September 5, 1999
When confronted with the challenging teachings of Jesus, do you ever worry that you may not be a believer at all? Alistair Begg exhorts us to trust God, living “the Jesus way” by loving our enemies. Far too often, Christians are known for hatred and vitriol rather than for robust love. If we practice selflessness instead, we will leave an enduring impact on the culture far beyond what political power or fleeting relevance can accomplish.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to turn again, if you would, to this portion of Scripture that we just read in Luke chapter 6.
Last time, we noted that the characteristics of Christian discipleship which Jesus teaches in verses 20 through 26 are, from the world’s perspective, the marks of losers—the characteristics of Christian discipleship are, from the world’s perspective, the marks of losers. And that, of course, is one of the reasons that man—and I use “man” generically—men and women across the country and around the world are so slowly drawn to any consideration of the claims of Christ: because when they fasten on them as they are made clear in the Bible, they discover that Jesus has actually come to turn the value system of the world—and therefore the value system with which we grow up and imbibe and embrace and establish in our comings and goings—Jesus has turned the value system of the world on its head, thereby making Christian discipleship a radically different thing, and something that is not immediately appetizing.
So last time, we noted that Jesus said that there was a blessing which attended the poor, hungry, sad, and hated, but that he pronounced a woe on those who were rich, well fed, happy, and popular. And we asked the question, “Which would you rather be: rich, well fed, happy, and popular, or poor, hungry, sad, and hated?” And before you answer, what if your eternal destiny hinged on the correct answer to that question?—and, before you answer, please know that it does.
That was distinctly uncomfortable. I came last week saying, “I don’t remember the last time I studied such an uncomfortable passage.” That was last week, this is this week. This week is much harder than last week. This week is dreadful in its implications.
Do you ever feel that you’re maybe not a Christian at all? When you read the Bible and it describes Christianity, and you look at that, and you look at yourself, or you reflect upon the previous week or the previous day or the previous hour—whatever it is—you read what it says, you look at yourself, and you say, “You know what? I don’t know if I’m a Christian at all.” And when you have that experience, don’t be too quick to go in the flyleaf of your Bible and pull out some little baptismal certificate. Don’t be too quick to go somewhere and remember that on the third of February on a cold evening in 1947, when the pastor said you ought to raise your hand, that you raised your hand. I’m glad of what’s in your Bible, and I’m glad of what happened in 1947, but that may not be the issue. Have you ever considered that? That the very things that we are tempted then to hang onto when it comes to our saying, “Oh yes, I’m a true believer,” may be the kind of things that the New Testament nowhere encourages us to hang onto—indeed, may actually be things that never ever appear in the New Testament?
You say, “Well now, this is distinctly uncomfortable. Where are you going with this?” Well, I hope I’m going the same place that Jesus is going, by going to the Bible and seeing what it is that he’s saying. Because the fact of the matter is that when John provides for the believers evidences of genuine Christian assurance, he does not take them to events in the past, but he asks them to look for characteristics in the present—not that there are no events in the past, but that events in the past have relevance provided those past events are evidenced by present characteristics.
Now, that is not to say that the ground of our salvation is to be found in our ability to manifest these characteristics. The ground of a person’s salvation is in what Christ has achieved upon the cross , and that it is by grace alone, through faith alone, that we trust in Christ’s work. However, as the Reformers pointed out, it is grace alone that saves, but the grace that saves is not alone. And so when we come, for example, to a challenging passage of Scripture like this, let us not be too quick to set aside the insistent, nagging, unsettling, uncomfortable question which says to you, “Alistair, in relationship to what you are reading, what you are teaching, where are you?” And sometimes it makes me feel like maybe I’m not a Christian at all.
Now, you see, pastors, they’re not supposed to say this, because people run out the door going, “Do you know what? The pastor’s been doubting his salvation! He’s come from a week of doubt, you know. We must pray for him.” No, I haven’t come from a week of doubt; I’ve come from a week of studying my Bible. And when I see what Jesus says here, and when I see what I’m like, I’m just saying there’s a major gap. And since I’m not as weird as you think, and there may be a few more like me, you may get the same feeling.
So, get as comfortable as you can for a moment or two, ’cause that’s about as comfortable as you’re going to be. For those of you who came for a feel-good sermon, oh, how dreadfully disappointed you are already! For those of you who said, “Well, he got all that ‘Blessed are the hated; blessed are the sad, hungry, poor’—I’m glad he got that over with last Sunday. We’ll be picking it up next Sunday, I’m sure.” No, it’s actually a little worse than last week. “Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse!”
