Sermon preached on Luke 6:27-36 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/10/2021 in Novato, CA.
Today, we have a message from Jesus telling us to love our enemies. Enemies can come in various forms. Maybe as a Christian, you have not thought of many people as enemies. Or maybe, you’ve thought practically the whole world is your enemy. Enemies can come in various forms. Sure, they can be the very hostile unbeliever who hates you simply because you are a Christian. But likely you have various other more regular enemies – people you might not call an enemy to their face, or even think of as an enemy. It might be an associate or even a friend, yet who at points are in opposition against you. They can in such moments be a sort of enemy or foe. Whenever and for however you find yourself in opposition with someone else, Jesus here gives us this command to love them. Let us spend some time reflecting on this today. It can be a challenging topic, but he addresses this special call in verse 27, “to you who hear.” May God give us ears to hear this lesson today.
Let us begin in our first point to consider how Jesus calls us to do good to our enemies, looking at the first part of our passage in verses 27-31. This is how our passage starts out. After giving us the summary command in verse 27 to love our enemies, Jesus then goes on to explain what he has in mind. He begins by saying to do good to those who hate you, and the rest of this first section continues to explain what this looks like. Notice he gives various examples of people who might treat us badly. These are different ways that someone might act like an enemy to you. They might hate you. They might curse you. They might abuse you. They might strike you. They might take from you. They might beg you for a loan and not pay you back. They might flat out rob you. These are but examples, but it’s a pretty healthy list.
But see what Jesus is doing with these examples. He is pairing the evil thing the person is doing to you with something good he wants us to do in reverse. If they hate you, be good back to them. If they curse you, then you bless them. If they abuse you, pray for them. If they strike you, turn to let them strike you again. If they take from you, if they beg and don’t pay back, or even rob you, respond by giving to them. Jesus says to return their evil with good. That’s not our instinct, by any means. But that’s how Jesus says to fight back against them, so to speak.
It would be good to offer some clarification here. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses a teaching style that is often full of rather short absolute-sounding statements. Because of that, we might be tempted to simplistically apply them and come to some wrong conclusions. For example, we might incorrectly think Jesus is forbidding self-defense when he says turn the other cheek. We might incorrectly think Jesus is forbidding ever seeking justice when someone steals from you. We might incorrectly think we should never call the police when someone commits a crime against us. We might incorrectly think that Jesus thinks evil and injustice should just be allowed to go unchecked. I could imagine how people might think such. But Scripture has to interpret Scripture. One quick example of that is with Jesus himself in John 18:22 where he is struck by an officer during one of his trials. There is no record of Jesus literally turning his cheek to get struck a second time. Instead, Jesus as respectfully as possible rebuked the officer, calling the officer out for his injustice in striking Jesus without cause.
So then, we must appreciate what Jesus is and is not meaning here by these words. Following the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, we know that self-defense is not wrong. We know that God has ordained civil government to use even the sword to punish evil doers. We know that God loves justice and calls judges to judge with equity and stand against injustice. Jesus words shouldn’t be used against these ideas that we find clearly taught in Scripture.
But we also know some of the temptations that come to us when people treat us badly. In a spirit of revenge, we can be tempted to return evil with evil. But two wrongs don’t make a right. We can also be tempted to be vindicative in other ways, when people don’t treat us right. We can be tempted to take the law into our own hands when people wrong us. And as much as principles of strict justice are right and good and true, there is also an important place for grace and mercy. Jesus challenges the instinct toward strict justice with this call to graciously and mercifully love an enemy. In fact, in the Matthew account of the Sermon on the Mount, it records how he talked about this in the context of the biblical concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. While that principle of justice is certainly just, Jesus wants us to do more than give simple and strict justice in all circumstances.
