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18. Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)
James J. Tissot, 'The Exhortation to the Apostles' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 6.4 x 8.7 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.
"27 But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 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. 35 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 sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:27-36, NIV)
If you are looking for a nice, comfortable religion that doesn't call for too many demands on your life, makes you feel better when you're down, and will reserve luxury suites for you in heaven when you die, then you probably shouldn't try to be one of Jesus' disciples. He is demanding. He has the crazy notion that his followers should serve others rather than themselves. He expects them to show integrity when no one is looking. And he expects them to love. Not just people who only occasionally have a bad day. But enemies. Jesus expects you to love your enemies. Don't follow him unless you're ready to experience some discomfort.
The Blessings and Woes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Plain are radical. The poor, not the rich, will be rewarded. Then Jesus says to be happy when you are persecuted. "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets." (6:23). Now he goes a step further. We are to love our persecutors.
Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-28)
The world says -- rightly -- "Love your friends. Be loyal to your friends. Look out for your friends." Why? Friends will look out for you. Loving your friends is just smart. This also goes to loving your wife or your husband. As the Apostle Paul observes, "Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself" (Ephesians 5:28). Loving your wife is a no-brainer unless you're self-destructive. Loving your friends and your spouse is just enlightened self-interest.
But it's altogether another thing to love an enemy, someone who has your disgrace or destruction as a goal. Notice as Jesus teaches his disciples in this passage, he uses the familiar rhythm of Hebrew parallelism.
"Love your enemies,
Do good to them who hate you."
Jesus uses some heavy words to describe the Christian-haters:
- Greek echthros means "the (personal) enemy,"167 from echthō, "to hate." Ethros means "hateful," and as a noun, "adversary, enemy, foe."
- Greek miseō means "hate, persecute in hatred, detest, abhor."168 These are people with an active desire for our hurt. Miseō is particularly used as "to persecute." There is a malicious attitude. These are people you can't turn your back on.
- Greek kataraomai means "to curse." Curses are utterances that are designed to bring harm by supernatural operation.169
- Greek epēreazō means "threaten, mistreat, abuse."170
Jesus says that we are not to just force a smile and mind our own business when we are hated and mistreated. We are to actively try to do good towards our attackers. Agapaō is a rare word in Koinē Greek. It was developed almost exclusively in Christian literature to refer to the kind of love that doesn't serve itself, but extends itself for the sake of another. The other Greek words for love are eros, erotic love, philos, love for family, brotherly love, and stergos, natural affection. Agape love is really a different category of love that the world hadn't seen in action until Jesus came along and infected his followers with it.
Jesus uses four very strong action words in these verses:
- Greek agapaō -- love your enemies
- Greek poimeō kalos -- do good to those who hate you.
- Greek eulogeō -- to speak well of
- Greek proseuchomai -- to pray for, to intercede for.
None are in the passive voice. They don't just take care of themselves. They are active verbs describing deliberate action to do good to one's enemies.
Let's pause for a moment. Who are your enemies? I'm not asking who you hate? I'm asking who hates you, or despises you? Often they are the people close to us who have been hurt. A spouse or former spouse. A parent. A son or daughter. A co-worker at the job. An enemy of God who takes it out on you. Someone whose evil action you have exposed and is now out to get you. Who are your enemies?
Now what can you actively do to seek their good? That is the way Jesus is training his disciples to think.
How do I love my enemy? you ask with all seriousness. This isn't a matter of just thinking nice thoughts. We need Jesus to do a heart change within us, to put the kind of heart within us toward our enemies that was in God who sent Jesus to redeem and forgive a world full of despicable people. God-haters, vulgar, foul-mouthed, unfaithful to spouses, lying, cheating, stealing, selfish. The list goes on and on, and describes us at our worst. Somehow, God loves the people of Israel who thumb their noses at him again and again. He doesn't quit. They are unfaithful and are punished, but then God is at it again seeking to bless them. He doesn't give up. He has a heart of love toward the loveless. That is what we need to love our own enemies. We have plenty of strong examples from our God to follow.
So how do you do it? I don't think we wait for emotions of love. Rather we start with actions of love, and emotions may follow later. We start doing what Jesus taught right here:
- Do good. When you find a way you can do something good for one of your worst enemies, do it. Not to shame him, but because you are trying to find it in your own evil heart to love him for Jesus' sake.