Because just when we might anticipate that Jesus’ teaching could not get any more challenging, could not become any more convicting, he actually turns the temperature up. And having given these words expressly to his disciples, he now addresses those who are hearing him: “But you I tell, the ones hearing: love the enemies of you.” That’s to translate the Greek literally. (Of course, Jesus spoke it in Aramaic.) “I tell you who hear me,” he said, those of you who are listening with all the ears of your heart: “love your enemies.”
Now, can’t you just imagine somebody in the crowd saying to his friend, “Did Jesus just say what I … did he just say what I think he said? Did Jesus just say you’re supposed to actually love your enemies?” And the person says, “Shh, wait a minute. You’re missing the rest of it. He’s … he’s saying more!” “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who [ill-treat] you.”
Now, let me try and summarize this whole paragraph in a sentence or two so that we can then fly over it, as it were, at 33,000 feet, and we’ll descend at various points, but not very often, because we’ll have to come back to it in more detail later. What does this paragraph say? What is Jesus teaching here? He is teaching, you will notice, that his followers are not simply to do what is right, but they are to do what is good—not simply to do what is right, but to do what is good. And they are to act in this way not only towards those who deserve it, but towards those who don’t deserve it.
“And,” says Jesus, “this kind of love”—and this is way down in 35 or so—“this kind of love will not go unrewarded, but the essence of this kind of love is that that must never be the motive for practicing it”—in other words, that while we will be rewarded for this kind of selfless love, the reason that we engage in this love is not because of a reward that comes, but because it is an expression of the character of God, who is our Father, and kids ought to be like their dad. Indeed, it is completely incongruous, if not impossible, for those of us who declare ourselves to be the Father’s children not to manifest the mercy of a merciful God and not to display a love for our enemies which is akin to the approach of Jesus, “who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return, but committed his cause to him who judges justly”—1 Peter chapter 2.
So the issue, then, is love, first of all—love. ’Course, everyone has something to say about love—poets and song writers. It’s not unusual to hear people say, as a sort of platitudinous explanation of the predicaments we face, “Well, all you need is love, you know, as the Great Book says,” or something. People say that now. Of course, it wasn’t the Great Book; it was Lennon and McCartney said that: “All you need is love.” And people have said it again and again, and people say, “Well, I agree with that entirely, you know.” And there’s a sense in which it’s true: we certainly need love more than we need hate, when we see what hate has done to our world, what it is doing in Ireland, what it’s doing in various parts of the Muslim world, what it is doing in race relationships in our own country. We certainly need love rather than hate. But it’s one thing to sing it; it’s another thing to understand what Jesus is saying, and it is yet another thing to actually put into practice the command of Jesus here.
Now, I think we’ll be helped by doing a little refresher course on love—a refresher for some and news for others; just apply it as necessary. The word that we find in our Bibles in the New Testament for “love” is a translation of one of three Greek words for “love,” and there are actually four Greek words for “love” that are translated by our English word “love.” The significance of this is to be found in the fact that it’s always simply translated “love,” and we have no way of knowing, apart from the understanding of the original text, exactly what word is being used here.
So, for example, there is the word storge—storge, which is the Greek word for “natural affection.” It’s the kind of affection that should exist between two sisters in a family. There is a natural dimension to it. They love each other; it is a storge kind of love. There is the word eros, which is a romantic or a sensual love—the love between a man and a woman that provides for us our English words. Then there is philia or phileo, which is the word that provides part of the name of Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love.” And this doesn’t have to do with the natural affection of people within the same family, but it has to do with a sense of brotherliness and camaraderie, in the way that guys on a sports team or in an exercise club may have an affection for one another, and they have a brotherly kind of affection. And it is understandable. They look at the people and they say, “Well, you know, they like to hang out and lift weights, and they get along, and they have an affection for one another.” Or, “She’s in love with him, and there is all of that romantic love”; that’s understandable. Or, “There go those sisters or those brothers again, and it is wonderful to see the way they care for each other and love one another.”
Now, none of those words is used here. The word which is used here is the word agape: a-g-a-p-e, if you want to write it down. And this is radically different, because unlike these other words for “love,” this is a love which is not drawn out by the attractiveness or the merit of the one we love. So Jesus is calling for a love for people that is in no way related to the lovability, if you like, of those whom we are to love . It’s not that we look at them and go, “Oh, this is a lovely person. I must show some natural affection towards them.” No. It is not on account of their attractiveness or on account of their merit.
