Dr. Richard L. Strauss
May 31, 1992
Purpose: To encourage us to love our enemies, and to reach out to them with kindness.
Two tough looking motorcyclists walked into a truck stop restaurant one day and began to harass a truck driver who was sitting alone at the table eating his meal. He tried to ignore them, but they continued to torment him, and one of them finally dumped his food on the floor. The trucker calmly stood up and quietly walked out of the restaurant. A few minutes later, one of the tough-guys remarked to the waitress, "He sure isn't much of a man, is he?" And she replied, "He isn't much of a driver either. He just ran his rig over two motorcycles on his way out" (Our Daily Bread, February 28, 1990).
Some of us would cheer the truckers reaction. As far as we're concerned, those two hoodlums got what they deserved. We might have done the same thing if we thought we could have gotten away with it. We live by the old adage, "I don't get mad; I just get even." We're good at it. We've had years of experience and we can do it well.
But we are followers of Jesus. We profess to believe what He said, and we desire to live as He taught. One day He said to His disciples, "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28).
This entire passage is about our enemies and how we should treat them. And He concludes the passage by saying, "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great" (Luke 6:35).
Think of it--the Son of God promises great reward to people who reach out to their enemies with genuine love and kindness. We saw in a previous study that we shall be rewarded if we suffer persecution for our faith and endure it patiently (cf. Luke 6:22-23). But this goes a step beyond that, folks. Now we are encouraged not just to take it patiently, but to return good for evil--to reach out with positive acts of kindness to those who are bent on hurting us. And that will earn for us eternal reward. "Great," Jesus says. "Great will be your reward."
Now, I trust that if you've been following through this series, you are convinced that eternal rewards will be worth working for. And if Jesus says that the way we treat our enemies in this life is going to affect what we get in heaven, then we should be willing to listen to Him and consider what He says. Let's listen up. And obey.
So let's go through the passage and see the seven things He tells us to do for our enemies in order to win this reward. The first one is pretty obvious, right there at the beginning of Luke 6:27.
1. Love Your Enemies
"Love your enemies." Some of us would probably insist that we don't have an enemy in the world. I've had people say that to me when I've preached on subjects like this.
Who are our enemies anyway? The word (echthros) indicates hatred and hostility. An enemy is anyone who has hostile feelings toward us for any reason. That could be any number of people. You may have developed an enemy on your way to church this morning by the way you drove here. It may be a driver on the freeway who thinks we were discourteous to him and he's angry with you. That's an enemy. Hostile feelings.
It may be a fellow-worker who is jealous of our position in the company. It may be a neighbor who feels that we have been inconsiderate of his rights. It may be a former spouse who can't do enough to hurt us. It may even be our own grown children who resent some of the things we did or didn't do during their early years and have excluded us from their lives. It may be in-laws who treat us like dirt. But it's obvious to us for one reason or another that these people don't like us. They are the people that Jesus is talking about in this context.
I hope you see that we have just about everybody involved here. Isn't there somebody who for some reason or another doesn't like you?
Our normal, human response is to adopt the same attitude toward them that they have toward us. "If that's the way they want to be, then two can play that game as well as one." But Jesus asks us to do something that is totally contrary to human nature. He tells us to love them.
The disciples who first heard Him utter these words must have been shocked. They had never heard anything like that before in their lives. The Law of Moses said to love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18), and the Jews had defined "neighbor" rather restrictively to justify their hatred of almost everybody who was different from them. But nobody had ever before suggested that we should love our enemies. That was new and revolutionary.
LOVE THEM! With the highest and noblest form of love--agape love. It's the love that looks out for their greatest good. No matter how poorly they have treated us, how much they have insulted us, or how badly they have hurt us, we are to keep on seeking only their best interests. We hear that and we gasp. "But I can't do that. It's not even human."
You're right! The Christian life isn't human. It's supernatural! And we have supernatural power through the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ. He's willing to live through us. He's willing to help us. He's willing to love our enemies through us if we're willing to let Him. But that's the issue: Are we willing to let Him? Let's choose to do what Jesus told us to do. Let's love our enemies, and our reward will be great.
The commands that follow expand on that and help us understand what it means to love our enemies.
