Love Your Enemies (On the Way to the Cross - Part 6) Back to all sermons

Date: September 29, 2013

Speaker: Micah Mercer

Series: On the Way to the Cross

Category: Cross

Scripture: Luke 6:27–6:36

Synopsis: In this next part of the sermon on the plain, Jesus commanded us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us. Jesus' standard for for living id incredibly high and incredibly counter-cultural. Nevertheless it is what he expects of each one of his followers.

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Do you follow the sermon on the mount? A lot of people these days like to say they follow Jesus’ teaching from his sermon on the mount. One commentator suggests that when people say that, it means they obviously have not read the sermon on the mount. The standard of living that Jesus taught in that sermon is so high that if you really take it seriously, it will drive you to your knees in an overwhelming sense of falling short before God. Take for example the command to love our enemies.

Imagine a situation in the past week or two when someone has hurt you. Maybe you were mistreated by your boss or one of your co-workers; maybe someone said something to you that really hurt; maybe someone took something that belonged to you, or demanded something from you that they have no right to demand. How did you feel? Did you feel the heat on the back of your neck? Did your heart start pounding? Did your hands start shaking? Did you say in your mind, “What right does he have to do this to me?” How did you react after that? Did you retaliate against that person with some choice words of your own? Did you spread a rumor about that person? Did you demand justice?

Our culture teaches us that we have to fight for our rights; when sued we have to countersue; if someone hits us, we should hit them back harder; when someone gossips about us, we gossip about them. It is our natural reaction to those we call our enemies, and whatever platitudes we learned in Sunday school about retaliation not solving anything, we feel so justified in it. “I showed him/her.”

As followers of Jesus, we know that his values are not the world’s values. Jesus has commanded us to love our enemies and “turn the other cheek.” But is that even possible? Is it even practical? How can we let people get away with doing wrong to us? Won’t that just encourage them to wrong us more?

Part of the problem is that we don’t seem to realize sometimes that we have the help of God’s Spirit to obey Him. The other part is of the problem is the question: What does loving our enemies actually mean and what does it entails for our lives.

Today we are on the sixth part of our journey with Jesus toward the cross in the gospel of Luke. Our premise is that everything Jesus did and taught during his earthly ministry lead to and culminated with his redeeming, atoning work on the cross. So far we have seen Jesus overcome temptations to sin to demonstrate his perfect obedience to his Father. We have seen him preach the good news of the age of God’s favor during which it is possible to be made right with God if people respond to Jesus in faith. He also demonstrated his authority over law, sickness, and spirits.

Last time, we started into Jesus’ sermon on the plain in which he taught that the values of his kingdom are in direct opposition to the values of the world. Jesus explained the natural result of following him in 6:22.

"Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, your reward is great in heaven."

The context of our passage today is being hated, excluded, reviled, falsely accused, slandered, etc. on account of following Jesus and living righteously. I emphasize this, because we are too quick to justify ourselves when we do wrong. 1 Peter 2:20 says, “What credit is it, if when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” The answer is none. We have a saying, "Do the crime, do the time."

If you are being attacked because you hurt someone, or if you are being slandered because you are a gossip, or if you are being punished because you did something wrong, you are not enduring persecution. You are simply harvesting the seed you planted.

True disciples of Jesus will have many enemies, not because of wrongdoing, but as a direct result of following Jesus and living according to the righteous values of his kingdom which are in opposition to the values of the world. It is in this context that we come to Jesus’ commands in verses 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, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 If you love those who love you, what benefit 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 benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

When you love someone you do good to them, you bless them, and you pray for them. But Jesus said that loving and doing good to those who love and do good to you is far too low a standard for his followers. Even sinners do that. There must be a distinction between those who follow Jesus and those who don’t. In our passage today, Jesus commands us to take all these things that you do to people you love and do them for the people who hate, curse, and abuse you. As disciples of Jesus, we are commanded to love our enemies.

I can feel the protest. How can I be commanded to love? How can I love people who treat me this way? Part of the answer is found in the word for love Jesus used. In the language of the New Testament there are several different words for love, so it is very important to know which one you are dealing with in order to follow this command.

The particular command to love used here is agapate. It does not mean the warm affection we have for the people who are close to us. To express that to an enemy would certainly be unnatural. Instead, as one commentator puts it, this kind of love "is an active feeling of benevolence for someone; it means that no matter what that person does to us, we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but his highest good; and we will deliberately go out of our way to be good and kind to him."

Loving your enemies means desiring their highest good, actively showing goodness and kindness to them. The three commands which follow in v.27-28 reach down to the depths of what loving enemies is all about.