- Bless. When you think of the person who is slandering you, and saying untrue and nasty things about you, find ways to work blessing into your thoughts. Speak a blessing out loud. When you are with friends, instead of complaining about your unjust treatment, go out of your way (actively) to speak well of your enemies. Why? To shame them? No -- though it will. But to find it in your own heart to love them.
- Pray. Intercede. When you're praying, you probably pray for your family and your pastor, and your friends and family. Why don't you begin to pray and intercede for your enemies? Actively. Start to ask God to help them. Ask God to heal the hurts in their lives that are some of the motivators of their evil actions. Ask God to bless them and show mercy to them. Why? To shame them? No, in order to find it in your heart to love them.
And if you'll do good when you find opportunities, and bless when you think of them, and pray and intercede earnestly before the Lord, you'll find that God will begin to put love in your heart toward your enemies. Actual love. Sometimes loving emotions, too.
You see, Jesus is out to create an army of disciples that look at enemies as he and his Father look at them. As people to love and care for. People to provide rain for. People to die for. Jesus is out to change you and me. And obeying Jesus' commands in these verses, along with the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, will accomplish just that.
The Use of Hyperbole in Teaching
Before we discuss Jesus' teaching in the next verses, we need to talk about hyperbole (high- PER-bo-lee) as a teaching tool. Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration to make a point. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines it as "extravagant exaggeration."171 Before we say that Jesus could never exaggerate to make a point, let's consider how you and I use hyperbole in everyday speech -- to make a point.
- "I've done that a million times."
- "If I had a nickel for every time you've said that, I'd be a rich man."
- "You are more radiant than the sun, and your eyes sparkle like beams of sunlight."
- "I nearly died laughing."
- "I was hopping mad."
You get the idea. We are constantly finding means of expression to make a point. We allow "poetic license" to create word pictures that aren't literally true, but that make a point in an especially poignant way. We're a people of exaggeration in speech. Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about stretching the truth here. I'm talking about using exaggerations to make a point.
Jesus used exaggerations to make a point, too. This was a common way of speaking in his day. Here are a few examples of hyperbole in Jesus' teaching:
- Matthew 5:29-30. Cutting off a hand or gouging out an eye. Point: Hating sin.
- Matthew 19:24. A camel going through the eye of a needle. Point: Impossibility.
- Luke 6:41-42. A beam or timber in one's eye. Point: Clear judgment.
- Luke 14:26. A man should hate his father and mother, wife and children. Point: Absolute commitment.
Hyperbole has a respected place in teaching. Don't make the mistake of expecting every word Jesus says to be literally true. What he says is true, of course. But we must take it as it is meant. And we must take it very seriously. He probably uses hyperbole only to highlight a concept that his hearers are likely to miss without it. When Jesus speaks in hyperbole, we must be a thousand times more careful to listen. But we'd better discern when Jesus is speaking in hyperbole, or we'll make big mistakes in interpreting Scripture.
Refuse to Retaliate (Luke 6:29)
"If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to
him the other also.
If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic" (6:29)
"Turning the other cheek" has made it into the English language as an expression meaning to go out of your way to avoid a nasty confrontation. Even though provoked, instead of lashing out, you turn the other cheek. In fact, I think that's pretty close to what this sentence means in Jesus' teaching. Remember, the context is enemies, those who insult us and seek to embarrass us.
Jesus' point is that we are to avoid hitting back, the natural human reaction. How can we love when we hit back with something that will wound our opponent? Husbands and wives sometimes get into arguments; tensions that may have been simmering for years boil over once again. And with the boiling comes anger, and with anger a willingness not just to defend, but to strike back. To get an advantage. To have the last word. To wound.
Though Jesus' instruction to turn the other cheek is intended in the arena with a sworn enemy, the principle applies to every area of our lives. Don't retaliate. Don't hit back. Don't move from a position of prayerful love for your enemy to a drop-down, drag-out fight. Love doesn't retaliate. Love seeks the enemy's good (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
The second command is harder yet to understand. "If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic" (6:29b). But the principle is the same -- after all, this is Hebrew parallelism. When your enemy takes your cloak, remember that you love him. You are praying for him. You are blessing him and seeking his good. Don't get grabby and nasty and accusing. You love him, remember? Let him have your tunic also.
