I want to begin today by laying a few assumptions on the table. My guess is that my assumptions are accurate, but I want to check first to find out.
My first assumption is that somebody has offended your or mistreated you. Am I right? A week ago, I would have said no, nobody’s offended me recently, but then somebody came along and fixed that and I felt offended. It’s probably true of you as well. Somebody hasn’t been fair to you recently.
I’m talking about a boss who can’t stand you, a teacher who has it out for you, the neighbor who shovels snow onto your property. It’s the person who lies behind your back and tells people things that aren’t even true. All of us have people who have mistreated us, and we’re not too crazy about these people.
My second assumption is that you have some things to say to these people. Ever fantasized about what you would like to do or say to this person? Ever had an imaginary conversation in which you gave that person a piece of your mind? Felt good, didn’t it? You gave them a piece of your mind that you couldn’t afford to lose. Or maybe you’ve heard a story of revenge and enjoyed the story a little too much. Let me give you an example.
A woman listened to her husband, a shock-jock, on the radio one night. While working his usual 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift, he told the pin-up girl he was interviewing—on air—that he was willing to leave his wife and two kids for her.
The wife created an eBay auction for her husband’s car, a Lotus Esprit Turbo. The auction page was almost completely blank except for a picture of the car and the following words:
I need to get rid of this car immediately—ideally in the next 2-3 hours before my cheating [jerk] husband gets home to find it gone and all his belongings in the street. I am the registered owner and I have the [registration]. Please only buy if you can pick up tonight.
The car—valued at approximately $45,000—was listed with a “Buy-it-Now” price of 50 pence ($.90), and the auction lasted exactly 5 minutes and 3 seconds before an anonymous buyer paid for it and drove away.
Four days after the car was sold, the anonymous buyer left the following feedback on her eBay account: “Thank you, the car is excellent. Thank your hubby for me.”
Many of us have had imaginary conversations in our head and plotted our revenge. We have enemies and we kind of like holding grudges against them.
My third assumption is that Jesus wants to speak into these situations. Actually, this isn’t much of an assumption. I know it’s true, because Jesus has said as much. We know right away that we are in trouble because, well, it’s so gratifying to hold these grudges and we’re not so sure that we want Jesus messing with them.
But, of course, Jesus does.
My final assumption is that it is best to listen to what Jesus has to say about our grudges. It’s a matter of obedience, but it’s much more than that. My assumption is that what Jesus says on this topic is not only what is right, but it is also what is best. We need to obey, primarily because obedience is always the appropriate response to God. But we also should respond because what Jesus says is best.
So today I’d like to ask you to take the person or persons who have it coming to them, who have treated you unfairly. Think about them. And then I want to come to Jesus and ask what he says about our response to these people.Got somebody in mind?
The passage we’re going to look at today is found in one of Jesus’ most important sermons. Jesus is inaugurating a his Kingdom, and in this sermon he announces what that Kingdom is like.
We looked last week at the fact that the Kingdom is available to anyone, and that true blessing is available to people that nobody would ever call blessed. In today’s passage, Jesus turns his attention to human relationships. I think he does this for two reasons. For one thing, it comes up because he’s just said that following him is going to cause tension in our relationships. Jesus has just finished saying:
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
Jesus knows that his followers are going to face the challenge of how to respond to those who mistreat them.
The other reason I think this comes up is because it is such a key issue. There are few things more important to Jesus than our relationships. As we’ve been reading in the Jesus Creed, our love for God and others is the issue to Jesus.
We’re going to see in this passage that Jesus gives us a radical new standard of how we should respond to our enemies. Not only does he give us a standard, he also shows us what it looks like, and gives us reasons why we should hold to this standard. If you have your Bibles with you, please open them to Luke 6. We’re going to be looking at verses 38 to 48.
