What Does It Mean to Turn the Other Cheek According to the Bible?

Matthew 5:38-42

What does it mean to turn the other cheek according to the Bible?

I personally do not know of a command in the Bible that men dislike more than what Jesus said about turning the other cheek.

Much of the frustration comes from seeing the church misuse this verse and forcing men to be abused and embrace weakness. This is not what Jesus wants for us nor what he intended when he told us to turn the other cheek.

And yet, he did say “turn the other cheek.” So we can’t ignore this command or twist it to mean something that it doesn’t really mean so we can keep retaliating and hating our enemies.

Therefore, here are 4 important points to consider when asking, “What does it mean to turn the other cheek according to the Bible?”

1. Turning the Other Cheek Cannot Mean Anything that Would Contradict Other Parts of Scripture

Whenever you come to a difficult passage to understand in the Bible, remember the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. This means that when there are clear parts of Scripture that you do understand, you must use these to help you understand the part that you are confused about. Additionally, you should remember that Scripture never contradicts itself. So by knowing what the whole Bible says, you can guard against interpreting individual passages incorrectly. 

First, let’s actually read what Jesus said about turning the other cheek. In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus states:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”

While this is meant to be an extreme command that can only be accomplished through the power of the Holy Spirit, thus we should not try to interpret it in a way that minimizes it’s high calling, we must be careful to interpret this passage through the lens of all of Scripture rather than allowing this one passage to be the lens through which we see all other passages in the Bible.

  • This passage did not say that we are to not guard our hearts, for Proverbs 4:23 clearly commands us to do that.
  • This passage does not say we are called to endure abuse without attempting to protect ourselves, as Scripture routinely commands us to avoid abusive people who are not repenting (Romans 16:17, 2 Timothy 4:14-15, Titus 3:10).
  • This passage does not say we should protect criminals from lawful justice, as Scripture states the government is often used by God to bring about justice (Romans 13:3-4).
  • This verse does not mean Christians should not fight in wars, as God often led his people to fight in wars and protecting the weak from evil is an expression of love (Psalm 82:3-4).
  • And this passage does not mean we are to never confront people when they sin against us, as Scripture repeatedly commands us to do this very thing (Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1).

We could go on. The main point here is that “turning the other cheek” can never mean something that would contradict other parts of Scripture.

2. Turning the Other Cheek Is a Command that Focuses on Personal Offenses, Not Crimes or Injustices Done to Others

The context of Matthew 5:38-42 is personal as Jesus clearly used the pronoun “you.”

Therefore, people in leadership, for example, don’t get to turn the other cheek when it’s their job to correct someone for hurting someone else in the group. Parents, for example, don’t get to turn the other cheek as one child beats up another child. Turning the other cheek does not mean you are free to forgive a criminal act against you without reporting it to the authorities because then this abuser is free to keep hurting other people.

Additionally, I think it’s important to focus in on the specific examples Jesus used when explaining what he meant by “turning the other cheek.” While turning the other cheek is certainly not limited to a physical slap, suing for a tunic, going an additional mile, or people who need resources from you, it is noteworthy that that these examples are not life-threatening threats or life changing violations.

Yes, it will hurt if someone slaps you in the face, but Jesus didn’t say to let some stab you in the chest twice. Yes, it is very frustrating if someone sues you and takes a valuable piece of clothing. But that’s not the same as someone suing you for every penny you own. Yes, going two miles with someone would be annoying, but it’s not the same as becoming someone’s slave for life. Do you see my point?

In context, turning the other cheeks seems to be about personal offenses, not life-threatening attacks or life-changing violations.

3. Turning the Other Cheek Is in the Context of Being an Evangelist

Proverbs 19:11 states, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” But Matthew 15:18 states, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”

So how will you know if you should “turn the other cheek” and just “overlook an offense” or if you should correct this person and ask him to repent of his wrongs against you? Here’s a few biblical principles to consider:

  • Our relationships with Christians and non-Christians are different. When someone is a Christian, we have a greater responsibility to point out their wrongs against us so they can repent and not live in sin. When talking about confronting someone’s sin in Matthew 15:18, for example, it clearly states this person should be a “brother” which means they are a fellow Christian. 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 also talks about this.
  • Scripture also points out that there is a difference between a sin and a pattern of sin that is not being repented of. Galatians 6:1 states, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” Being “caught in a sin” is different than sinning and then repenting. Therefore, we have a greater obligation to point out ongoing sins than we do a one-off sin that is not someone’s regular pattern.
  • Scripture also gives us the principle that love for someone is about doing what is best for them. Sometimes God grants us grace and disciplines us in love because that is what is best for us (Hebrews 12:7-11). At other times, God grants us grace without there being any direct or severe discipline in relation to our wrong (Psalm 103:10-14).

Likewise, turning the other cheek is oftentimes what is best for someone. Turning the other cheek is a powerful witness to unbelievers that you are different because of Christ and that you possess an inner strength from the Holy Spirit that others do not possess.

Remember, in this passage about turning the other cheek, Jesus also said, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Sometimes people need to be loved through direct discipline and sometimes people need to be loved through you allowing them to mistreat you as witness to the power of God in you.

As 1 Peter 3:16-17 states, “. . . having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

4. Turning the Other Cheek Is Meant to Be an Impossible Command for Everyone Except Those Who Have Truly Been Transformed by God’s Grace and Are Indwelt By the Power of the Holy Spirit

Matthew 5:38-42 is in a section of Scripture called The Sermon on the Mount. This is where Jesus made it very clear that his true disciples must not just follow the letter of the law but the heart behind the law. And his whole point in making this clear was not only to let everyone know what God wanted but also to let them know that they could not measure up to God’s standard, thus they needed Jesus to be their Savior (Matthew 5:17-20, 48).

There’s no possible way you can obey these radical words of Jesus to “turn the other cheek” unless you are completely filled with the Spirit.

When you truly love people even when those people are mistreating you, this is one of the clearest signs you are living for Christ. The reason we can treat people better than they deserve is because we are called to love people for God’s sake, not because the people deserve our love. God grants us grace and love us for his glory, and he calls his followers to do the same.

This is certainly not easy. It calls for the highest levels of Christian maturity. So when someone truly can turn the other cheek like Jesus said, this is a very clear sign that this person’s identity is rooted in Christ.

So What Does It Mean to Turn the Other Cheek According to the Bible?

It means you love people so radically that you are even going to allow yourself to be mistreated by personal offenses to show the world Christ is your Savior.

You will do what is best for others out your love for them and for God. Sometimes this means you will overlook an offense, sometimes this means you will confront their sin, and sometimes it will be a combination of both.

Real relationships and real love are messy. Turning the other cheek is messy. It’s not about being endlessly abused. It’s about seizing opportunities in life where you are choosing to love people who don’t deserve your love so you can be a light for Christ to them.

It’s not an act of weakness. It’s actually a powerful sign that you are strong in Christ.

Published by

Mark Ballenger

ApplyGodsWord.com is the writing ministry of Mark Ballenger. To reach Mark, send him an email anytime: markballenger@applygodsword.com