Love Your Enemies

| Luke 6:27-36 | April 28, 2019

Week of May 5, 2019

The Point: Love your enemies even as Christ has loved you.

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, 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. [ESV]

“Parenetic Call to Love and Mercy [6:27-36]. The next subunit contains the main body of the sermon and is full of exhortation. The major topic is love. Luke 6:20-26 contained (1) the promise and hope that Jesus offers to those who identify with His message and (2) a warning about those who do not. This passage contains the fundamental exhortation of what a follower is to do. Simply put, the disciple’s love for others should be extraordinary in comparison to the way people usually love. The exhortation to love comes in three different forms in 6:27-28,31,35. In between the imperative are two sets of illustrations: four illustrations in 6:29-30 and three illustrations in 6:32-34. With the conclusion of the second set of illustrations, a summary command to love is given in 6:35. Love is looked at in the subunit from three angles. In 6:27, it is expressed in radical terms as loving those who oppose you. In 6:31, it is expressed in terms of a human perspective: treat others as you wish they would treat you, a classic role reversal. And in 6:35, it is expressed in terms of a divine standard, where love is not the concept expressed, but graciousness is used to define love’s generous quality. This ethic clearly made a deep impression on Jesus’ followers, as it runs through all characterizations of His teaching [John 13:34-35; 15:12-17; Rom. 12:17-21; 13:10; Gal. 6:2; James 2:8; 1 John 3:11-18]. Luke 6:36-38 turns our attention from how we treat others to how we respond to them. Love includes mercy, following God’s own example. This attitude produces a hesitation in judging others, as believers realize that God will treat them in the way they have treated others. The structural pattern in 6:36-38a is a set of four exhortations, two negative and two positive, each of which also has a promise. A note on God’s evaluative standard [6:38b] concludes the paragraph. The expression of love, the topic of 6:27-35, is still in view in 6:36. Jesus wants disciples to see that mercy [6:36] and generosity [6:35] are related concepts.

Fourfold Call to Love Your Enemies [6:27-28]. (1) Love Your Enemies [6:27a]. The attention now turns to love, but the love exhibited here is not ordinary: it is difficult and superior. It is the love appropriate for a disciple who has experienced God’s forgiveness. The verse opens with a contrast and the first of four exhortations. But at the beginning of the verse contrasts with the preceding woes. It represents a shift back to the desired activity of disciples. The shift of focus is emphasized by the word order, since you is separated from hear in the Greek. In calling the audience listeners, Jesus stresses not just the need to hear the message, but also the importance of responding to it. The first exhortation is to love one’s enemies. Though such a command has similarities with Old Testament sayings, it is unparalleled in its emphatic tone. The law suggested that one should love one’s neighbor as oneself [Lev. 19:18]. But in Judaism, one’s neighbor was someone with similar religious thinking, not one who was opposed and hostile. The opposition here is likely tied to the hatred and persecution of Luke 6:22 and thus is largely religious in character. In some movements in Judaism, the exact opposite was instructed, as at Qumran, where the right to hate one’s religious foes was a given. It is easy to love those favorable to you, but this command to love enemies would be more difficult to carry out. Nonetheless, the early community clearly adopted this approach, as the examples of Jesus [Luke 23:34] and Stephen [Acts 7:58-60] show and as the exhortations of Paul [Rom. 12:16-21; 1 Thess. 5:15] and Peter [1 Peter 3:9] urge. (2) Do Good to Those Who Hate You [6:27b]. From the general attitude of love, the second exhortation moves to specifics. The disciples are told to do good to those who hate them. Hatred and enemies often appear together to describe those hostile to God’s people [Luke 1:71; Ps. 18:17; 106:10]. This exhortation and the next have no equivalent in Matthew. Again, the radical character, as well as the difficulty of what Jesus demands, is clear. In speaking of doing good, Jesus shows that He has in mind more than an intellectual, passive attitude of love toward those who oppose God’s people. Rather, active love is in view. (3) Bless Those Who Curse You [6:28a]. The third command moves from actions to words, even words of appeal to God. The idea of blessing is to invoke God’s favor on another’s behalf or at least appeal to God for that person. As they died, Jesus [Luke 23:34] and Stephen [Acts 7:60] interceded for enemies. In noting their action, of course, one does not exclude the possibility that a harsh warning may need to be sounded, as passages like Luke 6:24-26; Matthew 23; and 1 Corinthians 16:22 show. It is important to note what Jesus just said in Luke 6:24-26: people must know that God will be just and that He is displeased with activities that debase others, for they reveal that one is out of touch with God. That Paul can utter a curse like 1 Corinthians 16:22 and yet give his life to drawing people to God shows the heart the apostle had for those who would reject him. Cursing reacts to the opponent’s religious hostility. It involves an invocation of God or the gods to harm or judge someone. The disciples held no right to such invocation, at least not at the start of their work [Luke 9:51-56; James 3:9-12]. They could acknowledge where people truly stood before God, they could make clear what the justice of God would mean for one who steadfastly refused to listen to God; but they were to seek to benefit their enemies as much as possible. (4) Pray for Those Who Abuse You [6:28b]. The extent of such outreach to the opponent is clear from the final exhortation. Jesus commands the disciples to pray for those who abuse or treat them with spite or malice. The reference to harsh treatment is also a reference to persecution [1 Peter 3:16]. Intercession to God for the opponent is one of the highest forms of love. Such love is tough love, not because it requires harsh discipline against another as parental love might, but because it requires a sublimation of the self to such a great degree, a sublimation that is not normal for any human. It is a supernatural love, because doing it requires that one reverse all natural instincts. It is a love that can come only in light of a dependence on God. In fact, not only does Jesus’ command stand out against Judaism, though hints of it exist in the Old Testament and elsewhere, it also stands out against some strands of Greek thinking. However, Jesus was unique in making such focus a cornerstone of His ethic. He does not follow the other ancients with an appeal to the virtue of such action, nor does He issue a call to maintain solidarity in a community, nor does He appeal to self-interest, but He focuses on the raw power of love as imitation of God [Luke 6:35]. This is how the disciple is to relate to all humanity.