1. Do good to those who hate you.

When someone hates you, they will go out of their way to hurt and cause trouble for you. I think we have all experienced this at one time or other. In general, our reaction is to hate them back. The problem is that by hating someone back, we only perpetuate the situation.

Many people throughout history have recognized that retaliation makes enemies all the more fiercely opposed to each other. As such a lot of religions teach that people should not retaliate against those who hurt them, but to essentially ignore them if possible. Islam does a bit better by teaching that while retaliation is your right, it is more noble to forgive.

As Christians though, our command is not to simply refrain from retaliation, not simply to forgive, but to actively return good when we receive evil. In other words, loving our enemies means that when someone goes out of their way to do bad to us, we are to go out of our way to do good to them.

Notice that Jesus’ teaching on this matter does not require the one who hates you to change. That person may go on hating you forever, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is how you will respond to that hate. Will you allow the one who hates you to control your response, or will you take control and obey Jesus by doing good to that person no matter what they do to you?

The next command that fleshes out this concept of loving enemies is found in v. 28.

2. Bless those who curse you

When someone slanders you, or talks about you behind your back, or directly says hurtful things to you, the natural response is to retaliate with some choice words of your own, or by exposing that persons faults, or even by spreading some hurtful rumor about them. However, we are commanded to display love for our enemy by blessing those who curse us.

The word bless in this verse is not the same as the word found in verses 20-22. That word means happy fortunate and favored. The word used here is eulogeo, which is actually where we get the English word eulogy from. It basically means to speak well of someone. We use this word almost exclusively to refer to the speech that is made at a funeral. It is an apt description since you are generally only allowed to say good things about the deceased regardless of what sort of person they actually were.

I think that captures well what Jesus meant here. As followers of Jesus, we are commanded not curse back when we are cursed. In fact, as before, we are commanded to take an extra step beyond just not cursing them back. We are to speak well of people no matter what they say about us. Even if they go on saying all sorts of nasty things about us, we need to take the initiative to be righteous by finding what is good about them and saying that.

The third command that shows what it means to love an enemy is to

3. Pray for those who abuse you

This command demonstrates the desiring the highest good aspect of loving your enemies. It means to intercede to God on behalf of people who actively cause you harm. Instead of praying, “God give me justice” or “God please get this person who is hurting me,” we are to pray for their good. God bless this person, God reveal Yourself to him so that he might be saved.

Loving our enemies means desiring their highest good and demonstrating that desire by doing good to them, saying good to and about them, and praying good for them.

In verses 29-31, Jesus gave four practical examples of displaying love for enemies.

27 But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

1. What to do when you are insulted.

29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.

When I was in middle school, I rode the bus to and from school. There was another kid who also rode the bus and was known as a trouble maker. One day, he was sitting behind me and decided that I would be a fun target, so he started breaking up an eraser and dropping chunks of it on my head. Naturally I was annoyed, but I tried to ignore him. He kept it up and I got angry, which of course was his intention. I told him to stop and called him a nasty name. Some other kid who was not involved until that moment said, "Did you hear what he called you? He called you a ...." So he started slapping the side of my head. For a moment I could see nothing but red and in my anger I turned around and hit him in the face as hard as I could. I was probably as surprised as he was, so I turned back around and sat in my seat. At that point the bus driver intervened. The bus driver liked me so I didn't get in any trouble, but the other kid got suspended from school and I gained a short term, exaggerated reputation for beating him in a fight.

Now, our first response to this story might be that I was defending myself and the kid got what he deserved. After all, he was a bully known for picking on other kids and this wasn't the first time he had been in trouble. However, the truth is that by returning wrong for wrong I made the situation worse and I did exactly what the bully wanted. I think that is partly why Jesus commanded us to offer the other cheek also.

This is a controversial passage because it seems like Jesus is saying that we should not defend ourselves. When you consider that a strike on the cheek in is a high insult in many cultures included that of Jesus’ time, the command does not apply to a mortal attack, but to an insulting/belittling attack. In other words, if someone is chasing you with a knife you are not commanded to let yourself be stabbed.

Instead, the command is that even if you are insulted in the strongest most belittling way, you are not to return the insult with one of your own. That plays right into the hands of your insulter. Instead, take control of the situation by refusing to retaliate and finding a way to do good to the person who has insulted you.

The next example is

2. What to do when someone tries to humiliate you

29b from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

A cloak was worn on the outside of one’s clothes in cold weather, so to have it taken away would mean being exposed to the cold. I think in the context of being persecuted for righteousness, this is most likely meant to humiliate or generally make life difficult for someone. But instead of letting being humiliated, the disciple of Jesus should offer his tunic as well. That is, essentially the shirt off your back as well, though we don’t need to take that too literally.

