"38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 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. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42 Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:38-44 (ESV)

Here the ESV seems to interpret verse 42 as a general principle applicable, especially to those who are needy, hence "the one that begs of you." But the word for "begs" simply means "to ask" and can in some contexts mean "to demand" (Luke 23:23).

So did Jesus intend for this general principle to be understood primarily in terms of the needy but would also apply to enemies, or, in context, was this general principle to be understood primarily with regard to our enemies but would also apply to the needy?

2 Answers 2


I would agree that it is a general principle, but I would say that is applies universally—to both the needy and to enemies. Jesus' greater message calls us to extend love and compassion to all people, including the needy and our enemies. He is teaching an overall attitude of selflessness and generosity towards others, regardless of whether they are in need or are considered enemies.

Note that the subsequent verse (verse 43-44) introduces the specific command to love one's enemies. This creates a theme of radical love and compassion in Jesus' teachings.

Jesus teaches: (Mark 12:30-31)

The greatest commandment:

30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. 31 And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)

27 “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29 To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.

32 “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. 36 Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.

The Apostle Paul teaches: (Romans 12:20-21)

20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

1 Peter teaches: (1 Peter 3:9)

9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.


Not so fast - that is not what the text is saying! Jesus' sermon in Matt 5:21-48 uses a classic Rabbinic technique - "You have heard that ... but I say ...".

In this part of Jesus' sermon this occurs six times, each on a different topic as follows:

  • V21-25 - Murder, Anger and Reconciliation
  • V27-30 - Adultery and Lust
  • V31-32 - Divorce and Remarriage
  • V33-37 - Oaths, Vows and Honest Speech
  • V38-42 - Revenge and generosity to All
  • V43-48 - Love for the Undeserving, including Enemies

The principle that Jesus states in Matt 5:42 is almost identical in sentiment to that stated in Deut 15:7-11 - lend and do not necessarily expect to be repaid!

Jesus' principle in V42-48 is essentially about the people to whom our prayers and love should be directed, ie, everyone, including those who are not "nice" - we should pray for the "not-nice" people and those we dislike. Jesus then emphasizes this point by saying that we should be as kind to the "undeserving" as God is who sends rain on the just and the unjust.

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