Now, the reason we know that this is the love of God in Christ is because that is exactly how God has loved us: not because we’d cleaned up our act, not because we were perfect, not because we merited his attention, not because we were predisposed towards him; none of these things contributed to the love of God for us. It was a self-engendered love for those who were his enemies. Isn’t that what it says in Ephesians 2? We are by nature the objects of his wrath; we are dead in our trespasses and in our sins. And yet God has come to those who are his enemies and loved us with an everlasting love.
Now, this helps us stay away from the mistaken notion that what Jesus is calling for here is for us simply to hang with people that we like, to manifest towards them a kind of human affection, hopefully to have some warm feelings towards him. Jesus is not saying here that the agape love of the Christian is blind—it’s a kind of woozy, daft sort of love, you know, sort of like, “Oh, I just love you, I love you,” you know, that kind of pathétique in a sort of “French” way. Love—it’s not that at all. Love is blind; human affection is blind; likability is blind; it overlooks things. But agape love is not blind. Jesus is not saying here that the reason we’re able to exercise this love for our enemies is because we’re blind to their offenses against us, or because somehow or another love takes over and we don’t see them as they really are. He’s not saying that at all. He’s saying we see them exactly as they are, in all of their ugliness, in all of their spitefulness, in all of their cursing, in all of their hatred, and in all of their unwillingness to pay us what they owe us, and to pay their debts, and to do whatever it is. “Seeing all of that,” says Jesus, “I want you to love your enemies.”
So, there you have it. This love is intelligent, it is a love that is marked by comprehension, and it is a love that is purposeful in its application. Lenski, the commentator, puts it like this: “This love may see nothing attractive in the one loved. Nor is this love called out by anything that is attractive. Its inner motive, be the object worthy or not, is to bestow these blessings upon the one loved and to do him the highest possible good.”
So, here Jesus goes again, and he takes conventional human wisdom and he turns it completely on its head. In fact, in Matthew, he records the fact that Jesus actually establishes the antithesis by saying to the people, “You have heard that it was said, ‘[You should] love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” That’s the standard approach. Everybody understands that: you like people you’re supposed to like, and you hate people you’re allowed to hate. You get the enemies, you can hate them; you get the neighbors, you can love them. Jesus says, “You’ve heard that that’s what’s been said. But I want to tell you something: you’ve got to love your enemies. Let me,” he says, “turn this completely the other way up.”
Now, Jesus, in making that statement, is not contradicting the Old Testament Scriptures, as I sometimes hear people mistakenly saying: “Of course, Jesus corrected the Old Testament, because in the Old Testament it said, ‘You can love your neighbors and hate your enemies.’” No, it doesn’t say that in the Old Testament at all. That was the nonsense that the Pharisees made of it. Let me show you where it comes from in Leviticus 19:18. God’s Word through his servant Moses to his people: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.”
Now, there’s enough right there, isn’t there? “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge.” Loved ones, some of us have got grudges that don’t just go back months; they go back years. And we carry them around in our briefcase. We nurture them as if somehow or another they were comfortable little toys to be taken on business trips with us. We’re happy to have them and stroke them and cajole them. And it’s nice every so often to bring it back out so we can reexamine it. Doesn’t it make you wonder sometimes if you are a Christian?
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” So, where does it say anything about hating your enemies? Nowhere, right? So how do they get “Hate your enemies, love your neighbors”? Let me show you: they took the little phrase “one of your people,” and they elevated the phrase “one of your people,” and they took the notion of comprehensive love, and they shrank it—shrank it. (“Shrunk” it? Shrank it.) They diminished it. And as a result, they managed to create a situation whereby it became commonly accepted practice to determine who “one of my people” is. And as long as you were “one of my people,” then I loved you, but if you’re not “one of my people” whom I’m supposed to be paying attention to, then frankly, I might just hate you. So Jesus says, “It’s been going around that you can love your neighbor and hate your enemies. I want you to understand that you’re gonna have to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”
I have to constantly stop myself from going down all these different rabbit trails that come across my computer screen. But here’s one—I’ll try and go down it and come straight back up: Do you think that on average a person in the United States of America would regard conservative evangelical Christianity as being at the forefront of this principle? Or do you think it is distinctly possible that people have the perspective that conservative Christianity is directly related to a political view which, if endorsed, you may be loved, and if set aside, you may be disregarded? That conservative Christianity bears a certain kind of face, that it has a sort of inner circle, and if you’re in the inner circle, then you may be embraced and loved and cared for, but if you’re outside the circle, if your sexuality is up the creek, if you don’t happen to fit the same color bar and color code, if you don’t have the same background, if you don’t have whatever it is—do you think there’s at least a possibility that the average student on a university campus may have to conclude that conservative Christianity has completely missed this point?
