Date: February 2, 2020
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: The Gospel according to Luke
Scripture: Luke 6:27–6:36
My aim this morning is two-fold. I want us to think clearly about Jesus’ teaching so that we might obey fully what the Lord commands. That’s our aim – think clearly in order to obey fully. As Christians, one of our foundational convictions is that we are bound, by the authority of God in Scripture, to obey the commandments of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself tells us this is essential to our calling. Think of the Great Commission – as we make disciples, that work includes teaching them to obey all that Jesus has commanded. What Jesus says, we are bound to do – not in part, but in full.
But to do that, we need clear thinking. I know the word radical is overused, but it applies perfectly to our passage this morning. Jesus is radical here, and by radical, I simply mean having to do with the fundamental nature of something. And that’s what Jesus does in this text. He gets to the core of our understanding of love, and Jesus proceeds to radically turn it upside down.
And that illustrates the need for clarity. Because of this radical reorientation, there is a very broad spectrum of views on what Jesus means. For example, some Christians read Jesus in Luke 6 and conclude he is a pacifist – someone who denies any and all use of self-defense. Others read Jesus as intentionally speaking in hyperbole – he doesn’t really expect people to live this way; he’s simply aiming for shock value. Still others read Jesus as saying we must display this kind of love in order to be saved. Do you hear how wide that spectrum is? That’s the reason for my aim this morning. We want to obey fully the commands of our Lord, but to do that, we’re going to need to think clearly about what Jesus demands.
Here’s the plan for we’ll proceed. You can think of the sermon as having two perspectives. First, we’re going to briefly zoom out and consider three cautions that guard us against misunderstanding Jesus. And then, for the main part of the message, we’ll zoom in and consider two marks of Christian love that help us obey the Lord. Let’s start by zooming out for a minute, and considering some cautions that, I trust, lead us to clearer understanding.
Caution #1: Jesus’ Teaching is no Strictly Prescriptive
It is easy to read this passage and try to find a detailed prescription of steps we ought to take. But that is not Jesus’ intent here. The Lord is more concerned with the overall attitude of our hearts than he is with a prescriptive approach to every situation of life. To be sure, Jesus speaks concretely, even using examples from everyday life to illustrate his point. But even then, his examples are just that – examples that help us understand the broader attitude he expects of his followers. In fact, if we take a very narrow, prescriptive approach to Jesus’ teaching, then we risk missing the point. He’s not giving us ten things we ought to do, but rather an overall approach to life that reorients both our actions and our attitudes. Jesus’ teaching is not strictly prescriptive.
Caution #2: Jesus’ Teaching is not Absolutely Prohibitive
In v29, Jesus tells his followers that when struck in the face, they should turn the other cheek. Now, is Jesus’ prohibiting the use of self-defense in the face of evil? Does this mean that Christians can never support, for example, a government’s use of force? No, that’s not what Jesus means. V29 is Jesus’ command to his disciples. He’s not commenting on how a government uses its authority. “But how do we know that,” you ask? Because of other passages in Scripture like Romans 13, where the apostle Paul clearly sees the government as having a rightful use of authority.
Remember, when it comes to reading the Bible, one of our foundational points is that Scripture interprets Scripture. We don’t read passages in isolation. We always seek to understand individual passages in light of the whole teaching of the Bible. And when we do that here in Luke 6, we find this caution that Jesus’ teaching is not absolutely prohibitive. Rather, as we’ll see, he’s speaking of a general attitude of the heart that must mark the lives of his followers.
Caution #3: Jesus is not Giving us a Plan of Salvation
Jesus is not saying you must obey these commands in order to be accepted by God. Luke 6 is not salvation by works. Rather, Jesus’ point is that you obey these commands because you have been saved and reconciled to God. Obedience to Jesus reveals a transformed heart, but it does not create that transformation.
Now, I’m going to come back to this later in the sermon because it’s vital for obedience. But I want you to see in this in the text. There are two places, one at the outset and one toward the end. Notice the first line of v27 - “But I say to you who hear,” Jesus begins. In Luke’s Gospel, those who hear are those who receive the Word of God in faith. They are the ones who respond to the preaching of the gospel. Jesus’ audience here in Luke 6 is made up of his disciples – those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
But then notice toward the end of the passage, v36. Jesus says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Notice that pronoun. Whose Father is Jesus referring to? Your Father, he says. It’s definite and personal. The disciples are not obeying so that God will adopt them as sons and daughters. No, they are obeying because God has adopted them as his sons and daughters. God is your Father, Jesus says, and therefore, obey my teaching.
