After teaching the disciples and the crowd about who is blessed and who will receive woes, Jesus continues his teaching about what the people of God do and how the people of God act. What Jesus is commanding is rightly called the hardest commandment.
Love Your Enemies (6:27)
It is a command that seems beyond our ability to attain. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Consider the context of this command. Jesus has called twelve disciples to be his apostles. These twelve apostles were the divinely appointed ambassadors who would preach his gospel to the world. After selected these twelve, Jesus teaches what it means to follow him. Jesus pronounces four blessings. His disciples would endure poverty, hunger, sorrow, and persecution, but in their suffering they would know his blessing. Jesus also pronounced four woes against self-satisfied people who were living for the pleasures of the moment and thought they could do without God. There are two kinds of people, according to what Jesus taught in 6:20-26: people who suffer for his sake and have his blessing, and people who live for themselves and will come to an unhappy end. We pointed out in the last lesson that when we are serving the Lord, people are going to hate us, exclude us, insult us, and reject us as evil (6:22). What are we to do about that response?
The natural response would be for us to hate them and hurt them. This was the philosophy of the world at that time. Lysias wrote, “I consider it established that one should do harm to one’s enemies and be of service to one’s friends.” I believe the world has the same philosophy today. Unfortunately, Christians have adopted much of the same attitude. This was the problem in the first century as well where the Jews had also adopted this worldly philosophy. But God had clearly condemned this attitude in the scriptures.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:18; NRSV)
Many rabbis, however, taught that this verse only applied to relationships within Israel. They taught that there were limits to brotherly love. In our terminology, it would be the same as teaching that we are not be take vengeance or bear a grudge to anyone who is a Christian. But you can bear the grudge to those outside the family of Christ. So this is the thinking that Jesus is teaching against when he gives these instructions. Unfortunately we do the same thing. We want to only love our friends and family. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Thankfully, Jesus does not leave the command there. Jesus spends the rest of this section talking about what loving our enemies looks like.
What Loving Our Enemies Looks Like (6:27-31)
Do good to those who hate you. I think we believe we are doing well when we do not hate those who hate us. We become unshaken and unconcerned by those who hate us. But loving our enemies is not just simply a lack of retaliation. Loving our enemies does not mean that I do not punch them in the face. Loving our enemies does not mean that we do not treat them how they treat us. Jesus is calling for a positive action toward our enemies. Do good to those who hate you. There is no excuse for not treating a person well. We are never excused from this command. There is no, “Yeah, but he did such and such to me.” We are never justified in not treating people well.
Bless those who curse you. Not only are our actions to be positive toward our enemies, but our words are also to be positive. The idea of blessing is to invoke God’s favor on another’s behalf or at least appeal to God for that person (Bock, 589). It is difficult to respond with words of grace and kindness when someone is cursing us. We usually respond with the same fury and intensity that we are encountering. Jesus is calling for us to have an unnatural response.
Pray for those who mistreat you. Do not mistreat those who mistreat you. Do good for them, speak graciously of them, and pray to God for them. Pray to God that they will change their lives and repent. Pray to God that they will become a disciple of Jesus. Pray on the behalf of those that mistreat us. Stephen stands as a powerful example of this in Acts 6 as the people are stoning him to death.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. This illustration has unfortunately been used to teach that a person needs to get the tar beat out of them if someone comes up to them in a physical altercation. It is always important that we do not miss the cultural and religious context of the teachings that we read in the scriptures. The slap in the face is idiomatic for an insult. That idiom continued until not that long ago, where we have pictures of a prim and proper person slapping another in the cheek with a white glove. This is not a fist fight, but an insult. This explanation also fits Luke 6:22 where Jesus warned that we would be insulted for the sake of the Son of Man. When insulted, do not retaliate. Let people insult you. We must be willing to suffering insults and humiliation again and again for Christ. Do not respond in kind.
