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What does it mean to turn the other cheek?

My boyfriend stated that he believed that Christ's challenges to "go the second mile" and "turn the other cheek" meant that we should avoid "self-protection."


I recently met a man through an online matching service. From what I know so far, he is a mature, responsible, diligent, godly man, who has consciously prepared himself to lead in marriage. Our personalities click and I think there is real potential for this relationship. We’ve been emailing and talking with one another over the phone, and last night he asked me on our first date, which I agreed to.

During our following conversation, he stated that he believed that Christ’s challenges to “go the second mile” and “turn the other cheek” meant that we should avoid “self-protection.” Well, I could see that — but what made my hair stand up on end was when he said that he applies (or would apply) this by picking up people on the road who needed help or a place to stay.

He added that he would exercise caution; for example, if he had daughters, they would sleep in the same room with him and his wife with the door locked. I have already come up with dozens of what I think are highly likely worst-case scenarios. I can’t imagine putting my children in that type of situation, where their safety is put at risk and we have to barricade ourselves in our own home just to protect ourselves in case the guy we picked up on the side of the road turns out to be a rapist or murderer. I imagine some strange man getting into our car with our child and I just get almost sick.

I’m almost 100 percent sure that if my parents knew that this was what he was planning to do, they would strongly advise me not to continue the relationship (and I know my mom would never have a peaceful night’s sleep in her life again).

I feel that as a husband, this man’s primary concern should be for the well-being and safety of his wife and children. He’s not stubborn — if I could give him good, biblically based reasons why this would be unwise or wrong, he would definitely listen and may even change his mind; or do you think I am overreacting and it’s my mind that needs to be changed?

Please help — I’ve never been in a relationship with this much potential and I don’t want to walk away for something that could have been worked around.


Wow. This was such an intriguing question I just had to tackle it. There are several biblical themes at work here that all must be held in a Spirit-discerned balance. Maybe I can help you sort them out. Hopefully I can help your boyfriend understand that there are many, many ways to exhibit the compassion and mercy of Jesus, without putting others in peril.

Jesus takes mercy seriously. He says in Matthew 25:31-46 that those who “invite in” strangers — the “least of these” — are indeed inviting in Jesus himself. The punishment for not doing so is, well, as bad as it gets. The King says that not showing mercy to “the least of these” was the same as not showing mercy to the King himself and the sentence is eternal punishment.

I don’t believe that Jesus is teaching salvation by works, but I do believe that he is making it very clear that one way we recognize salvation is by the fruit of compassion. As we grow in the love, grace and mercy of God, we will pour ourselves out for those in need in very tangible ways.

The classic story of helping the destitute is the parable of the Good Samaritan, and it adds another layer of understanding to showing love, mercy and compassion to those in need.

In describing who it is we are to love and how to love them, Jesus tells the story of a man who had been mugged and robbed and left for dead in a ditch. Jesus describes several would-be obvious helpers, who not only don’t exhibit any compassion whatsoever, they actually are proactive in avoiding the needy by passing by on the other side of the street!

Meanwhile, here comes the Samaritan (the most despised ethnicity to Jesus’ hearers) who bandages him, loads him up on his donkey, takes him to an inn since he was away from home, stays with him a night, and then pays for any extended care he might need until he’s back on his feet.

Then Jesus gets to the heart of the issue, and to the point I want to make with you. He asks, “Which of the three (passers-by) do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The answer? “The one who had mercy on him.”

Mercy is the point. I don’t believe that in either of these passages that Jesus is giving a literal proscription for how to vet out mercy, otherwise there would be no reason for us to visit nursing homes, hurricane shelters or rescue missions, because Jesus only said “hospitals and prisons” in Matthew 25.

We see with the story of the Samaritan a guiding principle, and I think one that might help your boyfriend. Notice the Samaritan didn’t take the man into his own home, probably because they were both traveling. Where he took him was not the point. How he took care of him was not the point. That he took care of him was the point.

Because “inviting him in” was not a practical option, he found another way to care for him. Would he then have been one of those who heard from the King, “depart from me”? Absolutely not. He cared. He showed mercy. He did something.

What Jesus is getting at in both of these passages is mercy and compassion, or the lack of it, not how it is expressed. It is neither practical nor wise to exhibit mercy in the same way in all times under all circumstances, especially if it puts someone else’s life at risk. There’s more than one way to show mercy. It is one thing to choose to put our own life at risk for the sake of the gospel, and individuals might be called on to do so. It is something else entirely to put others — especially women and children — at risk based on our choices.

Right now, as a single guy, your boyfriend may pick up hitchhikers and invite in all kinds of desperate people into his home. That only puts his own life at risk, assuming he lives alone. Once he is responsible for the health and well being of a wife and children, he doesn’t stop being merciful, he’s just going to have to figure out other ways to exhibit that mercy, and God will show him how.

Putting the lives of women and young children at risk is being foolish, not merciful. You simply don’t have to bring someone under your own roof, or put them in your own car, if it would put others lives at risk. Pay for a taxi to get them to a shelter. Have some other men from the church join you in getting him to a place where he can be helped. Take him to a motel and pay for a night’s stay or to a shelter where they can take care of him.

A children’s minister wouldn’t load up the kids one night and take them to a high-crime area of the inner city for street evangelism, nor would he pick up a hitchhiker on his way home with a bus or van full of 10-year-old girls.

For all we know God has given your boyfriend a gift of mercy. That’s awesome and we don’t want to discourage it, but he must see it in the context of the larger picture of living out his faith as husband and father and whatever other roles God has him in.



Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

John Thomas

John Thomas has been a Boundless contributor since its beginning in 1998. He and his wife, Alfie, have three children and live in Arkansas, where he serves as executive director of Ozark Camp and Conference Center, a youth camp and retreat center.


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