Love your enemies. It’s a simple sentence, isn’t it? It’s an imperative made up of three words, none of which is hard to understand. It’s short, it’s easily definable, it’s easy to read and speak. There’s absolutely nothing about it that’s complicated at all. It even kind of rolls off the tongue. What we realize once we comprehend it, however, is that its meaning and implications aren’t simple and easy at all. Those three simple words make up one of the most radically transforming statements ever uttered. It turns every natural human impulse on its head. It goes against everything our heart, mind, culture, and experience tell us is right and normal. It effectively blows up our entire view of the world, ourselves, and others.
It’s also outside the bounds of anything we’d expect from a self-help perspective. It’s not ‘ignore your enemies’ or ‘overcome your enemies’ or ‘abide your enemies’. There’s no self-affirming, grit your teeth and persevere, you’re worth it, don’t let the haters get you down admonition here. It’s not a self-focused command telling us we’re good enough or loveable enough or strong enough to make it even in the face of criticism and opposition. No, it’s a command to LOVE the opposition. Love the people we consider ENEMIES.
This section of Jesus’ sermon is built around this command. And while the command is short, the implications are long. It’s another example of how the citizen of the kingdom of God is called to a radically different lifestyle than the citizen of the world. We’re to love those who hate us, who oppose us, who want bad things to happen to us. We’re to respond to them with LOVE.
Jesus has just defined characteristics of those who are blessed in the kingdom of God: poor, hungry, sad, hated. It’s a list that goes against every natural human desire. Now He defines behavior that goes against every natural human response. He says His followers are to love their enemies.
He doesn’t stop with just the initial command. He further defines it by saying we’re to do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us. Then He gives some practical examples by telling us to offer up our other cheek when someone hits us on the first one; to give up our shirt if someone takes our coat; to give to everyone who asks and not ask for anything back that’s taken from us.
It’s an amazing series of statements. It leaves any sincere reader grasping for an out-clause. Surely He doesn’t mean this literally, right? Surely this is hyperbole meant to make a point – right? Right? He can’t mean this is how a believer is to live his life in the face of people who want to take advantage of him, can He?
While He’s certainly using extreme examples to make a point, He’s also showing how a believer is to view the world. Inherent in this behavior is a perspective that says God is sovereign, God is good, God loves me, and this world isn’t all there is. If God’s in control, then the people who mistreat me do so under God’s control. And if it’s under God’s control, then I can trust myself to my loving heavenly Father who always has my best in mind. Thus, I don’t look at the person or his behavior, I look at the loving God who administers my life and its circumstances and people who are in it. AND, I know there’s a world after this one where all injustice and sin will be made right and where I’ll live with my Redeemer FOREVER, and I’m perfectly willing to trust Him until that time. I may not enjoy justice in this life, but justice is coming, and it will be perfect and complete.
Also inherent in this behavior is an understanding that this life isn’t about me. Note what He says about giving up our shirt if someone steals our coat. That means I’m not concerned about my rights or personal justice (something we’re concerned about from the womb). Said another way, I’m willing to trust God for my rights. This may be the most revolutionary aspect to this whole section. If there’s anything our culture screams, it’s “Stand up for your rights!! Demand justice!!” And yet Jesus says, “Don’t worry about your rights. God will take care of your rights – you love those who mistreat you, keep your eyes on God, and forget about yourself.”
Jesus ultimately calls us to die to self and live for Him. When I die to self, then my pride that says I deserve to be treated a certain way dies too. Suddenly I see others through an entirely different lens because how they treat me is meaningless. It’s not about me, it’s about my heavenly Father and my desire to please Him. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me (Gal 2:20). For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (II Cor 5:14-15). If my life is about Christ, if I’m living for Him and He’s living through me and I understand my redemption and what I am apart from Him, then thoughts like, “I don’t deserve this” or “How can they do this to me?” go away. It’s about HIM, not me. I don’t take things personally because it’s not my life. Placing my life in the hands of another removes the pride that causes me to want to lash out at those who dislike and mistreat me. I won’t be insulted or want revenge or demand justice for mistreatment – that’s up to the One who lives in me. The focus is on Christ, not me and my rights and what I deserve.
There was a day when I died, utterly died, died to George Mueller and his opinions, preferences, tastes and will; died to the world, its approval or censure; died to the approval or blame of even my brethren and friends; and since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.
~ George Mueller
The command to love our enemies adds flesh to verse 23. There Jesus said to leap for joy when we’re mistreated (a totally bizarre response from a normal human perspective). Here He says we’re to love those who are the source of that mistreatment. We’re to LOVE those who hate, ostracize, insult, and spurn us. We don’t just celebrate the mistreatment; we love the mis-treaters! WE ARE TO BE DIFFERENT!
