whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him
twain" (Matthew 5:41).
The idea in this exhortation
had itself taken a long journey. It originated among the
Persians, was taken over by the Romans, and then applied by the
Romans to the Jews during their (the Romans) occupation of
Palestine. In the beginning it was the prerogative of a Persian
envoy to call upon any man to assist in carrying the envoy's
burden; and he could 'compel' such a man to help him for a mile.
The said man had no option. The Romans thought this to be a good
idea, and so they applied it to the Jews. Jesus was familiar with
this practice and took it over for His teaching, but added a
second mile to the first. No doubt Jesus was broadening the
meaning from the literal to the spiritual, and had much more in
mind. Indeed, this exhortation contains the very essence of
The second mile represents a
very vital transition.
The first mile is the rule of
law, of obligation, of "Thou shalt", of "You
must", of duty. The second mile is what is voluntary,
spontaneous, free, gracious.
The first is:
"Must I?" The second is: "May
The first is:
"Am I obliged, compelled?" The second is: "Can I
not do more?"
Look at the two
travellers! The legal one says: 'Pick up that load and carry it
for me for this next mile.' Not even 'Please!' The commanded one
obeys and they walk silently, sullenly, and begrudgingly. At the
end of the mile - which has been measured carefully by the second
man - the load is dropped and he turns back abruptly and without
But Jesus is
thinking of another second man. He receives the same order; he is
under the same obligation; his is the same duty. But he tackles
it in a different spirit. He goes at it with a different
disposition. He is gracious in his manner and spontaneous in his
undertaking. When he has reached the limit of duty and necessity,
he says: 'Let me help you further.' The first man is taken aback.
He has not met people like that. Something gives way and they
talk freely for the second mile. Something has happened which, at
least, makes number one think; maybe he asks some questions. A
door fast closed on the first mile is now wide open. What has
happened? The answer is: Grace has triumphed over Law!
So in its first
and broadest meaning the word of Jesus as to the extra mile means
the great transition from Law to Grace. It may be only a step
from the end of mile number one to the beginning of mile number
two, but it marks the frontiers of two worlds, two dispensations,
and two dispositions.
meet and part at that point; and what a change in the atmosphere!
Then, how many
other areas of life are affected by this transition across this
bridge! This change would bring about an industrial revolution.
The Christian is involved in this. Industry, business, work are
very largely characterized by the first mile of obligation. 'How
much must I do?' 'How soon can I leave off?' An eye on
the clock. As little work and as much remuneration as possible.
The second mile man, who stays a bit longer and does a bit more,
is suspect, disliked, and persecuted.
But in the
discourse from which our verse is taken, Jesus was not saying
that those who did what He said would have all the good time and
be universally popular. What He did say was that these would be
the people who would inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, and that they
are "the salt of the earth"; which means - among other
things - that they would offset the corruption to which we have
just referred. The coming Kingdom will belong to the people of
the second mile in this respect. Others who ask to be of the
Kingdom of Heaven will have been drawn to Christ by those who
have paid the price of the extra mile of grace. So, business is a
sphere, and a very practical sphere, for the law of the second
Another area which
often challenges to this law of grace is that of family life, or
home life. It is so easy in the home and family life to keep just
to duty, if even that. Just how much is obligation and
compulsory: the least that can be done, and how much can be got
out of. The sharing may be so unequal, the burden so unbalanced.
If, for decency's sake, the first mile is taken, it is with no
good spirit, no cheerful disposition, no spontaneous
voluntariness. It is a must, not a pleasure. Perhaps
there is no place where a true Christian testimony means more
than in the home. Homes are an object of satanic dislike and
disruptive activity more than anywhere else. So it is here that
the testimony of Divine grace matters so much, and therefore the
home is a place where second mile people are so much needed.
Along this line
may we mention one more connection in which the extra mile is of
such importance. It is the area of Christian fellowship. In the
relation of Christians to one another there can be just the first
mile of the common recognition, ordinary courtesy, a nod of
acknowledgment, the glance of acquaintanceship. There may be the
coming and going of congregational 'Public Worship'. It is
possible to attend the same meeting-place for years and not to be
known. Within the limits of the first mile the degree of
community and relatedness may differ in its real meaning, and
many a heart which "knows its own sorrow" has to carry
that sorrow in loneliness, even in a crowd. There is large room
for the extra mile people in the area of Christian fellowship. It
may make demands, but it pays large dividends. Not that what may
accrue in dividends should be the motive. One of the laws of life
is, however, the ministering of life to others. A sure way to
spiritual death is to keep to ourselves and not go out to others.
True moral and spiritual character is to be measured by the law
of the extra mile.
Jesus had very
much greater and deeper thoughts and meanings in what He said
than just platitudes and axioms.
simple word about going beyond compulsion had in it a whole realm
and wealth of potential and actual values. If duty, necessity,
obligation, contract, covenant, demand so much, do not - says
Jesus - stop at that; put at least as much again upon it. This is
grace with God.
First published in "A Witness and A
Testimony" magazine, Mar-Apr 1967, Vol 45-2