Be honest, now: there’s no question. There is no question. We’ve got our heads so far underneath one of our arms that it’s not even funny when it comes to this. People are not flocking to the people of God on account of the fact that they have come to wrestle with the implications of this and they’re taking it seriously. We are as guilty as the individual a few chapters later who interrupted Jesus, came to him with a question in Luke chapter 10. And let me just go forward to Luke 10; it will give us a flavor of where we’ll be sometime in the year 2000. “On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus”—Luke 10:25—“stood up to test Jesus”—he wasn’t there to ask a question, he was there just to test him—and “he asked, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Jesus replies with an ad hominem argument: “What is written in the law?” he says. “How do you read it?” The man says, “Well, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You’ve answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Now you go ahead and do this, and you will live.”
Now, the man, if he’d been smart, would have quit at that point, but he wasn’t smart. And we’re told by Luke that he wanted to “justify himself.” In other words, he wanted to know who was in the circle: “Tell me who my neighbor is. Tell me how limited the circle is so that I can just love the people that are in the circle. Who is my neighbor?” Jesus says, “Well, let me answer that question for you.” And then he says, “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who stripped him of his raiment and departed, leaving him half dead.” And you remember how these three individuals come down. You can see the people with their ears flapping in the breeze as they listen to Jesus: “A priest happened to be going down the road, and he went by on the other side.” The people are listening: “I wonder where this story’s going?” And Jesus says, “And then a Levite, he came, had a wee look at him, and then he buzzed off as well.” And they must have been saying to one another, “I know who it’s going to be: Jesus is going against the establishment of religion, and he’s going to go for, ‘But a carpenter or a plumber came along.’ He’s going for the laity. We’re gonna look good in this.” And they’re waiting for him to say, “But it wasn’t a Levite, and it wasn’t a priest, it was just one …,” and he says, “But a Samaritan …” They go, “Samaritan? We got a Jew lying in the ground, and Muammar Gaddafi is the hero in the story? Gaddafi’s coming to put him on his donkey, pay for him at the inn? That’s it?”
“‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’” Jesus said, “Exactly. Now you go and do the exact same thing.” And you will see that that is exactly how he finishes here in verse 36: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Well, at least we’re able to say this, are we not—that the love of which Jesus speaks here redefines the boundaries ; makes them porous, if you like; does not allow the follower of Jesus to determine who he’s going to love; does not allow us to do the “us four, no more, shut the door” trick. We can’t do that—not if we’re the followers of Christ. We cannot simply isolate the little group of people that fits within our comfort zone and say, “Now, we’re gonna love these people, but anybody who fits without the circle, frankly, we don’t have to really worry about them at all.” “No,” Jesus says, “you can’t do that. Let me tell you what you need to do: you need to ‘love your enemies [and] do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, [and] pray for those who [ill-treat] you.’” So the distinctions of race, nationality, political affiliation, age, sex, background, etc., are blown away in the words of Jesus here.
Well then, what is it? Well, it’s a call to display, as I’ve said, the family likeness. We miss the point … and I almost missed this point in my study this week. I almost missed the point. “What point did you almost miss?” I’m about to tell you. If we view what Jesus is saying here simply in terms of a prescription for moral behavior, we miss the point—if we view it simply as a prescription for moral behavior. You say, “But isn’t it a prescription for moral behavior?” Yes, it is. “Well, what do you mean?” I mean this: that it is relatively understandable for people who name the name of Christ to go out and in a kind of painstaking, formal, legalistic sense, give it a go: “I heard you’re supposed to love your enemies. Well, I’ll go out, I’ll give it a go this week.” Prescription number one, love your enemies. Number two, if someone curses you, if they make a very ugly sign to you when you’re trying to get on 480, you won’t make an ugly sign back; you’ll go, “O God, bless that lovely sinner over there in the blue Ford pickup truck.” If he goes as far as shouting out the window and tells us that we are a very bad place from somewhere, then we do not reply in kind. And we’ll grit our teeth and we’ll do it.