If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Jesus illustrates that we give, even to those who mistreat us. This may be referring to a street robbery. But it seems more likely that this is a person who has a legitimate need. We are to have concern for the other person. We are to be more concerned the person than the protection of our property. Even if people mistreat us, we must give them above and beyond what they need, to the point of making a real sacrifice. We have a hard time giving above and beyond to people that we like. Remember that the context is how to love our enemies. We will not give to our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ, or our family. We think it is our stuff and we are stingy. We will not share. We will not give. It’s mine, mine, mine, mine, mine. This attitude is despicable and ugly and does not reflect the attitude of those who are truly God’s people. We not only meet the person’s need, but go above and beyond to assist. This leads into verse 30.
Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Jesus is not talking about giving money to panhandlers or to people who will use money for an evil purpose. The rendering, “begs” in some translations is misleading. “Asks” is the appropriate thought. Not only should we give above and beyond, but we should give without demanding anything in return. This is a thought that Jesus will return to shortly. We need to ask, “What can I give?” without asking, “What will I get in return?” Jesus carries the idea even further that we would lend something to someone without demanding it back. Our concern for possessions should be so minimal that we will not care that other people use our possessions and do not return them.
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Finally, the overarching principle to guide how we are to love our enemies it to do to others as we want them to do to us. We often have reversed the principle in our living and even in our teaching. When one of my daughters does something to her sister, I teach them, “Is that something you would want them to do to you?” Of course they say, “no.” This is how we reverse the principle. We typically think in terms of NOT doing something to others that we would not want done to us. I don’t want people to be mean, so I will not be mean. Even the Jewish rabbis and writers instructed the people to not do to others what you would not have done to you. But this is NOT what Jesus taught. It is far easier to not do to others what we would not want done to ourselves. Jesus is teaching us to be proactive. DO to others what you would want them to do to you. If everyone only did to others what they would have done to themselves, it would change the world. Loving our enemies is at the very heart of being a disciple of Jesus.
The Reasoning Behind Loving Our Enemies (6:32-34)
Jesus finish this section of his sermon by explaining the reasoning behind loving our enemies and doing to others as we would have them do to us.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. If you only love people who love you, you have done nothing. Everyone loves those who love them. If you only do good to those who do good things for you, you have done nothing because everyone in the world does that. If you lend expecting to be repaid, you have done nothing because even banks expect to be repaid. I hope we see the point. We think we are doing something great when we love those who love us, do good to those who do good to us, and lend to those who we think can repay! Jesus says that we have done nothing because everyone does that. We are not acting like Jesus. We are acting like natural humans. We are acting like sinners, not like the holy people of God. We are not being godly. We are being worldly. Stop thinking that you are doing anything when you love those that love you and do good for those that do good for you. This is the reason that we are to love our enemies. If we do not love our enemies, then we are acting just like the world. Further, we are not acting in the character of God. How quickly we forget that while we were enemies, God loved us and sent his Son to die for us (Romans 5:6-11). Love your enemies.
Jesus’ Final Instruction (6:35-36)
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Jesus summarizes his teaching. Love your enemies. Do good toward your enemies. Lend to your enemies and do not expect repayment. Notice the benefits of living this godly life.
- Your reward will be great. This is what the godly life is all about. It is difficult to do good to our enemies and not to retaliate. God is going to reward us for making these sacrifices. We cannot even begin to imagine what the reward will look like when the God who created all things says we will have a great reward.
- You will be children of the Most High. If you have been studying Romans with us on Sunday night then you know the weight of these words that we are declared children of God. It is a picture of privilege, having God as our Father. We are his children and we can have a close, intimate relationship as a child to his or her father. We are not separated from God, but we are in the family of God.
God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. We must be the same. We need to be merciful, just as our heavenly Father is merciful. Think about the good that God has done for us while we were enemies and sinful. We need to do good and be merciful to our enemies because of what God did for us. (TNIV)