Love Your Enemies
Luke 6:27 - 36
Last week we began to look at what Paul calls the greatest internal force in all creation; love. Today we need to consider the fact that love is not always gumdrops and lollipops. In fact there are times that loving can be the most difficult thing we are asked to do. I know that sounds a little strange, I know that love is supposed to be warm, fuzzy, and wonderful. But we need to remember that love is so much more than a feeling, it is an action.
Today we are going to look at Luke 6:27-26 and read about one of the most difficult actions we are called to make as Children of God. It's the call to love our enemies. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let's get right to it. Read with me the words of Jesus from Luke 6:27-36 (Read Text)
We should probably begin with a definition; what do we mean by enemy. Jesus gets us started, In verse 27 when He defined an enemy as someone who hates you. Regardless of how you feel about them, if they hate you, you have an enemy.
In verse 28 He expanded the word enemy to include those who curse you and mistreat you. People who use their words to hurt you or their actions to harm you are your enemies.
In verse 29 He said an enemy is someone who uses violence against you or steals from you. They respect neither your property nor your body.
In Matthew's account we find two more ways to think about enemies. Matthew 5:41 mentions those who force you to what you do not want to do, Verse 44 mentions those who persecute you. If we stopped right there, we'd have a pretty expansive list. But if we think a little deeper, we can expand the definition even more.
An enemy is anyone who hates you, but he is also anyone you harbor hard feeling towards. That can be someone you share a house with. Or used to. She could be a stranger in traffic; a rude customer in your store or an unfriendly clerk where you shop. A neighbor who is hard to live nearby. Your ex-spouse's new mate. Your ex-spouse. Even you current spouse.
Parents, children or siblings in families with a long history of relational warfare. A boss who treated you unfairly. An employee who accused you.
A teacher who seemed to have it in for you. A student who made your classroom difficult. A colleague who undermines you or takes advantage of you. The other woman. The other man. The person who stole your childhood through abuse or neglect.
In short an enemy is anyone who has hurt you physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
So when Jesus talks to us about how to love our enemies, we should listen. But once you hear what Jesus has to say, I wonder if your first reaction is anything like mine? Which was pretty much, "Jesus, have you lost your mind? Love your enemies? Do good to them? Speak well of them? Show kindness? Give to them?" I'd much rather return evil for evil, cursing for cursing, and meanness for meanness. And that's just for the guy with 21 items in the 20 item or fewer lane in the grocery store.
I realize that this is difficult, and I understand that for many of us when we think about our enemies the hurt they have cause in our lives is far more serious that a 1 item overage in the grocery store. Some folks have some deep emotional scares they received from some of the closest people in their lives. I grew up in a loving Christian home, and while we had our share of quirks and dysfunctions, there was never a time where I feared my parents. Except maybe that one time when we took a cattail and put it under my Dad’s pillow to see if he was really allergic to them or not, which he is.
Or there was the time I was practicing throwing my Chinese throwing stars into my bedroom wall not noticing all of the little holes that they left behind. That didn't go over very well.
And there was the time I left worship after I served on the table to go to the store and get some candy and a coke, lost all tract of time and showed up 45 minutes after church was over. Other than those moments I never feared my parents.
Maybe you did, though. Or still do. The people, who were supposed to guard your innocence, took it. The people who were supposed to be your protectors were, instead, predators. Now here's Jesus telling you to love your enemy.
So let's be sure we understand exactly what Jesus is and isn't commanding us. Jesus isn’t trying to legislate our emotions. Jesus isn't telling us how to feel. Remember last week we said that love is not an emotion because you cannot tell someone how to feel. You cannot tell someone to be happy, or sad, or angry. So love has to be something more.
And I am not really sure that Jesus cares how we feel. That’s not because he doesn't care about our feelings, He cares deeply. It is, rather, that how we feel about our enemies is irrelevant to how we behave toward our enemies. When we let our emotions determine our actions we become slaves to a fickle and unpredictable god. Jesus wants to liberate us from the tyranny of our emotions.
Jesus is talking verbs, not nouns. Nouns don't do anything. They just sit there. Verbs vibrate. They move. They cover ground. They radiate. They initiate. Love is a verb. And verbs don't feel; they do. Jesus is telling us what to do about our enemies. We are empowered by doing. And in the doing our feelings change.
So what does Jesus tell us to do? Rather than trying to parse the particulars of His instruction, let's organize what He teaches us into three categories of response.
First, Jesus instructs us to respond to our enemies with practical assistance.
Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist Minister during the American Revolution named Peter Miller, who lived in Pennsylvania and was friends with George Washington. But Miller had a bitter enemy named Michael Whitman, who did all that he could to frustrate and humiliate the good reverend. One day Mr. Whitman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die. When Peter Miller heard about it he walked seventy miles from Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.
General Washington said to Miller, that he was sorry but their friendship was not enough to pardon the life of his friend Michael Whitman. “My friend!” the old preacher said, “He is the bitterest enemy that I have.” And when Washington realized that Miller had walked 70 miles to offer practical assistance to an enemy, he granted the pardon. Miller and Whitman didn’t become bosom buddies after that. But they were no longer enemies.
Jesus gets specific when He talks about offering practical assistance to your enemy. In verse 30 He says to give. In verse 35 He says to lend. He isn’t talking about wishing good things on our enemies or feeling happy if something wonderful happens to them. He sets His teaching in the concrete of life experience.
