cheek to petty meaningless encounters, yet we do to those we pass on the streets, the families struggling to survive and to our own in the church who have stumbled.

Maybe if we quit spending so much time focusing and worrying about the minor “injustices” we face each day we would become more aware of those who have real concerns we need to care for all around us.

Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (ARose Books), as well as the bi-weekly column, "He Said-She Said," in's Singles Channel. An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback? Send your comments and questions to Find him on facebook and twitter.