Going the extra mile is a phrase used as encouragement to do more than expected. The concept is heavily utilized in the customer service industry. It encourages the server to more than meet the customer need. The idea challenges the server to complete the service with a smile and helpfulness that is beyond what is necessary to complete a transaction. It is about making money not just on the current sale but to encourage the customer to return next time. The origin of the phrase comes directly from the mouth of Jesus and going the extra mile is an expectation of any Christian following Christ. But going the extra mile from Christ’s perspective is more than exceptional service with a smile.
41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matthew 5:41 ESV
Roman soldiers by law would conscript someone to carry their gear for a roman mile. Whatever the actual distance was it is not all that far but the inconvenience of putting one’s own agenda on hold to carry an occupying soldier’s gear could not have been a popular law. Unlike modern customer service where it is one’s job to provide good service there would not be any compensation for the time and effort needed to travel this mile. In fact, this verse comes in the middle of a sermon by Jesus that talks about God’s expectation on how one should treat their enemy. The audience would have seen that soldier as an enemy making a demand to serve regardless of desire.
Jesus does not leave this concept at just the roman law. He challenges the entire eye for an eye worldview that dominates mankind. The extra mile is just one line in a greater point about who God is calling us to be as people.
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. Matthew 5:38-42
If you are required by law to give the soldier one mile. Jesus tells the audience to give him two miles. If someone asks to borrow from you and you freely give what they want even knowing that you will never get it back (my experience is that borrowing rarely ends in returning which is why I don’t like to do it) then an impression will be left that clearly demonstrates to the person demanding that you are not fulfilling the obligation or the duty but that you are serving them in a sacrificial way.
Imagine the soldier demands a mile and when that mile ends, I throw down his gear kick dust in his direction and then return where I came from. Or imagine the soldier demands a mile and when that mile ends, he reaches for his gear only to find me willing to continue. At that point we both know that my service to him is bigger than just the initial obligation.
31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 ESV
God is calling people to a higher standard. Do you gloat when the opposing political group has a scandal? Do you wish bad things to happen to those that hate you? What about that police officer that stopped you for some minor violation? Examine your heart toward others because that is what God is looking at. In this sermon Jesus was not done and he continues pushing the audience with another mile of Godly expectations…
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48 ESV
Christ calls us to love those that do not love back. Christ calls us to a standard of “perfect” as God is perfect. Is it even possible to meet that standard? Perfect is loving those that hate you. Perfect is greeting those that don’t know you. Perfect is submitting with the heart of a servant to serve those that don’t deserve to be served. It is easy to love those that love you but God loves even those that don’t love him first.
The perfect standard that Christ is calling us to is not perfect in the sense that we have never made a mistake or that we have failed to live up to His standards because we have failed to live to those standards. Christ tells us we must strive for completeness or perfection since God is perfect and complete. The only way to accomplish this perfection is through faith and trust in God and God’s plans. Could we dare to trust him to serve others that make unjust demands?
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4 ESV