Four Illustrations of Loving [6:29-30]. (1) Offer the Cheek [6:29a]. Jesus illustrates this love for one’s enemies. The point is that love involves not defending one’s rights and accepting wrongs committed against one by being willing to forgive, with the additional proviso that one is willing to turn around a second time and still offer help – even if that means being abused yet again. Love is available, vulnerable, and subject to repeated abuse. Offering the other cheek is not so much an active pursuit as it is a natural exposure when one reaches out to those who have contempt. Revenge is excluded, while doing good to the hostile is commanded. In the context of persecution, offering the cheek means continuing to minister at the risk of further persecution, as Paul does in Acts 14 and 16. It should also be made clear that the ethic described is personal and not governmental. John the Baptist allows for the existence of soldiers, which presupposes the right of national self-defense [3:10-14]. This fits Paul’s comment that governments exist to protect their people [Rom. 13:4]. The personal character of the exhortation is paralleled in Romans 12:14-21, where love for the persecutor is also commanded. Still further, it is resources that are especially in view, as the use of money and goods becomes explicit in Luke 6:32-35. Thus, there is application to those who have wealth, but they are but one part of a very broad audience. There are lots of ways to give and be generous in addition to giving money and goods. So Jesus gives four illustrations on loving one’s neighbor in 6:29-30. The first illustration involves turning the other cheek. The religious context makes it likely that a slap is intended and that an insult is in view. An ancient slap usually involved the back of the hand and may picture public rejection from the synagogue. Such striking is really an abuse of power and a misuse of personal authority [Luke 12:45; 18:13; 23:48]. Nevertheless, one is not to fight back in kind, but remain vulnerable to the insult again. (2) Give the Shirt with the Coat [6:29b]. The second illustration is similar. If a person takes your outer garment, let him also have your undershirt. The picture is of a robbery and the point is that one should not seek revenge, but again remain potentially vulnerable to a second attack. Missionary travel was potentially dangerous, since robbers lingered on the highways; but one should not cease from missionary work simply because one might get jumped. The point is that although one is exposed to the hostile religious opponent, one should continue to be vulnerable to repeated onslaughts without seeking revenge. (3) Give to the Beggar [6:30a]. Jesus gives two final illustrations on loving the enemy. The verbs of the illustrations are all present tense, a point that indicates one is always to be prepared to respond in this way. The variety of examples underscores that Jesus is explaining a fundamental principle that reaches into many areas. Giving to the one who asks probably includes a reference to borrowing, as the parallel examples in 6:34-35 show. But a reference just to borrowing is probably too narrow, since the giving of alms is a topic in the message. The giving of alms was considered a reflection of one’s piety, and the term for asking is general. In dealing with alms, the focus would be a request by the poor to meet legitimate basic needs. The point is a genuine readiness to meet needs without reference to prejudices. There is a large element of self-denial in aiding anyone who asks in need, a denial that shows a willingness to part with things. Generosity is a fundamental, concrete expression of love. (4) Do Not Demand Back What Has Been Taken [6:30b]. The fourth command reflects an absence of retribution for wrong. For even when something is taken, the disciple is not to demand it back. The demand is difficult, but it reflects self-denial that is generous and may win over the hostile one. The point here is that Jesus’ ethical demand is strong, comprehensive, and serious. The world’s ethics are to be surpassed, as 6:32-34 will show. But one will accept the demand only if one believes that God will see, that He will reward the faithful, and that He will be just in His final evaluation. Without such a theological view or reality, the ethics of Jesus wilt into futility and foolishness as the follower is exposed with no hope of justice. To commit to a radical love, one must see that God honors such a commitment to reflect His grace [6:35-36].