You don't have to feel good about someone to do good for them. But doing good has a strange effect on how you feel. About them. And about yourself. Offer practical assistance to your enemy .
Second, Jesus insists on verbal affirmation. “Bless those who curse you.”
Let's be honest. There's nothing quite as satisfying as a good insult. John Jacob Astor's wife once said to Winston Churchill, "Winston, if you were my husband I should flavor your coffee with poison." Churchill replied, "Madam, if I were your husband, I should drink it."
If you can be ready with the right quip at the right time you feel very fulfilled but all to often we spend the next 4 hours thinking, boy if I had the opportunity again I would look them straight in the eye and say…
You see that’s the kind of response we usually love to give when someone insults us, but it isn't how Jesus responded to His enemies. I mean think about the fact the Jesus was there when the mind, mouth, and tongue was created. Surely He knew how to use them to put folks in their place. But that’s not what He did. Peter says, "When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate." 1 Peter 2:23
Instead of verbal retaliation, Jesus commands us to engage verbal affirmation. He uses the word “bless." I think: we hear the word “complement”. It's not quite enough to respond to an insult with, "Hey, nice tie." Besides sounding like a smart-alek comeback, it doesn't even approach the significance of the word "bless.”
In their wonderful book, The Blessing, Gary Smalley and John Trent define a blessing as “ a spoken message of high value, a message that pictures a special future, and an active commitment to see the blessing come to pass.” (p. 27).
When you bless someone you communicate to them that you recognize their value as a human made in the image of God. You not only wish for them a positive future, but you actually picture it. And in doing so, you affirm that you will do all in your power to see that special future come true for them.
It's tough to respond to an enemy with verbal affirmation. It requires me to do the hard work of looking for something good in a person I've determined to be the very incarnation of evil. But there is enormous power and dignity in replying to an insult with a blessing.
We’re not dragged down to our enemy's level. We take the emotional heat out of the moment and create an atmosphere where tempers can cool. And we emulate Jesus who prayed for the forgiveness of His enemies even as they danced around His cross cheering His death.
This would probably be a great time to insert some discussion about a specific verse in Luke 6:29. "If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also” Few verses have been more misunderstood than this one. Jesus is not commanding us to stand there and let someone pummel us with fist after fist to the face. In fact, this verse isn't even about physical violence. It's about an insult.
Matthew 5:39 reports Jesus words here more specifically "If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
Okay, follow me here. Most people are right handed. So a right handed punch is going to land on the left cheek, Jesus isn't envisioning an Evander Holyfield jab here. For a right handed person to strike you on your right cheek, he has to back hand you. A back handed slap isn't intended to do physical damage. It is intended to insult. Jesus is talking about how to handle insults. If someone insults you, don't insult them back.
Far from being a command that makes us vulnerable targets of vicious enemies, Jesus command to turn the other cheek, to respond to insult with blessing, actually empowers 'us. We behave with dignity and those who would curse us have no choice but to treat us that way.
Finally Jesus commands us to Spiritual Intercession.
Pray for your enemies. There is no more powerful response to an enemy and his insult than to say, "I am praying for you.” What you are really saying is, You know I could take this matter into my own hands and respond to you in all the ways humans commonly respond. I could lash out in a verbal attack or a physical assault. I could find a hundred different ways to hurt you. But I choose, instead, to place it in the hands of God. And because He is the impartial judge of all who live and breath, He will do what is right.
Now that's not a threat. But it is a frightening thing to think that your enemy is talking to God about you. And it’s also a hopeful thing. God was able to build a bridge of mercy between His holy self and sinful humanity. If He can bridge that gap, He can span the short distance between two sinners who are at odds with one another.
So what happens when we Follow Jesus' commands on responding to our enemies in love? Jesus promises two things:
First, he says, "Your reward will be great." He doesn't specify what the reward will be, but I'll bet we can trust Him that it will be better than we can imagine.
Second, he says, “You will be children of the Most High.” When you respond to enemies with love, you are acting like your father in heaven.
When we strike back at our enemies, when we respond to evil with evil, we identify ourselves as disciples of Darwin, rather than as disciples of Jesus.
Miroslav Volf is an author who's written quite a bit about responding to violence and enemies. He knows what he's talking about He's from Croatia and the greatest test of his faith has been how he responds to Serbs. In his book Exclusion and Embrace, he asks a stunning question: "What if, on the last day, the question we are asked isn't, 'Have you followed the rules,' but rather, 'Have you shown mercy?'"
We are not for sure what questions God will require us to answer about our lives here, but we do know that we will have to give account for every idol word spoken. We read in Matthew 12:36 "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the Day of Judgment.”
Jesus’ teaching found in Luke 6 is some of the most difficult teaching in the Bible. It goes against everything that the world has taught us about sticking up for ourselves, and being a man. But to harbor a hatred toward an enemy is not only unlike Christ, it is soul killing. It's like choosing a poison for your enemy, then drinking it yourself. We have been called to be better than the world. We have been called to imitate Christ.
Questions To Consider
Finish this sentence: "If a person really loves me, he or she will..."
Is that the same why that you show love to others?
Why do we expect more from others that we are willing to give?
Why is the real test of Christian love, being able to love your enemies?
Do you see "turning the other cheek" as literal, figurative, or what?
How did Jesus show love for His enemies?
How does He show love for us when we make ourselves His enemy? (See Romans 5:10)
How does the idea of loving your enemies challenge you?
How can we put the command to love our enemies into practice on a daily basis?