2. Help Your Enemies
"Do good for those who hate you." My natural instinct is to ignore anybody whom I know hates me. I may not go out of my way to hurt them, but I'm surely not going to go out of my way to help them either. Who needs them anyway? But Jesus tells me that I am supposed to look for tangible ways to help them, look for good things that I can do for them. I don't like that, but that's what Jesus says.
That doesn't mean that I must approve of their sin, or that I can never ask for justice for the wrongs they have committed against me. Wickedness must be exposed for what it is. But I must never have a spirit of revenge. On the contrary, I am to answer every hateful act with an act of kindness.
When we were studying Romans 13, I shared with you the story of Pastor Ewe Holmer and his wife Sigrid, told to me by Ed Plowman, who is the news reporter for the Billy Graham team. He was in Pastor Holmer's home in what had been the Communist regime of East Germany. The Holmers have 11 children, all of whom had refused to join the Communist youth organization, and as a result had been barred from attending university and from getting decent jobs. The person who was responsible for that repressive and discriminatory policy was Erich Honecker, the former Communist party boss, and his wife who was the head of education. When the Wall came down and Honecker was deposed, he contracted kidney cancer and no German hospital or institution--East or West--would take him in. But the Holmers reached out in Christian love, invited the Honeckers into their home and cared for them until they could find some place to go.
That story deeply impressed me. The Holmers took Jesus at His word. The loved their enemies. They did good to those who hated them. And there will be a reward awaiting them in glory for that.
3. Bless Your Enemies
"Bless those who curse you" (Luke 6:28). To bless is to praise or honor somebody. It's to speak well of them and to them, and for them--to speak to God and ask Him for His best for them. That's the last thing in the world I want to do for somebody who has just cursed me. Did you ever have somebody curse you out? It's amazing how easily people will do that in our day. Just pull over into their lane in front of them a little too close, and you can see them in your rear-view mirror shaking their fist and scowling at you. Then they whip out of line, pull up beside you and scream obscenities out the window.
And what do you do? Smile, wave and say, "I'm sorry"? Then pray, "Dear Lord, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to be badgered and heckled like this. And Lord, bless that angry person right now. May he have your very best, and may he learn to enjoy your presence and your perfect peace within."
I doubt it. I seriously doubt it. I would probably just try to ignore them until they went away. I mean, they can't drive 50 miles with their head hanging out the window, screaming. They usually do go away. But pray God's blessing on them? Hardly! I'd rather see them scrape the paint on their car on the concrete median, or run out of gas, or get a flat tire. That would fix them.
To bless them is superhuman. Yet that is exactly what Jesus tells us to do. He isn't implying that we should condone their selfish and sinful behavior. Their behavior is wrong. All He's saying is that we should never repay hateful behavior with hateful behavior, but rather with His love and kindness. And for that, when we get down to Luke 6:35 He promises reward.
So we are to love our enemies, help them, bless them, and fourth, pray for them.
4. Pray for Your Enemies
The second half of Luke 6:28--"Pray for those who spitefully use you."
Blessing them would include praying for them, and it is important enough to mention separately. To spitefully use us is to insult us, abuse us, and wrong us in some way. We are to pray for people who so mistreat us. Not pray for God's judgment on them, but pray for His love and forgiveness to be extended to them.
That's what Jesus did. After they had mocked Him, scourged Him, crowned Him with thorns and nailed Him to a cross, He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). He's our example.
In Christianity Today, psychiatrist Robert Coles told an amazing story of a girl who had learned to pray for those who were hostile to her. Coles was in New Orleans in 1960, when a federal judge ruled that the city schools must be integrated. A 6-year-old girl, Ruby Bridges, was the only black child to attend the William T. Frantz School. Every day for weeks as she entered and left the building, a mob would be standing outside to scream at her and threaten to kill her. One day her teacher saw her lips moving as she walked through the crowd, flanked by burly federal marshals. When the teacher told Coles about it, he asked Ruby if she was talking to the people. "I wasn't talking to them," she replied, "I was just saying a prayer for them." Coles asked her, "Why do you do that?" "Because they need praying for," came her reply (Our Daily Bread, May 23, 1986).
I've had people treat me very unkindly on occasion, as I'm sure many of you have. There was a time in the early years of ministry when some people said some awful things about me which were not true, and they actually threatened me and told me I should leave town. I must be perfectly honest with you--praying for them was the last thing in my mind. I never thought of it.