Think of these cautions as guardrails for the rest of the sermon. They will keep us from going off course as we navigate Jesus’ commands, and Lord willing, these cautions will help arrive safely at our destination of obedience to Christ. Jesus is not strictly prescriptive, but he is clear. Jesus is not absolutely prohibitive, but he is consistent with Scripture. And Jesus is not giving a plan of salvation, though he is building on the grace God gives to his people.
With those cautions in mind, let’s zoom in and consider the core of Jesus’ teaching. There are two sections to this passage, beginning in v27 and then the second in v31. And from these sections, we should note two marks of Christian love.
Mark #1: Christian Love Surpasses the World’s Understanding
The first mark comes in vv27-30 – Christian Love surpasses the world’s understanding. As Jesus comes to the heart of his sermon, he gives a series of commands that calls his disciples to a radical standard of love. Notice again the four commands, vv27-28 – “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” This is a standard of love that goes beyond anything Jesus’ disciples would have heard before. The Law of Moses called God’s people to love their neighbor, but Jesus goes deeper here. He commands his followers to love their enemies as well. It’s not enough, in God’s kingdom, to simply check the boxes of the Law, like the Pharisees were so adept at doing. Jesus calls his followers to something more, something that evidences a truly transformed heart.
Of course, as we consider this command, the question that leaps to our minds is this – Who, exactly, is our enemy? The parallel passage in Matthew makes clear that Jesus is talking about those who persecute God’s people. In fact, Luke does the same. Look back up to v22, and you see a similar emphasis. Jesus says, v22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!” In the context of the sermon, enemies are those who persecute the people of God, those whose convictions and beliefs are opposed to the gospel. Jesus says we are to love such people.
You know, I was reading this week about the rise of persecution across sub-Saharan Africa. 17 of the 50 countries with the highest rate of persecution are in Africa, and a number of those 17 are across Africa’s midsection, right below the Sahara desert. Those countries are experiencing a dramatic rise in persecution from Islamic groups that regularly attack and kidnap Christians, especially Christian leaders. Just two weeks ago, a Nigerian pastor was executed 18 days after his abduction. How should Christians respond to those who carry out such attacks? Jesus says we should love our enemies, even to the point of praying for them. We shouldn’t repay evil for evil. We shouldn’t insist on an eye-for-an-eye kind of justice. Instead, we should love our enemies and treat them with the goodness and kindness they refuse to show us.
Think about how challenging that is for brothers and sisters in places like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon. Listen, one practical takeaway from this sermon should be that we pray for our fellow believers in these difficult places, specifically asking God to give them grace to love their enemies.
But it’s not just those faraway places that have to wrestle with Jesus’ command. Think about our own context here in America. We live in an increasingly secular culture where the one thing that absolutely cannot be tolerated is convictional Christianity. Every week, it seems, there is a new story about attacks on religious liberty, about Christians under fire for biblical convictions. How do we respond to those things? If we’re not careful, we can easily get sucked into a mentality that tries to match our enemies blow for blow. You know what I’m talking about here. The signs are sadly far too common – inflammatory language, talk of payback, and getting what belongs to us. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’ll be the first to agree that there is a place for Christians to stand up for righteousness in the public square. But I’m talking about the personal level this morning. I’m talking about what goes on in our hearts – about a tendency to view folks in the culture as though our only obligation is to defeat them. But listen to the Lord Jesus. His teaching gives a more important obligation, and that is to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us.
You know, the call to prayer is key. As one commentator has said about this passage, interceding before God on someone’s behalf is one of the highest forms of love. Prayer, in other words, is not a passive religious duty, but rather an active expression of love. Listen, this is a good check on our hearts, brothers and sisters. Can you honestly pray for those in the world who mistreat or oppose God’s people? Right now, think of who you consider to be the church’s most dangerous human enemy. Maybe it’s a specific person or a group of people. Can you pray for that person? Do you? If not, then there may be some hardness of heart for which you need to repent. As Christians, we love our enemies.