The New Standard
In verses 27 and 28, Jesus gives us a radical new standard for how to respond to those who mistreat us. Jesus says, “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
To understand what Jesus was saying, we need to understand what was normal back then. You’ve all heard the saying eye for eye, tooth for tooth. To us, that sounds vindictive. It actually comes from the Hebrew Scriptures and was not meant to encourage violence, but to put limits on it. You know how these things work. Somebody bumps you. You don’t just bump them back; you give them a shove. They don’t shove you back, they land a punch. Pretty soon you’re not just punching, you’re in a full-blown fight. God gave limits so that things didn’t escalate out of control. He said, “Don’t let things escalate and get out of control.” We relate to this, because we may feel comfortable asking, “How far can I retaliate before I have crossed a line?”
Here Jesus comes along and says, “I’m going to give you an even higher standard.” He calls us to respond to hostility in a completely unprecedented manner. This isn’t supposed to be the superhuman standard we aspire to reach. This is the normative standard for all followers of Christ. The standard is this: “love your enemies.”
As somebody has said, “Love doesn’t sound so dangerous until you’ve tried it” (Paul Wadell). Here, the standard is not so much a feeling of love. It’s actually an even higher standard: to act out that love. It’s to take specific actions toward those who have offended us that are the opposite of how we would normally react: to do good to them, to bless them, to pray for them.
A long time ago, somebody gave me a book called Well-Intentioned Dragons. It’s a very good book. It’s written for pastors but it really applies to everybody. It talks about the people who treat us badly and it calls them dragons. The whole book can really be summarized in one sentence: in responding to dragons, don’t become a dragon yourself. Easier said than done. I find that when I’m dealing with somebody who is a dragon I want to breathe fire back. Jesus says, instead of treating them as badly as they treat you, bless them. You won’t feel like it, but pray for them. Do good to them. Amazingly, I’ve found that after I start to act this way, my heart eventually changes toward them.
So go ahead and think about the person or persons who have offended you. If you’re like me, you usually think about what you’d like to tell them if only you had the chance. Jesus calls us to flip that around. Instead of thinking of what you would like to do to harm them, think instead of the best thing that you can do for the worst person, and go ahead and do it. Think of the people to whom you are tempted to be nasty, and lavish generosity on them instead.
I can guarantee you two things. First, you won’t feel like doing it. Nobody feels like loving your enemy. But I can also guarantee you that how you act will eventually change the way that you feel.
A woman came to a lawyer and said, “I want to get a divorce. I really hate my husband, and I want to hurt him. Give me some advice.” In addition to wanting to get the gold and give him the shaft, she was wondering about some other way that she might do him in.
The attorney said, “Look, you’re going to divorce the guy anyway, so for three months don’t criticize him. Speak only well of him. Build him up. Every time he does something nice, commend him for it. Tell him what a great guy he is, and do that for three months. After he thinks that he has your confidence and love, hit him with the news and it will hurt more.”
The woman thought, “I can’t go wrong on this. I’m divorcing the guy anyway. Why should I speak badly about him anymore? I’m going to speak only well of him.”
So, she complimented her husband for everything he did. For three months she told him what a great man he was. You know what happened to that relationship? After three months, they forgot about the divorce and went on a second honeymoon.
Loving your enemy may not change them, but it’s the radical new standard that God calls you to live. And although it may not change them, it just may change you.
What This Looks Like
The thing that I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t just give us an abstract principle. He gives us a number of examples of how this might work. It might be like if I said, “Now if somebody cuts you off, this is how you should react. If your friend at school gossips about you, then this is what you should say.” Jesus gets very concrete in describing how this love will show itself in different circumstances.
Jesus gives us a number of examples of how the disciples should react when they are mistreated in verses 29-31:
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
A lot of people read this and think that Jesus is getting carried away here. He certainly does call for a high standard. Let’s look at each of these examples and think about what it might look like today.
The slap – A slap on the face is demeaning and insulting. This probably refers to a slap with the back of a hand. Some think that Jesus is talking about what would happen when his followers were kicked out of the synagogue for following Jesus. They might be slapped. It’s natural in that situation to want to defend yourself, to want to slap back.