No. I think the reason that we’re making the hash of it that we are is because that is exactly what we’re trying to do. In other words, “Here’s a moral prescription. We’re gonna have a go at it.” What am I getting at? Simply this: the teaching of Jesus here is a call to his followers first of all to accept this inversion of the accepted view of things; to believe, if you like, that he who is the doctor has prescribed the directly correct medicine for the ailment, and that what Jesus is saying is absolutely true, and it’s absolutely right, and once we have bowed beneath the truthfulness and the rightness of it, then we are to act accordingly.
I don’t know if I’m making the distinction clear. Here’s the rub—let me put it in this way: the reason why many of us, if we’re brutally honest, balk at the very clarity of this command, its unequivocal injunction, is on account of our unbelief. And our unbelief is sin. So that in our minds, first of all, we remain unbelieving in relationship to this matter of loving our enemies. We are not believers. Oh, we may sort of pay lip service to it, but we are not believers. We don’t believe it. We don’t bow underneath the weight of it. And without believing it, then we go out and try and do it. And it’s hollow, you see. Because the Bible is very clear. Paul takes the same principle and drives it home with great effect when in Romans 12:2 he says, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” So until my mind is renewed, my actions may simply be an indication of slavish legalism, and that I may not actually be loving my enemies, and may simply be going through a routine in order, as it were, to be able to check off Luke 6:27 and following: “Had a go at that, had a go at that, and had a go at that.” Yes, but I never bowed beneath it. That’s why I say to you, don’t you sometimes look at this and say, “I wonder if I’m a Christian at all?” ’Cause if you love those who love you, what reward is that? People do that in the pub. If you give to those who can pay you back with interest, what reward is that? Banks do it all the time. If you’re abused and you respond in love, people say, “What’s going on here?”
Now, it’s going to be when the Christian church is prepared to live with the inverted set of world values that we will make an impact on the culture. You see how stupid we’ve been for twenty-five or thirty years, trying to champion a political cause and fix it in Washington? God says, “Fix it in your own heart, would you? Fix yourselves! Fix your church! Fix your snobbery! Fix your grudges! Fix your animosity! Cut it out! Do you honestly think you’ve changed the world by political machinations? Do what my Word says!”
“I’ll show you how to make an impact on the culture,” says Jesus. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate your guts, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who ill-treat you.” Do you think that would be a revolution in a culture? Without any question at all. Without any question at all—because, first of all, this is what it would do tomorrow morning: it would involve a significant number of telephone calls out of here that would close down frivolous lawsuits, which are all about vengeance and revenge, which are all about imbibing the world’s mentality, which says, “You know what? I’ll stick it to you for that. I’m gonna get you for that.” And what are we saying when we say that? We’re saying that time is everything, this is all we have, this is all we possess, and we must have it, and we must keep it. When we say, “You know what? That’s a significant loss. I love you. Not because I feel affection for you; I feel no affection for you. Not because I think you’re distinctly likeable; I don’t even like you at all. I don’t feel one ounce of anything for you except animosity, but I’m gonna love you. Because I’ve asked that ‘the mind of Christ my Savior may dwell in me from day to day, and by His love and power controlling all I do and say. And may the love of Jesus fill me as the waters fill the sea, and him exalting, self-abasing, this is victory.’” Is that an inversion of the world order? “Him exalting, self-abasing.” The world order is self-exalting, everybody-else-abasing.
Oh, I read this, and I sometimes wonder if I’m a Christian at all.
“Someone strikes you on the cheek,” Jesus says. “Let me just illustrate it: Someone punches you on the jaw; turn to him the other. Someone takes your cloak; don’t stop him from taking your jacket. Give to everyone who asks you, and anyone takes what belongs to you, don’t demand it back, and do to others as you would have them do to you.” That’s the Royal Law, or the Golden Rule, as we know it.
Jesus is calling his followers to display something that is radically counterculture—radically different from the principle upon which Roman society and village life was built. What was the principle? The principle was patronage. Now, it’s a principle with which we’re not unfamiliar. One of the great patrons of the arts just died, a man in his nineties, I saw in the New York Times last week. I’ve already forgotten his name; it didn’t mean anything to me when I read it. But it was interesting for me to read again about the nature of patronage and how this man, because of his wealth, was able to take young aspiring artists and buy into their lives and experience as a result of him becoming their benefactor. And the whole of Roman society was built on that: the benefactor provided the resources, held the people to account on the strength of the fact that he had bought his way in. And the same in village life: somebody was in usury to somebody else who had provided him with something.