The scenario I imagine here is when a bully takes another kid’s lunch money. It’s not because he needs it, but because he wants to humiliate the kid. The response then could be something along the lines of giving the lunch money to the bully and the next day bringing him an extra sandwich too.

Proverbs 25:21-22 says,
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

I chose this passage because I think the burning coals mentioned here refer to the heat one feels in their face when they are shamed by a situation. In the case of Jesus’ command, the bully ends up being humiliated by the goodness of the person they were trying to humiliate. Naturally, the point for us not to seek that persons humiliation, but their highest good. We ask the question, “What does this person really need and how can I help?” Again, it is this principle of taking control of the situation to find what good thing you can do in it. Then trusting God with the outcome.

3. What to do when you are begged by someone who is not really in need.

30 Give to everyone who begs from you,

The word used in this case refers to one who is begging not because they are really in need, but because they think they can get something out of you. I think this command is placed here because people learn fast that Christians are generous and some want to take advantage of that if they can. We are commanded to give to them even knowing that they are out to cheat.

Now when I say this, I think it is important to point out that if you desire the highest good for the person begging in this way, it may not be money that you are inclined to give. The reason is that giving money can create or perpetuate a situation of dependence which is not good for you or for the person who is asking. I think the point here is to find what would be of most help to the person and do that. The only question then will be whether the person accepts your help or not.

In Tucson, there were a lot of people who sat on the side of the street with cardboard signs that said something to the effect of “hungry, will work for food.” My mom, being a very compassionate person and not having a lot of funds to hand out, would making sandwiches and pass them out when she saw these guys or when there was some work that needed to be done around the house, she would hire them. A lot of them were happy for the help, but there were also those who refused.

Here in Abu Dhabi, this might be a bit more complicated since begging and giving to beggers is illegal. The idea is that if you don’t have a job you go back to your country. In this situation as well, I think we need to find ways to do good without creating a dependent situation.

4. What to do when your property is taken from you

and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back.

In my understanding, this verse refers to when things are stolen from you and you know who did it. The natural, worldly response is to demand what is yours back from the person who took it. It seems reasonable, but even in a situation like this Jesus taught that we are not to compromise love for our enemies. If we are truly to desire the highest good of the person who has taken something from us, we won’t demand back what they have taken, but let them have it as a testimony of our love for them and our trust in God to provide for us.

One person who is very close to me stayed for some years in Australia on working holiday to save money. She kept the money she was saving in a secret place in her room and after a couple of years, she had saved a substantial amount. The money went missing and circumstances were such that it was obvious which of the house-mates had taken it. My friend was greatly distressed by the situation, but after some tears and prayer she responded to the situation in a very Christ-like way. She sat down with the person and said, "I worked very hard to earn this money, and I know that you took it, but because I am a Christian, I won't accuse you or try to get it back. If you were willing to steal, I guess it means you really needed the money." She left it at that.

This is not an exhaustive list of things people can do against us, but the point should be clear. In every situation where we are wronged we must seize the opportunity to do good with generosity. Verse 31 sums this up well.

31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Notice the keyword here is 'wish,' not 'as.' We are commanded to give the respect, love, generosity, compassion, goodness, and prayer that we wish others would give us. Even beyond that, to the people who mistreat us, slander us, steal from us, sue us, etc. either directly or indirectly because of following Jesus and doing right, we must do to them what we wish they had done to us.

I was teaching this concept to the Jr Teens a couple of days ago and the response one of them gave was that if we follow these commands, we will all end up broke and beaten. It was a valid comment, and like her we might wonder what the benefit of living this way might be. I think we have already encountered one of them and that is that we maintain self-control when loving our enemies instead of being drawn into the reactionary responses they want from us. But there is more.

35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

The first point to notice is that the reward in heaven is great. I think this is directly related to the fact that, with the help of the Spirit, we do not compromise our righteousness even in dealing with enemies. The rest of these two verses is very profound. Jesus said, “you will be sons of the Most High.” The sense of this phrase is that by loving our enemies we will demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God.

In this phrase we find a clear connection to the theme of Jesus’ journey toward the cross. Jesus said, “God is merciful and kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” This speaks of God’s mercy in doing things like sending rain for the righteous and the unrighteous. In other words, he does not hold back provision from his enemies. It also speaks of God’s great love in sending his son to bear the punishment for our sin so that we might be restored to him.

In this way, Jesus demonstrated his love for us: While we were yet his enemies, he died for us. He sacrificed himself for the highest good of his enemies. The next time you read the account of Jesus’ crucifixion, look for the different ways that he did good to those who hated him, blessed those who cursed him, and prayed for those who abused him in the midst of it. (“Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”) That is truly what it means to love your enemies. Jesus commands us to follow in his footsteps, to desire the highest good for our enemies just as he desired the highest good for us when we were his enemies.