The first time we read that phrase is in the book of Exodus where the Lord is giving His people the civil law to abide by.  Exodus 21:24-25 says, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”  The teaching here is rather plain and simple…the punishment should fit the crime!

Exodus 21:12 says, “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death.”  This is what is called Capital Punishment.  If a man kills a man, he must pay with his own life.  Read verses 12-23 to see some exceptions to this rule and some further explanation.

Exodus 21:33-34 says, “And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; The owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.”  Not every crime is the same and neither are the consequences.  As I stated, the punishment should fit the crime.  This law of retribution was designed to take vengeance out of the hands of private citizens, and commit it to the elders or judges. 

Now, let’s read Matthew 5:38-42, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”  There is a difference between judicial law and personal forgiveness.  Certainly, we would not want out justice system to forgive someone for murder, rape, kidnapping, etc.  We expect a fair system that makes sure that the punishment fits the crime.

However, when it comes to personal offenses, we should have a forgiving spirit and not insist on revenge that is equal to the offense.  We should extend Christian love and forgiveness towards those who may mistreat us or even ask unreasonable things of us.  Too often we show Christian love to those who show Christian love to us.  That is pretty selfish.  We are called upon to love and minister to ALL people, even those who try to do us harm.  Proverbs 20:22 says, “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.”  We also read in Proverbs 24:29, “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.” 

In order to win precious souls to the Lord, He would have us to do good to them that despitefully use us. Matthew 5:44 instructs us, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  If our aim is to have a proper influence on unbelievers so that by our words and our actions we might lead them to salvation, then we will find it easier to suffer wrongdoing and not seek revenge on those who hurt us.  The Lord Jesus Christ loved us when we were surely not lovable.  May we have that same attitude and love those who mistreat us.  We should not want to avenge ourselves.  Our desire should be to show Christian love, even to the worst of people.  (488.4)  (CC)