It’s at this point that Luke records the Golden Rule. Do to others as you would like them to do to you (NLT). It’s revealing to read this in the context of loving our enemies. It means the Golden Rule is to govern how we treat those who DON’T treat us well. It’s a command without a contingency. Jesus doesn’t say that we treat others as we want to be treated as long as they deserve it. No, the context demands that we apply this to all people and especially to those who DON’T deserve it.
The interesting – and perhaps devastating – perspective we must have on this verse is that it always governs our next action. No matter what just happened, no matter how egregiously we’ve been treated, no matter what’s been said or done, we respond with how we’d like to be treated. We always reset to the Golden Rule. What would we want someone to do to us RIGHT NOW? That’s what governs what we do. Once again, it’s an enormous command with amazing implications that demands we die to self and live for Christ with our focus on His kingdom and with our trust in Him.
Jesus now expounds on His commands with negative examples. If we love only those who love us, then we’re no better than sinners who also love those who love them. If we do good to those who do good to us, then we’re no better than sinners who do the same. And if we lend (this is a new command not stated above) only to those we know will pay us back or who will potentially lend to us in the future, then once again we’re no better than sinners who lend that way too.
What Jesus essentially says in these verses is if we love those who love us and do good to those who do good to us and lend to those who can pay us back, then we’re citizens of the world, not citizens of the kingdom of God. Citizens of the kingdom of God do things the world would never contemplate. If they don’t, then there’s nothing setting them apart and they aren’t truly members of the kingdom.
These are explanations but they’re also warnings. If there’s nothing in our lives that shows us to be different from the world, than we must closely examine our lives to make sure we aren’t simply members of the world. The kingdom citizen is called to a radical life; a conventional life is thus a dangerous sign of counterfeit citizenship.
Jesus ends this section with two motivations to kingdom behavior. First, just like with our response to mistreatment in verse 23, our reward in the next life will be great. No believer can abide by these admonitions with his focus on this world and this life. He must understand that there’s a world and life after this one and it will last for eternity. And in that life, he will be rewarded for his obedience in this one. The reward is so great and so worth it and so sure, it enables selfless behavior now that goes against everything the world says makes life worthwhile.
The second motivation to kingdom behavior is that it models our heavenly Father’s actions. God is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Matthew says God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:45). Do we think about this? How many people do we know who curse God, use His name in egregious ways, care nothing for His precepts, doubt His existence, ridicule His followers, and yet share in the same rain and sunshine and beauty as the rest of us? God has multitudes of enemies, and yet He causes His good gifts to shower on them every day (knowing that ultimate judgment and justice are coming). It’s an example we must keep in front of us at all times. We are God’s children when we treat our enemies as God treats His (and have the same perspective and patience regarding judgment). If we’re members of the family, we should have a family resemblance to our Father.
There’s nothing here that’s normal. There’s nothing here that makes sense from a worldly perspective. There’s nothing here that we can defend to anyone outside the family of believers. The bottom line is that we’re called to a higher purpose. We’re called to a higher life. We can’t live with our feet planted in this world and our eyes full of what it teaches and offers. We must focus on Jesus and live for Him as He lives in us. Look at our Redeemer and love others. Look at our Redeemer and love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us.
In light of these verses, what do we do with imprecatory Psalms (Ps 58; 69; 109; among others) where the Psalmist calls for God’s judgment on those who are enemies of the Psalmist and of God? Don’t those Psalms go against what Jesus commands here in Luke?
There’s no easy answer to this question, but it’s important to note that imprecatory Psalms seem to call for God’s judgment on His enemies more than judgment on the personal enemies of the Psalmist. There may be times when the two are the same, but the intent of the Psalms is for God to deal justly with the enemies of His will or His people. It’s a call for God’s judgment on evil.
In that way it doesn’t violate Jesus’ commands to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us. We pray for the soul of the people who mistreat us while also praying that God’s kingdom will come and eradicate the evil that causes that mistreatment. We love our enemies, but we also pray for an end to a world that breeds those enemies. We do good to those who hate us, but we pray for God’s judgment on the evil that causes that hate.
In the end, a desire for God’s judgment doesn’t preclude loving and doing good to those who might ultimately be judged. The believer earnestly seeks Christ’s return and the end of sin. But until that time, he does good to those who hate him and prays for those who mistreat him. He prays for God’s judgment on all mistreatment while praying for the mis-treaters themselves.
2 thoughts on “Luke 6:27-35 – Love Your Enemies”
Rob – I cherish, print, and notebook your commentaries.
On this one, might advise the newer (or sometimes naïve) Christian readers, this is NOT an emotional love; then explain agape.
Great point, Al. That’s something definitely to keep in mind when trying to apply this and something I’ll have to think through when teaching it.