“And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.”
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.
What’s in it for me?
The color poster from Nike showed a dirt path, twisting and rising through a dense forest with dappled spots of sunlight and a rushing creek. My immediate impression was “Wow! How inviting that looks!”
The caption simply said, “You won’t know if you don’t go.”
The path Jesus paints for his disciples is much more difficult, even daunting. Will you shrink from the challenge?
Jesus continues to press the point he made in 5:39 that his disciples must not continue to participate in the worldly pattern of protecting their honor and property as if those things had higher value than the kingdom of heaven. For the disciples, things have changed!
Before we can understand Matt. 5:40, it will be necessary to give a short explanation of clothing customs in the first century. At the innermost level would be a loincloth, which did not cover much. Next outward would be the [Greek] chit?n, a long garment which touched most of the skin from shoulder to mid-calf. The chit?n is generally translated as tunic (NET, ESV, and NIV) or shirt (HCSB and NLT).
The outermost garment, the [Greek] himation, was a long robe that covered the chit?n and provided essential warmth against the cold nights. The himation is usually translated as coat (NET, HCSB and NLT) or cloak (ESV and NIV). OT law allowed legal forfeiture of the tunic, say for payment of a debt, but never the coat (Exod. 22:25–27; Deut. 24:12–13). As NET would put it, an opponent could sue you for your tunic, but not your coat. On many nights of the year, a poor man without a coat would not survive the night in Israel without shelter.
So, when Jesus says, “If someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also” (5:40), he is telling his disciples to be willing to give up their rights under law for the sake of the kingdom. This is likely an example of hyperbole, an exaggeration for the purpose of making a point. Keener says: “Jesus provides a shockingly graphic, almost humorous, illustration of what he means by nonresistance to force his hearers to consider their values. They value honor and things more than they value the kingdom.”
I hope you understand that Jesus is not providing a new set of rules to supersede the law; instead, he is challenging the disciples’ values and loyalties at a deep level.
Roman soldiers had the right to compel a member of a subject population to carry loads for up to a mile. The Jewish people hated this practice, but Jesus tells his disciples to give double the required distance (5:41). The disciples of Jesus are distinguished by serving selflessly. Keep in mind that such behavior would put the disciples at odds with other Jews. Oh well!
The final illustration (5:42) shows how far we have come from retaliation (5:38). The generosity described in 5:42 makes no sense to a secular world, but it marks a disciple of Jesus. R.T. France says the point being made is that “in the kingdom of heaven self-interest does not rule, and even our legal rights and legitimate expectations may have to give way to the interests of others.”
To whom or to what are you loyal?
Jesus challenges us to examine whether we are more committed to him or to those things that our culture tells us to value. To follow Jesus, a Jew had to commit himself to causes that would sometimes put him at odds with others. Jesus often called for the abandonment of self-interest.
To follow Jesus will mean that you are not free to follow the values, religion and politics of your parents, unless they were following Jesus! History plainly shows that not even Christian churches always do what Jesus said. The way of Jesus is not necessarily popular; pursuing God faithfully is a demanding way to live.
Yet in obeying Jesus, you are taking the one true path that leads to eternal joy in the kingdom of heaven. You won’t know if you don’t go!
Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.
 Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999) 198.
 R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 222.