Ever been in that situation? Your first reaction may be to strike back. The other reaction you might have is to defend yourself. You want to either go on the offensive or hide and protect yourself. Jesus says, don’t do either. Go back and take a risk, even if it might lead to you getting hurt again.
Of course, there are times where enough is enough, and you shouldn’t go back for more abuse. But some of us have never taken that risk of going back to someone who has hurt us and risk reaching out to them again.
Charlene said something the other week that really hit me, no pun intended. She said that when you love somebody you can’t protect yourself. Love risks yourself. Jesus says to risk being hurt again by people who might let us down.
The shirt – The next example has to do with your rights. Exodus 22:26-27 says:
If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can your neighbor sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.
You could give your cloak as a pledge for a loan, as collateral, but only temporarily. The cloak had to be returned by the evening so you wouldn’t be cold. You had rights!
Jesus turns this on its head. He says, in effect, forget about your rights. Instead of demanding that they give you back your cloak, your outer garment, give them your shirt as well. Be willing to lose your shirt if necessary. Be willing to let people take advantage of you if necessary. When they do, don’t respond as you’d be tempted to. Respond with exceptional love. Leave the judgment in God’s hands.
This sounds so good but it’s tough. It’s radical. If you have ever been mistreated and have legal options, rights that you can enforce, it’s tough to sit back and say, “I won’t insist on my rights. I will allow myself to be mistreated.” Jesus says that it’s better to be defrauded than to bring reproach on his name.
Give – Jesus says, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” It’s normal to give to people when we can get something back. I would give to any of you if the interest rate was right. It’s another thing altogether to give when it doesn’t benefit us. Jesus says to give, even when there’s nothing in it for you.
It was against Scripture to lend with interest. You could lend, however, to build “credit” with someone else, so they owed you. You could call in a favor later. Jesus says, don’t do that. Don’t just give when it serves your purpose. Give even when there’s nothing in it for you.
Every seventh year, it was time to cancel debts. It would be pretty hard to want to lend somebody some money on the sixth year, knowing that in just one more year that debt would be cancelled. Jesus says, give even when you know they won’t repay you. Don’t be motivated by what’s in it for you.
Jesus gives instead what we now call the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). It’s not a rule book. It’s an attitude of taking people who are not deserving of your love, and loving them anyway. It’s treating them as you would wish to be treated, not as they deserve to be treated.
There are two things that I can say about what we’ve covered this morning. The first is that what Jesus has said is clear, concise, direct, and memorable. There is no misunderstanding his intent. The second thing you can say about it is that it is rare. G.K. Chesterton said, the trouble with this type of Christianity is that it has never been tried. This will cost you.
You and I will not want to do this. It’s like Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust surviver and Christian, who met a Nazi SS guard who used to stand in the shower room at the concentration camp. After the war, she say him in a church service. She couldn’t bring herself to shake his hand until she prayed this prayer silently: “Jesus…I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.” This type of love is impossible without God’s help.
Why Should I?
I want to end this as we come to the Communion table by asking why we should live this way. Why, when it is so costly, should we lavish love on those who don’t deserve it? Three reasons:
First, this marks us as different. Jesus says:
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. (Luke 6:32-34)
Jesus says, what do you have to brag about if you don’t live any differently than anybody else? It doesn’t take any effort to retaliate. That’s the norm. Jesus calls us to a higher standard.
Second, God will reward us. Living this way is based on the belief that God will make it right, that God will look after us. Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). God will look after us. This doesn’t earn us a relationship with God, but it marks us as his children with all the privileges that come to us as his children.
Third, because this is how God treats us. This is the ultimate reason. Why should we show kindness to those who don’t deserve it? Because this is what God has done for us. “He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36). We love because we are the loved.
We are to be like this because it’s what God is like. He is not a penny pinching God. He lavished love and grace to us when we didn’t deserve it. We should lavish love and grace to others in return.
Let’s pray as we come to the Communion table.