We continue in our journey through Luke’s wonderful gospel. As you undoubtedly noticed as we read through the text a few moments ago, Jesus was speaking about love. There is probably nothing more blessed or more perplexing than love. When I was young my parents used to play a song called “Love Is A Many Splendored Thing.” In the sixties, there was a song called “All You Need Is Love.” Love has been the subject of untold numbers of songs and poems over the centuries.
Suppose for a moment I asked you to write down your definition of Love–to answer the question, “What is love?” What would you write? Peanuts character Charlie Brown said, “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter like unrequited love.” A young man spent an entire evening telling a girl how much he loved her. He said that he could not live without her, that he would go to the ends of the earth for her; that he would go through fire for her or die for her. However, on leaving, he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow night if doesn’t rain.” Do you think he actually loved her?
Some time ago I read a study done among college students on the topic of the meaning of love. Rather than write out a definition, the students were asked to indicate on a chart what they meant by “love.” Since “love” can have such a variety of intensity, the chart had “like” on the left side and “love” on the right. The research showed that there was a great difference among the students–many indicated that when they said “love” they really meant “like.” The results showed there are a variety of definitions of “love.”
It is important for us to know how the Lord Jesus Christ defined love. The setting is the Sermon on the Mount, probably given many times during Jesus’ ministry, but this one, recorded by Luke took place in a region on the northern side of the Sea of Galilee among a large crowd. Jesus’ twelve apostles were present along with a large group of disciples and quite a number of people who had traveled for miles to be present. After giving a list of blessings and corresponding woes, Jesus then described the meaning of genuine love from a divine perspective.
Love is a foundation mark of a real believer in Jesus Christ. Matthew recorded that the greatest commandment of all is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To be a Christian means that we must love Jesus and our heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. We are also called to be obedient to the Lord by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. The circle of love broadens to include unbelievers. The Bible tells us that “God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8 NLT)
In the verses before us, Jesus takes love to an even greater level–He tells us to love our enemies. This idea was as foreign in the world of the first century as it is in our own world. It sounds completely counterintuitive. It sounds wrong. How could Jesus ask us to love someone who seeks to do us wrong? I think it would help to put some perspective to this.
There are five things we must keep in mind. First, Jesus gives us here a definition of His perfect love. These verses reveal how God loves us. Before we became Christians, we were God’s enemies–we were sinners living in open rebellion against Him. Yet He still loved us.
Second, we must understand that this is what normal love looked like before sin corrupted the human race through Adam’s rebellion. This is the love in which God created us to live. Centuries of sin have polluted love so that it has deteriorated into what we now call love–a corrupted love that is intensely self-centered and not at all what God intended. Jesus’ words define love as it will be experienced in eternity. I will give you the other three ideas when I conclude this message. For now, let me give you the sense of these verses.
JESUS’ COMMAND TO LOVE. (Luke 6:27-29)
You Who Hear. By saying, “To you who hear,” Jesus is calling for the people in the crowd to pay attention and listen carefully. But it actually also includes obeying Jesus’ words as well. The Lord always has an expectation that we not only hear the Word but become doers of the Word. He is urging us to action.
Four Precise Commands. Each of the four commands is in the present tense and reflects continual and habitual behaviors. Jesus begins with loving our enemies. It says exactly the same thing in the original language and there is no doubt that this is exactly what Jesus meant to say. The word for love is the most intense word in the Greek language and is used to describe God’s love for us. Still, to love our enemies seems to be incomprehensible, shocking and unacceptable.
Next, He tells us we must do good to people who hate us. He offers no explanation for why we are to do that He just issues the command. We must do good things for people who hate us. Then, we are to bless people who curse us. Retaliating in kind is completely ruled out. If someone expresses a desire to bring misfortune and evil down on us, we must respond with blessing them.
Then Jesus calls into the spiritual service of prayer by telling us to pray for those who mistreat us. This is both physical and spiritual. Each of these bears the idea of being persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ. When people mistreat us, we are supposed to stop and pray for them. None of these are easy to do, yet Jesus calls all believers to live to this high standard. He would do so, and we should do the same.
Four Responses Caused By Love. Suppose somebody steps up and slaps you on the cheek–what should you do? We have been told to defend ourselves and even Jesus will later give the disciples permission to arm themselves against armed aggression. This slap on the cheek was seen as a way to insult an enemy in the first century. In effect, Jesus is saying, “If someone insults you, do not defend yourself. Permit them to insult you again.” (This is contrary to what we want to do.)
If someone robs you of your winter coat in winter instead of protesting and seeking to have it returned, give him your shirt as well. It is possible that instead of a thief, the reason the person lost his coat is through litigation. Somebody sued him. Jesus commands, even in that case, do not retaliate.
We are to give to anyone who asks us for money. This probably refers to begging since there were numbers of people who begged for their livelihood in the first century.