But at the same time, notice that Jesus’ command goes beyond prayer as well. V27, he says do good to those who hate you. In other words, take tangible action to show mercy and compassion to those who don’t deserve it. “What does that look like,” we ask? Notice v29, where Jesus gives a series of illustrations – “To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic.” Now, in Jesus’ day, a slap in the face was a cultural form of insult. To bridge Jesus’ word over to our day, the point here has to do with retaliation. If someone insults you, don’t respond in kind. Even in those moments where you are in the right, where you are standing for the truth – we don’t have the right to demean those who oppose us. That’s not Christian love, and not only should we not partake in that kind of behavior, but we also shouldn’t celebrate those who do.
Instead, we should remember v22. When insulted for the sake of Christ, we are blessed. Remember, brothers and sisters, we follow a Crucified Savior. I read recently a wise Christian thinker who said that in post-Christian America, the church must get over its addiction to being liked. We must recognize that convictional Christianity appears weird and dangerous to the world. There will be insults and ridicule and opposition, but then again, we follow a Crucified Savior. The Lord Jesus took physical blows and prayed for his Father to forgive his enemies. Just as our Lord turned the other check, so must we.
Still, Jesus presses up deeper. We reject retaliation, and we embrace other-worldly generosity. Notice v30 – “Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods, do not demand them back.” Now, the context here is what in Jesus’ day was called giving alms. He’s referring to people who have no ability to meet their basic physical needs. And in such situations, we as Christians are called to help in accordance with our ability.
What’s more, we should help even when we know the person won’t be able to return the favor down the road. That’s what Jesus means when says we give without demanding back. He’s not talking about mere repayment, like a loan. He’s talking about being willing to help someone who, in all honesty, will never be able to offer you the same kind of help in the future. Give even to that person, Jesus says. To put it perhaps more plainly, we should never value possessions over people. If our love for stuff keeps us from generosity, then we’re not living in step with Jesus’ command.
Brothers and sisters, I’m piling up the points here in order to press home to us how radical this is. Jesus’ teaching far surpasses anything the world understands. Do you see it? In the world’s eyes, you would never love your enemies, or do good to those who mistreat you. Those things are preposterous, but that is exactly Jesus’ point. Life in God’s kingdom defies the world’s understanding. We could say it even stronger – Jesus’ way of life confounds the world. Which means, apart from grace, the world has no category for this kind of love.
Mark #2: Christian Love Reveals the Gospel’s Power
Now, that raises the question for us – how is such world-defying love possible? How can anyone live this way? The answer brings us to the second mark, this time in vv31-35 – Christian Love reveals the gospel’s power. In v31, Jesus gives us the Golden Rule, as it has come to be known. Listen again to the Lord’s command, which really captures all that he has said so far, v31 – “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” There is a simplicity here that is compelling and convicting. It’s not enough to avoid treating people badly. Jesus calls his followers to actively treat others well, even to the point of preferring them just as you would want your desires to be preferred. This is important. The Christian life is not merely the avoidance of bad things. No, it is the active embrace, by grace, of what God says is good. Listen, if our view of following Jesus doesn’t extend beyond a list of things to avoid, then we’re missing the fullness of discipleship and even the fullness of blessing God calls his people to embrace. I avoid retaliation, and I actively seek my enemy’s good. I pray for his blessing and ultimately his salvation. Why? Because that is what Christ commands and that is how I would want to be treated.
But Jesus then goes on in vv32-34 to illustrate this kind of Christian love, and he does with a series of negative statements. The three verses are really making the same point, so we’ll just consider v32. Notice what Jesus says – “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners those who love them.” Now, when Jesus refers to sinners here, he is not singling out notorious or vile wrongdoers. Rather, Jesus is referring simply to human beings in their natural state. This is what people naturally do – they love those who love.
And Jesus’ point is that such love is unremarkable. It takes no grace to love those who love you. That’s natural, Jesus says! There’s no credit in it, nothing that causes it to stand out. In fact, this kind of love is often times very self-oriented – “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s a this-for-that kind of love. It’s what people naturally do.
But Jesus is pressing us beyond our natural inclination. He’s calling his people to display a kind of love that flows only from grace. And v35 makes this clear. Notice what the Lord says – “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.” You hear Jesus’ summary there, but it comes with a new component, doesn’t it? Jesus speaks of heavenly reward, as well as being known as sons of God. Now, here’s where we have to remember our guardrails from earlier in the sermon. Is Jesus saying that we become sons of God by loving our enemies? No, not in the least. Rather, Jesus’ point is just what we noted earlier. Loving our enemies reveals that we are sons of God. Loving our enemies reveals that we have received the heavenly reward. And we are so confident of that reward, that we are willing to live radical lives in the here and now.