Oohhh! I can hear you say. You don't think you can do that. I don't think you can, either. But with the Spirit of Jesus working through you, he can teach you to love your enemies -- even at their ugliest.
After all, we can learn from the masters of patience, and repeated forgiveness. The Father told Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children by her. Inevitably, she returned to her old ways, and left Hosea. But he went searching for her, and brought her back and forgave her. I hear the old, old story of the searching Father loud and clear in the story of Hosea, as I do in the story of the Prodigal Son. On the cross, this is how Jesus treated his enemies ... he treated them to the words, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
And we would quibble over a cloak or a tunic? Jesus is seeking to train disciples to think and act and love like he does. Turning the other cheek is indeed what he did as the soldiers spat on him and flogged him, and jammed a thorny crown into his scalp and mocked him as king. Was he tempted to retaliate? Oh, yes! But he didn't. Why? He loved them. That is the radical lesson of verse 29.
Taking It Literally
If you've got the point, then Jesus' hyperbole has struck home. Now let's consider what his words don't mean. They don't mean that we as a society should let criminals run free to do violence on any citizen. It doesn't mean we shouldn't call the police when robbed. It doesn't mean that we should stand idly by when someone is assaulted.
Jesus words aren't about crime or pacifism in war. They are about loving enemies in a radical way. If we seek to make a new law that overrides the civil law in Exodus against violent crime, we miss the point. Then we're trying to make a new law where Jesus intended that we look underneath the law intended to restrain sinful people. Having now a glimpse of love, don't try to legislate it.
The same goes for people taking your clothes off. If you were to take this verse literally, nudity would be the result.172 Is that what Jesus intended to go with this? Of course not. This is hyperbole to make a point: radical love for your enemy. But we aren't to misunderstand and suspend the law. That would be foolish.
Possessions Are Less Important than Love (Luke 6:30)
"Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back" (6:31). Verse 31 follows along in the same vein as verse 29. When our enemy seeks to take what we own, we are to still love him. Our love is to transcend evil deeds. That is Jesus' point.
Does Jesus mean that we are to give to every beggar or con man we meet? Of course not. He expects us to be good stewards of our money. The point is how we treat our enemies, the radical way we love them.
The Golden Rule (Luke 6:31)
Now Jesus moves from love of enemies and the radical way we are to exercise that, to a principal that can be applied generally. It's been called the Golden Rule, and with good reason.
Scholars observe that it has been stated negatively by many before Jesus. The great Rabbi Hillel, for example, taught, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof."173 But that is merely prudent, a wise way to keep out of trouble with your neighbor. When Jesus turns this to a positive, it is radical. It states for us clearly how we are to exercise love. We are to treat people the way we would like to be treated. Not the way they deserve to be treated, but the way we would like to be treated. There is still the strong current of radical love of the Father. If Jesus had treated us as we deserve, we'd all be doomed. But he has shown us grace, and now expects his disciples to dispense that same grace and graciousness to the world in his name.
Exceed the Self-Aware Goodwill of Unbelievers (Luke 6:32-34)
"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." (6:32-34)
Now Jesus gives several examples to illustrate the difference between a selfish, prudent way of dealing, and his own radical love -- looking out for the other person's best interests. Even "sinners," unbelievers, shrewd but relatively moral people, care about their friends. It's good business. "What goes around, comes around," so let's all be nice. But that isn't Jesus' point. He tell us to show kindness, especially when we won't be beneficiaries of it later. Unselfish, serving love -- agape love -- is what he is illustrating here. Self-love seeks repayment -- the sooner the better. Agape love seeks no repayment.
But there will be a day when we will be repaid in full. In the Father's Kingdom, Jesus' disciples will have the high status of sons of the King. There will be a payday, someday. But we are not to seek it now, in this life. The eyes of faith are trained to look beyond the seen, to the unseen. "For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Learn Mercy from God's Example (Luke 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 sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (6:35-36)
Jesus has digressed a bit and generalized his instructions about love to all mankind. But now he narrows the view again to enemies. Anyone can love friends -- and we must -- but the test of real love comes with loving enemies. And into that school, Jesus thrusts his disciples. If they would follow him they must learn the Father's way, the way of long-suffering, the way of love, the way of mercy. Jesus gives three commands as the elements of this pass-fail exam:
- Love your enemies
- Do good to them
- Lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
In America we live in a credit culture. Young people are encouraged to incur a little debt and then pay it back at regular intervals in order to develop a credit rating. People commonly borrow to buy a house, buy a car, purchase living room furniture. Buy now, pay later. When we read about lending in the Bible we need to purge our thoughts of borrowing for these purposes. They just didn't.