Of course, this means that we will have to have wisdom to know how and when to apply these principles. But when we start with the idea that we are to have love for an enemy, then that should guide us. If our spirit is to love this opponent, and not seek out revenge, then that will inform our actions. Maybe loving an enemy sometimes means you do need to call the cops and report their crime because maybe in their circumstance that is going to be what is best for them. But there can be plenty of circumstances where love will be long suffering and love will overlook a matter and love will cover a multitude of sins and love will bear the cost of someone else’s sin. Jesus calls us here to consider what real love for an enemy looks like. And he says it’s not just about not taking revenge. He says it is giving good when someone gives you bad. This is right. It is also wise. Proverbs 25:21 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” Jesus clearly references that proverb here.
Notice the principle Jesus gives to summarize his point in verse 31. It’s what we call the golden rule. “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” If an enemy treats you bad, think of how you would have wanted to be treated instead. The good you would have wanted them to treat you with is what you should do. Who knows, it might spark a change in them. As that proverb goes on to say, showing kindness to enemies “will heap burning coals” on their head.
Let’s turn then in our second point to see how Jesus further develops this in verses 32-34. Jesus addresses this from the side of sinners and how they conduct themselves in terms of whom they show love and kindness and goodness to. In short, Jesus says that even people who are known for living a sinful lifestyle, even they show love to people who love them. People of all sorts love those who love them. You don’t have to be a professing Christian to love someone who is always nice to you and treats you well. You don’t have to be a regular church-goer to treat others well who have treated you well. By the common grace of God, humans of every sort tend to practice this basic social grace. It’s called reciprocity. You treat me well, then I’ll treat you well. Sinners, pagans, heathens, and everyone else in the world are good at doing this. Of course, it is in their self-interest to do so. If you want someone to keep doing good things for you, you better show some appreciation and even reciprocity.
Jesus makes the point that it is no great display of godliness to treat someone as they have treated you. If you are kind to people who are kind to you and mean to people who are mean to you, then are par for the course. That’s what everyone does. That’s no special display of godliness. But Jesus calls us to something greater. He doesn’t commend mere reciprocity – giving people what they deserve. He commends giving people more than what they deserve. He commends this for people who have been an enemy to you. He says to give to someone who hasn’t even give to you what you deserved – to give to them more than what they deserve.
Let’s be frank. This can be really hard for us. We can feel like we are letting the other person get away with it if we show them grace. We can feel like we are letting them just walk right over us if we show them mercy. We can think it is unfair if we love them when they’ve hated us. It is really hard to show this kind of love for enemies. Let’s not deny that. But Jesus commends it for us. And notice why he commends it. That is what we’ll think about next, the motivation he describes for us.
Let us then turn in our final point to verses 35-36. In verse 35, he again returns to his command to love our enemies. He again says, to do good to them, even lend them money. What motivation does he then offer? I had mentioned earlier that, who knows, our undeserved kindness might convict your enemies’ heart and lead them to repent. But that’s not the motivation that Jesus says here. Look at what Jesus says in verse 35 we should expect to get. He actually mentions three things regarding our motivations in loving our enemies. But look at the first one. The first thing he says we should expect to get from such love of enemies is nothing. He says be good to them and give to them but don’t expect anything in return. In other words, don’t expect anything in return from them. Don’t let your motivation to love them be because you hope that you will end up getting something out of it or that you’ll end up changing them. If you lend them money, don’t expect to be paid back. If you return their insult with a compliment, don’t expect them to say something nice back to you. In other words, don’t have your motivation for loving an enemy that this will make them suddenly become your friend. Don’t have that motivation. If you have that motivation, then you will probably be disappointed when your enemy doesn’t reciprocate the way you think they should. But Jesus is also saying to not have that motivation because he wants to you love them in their hatred for you. If they do end up turning from hating you, well that is good. But Jesus wants you to love them graciously and mercifully, not out of a hidden agenda to get them to change, but to love them even when they don’t deserve it.
Jesus then gives a second motivation. He says that your reward will be great. That proverb I quoted earlier also ends with that same point, saying, “And the LORD will reward you,” Proverbs 25:22. That’s where the reward will come when your enemy doesn’t give you what they should give you when you are kind to them. God will see it from up in heaven and reward for such unreciprocated kindness. In other words, there’s sort of part of you that even hopes they won’t pay you back. If they pay you back, if they return your kindness with kindness, then you’ve received your reward. But if they leave your kindness unreciprocated, then your father who sees from heaven, will reward you.