Exposing their lies? I thought of that. Proving them wrong. Showing them their faults. Those were the things that I was interested in. Had I been more in tune with the Word of Christ at the time I would have prayed for them. That's what earns reward.
5. Refrain from Paying Your Enemies Back
Read Luke 6:29a. "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also."
According to the Greek commentaries, this is not a disdainful little slap on the cheek, but rather a violent blow to the jaw (Plummer). And the point of what Jesus said is not that we are to let people knock us around, but that we are not to retaliate. It is important to understand that Jesus didn't intend these to be hard and fast rules to slavishly follow, but rather an attitude and spirit to govern our actions. When Jesus Himself was struck in the face at His trial, He didn't stick His jaw out and invite another blow. He actually rebuked the officer and struck Him. He said, "If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why do you strike me?" (John 18:23).
People who think these are rigid rules to follow get themselves in all kinds of trouble. I read a funny story about an Irish boxer who was converted and became a preacher--Chuck Swindoll tells this story in his book, Simple Faith. The new preacher arrived in a new town and began setting up a tent for his evangelistic meetings, when a couple of thugs who knew nothing of his background in the ring approached him and made some insulting remarks. One of them actually took a swing at him and landed a glancing blow on the jaw. The preacher shook it off and stuck his jaw out again, and the bully took another swing hitting him on the other side. At that point the ex-boxer turned preacher peeled off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and announced. "The Lord gave me no further instructions" (Swindoll, Simple Faith, p.102).
I'm not sure that is exactly what the Lord had in mind when he told us to turn the other cheek. He wasn't just telling us to take two hits and then hit back. Neither was He forbidding us from defending ourselves against attack, or from seeking justice from those who have injured us. He was simply teaching us that we should not act out of hatred or the desire for personal revenge--that we should not treat the one who has wronged us with an unloving, unforgiving, vindictive attitude. We should act out of love and for the good of others, not out of personal vengeance or rancor.
Paul summed it up in Romans 12:19. It hasn't been too long since we were in that passage of Scripture. "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."
Tony Campolo told the story of the kid who came home from school and said, "Billy beat me up today. I'm going to get a club and bash his head in." His mother said, "You shouldn't do that. God says, "Vengeance is mine. I will repay.'" "OK" the boy replied, "I'll give Him 'till Saturday." Some of us feel like that little boy. We'll give God a few days and if He doesn't get back at them, we'll do it for Him.
I don't know of anything that sums up the spirit of what Jesus said any better than this quotation from Richard Wurmbrand who suffered much when the Communists were in power:
"I have seen Christians in Communist prisons with 50 pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold, and praying with fervor for the Communist.... Afterward the Communist came to prison too. Now the tortured and the torturers were in the same cell. And while the non-Christian (guards) beat them (the former torturers), Christians took their defense. I have seen Christians giving away their last slice of bread (we had at that time one slice a week) and the medicine which could have saved their lived to a sick Communist torturer who was now a fellow-prisoner" (Tan, 2294).
That's turning the other cheek. And some of us are far from that ideal. I wonder if we are even willing to smile and speak cordially to the gal who just yesterday ripped us apart in front of the boss. Or to the neighbor who threatened to call the police if our kids walked on his grass again.
I guess what we do depends on whether we believe this is really the Word of Good. Not just pay lip service, but really believe it, and believe that we will get that reward in glory for not paying our enemies back.
Peter says something about this, too. He heard Jesus say this and he expanded on it a little over in 1 Peter 3:8-9. "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing."
There it is again: a reward, a special blessing for those who refuse to retaliate. This is the word of our Lord, whom we profess to believe. So what are we going to do?
How are we supposed to treat out enemies? We are to love them, help them, bless them, pray for them, refrain from paying them back, and give to them.
6. Give to Your Enemies
Remember, we're still talking about enemies.
Read Luke 29b-30. "And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods don't ask them back."
This is a robbery. This isn't just loaning a friend something. This is a thief who violently steals the victim's outer garment, and Jesus suggests that the victim voluntarily give him his undergarment as well. The thief has taken the victim's goods away from him, but getting them back is not to be his all-consuming passion of the victim.
Now remember again, these are not rigid rules to live by. If they were, the Lord Jesus would have been espousing nudism. If the thief takes your outer garment and you give him your undergarment, you don't have anything left, folks. He's not doing that. And He's not encouraging thievery. He isn't saying that it is wrong to prosecute somebody who has stolen from us. The point is simply that we should not clutch even what is rightfully ours. Defending it should only be to correct the wrongdoer and protect society, not to express selfishness or personal vengeance. And for that there will be great reward.
