NOTE: The backpack pictured below is a reproduction of the typical equipment pack carried by one segment of the ancient Roman army. Click here for the image's source page, which also includes reproductions of several pieces of Roman armor (helmet, sword, etc.). Click here for "Armor; Arms," an article from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (original edition).

by Greg Williamson (c) 2007, 2009

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said his followers must be willing to go the extra mile: "'Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.'" (Matthew 5:41, NASB). Or, as one version renders it: "If a soldier forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles" (CEV). This is a reference to the practice of "impressment" which, among other things, allowed a Roman soldier to conscript a Jewish native to carry his equipment for one Roman mile (milion = 1,000 paces/app. 1,611 yards) - no easy task considering a Roman soldier's backpack could weigh upwards of one-hundred pounds.

Jesus' point was (and is) that we must relinquish our "rights" in order to advance God's kingdom through sacrificial service - an idea captured well in a paraphrase of Matthew 5:41: "And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life" ( The Message).

At the time Jesus spoke those words, the nation of Israel was under Roman rule. As was its custom, Rome allowed the Jews to go about their daily lives with as much normalcy as possible. However, practices such as impressment were a constant reminder of who was in charge. By refusing to retaliate and instead voluntarily going far beyond what was required, Christ's followers would demonstrate that the true object of their allegiance was more powerful than even the mighty Roman empire.

And that is a point well worth remembering for Jesus' disciples today. When we do more than what is required and better than what is expected, it shows that we operate according to a different value system that comes from a higher authority - an authority whose love and mercy compels us to show the same toward others through sacrificial, Christ-honoring service that goes the extra mile. In this way we help to relay our King's message which, interestingly enough, is in keeping with the original idea behind the forced service. "Forces" ("'Whoever forces [Greek aggareuo] you ... '") "is a loanword from the Persian language ... The famous Persian Royal Post authorized its couriers whenever necessary to press into service anyone available and/or the latter's animal. There must be no delay in the dispatch and delivery of the king's decrees, etc." [ref] It might also be worth noting that the couriers were under strict orders not to abuse their privilege by forcing someone to work for their (the couriers) own personal interests; impressment was to be used for official government business only. [ref]

It is also true that every genuine Christian is a servant-soldier in God's army. And, as our Commander in Chief, Jesus Christ both commands and models extra mile servanthood: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many'" (Matthew 20:25-28, NASB).

Lastly, we do well to remind ourselves that true, saving faith leads to and is known by its extra mile faithfulness. In practical daily terms, this means that the sincere, committed follower of Jesus Christ must give absolute priority to the basic building blocks of the Christian life: prayer, Bible study, and fellowship. It also means the true believer in Christ will strive to be a GREAT disciple: Genuine - Relational - Enthusiastic - Active - Thankful.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from and follow him. The resources on this website are designed to promote extra mile discipleship that seeks to emulate our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(Click on the title for more information.)

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Baker's New Testament Commentary
The Complete Word Study Dictionary
Expositor's Bible Commentary
Holy Bible, Contemporary English Version
Holy Bible, New American Standard
Holy Bible, New Living Translation
Holy Bible, The Message
The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
KJV Bible Commentary
Murphy's Place
New Bible Commentary
Thayer's Greek Definitions
Theological Lexicon of the New Testament
Word Pictures in the New Testament