June 24, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 5:38-42 (NIV)
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. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
What do love and generosity have to do with business?
Recently, a group of my friends and I had lunch at a restaurant after a round of golf. We were each greeted by a broad smile from a young waitress. Her warm demeanor and terrific care demonstrated relentless hospitality. As a business owner, I recognize great customer service when I see it. I turned to several of my friends and told them that if I owned a restaurant, I’d hire her instantly. She was exceptional.
As leaders, we notice people who go above and beyond the call of duty. There are those who seem satisfied with doing the minimum. But then someone comes along who brings their best to their work. Those people catch our eye.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is concerned with our being and bringing our best.
In today’s text, Jesus challenges the “just enough” view of our relationships with others. Jesus acknowledges that the Law prescribes “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” justice. It’s worth remembering that this law of retribution (also called lex talionis) was put in place to keep violence from spiraling out of control by requiring responses to be proportional to the offense. In that sense, lex talionis was a significant improvement to unconstrained vengeance and bloodlust. But is such justice really enough? Or is it merely the minimal expectation of society?
Jesus suggests the latter. And he provides three examples in rapid succession that would have made his point clear to his first-century audience. How should you respond when someone insults you by slapping you on the cheek? How would you respond when someone legally takes the shirt off your back? How will you respond if an occupying enemy forces you to do their work for them (that’s the likely reference to being forced “to go one mile”)?
So, what should Jesus’ audience’s responses be? Are they allowed to slap the other person on the cheek, but not punch them in the nose? Are they to grudgingly give the shirt off their back, since that was what the court told them to do? Will they seethe inwardly even while being required to serve Roman aggression (which was legally required by Roman occupation)? Is “just enough” good enough?
Evidently not. In the last line of today’s text, Jesus points to a radically different response: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Jesus’ better way envisions extraordinary generosity as a way of life. Such generosity is about freely and fully loving others, even those who are your enemies.
What might that look like in business? To ask it slightly differently, what does love have to do with business?
To begin with, the waitress I mentioned earlier is a helpful example. I don’t always feel loved and cared for when I go to a restaurant. But I did that day. And it made a lasting impression, not only regarding her as a person but regarding the restaurant at which she worked. I have to admit that the restaurant wasn’t at the top of my friends’ lists of places to go eat. But after that memorable meal, we all are more likely to go back. Such is the effect of great customer service, which is at its root about love.
Love transforms. Love transforms personal encounters. Love transforms perceptions of organizations and businesses. And sometimes it only takes one person and one encounter to make a lasting impression. Like the proverbial mustard seed, love can have an oversized effect.
Jesus challenges us to love in all our encounters, including those with our enemies. Even when we are insulted. Even when we get sued. Even when others take advantage of us. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”
But exactly why and how are we to do that?
Jesus will provide the startling answer to that question next. And we will look at that text next month.
What might it look like for your business to love its customers or for your organization to love those you serve? What might it look like for you to be generous to those you lead?
Look for one relationship where you are tempted to respond with “just enough” and find a way to respond with generosity and love.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You not only taught this kind of love, but you embodied it in your life. You did not retaliate when Roman soldiers struck you on the cheek, took your clothes, and made you carry your cross on the way to being crucified. While we were your enemies, you loved us.
There is no greater love than we can imagine. Thank you for your relentless generosity which demonstrates that love. Help us to learn to follow you.
We ask in your name, Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: “Wow!” Customer Service.
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During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
Click here to view Uli’s profile.