Command to Love: The Golden Rule [6:31], This verse has its roots in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18, one is commanded to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The exhortation in Luke is simple: treat others as you wish they would treat you. That it is stated positively adds to the level of demand. It is not simply a command to avoid unfair treatment that one might not wish for oneself. Rather, it is a command to give the same sensitive consideration to others that one might want others to give. The idea of how we wish to be treated supplies this more demanding standard. Jesus is not arguing a utilitarian position that says, “Do this to them so they will do it to you.” The love in view here is unconditional. Jesus is not alone in this rule, though the force with which He said it is among the strongest expressions of this idea. He states the rule in the most emphatic and positive form. The rule assumes the note of concern for others expressed in the context by 6:27-30. Thus, it describes a love that is sensitive to others and aware of their preferences. In effect, one may fairly paraphrase the rule this way: “As you wish to be treated with sensitivity to your preferences, so treat others with sensitivity to their preferences.”

Three Illustrations of Radical Love [6:32-34]. In the following three illustrations of 6:32-34, Jesus uses negative examples to show that the disciple’s love is to be different from the sinner’s love. Each illustration takes an example of love and asks what is special about it, given that even sinners love this way. The key phrase is what benefit is that to you [32,33,34]. Thus, by raising the matter in this way, the implication is clear that disciples are to exhibit a more demanding love. Each example in this section is paired with the more radically expressed examples of 6:27-30. (1) If You Love Only Those Who Love You, What Credit Is It? [6:32]. The first illustration concerns loving only those who love you. There is no hint of a conditional motivation for love in the exhortation. The ancient world often lived on the premise, “Do good to others, so they will do good to you.” But Jesus’ command is set forth without any such hidden agenda. It is love for love’s sake, which is why it is so commendable and distinctive. The text is clear. If you love those who love you, what is the credit in that? In other words, why should God give a gracious response to such action? The word translated benefit by the ESV describes God’s favorable response and is equivalent to reward in Matthew 5:46. Love given only to those who love you is the type of love that sinners have and is nothing special. Jesus wishes to highlight the everyday quality of this love, as the introduction to the remark shows: for even sinners love those who love them. The world’s standard of love is not enough according to Jesus. (2) If You Do Good Only to Those Who Do Good to You, What Credit Is It? [6:33]. The second illustration involves doing good and probably parallels 6:32 in structure, while recalling 6:27b. The verse itself is direct. If you do good only for those who do good to you, that love is no different from the love displayed by people in general. There is no favor from God for such limited love. Do good speaks of concrete acts of good to others. Again, Luke moves from the attitude of love in 6:32 to the visible expression of it in 6:33. Luke loves to record not just the emotion that God desires, but the clear expression of it as well. (3) If You Lend Only for Return, What Credit Is It? [6:34]. The third illustration involves the lending of money and looks back to 6:30a. The verse’s structure parallels the two previous examples. If you lend only to those from whom you expect to receive back, what favor does that bring you before God? Lend looks to loaning money, which in a Jewish context would not include interest. Such no-interest loans protected the poor and were a sign of piety. Jesus says that to loan only to those who will respond likewise is no different from how sinners loan to sinners. Sinners make safe loans to each other. Here the meaning is: “I loan so that I might get a loan in the future.” The lending becomes motivated by selfish concerns, a perspective that fits Jesus’ criticisms of sinners. Thus, one should not loan only in hopes of obtaining a future loan, since there is no credit in making a loan selfishly. One should give without strings attached. Besides, if one meets needs only for people who can meet one’s future needs, how do the real needs of the needy, who cannot repay, get met? If the Old Testament law surrounding lending tried to protect the weak of the community, then such conditional lending undercuts that protection.