7. Treat Your Enemies as You Want to be Treated (The Golden Rule)
Read Luke 6:31. "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise."
This is what we call the Golden Rule because it is one of the highest and loftiest principles known to mankind. If both parties practiced it, the Golden Rule would solve almost all of our interpersonal conflicts. The Golden Rule was new and revolutionary. Jesus was the one who said it.
I don't know of a rocky marriage that couldn't be smoothed out if both husband and wife treated each other as they wished to be treated. I don't know of a strain between friends or neighbors that wouldn't be eased if each side would treat the other as they wished to be treated.
The news media has been reminding us regularly of the decent dramatic increases in hate crimes--violent crimes against segments of our society who are different. None of the bigots who commit hate crimes would ever want to be treated as they treat others. The only hope of eliminating this hateful blight on our society is for people to come to know Jesus Christ and grow in His likeness. Jesus is the One who said, "And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise."
But God wants us to love even the perpetrators of hate crimes, as difficult as that will be. Even they fit into this text. They may hate us next and we don't like that at all. Our tendency is to love those whom we know will love us in return, not those who may hate us or hurt us. But that isn't worthy of any reward. Anybody can do that.
Read Luke 6:32-36. "But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful."
Loving our enemies doesn't make us sons of the Highest, but it shows that we are His sons because you can't do this with your own human strength. That's the way our heavenly Father is. He sends the rain and the sunshine on believers and unbelievers alike. And when we show mercy to our enemies as well as our friends, we demonstrate that we have His nature. Like Father, like son! People will begin to see the character of Christ in us--His love and His grace and His mercy--and will be attracted to Him. That's why He created us. And for that, Jesus says, there will be GREAT REWARD!
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Now, I have to remind you again that you don't become God's child and assure yourself of heaven by loving your enemies, as worthy and wonderful as that is. Because, you see, you also have sin in your life, as I do. And sin separates us from God. He cannot look on it. He cannot receive it into His presence. He must separate Himself from it for eternity. But He loves us so much He sent His Son to pay for our sin, to bear in His own body the guilt and penalty that we deserve--so that in His justice and holiness He might freely forgive us and receive us into His heaven.
That's how we get to heaven: by acknowledging our sin and our unworthiness, and putting our faith in His Son, who gave Himself in our place and paid for our eternal salvation. We receive Him as our Savior. And once we've done that, we can begin to obey Him--as His Word encourages us to do--and earn for ourselves reward in heaven.
Entrance into heaven? By faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ: His death on Calvary's cross and His resurrection from the grave. Reward in heaven? Depends on how we live our lives here on earth.
If you've never put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, we invite you to do that this morning. That's the first thing that needs to be done. Settle that issue. Then you can start working on the rewards.
Let's bow our heads prayerfully in His presence right now. As we bow reverently before Him, may I ask you whether you know Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior from sin? Have you admitted your sinfulness and your need of a Savior, and put your faith in Him? If you're not certain you've ever done that, we urge you to take care of it today. Don't put it off for another moment, because we're talking about heaven or hell here. That's an important issue.
Would you pray with me right now in the quiet of your own heart if you've never done this before? You don't have to keep doing it. If you invited Christ in your heart before and you were sincere, He's there forever. He'll never leave you; He promised. But if you haven't settled this issue, talk to Him right now in the quiet of your own soul.
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I know my sins separate me from You. But I believe You love me so much that You sent Your Son to Calvary to die in my place. Lord Jesus, I'm turning from my sin to You in faith right now. Come into my heart and save me from sin."
The apostle John said, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12). His name incorporates all that He is and all that He's done. Will you put your faith in Him? That's how you receive eternal life and the assurance of heaven.
Most of you listening to this message right now have made that decision. You are children of God. Are you willing to commit yourself to obey the word of the Lord Jesus? To depend upon His power? To allow Him to live His life through you and love even your enemies? Would you make that commitment right now.
Father, thank You for those who are committing themselves afresh to do Your will, even in this most difficult area. Help us to follow through, we pray. Give us the strength to obey. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Continue to RW-12: Welcome Home, Traveler