If we know the New Testament at all, we will know – even if we can’t quote it verbatim – that “ the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts”, (2 Cor 10: 4-5) What we might not be quite so sure about is what the weapons of our warfare are. Some things are clear: Psalm 149 tells us that the high praises of God in our mouths and the two-edged sword in our hands will bind the enemy kings and nobles “in fetters of iron,” (vs. 6-9) so that gives us some guidance on dealing with the “principalities and powers in heavenly places” that Ephesians 6 vs 12 tells us we are struggling with. The gospels tell us specifically that we will be able to cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did this “with a word,” so we should expect, as His disciples with His power and the authority of His name, to be able to do the same. But more often than not, the most intense battles we face are not in situations where we can launch into high praise or begin calling out the demonic: they are in our marriages and families, and those with whom we have the closest relationships.
Jesus tells us explicitly how to deal with conflict in Matthew 5: 39. He famously says “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” This command has become embedded in Christian doctrine as one that promotes non-violence and non-resistance and a decision to forsake vengeance for the sake of pursuing love for one’s enemy. “The other cheek” is not commonly seen as a “weapon of our warfare…mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” Yet that is precisely what it is. Jesus didn’t just come to Earth in order to build an alternative Kingdom of love and peace, where we all turn away from violence in the hope that others will see our example and come over to us from the dark side: He came to “destroy the works of the evil one,” so that the strongholds he has built in our lives will crumble, the knit together threads of anger and fear will unravel, and the roots of bitterness exposed and completely pulled out. The other cheek is a weapon “mighty in God” that we turn against the enemy.
Romans 12: 20-21 picks up the theme from the sermon on the Mount, but this time the act of loving one’s enemy is actually defined as an act of warfare: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are not called to just ignore evil, but to meet it head-on and overcome it. The burning coals certainly imply shame and remorse, and may also be taken to suggest purification and judgement. But more than these, heaping burning coals on someone’s head strikes me as a powerful and effective act of warfare: that enemy is not going to show his face again.
To bring this back to that “other cheek:” what actually happens when we turn it? Here’s an illustration. Terry and Jean have been married 25 years and are about to celebrate their silver wedding. They both are Christians with leadership roles in church. Terry loves his wife and loves the Lord, but he has a very defensive side to his nature, particularly when accused of something that he either didn’t do, didn’t mean to do, or had a very good reason for doing. So Terry also loves his own reputation, and for 25 years he has run to shore up his reputation when Jean has been hurt by something he has done, rather than simply address the specific problem and ensure that he isn’t going to hurt Jean again. While Terry’s focus is on strengthening his own defensive shell, he is not really thinking about how deeply the wounds run that his bickering comments inflict on his wife. She feels increasingly alone and unloved; he feels increasingly frustrated and misunderstood. A problem arises concerning their silver wedding celebration plans. Jean is hurt and angry; Terry feels unjustly blamed. The enemy is rubbing his hands: can he give Terry another cast-iron reason for justifying himself and pulling down his wife? Can he make Jean feel so despondent about their relationship that she finally gives up, not just on their wedding anniversary but on their marriage itself?
The enemy nudges the argument nicely along the well-worn “You always…!” and “Well, you did…!” tracks. But what’s happening? Terry has walked away and gone into his den to sit down. He has his eyes shut. Danger! Is he praying? And now he is opening his Bible… the demon assigned to prowl around their marriage turns his attention to Jean, but she has put on some worship music, so he won’t be able to sow any negatives into her mind for a while…
Terry is pouring his heart out to the Lord. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in many different ways, but just imagine this as a dialogue between Terry and Jesus:
“Lord, why do I always end up here? Why will she never admit that she is wrong to accuse me of being thoughtless like that, and that I could never have known that they have changed the menu? Nothing I say is ever any good, and it’s always my fault! And it isn’t – in fact it hardly ever is!”
“You’re right, Terry.”
“You’re right. Nothing you say is ever any good. Actually you’ve only got one option.”
“What’s that, Lord?”
“Love your wife.”
“Yes, I do! But…”
“No buts. It’s not about you and what she thinks of you: it’s about the fact that she’s hurting.”
“But it’s like she’s just slapped me in the face!”
“Exactly. So turn the other cheek. This is just one slap. But if you face this slap and are prepared to let her slap you again I’ll tell you what will happen: the barrier of self-defence that you have put up all your life will crumble away, and you will see Jean for who she is and respond to what she is feeling. She will see that you care about her more than you care about yourself, and your marriage will have new life.”
At that moment Terry sees a single shining tear on Jesus’s cheek. Reflected in it are streaks of red; faint reflections of His shed blood, then Jesus disappears. The tear remains, suspended. He sees that tear and that blood shed for him; he sees the dirty footprint trail of self-justification and cries of “it’s not fair!” winding through his life from as far back as he can remember, then the tear falls on the footprints and they all burn up like a fuse and are no more. When Terry goes in to apologise to Jean it isn’t just for tonight’s argument, but for every excuse he has ever made since they first met.
Jesus turned the other cheek at the cross and brought salvation to mankind. The spiritual overcame the carnal forever. When Jesus asks us to do the same it is not in a passive attempt at emulating godly behaviour, but in an active expression of His victorious Spirit that demolished the very stronghold of death itself. When we use this most powerful weapon we can demolish strongholds that bitter arguments have built up over decades. Christian marriages are always in the devil’s sights for some of his most virulent attacks, but Jesus has given us one act that will undo many years of his most careful work.