This is so key for us to understand. The only way for sinners like us to display such radical love is by first receiving such love from God himself. In fact, notice the last phrase of the verse – “for God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” Who are the ungrateful and the evil? We are! The only reason we know God’s kindness is because while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, Romans 5.10! Do you see the connection? Jesus is not telling us to love our enemies so that God will love us. That is the anti-gospel of salvation by works! Jesus is telling us good news here. We love our enemies because God first loved us, his enemies.
Listen, this is one of those bedrock truths to the Christian life, brothers and sisters. And it’s one that we need to remember again and again. Any good we do as a Christian is only a fruit of God’s goodness to us. Any love we display is only a fruit of God’s love first given to us in Christ. Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches, you remember. Our heavenly reward is Christ Jesus himself, and our great hope is that by holding fast to Christ, we will hear the Father say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Back to that question from a moment ago – How can anyone live like this? How is such radical love possible? The answer is only through the gospel. I don’t mean that tritely. Remember, we want to obey fully what our Lord commands, so I’m not giving you an easy out this morning. My aim is for our church to be full of Christians who defy the world, love the lost, and contend for the truth. I’m not interested in giving you a pat answer today. I mean this with a white –hot intensity of heart that leads to obedience. The only source for such radical, world-defying love is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Think about it. The gospel tells me that God will right every wrong – either at the cross of Christ or on the last day. And therefore, in light of Christ’s work, I can love those who hate me. I can choose not to retaliate. I can even pray for those who oppose the church. The gospel strengthens me to obey.
And on it goes. The gospel also tells me that I have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. I’m rich in Christ, in other words! And therefore, I can live with radical generosity, even toward those who might take advantage of me or never be able to return my kindness. I can do good because I know that God has done good to me in the gospel.
Do you see it, brothers and sisters? In these ways and many more, the gospel is actually equipping us, strengthening us to love and live as Jesus commands. It is not a stretch to say that the gospel is the only pathway to obeying Jesus’ commands. Oh, pray for God to open our eyes more and more to see the power of Christ crucified – a power so great, it not only saves us from hell, but a power that also equips us, in the here and now, to live and love in ways that defy the world. We embrace the gospel by faith, and then, by faith, we choose to obey Jesus, empowered by the very love of God we first received in Christ. This, then, is Jesus’ radical call to love. Christian love surpasses the world’s understanding, and in doing so, Christian love reveals the gospel’s power.
Brothers and sisters, as we close this morning, I want to make sure we understand what a powerful witness this kind of love is to the watching world. Christian love testifies to the world that there is a God who is merciful and gracious. Notice v36. We’re going to come back to this verse next week, but I want us to get a glimpse this morning. Notice the God-centered perspective v36 adds to Christian love – “Be merciful,” Jesus says, “even as your Father is merciful.” The command to show mercy is an application of Jesus’ call to love. What is mercy other than love in action? I choose to not treat someone as they deserve. They may have wronged me, but I don’t wrong them back. I show mercy, and in doing so, I love them.
But as I show that mercy, notice what else I show. The character of God, Jesus says. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. When the church loves this way, the world sees a glimpse – albeit an imperfect one – of what God is like. And in his grace, God often uses that glimpse to open the door for gospel proclamation.
This is what the apostle Peter says in chapter 3 of his first epistle. You may remember – Peter is writing to churches that are being persecuted and even slandered for their faith in Christ. And so, Peter tells them not to slander in return, but to treat their enemies with gentleness and respect. It’s simply an application of the Lord Jesus’ teaching, isn’t it?
But then Peter adds this note. He says that when Christians live this way, the world sees, and the church is able to give a defense, an explanation for the hope that is in them. The world doesn’t get it, and so they ask. And in asking, the door is open for the gospel.
That’s powerful, brothers and sisters. Christian love is often the key that opens the door for gospel proclamation. We love our enemies, and then in God’s timing and by his grace, we tell them the good news of a Savior who laid down his life for sinners like us, even when we were his enemies.
Christian love surpasses the world’s understanding. It reveals the gospel’s power. And do you know what else it does? Christian Love also testifies to the Father’s grace in Christ. May that be our testimony, brothers and sisters, to the glory of God and for the salvation of the lost. Amen.