And Jesus is saying this: “I don’t want you to live in that community, bearing the principles of that community. This is what I want you to do: I want you to essentially form a community that is marked by a refusal to treat others—even those who hate, exclude, revile, and defame you—as though they were your enemies. I want you to live in a community marked by a refusal to treat others as though they were your enemies.”
Is abortion counter to the creative handiwork of God? Without question. Are abortionists our enemies? In one sense, yes. What, then, shall we do? Continue to do what we do? Or do you want to have a go at it the Jesus way? Is homosexuality a perversion in its practice? Does it undermine all that God has established in terms of the creative order, in terms of the nature of productivity and reproduction? Absolutely. Is that an enemy to everything wholesome and true and pure and right? Without question. So how, then, should we treat the enemy? The way we’ve been doing it? Or do you think we might try the Jesus way?
See, by and large, the twentieth-century church has got no clue what kind of impact we would make on a culture if we were prepared to take clearly the call of Christ to a cultural mandate that is so radically different from everything we’ve lived by. We are like our neighbors. We file for divorce on the same basis. We pursue lawsuits on the same frivolous basis. We give so we can get back. If someone strikes you a blow, we nail them in case they come back again, and so on. Now, what’s Jesus saying? Our activity in life is not to be driven by having somebody stand at the entranceway, as it were, to our house, constantly shouting, “Who goes there, friend or foe?” Person says, “Foe,” we reply, “I hate you! Get out of here, please!” “Friend.” “Come in, O lovely one!”
Now, we may think that’s kind of cool, but I’m going to tell you, if you want to go and really survey our community about what they think about church, or even what they think about Parkside Church, I’d pretty well guarantee you that they think that we’ve got somebody standing in the door doing just that: “Foe? Friend?” Jesus says, “How about this?”
Now, it’s not just an attitude, it’s an action; it’s revealed in our actions. We cannot weasel out of it by saying, “Well, you know, I don’t do anybody any harm.” If you have this conversation with people, somebody will eventually say, you know, one of two things. This is often how they go: “Well, you know, charity begins at home.” “Where’d you get that from?” “Well … let me just say it again: charity begins at home.” “Actually, we’re talking here about loving your enemies. Where does that fit in just now?” “Well, I don’t know if you think it fits in, but I always like to say, ‘Charity begins at home.’” “Mhm.”
And then the other one, someone will interject and go, “You know, I don’t do anybody any harm.” “Well, hey, good for you. We’re actually talking here about something very positive. We’re not talking about passivity. We’re not talking about what you don’t do, we’re talking about what you do do. And that is, do you love your enemies?” “Oh, no, I don’t do that. But of course, as I always say, I don’t do anybody any harm.”
It’s not enough to refrain from hostility, says Jesus. Our deeds and our words are to display the love of Christ : “Do good to those who hate you. Bless the ones that swear at you and curse you out. Pray for those who abuse you.” And then he illustrates it, from taking a punch, losing a coat, learning to give.
Now, let me draw it to a close in this way (we’ll come back to it at another time): What is the principle that Jesus is making here? It’s simply this: that when we receive an injury, as we inevitably will, we must not instinctively seek revenge. Indeed, he says, we must be ready to take another injury if necessary, because the fact of the matter is, it is more than likely that the person will come back and have another go at us.
Now, don’t misunderstand me when I say what I’m about to say. Here is another place in which a crass literalism will prevent us from truly understanding and applying the Bible. What I mean by that is the distinction that we’ve mentioned before between taking the Bible literally, which is taking the literal sense and meaning and application of what is being conveyed, and taking the Bible literalistically, which, of course, would be to do it a disservice. So, for example, Jesus said, “I am the door.” Literalistically, Jesus is a door—you know, a literal, you know, eight-by-two door or something like that—that would be literalistically. Literally would be within the framework of metaphor and simile which Jesus is using.