“Whoever takes what is yours” seems to point to robbery or extortion. Somebody steals something you worked hard to own. Jesus demanded that we “not demand it back.” I am sure that by this point many people in the crowd were shaking their heads, not fully believing that they were hearing what they were hearing. Maybe you feel the same way. Wait, there’s more!
JESUS’ PRINCIPLES OF LOVE. (Luke 26:31)
The Golden Rule. We have heard this rule since we were very young. Obeying the Golden Rule does not get anyone to heaven–it is not a condition for salvation. It is a command for those who are Christians to obey. In Jesus’ command, the focus is on the other person. Treat others precedes the way we want to be treated.
Love Principle. The love Jesus commands seeks to treat others the way they should be treated even if they do not love that way in return. This is love of a superior spiritual quality. Like most other spiritual principles, a worldly viewpoint finds this impossible and even foolish. In our pleasure-driven, materialistic minded and selfish world, Jesus’ commands seem utterly stupid.
Love Is More Excellent. The apostle Paul expanded in Jesus’ principle of love, including a number of virtues for believers to follow. Let me read it to you. If these qualities were on a checklist, how many would you and I need to improve on? “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
JESUS’ ILLUSTRATIONS OF LOVE. (Luke 6:31-35a)
Exceptional Love. Here Jesus illustrates the need for a love that is greater than the love ordinarily experienced in life. In each of these three illustrations He contrasted the way Christians should love with the way “sinners” love. In this passage, “sinners” means those who are unbelievers. Jesus calls for Christians to love people who cannot or will not return that love. This is unconditional love.
Exceptional Grace. It is interesting that the word translated “credit” is usually translated “grace.” “Doing good” is seen as an act that outwardly shows inward grace. Goodness, like love, is a fruit of the ministry of the Holy Spirit according to Galatians 5:22. True Christ-like goodness is a grace that has no exceptions.
Exceptional Generosity. I do not think Jesus is here advocating that people do not pay their debts since Scripture tells us that we should pay what we owe. He is speaking here of lending money to someone with the expectation that the debtor will then owe an obligation to the lender.
In the first century, this was a form of extortion to unethically acquire land. A person would lend to another, knowing the borrower could not afford it, just so the poor person would have to give up his land to the lender. That is why Jesus commands to lend while expecting nothing in return.
JESUS’ CALL TO MERCY. (Luke 6:35b-36)
Sons of the Most High. Since God acts with love toward those who do not deserve it, those who love others in the same way reflect God’s genuine love to others. They bear witness to God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. God calls us to “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29) and developing a Christ-centered, genuine love makes us more like Him. In fact, Jesus promises a reward for living in this way. God the Father serves as the model for this. He is kind to people who are ungrateful and evil. Through obedience to Jesus Christ, ordinary people can be transformed into children of the Most High.
Be Merciful. Mercy is the inward disposition that leads a person to help another in kind-ness. It is an inward attitude that produces an outward action. God’s mercy knows no boundaries, neither should ours. Later in Luke’s gospel, Jesus will define God’s mercy in a parable we know as the Good Samaritan. At the end of the parable Jesus asked, “Which of these proved to be a neighbor to the man?” The answer, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”
Love In Sovereign Perspective. I told you earlier about five important ideas to help us understand these verses. First, these verses reveal how God loves us. Second, we must understand that this is what normal love looked like before sin corrupted the human race through Adam’s rebellion. Third, we must place these commands and illustrations of genuine love alongside of God’s sovereignty. As Christians, we believe that God is sovereignly in control of everything in this universe. We are called to live in the light of His sovereignty. He is profoundly aware of every-thing that happens in our lives and even evil things do not happen without His knowledge and purpose.
Obeying Jesus’ commands to love even our enemies shows that we understand that God knows much more about our circumstances than we do. Obedience to Him shows that we trust Him to do what is best for us.
The fourth idea is that we should remember that Jesus displayed each one of these principles as He sacrificially gave His life for our salvation. The Bible declares that we were God’s enemies. We were rebels and hostile to Him. Our sins insulted Him and our wickedness mistreated Him. During His trial, Jesus was slapped in the face and beaten. Yet He did not retaliate even though it was within His divine power to do so. Even as He languished in pain on the cross, His grace and mercy were clearly seen when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus commands us to have the same love as He did. This in only possible as we live a Spirit-filled life.
Finally, it is with this kind of love that Jesus loves us. He gives to us His eternal genuine love that guarantees life to every believer. No man or woman ever deserves this love. He gives it to us freely by His grace. All that is necessary is that we trust in Jesus and receive Him as our Lord and Master. If you have never received Jesus into your life, I urge you to do that today. Jesus stands ready to love you with His genuine love. Will you receive Him?
The poet wrote, “Could we with ink the ocean fill and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade. To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry; nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky. O Love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure.
Updated by Pastor Vernon Welkner, 6/17/2019