Summary on Love: Call to Be Gracious like God [6:35-36]. (1) Love Your Enemies [6:35]. Luke summarizes and repeats the three exhortations of 6:32-34: love your enemies matches 6:32, do good recalls 6:33, and lend, expecting nothing in return restates 6:34 – illustrations that in turn look back to 6:27,30. Thus, this verse ties the subunit together, and the exhortations here mean what they did in those verses. But with the exhortations come notes of promise about reward and a relationship with God. The disciple should reflect God’s gracious character to the immoral and ungrateful. God does see and honor such righteousness. God’s promise for expressing such love is reward and a relationship with Him. The emphasis is not on entry into the relationship with God as reward, since relationship was bound up in the grace-filled invitation of the blessings and woes of 6:20-26. Rather, the reward is a response to the disciple’s demonstration of God’s character, which shows one to be a child of the Most High, displaying conduct typical of the Father. The reward is God’s acknowledgment that He has seen this meritorious love and the faithfulness it reflects. It is the Father’s pleasure at evidencing kinship with God. Reward is God’s favor/blessing for doing that which is noteworthy. It is not merit for salvation; but recognition of being a faithful son or daughter [6:23]. The reward reflects grace or divine favor (benefit) in Luke 6:32-34 in response to having done something more. First Corinthians 4:4-5 notes that God’s praise comes with the reward. So the reward is not the blessing of life, but the Father’s pleasure and affirmation at the disciple’s having been a faithful steward by loving in a way that goes beyond the sinner’s love. Thus, disciples who love their enemies visibly demonstrate their pedigree to the Father. They have imitated God and shown themselves fully faithful to their Father. The reason (for) for the exhortation is God’s very character. He also is gracious to the immoral and ungrateful, so that anyone who treats people in a similar manner reflects relationship with God. The Father is described as gracious frequently in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. Moral likeness proves the parentage. Such love reflects God’s character to others and shows our identity with God. The believer is called to graciously love all, even one’s enemies. In fact, such love uniquely marks out God’s child. (2) Love and the Standard of Mercy [6:36]. The exhortation to love graciously suggest another trait that is reflective of God’s character: mercy. This attribute prevents one from being overly harsh in judgment and prevents one from being quick to pounce on the evildoer. The Old Testament frequently describes God’s kind compassion with the term merciful. The point is the same as in 6:35: the disciples are to imitate their heavenly Father. God’s character is the guide for our character.”  [Bock, pp. 586-605].

Questions for Discussion: 

  1. What is the fourfold call Jesus gives us in 6:27-28? List the four commands. Note these commands are in the present tense indicating continuous action. Who are the objects of these commands? How are we to obey these commands in obedience to Jesus?
  2. In 6:29-30, Jesus gives four illustrations showing how to apply the commands of 6:27-28. List the four illustrations. Note two are positive and two are negative. What is the point of these illustrations? What is the main thing Jesus is teaching His followers here?
  3. In 6:31, Jesus returns to His exhortation to love. Why is it significant that Jesus states the command positively instead of negatively? What three illustrations of this command does Jesus give in 6:32-34? What is the key phrase Jesus repeats in each illustration? What is Jesus teaching by this repetition?
  4. How does Jesus conclude His teaching in 6:35-36? What promise does Jesus give? What is the reward that Jesus promises?
  5. As we examine Jesus’ teaching in this passage, it is essential that we apply the key hermeneutical principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” We must examine other passages of Scripture that deal with similar topics. When we do, we will find that the ethic described here is personal and not governmental or even instructions for the local church. Other passages describe the God-given authority of governments to deal with evil in a way that protects society. And the local church is given instructions concerning how to deal with unrepentant sin within the church body. So we are not meant to apply this personal ethic taught here in wider contexts.

References:

Luke 1:1-9:50, Darrell Bock, BENT, Baker.

The Gospel According to Luke, James Edwards, Eerdmans.

Luke, David Garland, Zondervan (ebook).

Luke, vol. 1, Philip Ryken, REC, P & R Publishers.