In what way will God reward you? That’s part of a bigger topic of God’s rewards for his people. I will say a few comments for today. Any reward we get from God in such matters, we should have a heart of gratitude to God. This is because any good things we do unto service of God is at the end of the day our proper duty to God anyways. And the only reason us sinful fallen creatures do anything good like this is because of God’s gracious work in our hearts by his Word and Spirit to cultivate such godliness in us. And so, God’s rewarding of us for good things done on earth is so gracious of God through and through, for even the works we do are grace-wrought good works that he rewards us even for things that were our duty. So then, these rewards might come in the here and now. Jesus at one point told his disciples that even in this life they will know rewards for their sacrifices for him (Mark 10:30). But he went on to say that such rewards in this life carry with them persecutions. In other words, he recognized that this world is a place of sin and misery, and so while we do finds blessed rewards sometimes even here and now from God, we should expect that they will nonetheless be still in the context of the sorrows of this life. But in that same passage, he spoke of the greatest and most ultimate reward, that in the age to come he will give us eternal life. Likewise, Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount spoke of how we ought to look to lay up heavenly treasure, for that reward that we will have beyond this life. God’s rewards are wonderful and gracious, in this age, and especially in the age to come.
The third motivation that Jesus speaks to in verse 36 is regarding our sonship. He says that we will be sons of the Most High. The right way to understand this is how we show that we’ve become sons of God, not that this is how we become sons of God. We don’t become adopted by God because we earn it. We don’t become adopted by God if and only if we love our enemies. Rather, the right way to understand this point is to see that this is how we show that we are sons of God. Jesus tells us his assumption here. He assumes the truth that God is one who loves his enemies. As it says, God is one who is kind to the ungrateful and evil. By the way, this further shows that Jesus’ call to love our enemies doesn’t mean that he is telling us to get rid of justice. We see that so well with God. God shows so much undeserved kindness and grace and mercy to the wicked. Yet, God as judge does also bring judgments upon them at different points, and will also one day bring to them a final judgment. Of course, God is the judge, and he has the prerogative to do such judging. We would do well to remember that we are not usually in a place of judgment over our enemies, so it is not for us to enact such judgment. But the point is simply here to say that God shows much mercy and grace to undeserving people. If we are his sons, then we should show it and act like it by also showing mercy and grace to undeserving people. That’s what sons are supposed to do. They are supposed to try to mimic their fathers. They are supposed to be becoming like their fathers. So then, Jesus says to be merciful like our heavenly father is merciful. His divine mercy should motivate us – unless of course he isn’t actually our heavenly father!
And so, while our passage doesn’t specifically tells us how we become sons of God, the reference to that fact should actually be our greatest motivation for why we love our enemies. We’ve been adopted as sons by God as a part of his salvation for us. When we were yet enemies, Jesus so loved us that he gave us his life on the cross. When we were yet enemies, Christ went to the cross to secure mercy for us. This he did ultimately to make us friends; but not just friends, but also brothers, together sons of God and co-heirs with him of a divine inheritance. This was all God’s merciful design for us. We had hated God and rebelled against God. If God had given us what we deserve, if he had given us strict justice, we would be destroyed in the everlasting torments of hell. But God showed us mercy and kindness to lead us toward repentance.
Do you see then why us Christians of all people should love our enemies? How can we say they don’t deserve it, when we didn’t deserve God’s love and mercy? Let us not be like the one in the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18 who wouldn’t forgive someone of a small debt after his master had forgiven him of the huge debt. God has been merciful to us in Christ. He has not only forgiven us our sins, but he had made us his sons. Let us live like his Son. Let us be merciful as he our adopted father is.
This can be a hard teaching – to actually live out that is. But I remind you how Jesus started off this message. Jesus directed this hard teaching to “you who hear”. Do you hear Jesus today? May we each see the beauty of this teaching and become excited to lives as sons and daughters of the Most High by loving our enemies.
Copyright © 2021 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.