The word “love” means so many different things in our culture. What is love? It is often understood to be a feeling, an affection, sexual desire, or simply to like. It can mean all sorts of things depending on the situation. In the Greek language at the time of the New Testament, there were four different words for love. The word storge referred to a familiar family love. The word eros referred to a passionate and romantic love. The word philia was used to refer to friendship and fondness. And the word agape was used to refer to the highest level of love, the act of seeking the highest good in another. In the New Testament only the final two words appear.
In this passage Jesus uses the word agape when He issues a command for His disciples to show love. This appears in the midst of a sermon Jesus is giving in Luke 6:20-49. This sermon provides the people of God with the call to live their lives in this world as kingdom citizens. The love that Jesus commands His people to have and display in Luke 6:27-36 is an extraordinary and radical love. It is not simply talking about some kind words or random acts of kindness toward others. It is a lifestyle that is seeking the highest good for those that stand opposed to the things of God.
Before we look at our present passage, there are a few important things to keep in mind when we read the commands given in this sermon. Firstly, the commands in this sermon are intended to be personal. That is to say, they are a call for the people of God in their personal lives and are not to be viewed as political national policies. For example, when Jesus addresses matters of not retaliating, He is not addressing police and military force. Secondly, the commands in this sermon are to be viewed with an eternal perspective. What fuels the radical commands in this passage is the character and perspective described in 6:20-23. The people of God, though they live lives here and now, are citizens of Heaven. This world is not our home – we are passing through. Thirdly, the commands in this sermon are to be understood on the basis of their principle and are to be compared with other Scriptures. To use the example of not relating again, this does not mean that it is never appropriate to use self-defense.
In this message we will look two principles concerning the love that we are to show. We will learn about the behaviour of love (6:27-31) and the basis of love (6:32-36).
1. THE BAVIOUR OF LOVE (Luke 6:27-31)
This passage begins with a strong and straightforward command. Jesus said, “love your enemies” (6:27). This is a radical call to show sacrificial actions for the highest good towards those that are against us. Let us be clear. This goes against what is natural for us. It is easy to talk about loving others. We can even create cute posters, cards, and bumper stickers. But this is far more than that. What does this kind of love look like in action? Jesus gives commands that show the duty of this behaviour and then describes this behaviour.
The Duty of this Love (6:27-28)
Jesus issues another three commands that are practical examples of how this call to love enemies is carried out. He said, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (6:27b-28). This is not normal. This is supernatural, radical, and counter-cultural love.
To “do good to those who hate you” is to show sincere kindness to someone who actually opposes us. In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul said, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thess. 5:15). Paul lived this out in practice. On one occasion he and Silas preached the gospel and then got arrested. They were beaten up pretty badly and then put in prison. One day in prison, as they were praising God, the Lord sent an earthquake and broke open the doors. The prison guard awoke and was ready to kill himself because he thought all the prisoners escaped. In most movies, the escapee would have let it happen or even kill the jailor! Now instead of being bitter, Paul showed him kindness. He called out “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). He then found them, asked how to be saved, was told how, cared for them, got baptised, and enjoyed fellowship with them in his home (16:29-34).
Jesus continued, “Bless those who curse you”. Rather than responding to the harsh and unkind things people will say to us, we are to respond with words of kindness. Wisdom will tell us that there may be a time to be silent and get away from a heated situation. But the principle is clear. Don’t fight back with growling words, but respond with gracious words.
The third example of loving your enemies is to “Pray for those who abuse you”. To pray is to come before God with adoration praising Him, confessing our sins, and bringing to Him needs. Praying for our enemies does not mean we start praying prayers of judgment on them! We are to pray that they know the Lord. Pray that God work in their hearts and that they will find transformation by the power of the gospel. Pray that their eyes be opened like ours were. Jesus prayed for those who abused Him when He suffered on the cross and was mocked by many. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This was also true for Stephen, after he had been stoned for declaring the saving truth of Jesus Christ. As he lay there, moments before he died he said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
These are confronting commands that certainly get our attention! The point of each of them is a call to display actions that display the love of God to those that oppose us. Such actions flow from a heart attitude that is gripped by the gospel. That is what love looks like in the life of the people of God.
The Description of this Love (6:29-30)
Jesus continues by saying, “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. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back” (6:29-30). Each of these examples is to be understood within the suitability of the situation. Jesus is not saying that self-defense or punishing the guilty are off limits. There are situations where such things must happen (Rom. 13:1-7). The overarching principle is that the believer is to not act in retaliation, but rather to return good for evil (cf. Rom. 12:9-21). We are not to make life all about our rights, we are to have gospel-shaped hearts that long to see people come to Christ. When somebody insults you because of your loyalty to Christ, we are to honour Christ by displaying the love He commanded us to show.
This section is summarised with what is famously called the Golden Rule. Jesus said, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them” (6:31). This really gets to the heart of what Jesus is saying. It completely changes the way we would treat everyone if we took it to heart. None of us want to be spoken to harshly. None of us want others to be mean and nasty to us. None of us want to be yelled at. It will often be instinctive for us to look for exceptions to what Jesus is saying, but if we view every situation through this lens, then we will be thinking in a Christ-exalting way. When we are wronged, before we respond with retaliation, we are to ask, “How would my Lord have me respond?” The answer is in verse 31.
2. THE BASIS OF LOVE (Luke 6:32-26)
We have just seen what this call to love looks like in the life of God’s people. It is tough. It is radical. It is counter-cultural. Now Jesus takes it to a deeper level. He addresses the motive and basis of the love we are to show. We can try to be clever and claim that we show this love, but really we are putting on a show that makes us look good. Jesus smashes this fake façade by saying,
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 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” (6:32-34)
The love of the people of God is to go beyond the acts of love the world shows everyday. By showing love to those that love you back, kindness to those who are kind back, lending and giving to those that will give back to you, you are only doing those actions for yourself. You do not love others – you love yourself. Self-love must not be the basis of our actions of love. So what is the basis of this radical and counter-cultural love that Jesus commanded His people? We are to love the way Jesus commanded us to do, not by what makes us comfortable, because this honours our Father and this is what children of the Most High do.
“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. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36)
It is very easy for us to say, it is good and well for all of this to be said, but if someone deliberately did things against me and was horrible to me, I don’t have to do this. Really? If the basis of our love is the character of God, what did God do? God did not wait for us to clean up our lives and become little lovelies and then make us His people. Paul wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While we were against Him, while we hated Him, while we lived deplorable, depraved, and disobedient lives, God sent His glorious Son, and He died in our place so that we can be brought near to God. That is the most radical, sacrificial, and supernatural example of love.
This passage is not an easy one to read, and it is even harder to apply. It goes against what is natural and it is radical. But this is what our Lord Jesus said. This call to love is to carry out actions that He did to us. As I bring this message to a close, here are some lessons to take away: (1) Our lives are to be lived with the priority of pleasing the Lord, not pleasing ourselves. (2) When we find it hard to love our enemies, remember that we were once enemies of God. Is there anybody that you need to show this kind of love to? You will need God’s help, so seek Him.