Now, the reason I say that here is because when you get to John chapter 18—and I’ll leave this for your homework—where Jesus is struck by one of the officials in the temple court, Jesus doesn’t actually do what he says to do here in Luke chapter 6. The temple official strikes him on the face, and we would expect that we would read, “And having been struck on the face, Jesus turned around so he could be struck on the face again.” No! He said to the guy, “Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Was he violating his own teaching? Absolutely not! Is he really suggesting here that if somebody nicks off with your outer coat, that you go running after him and go, “Hey, you want a jacket as well?” Do you think that’s what he’s saying? Or in contemporary terms, you come back to your driveway and your car’s gone, you go, “I gotta go find that guy, because I’ve got my wife’s car here. Maybe he can steal that one as well. Hey, my wife has a car! You want to take that as well?” The guy says, “This person’s an idiot. This isn’t the teaching of Christ, this is idiocy.” And he’d be absolutely right.
The principle is clear. Indeed, literalistically, what you would have as a result of applying this would be a group of pious paupers all sitting around with swollen faces, and another group of people, you know, fat cats all sitting around with stuff and cloaks and everything and just cussing like crazy, you know. And then people say, “There we are. We’ve got it the way it’s supposed to be now.” No, that would be stupidity. And that’s what you get every so often from people who’re studying the Bible; they get in home Bible study groups and it just goes totally south.
Jesus is not calling his followers to some weak form of complacency which confirms evil doers in their weakness. The context is that of personal relationships, and he’s saying, “It is normal for people, who when reviled, to revile in return. It is normal for people to respond like to like, force to force, vengeance to vengeance. It is normal for people to deprive others of what they need and, having given to others, to extract as much interest in usury for them as they can.” And he says, “I don’t want my followers to be living like that at all.” It is not, I say to you again, a form of weak sentimentalism; it is a strong, self-determined, God-motivated love which seeks to do what’s best for the enemy. Again, a crass literalism would allow a murderer to come and take your wife away. Wouldn’t it? I mean, if you applied this exactly, someone came and struck you on the cheek, and then you just stayed there until he beat you into a bloody pulp and into eternity? Is that what Jesus is saying?
No. Listen to Lenski again. I’m gonna wrap it with this: “Love is to foster no crime in others or to expose our loved ones to disaster or perhaps to death. Coupled with selfless love”—and this is a great sentence; I wish I could think of one sentence like this once before I die—“Coupled with selfless love is the wisdom which applies love. Christ never told me not to restrain the murderer’s hand, not to check the thief and robber, not to oppose the tyrant, or to foster shiftlessness, dishonesty and greed by my gifts.” But he did tell me to love my enemies with a love that knows no bounds except love itself.
That brings us, then, to verse 31, and to what we refer to as the “Golden Rule”: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Now, we’re gonna have to understand what that means and rescue it from the people who trot it out with regularity, and then display it in a way that will cause many who are our enemies perhaps to become the friends of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Father, I thank you for the Bible. Thank you that it is such a challenging book. It searches into our lives. It is uncomfortable. It’s sharp as a two-edged sword. Forgive us, Lord, for being hearers of the Word, and not doers also. Forgive me for paying lip service to the idea of loving my enemies. And the only safeguard is to have my mind renewed and my will brought into subjection to your truth.
Lord, I believe you have great purposes for Parkside Church if we as a company of people are prepared to take these issues seriously. And if we’re not, then perhaps we’ll stand on the sidelines and watch as others know the privilege of seeing unbelieving people become the committed followers of Jesus Christ. Save us from that, we pray. We’re jealous to have a part in your kingdom plan. So, then, establish within us the principles of your kingdom.
And may grace and mercy and peace from the triune God be our portion, now and forevermore. Amen.
 John Calvin, “Antidote to the Council of Trent,” in Calvin’s Tracts, trans. Henry Beveridge, vol. 3 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1851), 152. Paraphrased.
 Luke 6:27 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 6:27–28 (NIV 1984).
 1 Peter 2:23 (paraphrased).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “All You Need Is Love” (1967).
 Ephesians 2:3 (paraphrased).
 Ephesians 2:1 (paraphrased).
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel 1–11 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2008), 361. Paraphrased.
 Matthew 5:43 (NIV 1984).
 Leviticus 19:18 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 10:26–27 (paraphrased).
 Luke 10:29 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 10:25–33 (paraphrased).
 Luke 10:36–37 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 6:36 (NIV 1984).
 Kate B. Wilkinson, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” (1925). Paraphrased.
 Luke 6:29–31 (paraphrased).
 John 10:9 (KJV).
 John 18:23 (paraphrased).
 Lenski, St. Luke’s Gospel, 365.
 Hebrews 4:12 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.