Sometimes, businessmen might borrow to set up a business, but interest rates could be 20% or 30%. Moneylenders were tolerated in first century Palestine (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27),174 though despised. There was no Small Business Administration loan to provide a "grubstake" to begin a business. Business loans were a much later development. Jews were prohibited to loan on interest to other Jews, especially to help them subsist. The Law provided considerable protection to the poor, when it was enforced.175
People borrowed only when they were needy, when they had a reversal of fortunes and needed money for food. Borrowing was not entered into lightly. If you think loaning money to your useless brother-in-law to help provide for your sister's family is a recent invention, you'd be wrong. People lent to family members. Sometimes they were paid back, often they were not.
One nasty fact of first century life was debtor's prison. The lender could demand repayment, and if it were not forthcoming, he could throw the debtor into prison until he would pay his debt (Matthew 5:25-26; Luke 12:58-59; Matthew 18:30). This seems counter-intuitive to us. How can he pay his debts if he can't work? we wonder. Family and friends, having pity on their blood relative -- or feeling shame for not doing anything for their own flesh and blood -- would ante up, pay off the debt, and the debtor would be released.
But what if the debtor had no family or friends? What if he were a miserable good-for-nothing whose friends had long ago deserted him? What if he were threatened with prison. What then?
Then, says Jesus, the Christians whom he is persecuting should ante up on his behalf and lend the money to get him released. No matter if the Christian is not repaid. Here is a wonderful test case for Jesus' disciples, an opportunity to help a miserable insolent unbeliever purely out of love, with no hope of reward.
That, Jesus says, is real mercy. That comes closer to the Father's style of mercy than any other possible repayment the Father can expect from us miserable sinners. We surely can't repay enough to compensate for the precious blood of Jesus that was shed on our behalf, which atoned for our sins. Mercy to those who have no way of repayment? Jesus' death for our sins is one such case.
And disciples of Jesus must learn to be merciful. Not when it is useful. Not when it is convenient. Not when the recipient is worthy. Mercy is never justified. It is given freely. That is what we disciples must learn.
"Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (6:35b-36)
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The cost of learning this costly mercy to enemies may be some insults and slander. Some blows to the cheek and stolen cloaks. But to learn this is to learn the essence of the gospel -- unmerited, costly forgiveness. And the reward is God-likeness, the most rarefied gift Jesus' Spirit can bestow.
Lord, the more I ponder these uncompromising words, the more I realize that I am in agape kindergarten. Please help me to take your words seriously and not discount them. Make your point deep in my heart. Teach me your mercy. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"Do to others as you would have them do to you." (Luke 6:31)
Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions
that follow -- your choice.
- Why is the real test of agape love being able to love your enemies? If we fail this test, do we really have agape love?
- Do you see "turning the other cheek" and giving your enemy your tunic as literal, figurative, hyperbole, or what? What is the point Jesus is making here?
- Why is loving your enemy so much like divine love? What is the implication of this for our salvation? For our lifestyle?
- What is the difference in effect of stating the Golden Rule as a negative ("Don't do to others, as ..."), as did Rabbi Hillel, rather than a positive ("Do to others, as ..."), as did Jesus?
 Echthros, BAGD 331.
 Miseō, BAGD 522-523.
 Friedrich Büchsel, ara, ktl., TDNT 1:448-451.
 Epēreazō, BAGD 285.
 Merriam-Webster, p. 570.
 T.W. Manson, The Sayings of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1979, originally published 1937), p. 51.
 Shabbath 31a, quoted by Morris, Luke, p. 130.
 Merlin W. Call, "Bank, Banking," ISBE 1:408-409.
 Robert J. Wyatt, "Interest," ISBE, 2:860-861. John E. Hartley, "Debt," ISBE 905-906.
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