This sermon is what I would call a “sweaty palms” message. It is surely not a message that we would naturally want to hear. Our natural inclination is not to “turn the other cheek” nor to give a freeloader a “loan.” I think it is important to begin this message by admitting to ourselves that we are naturally opposed to what Jesus has to say in Luke’s accounting of the Sermon on the Mount. Because of this, I caution you to delay judgment on what you hear until you have had sufficient time to think about it, to study the Word of God, to pray, and to search your own heart.
I have entitled this message, “Tough Love,” but I think you will soon recognize that I mean something very different from what this expression generally has been used to describe, even in Christian circles—especially in Christian circles. I recently read Anthony Campolo’s book, entitled The Power Delusion, in which he indicated that it is now common practice for couples who are seriously dating to seek to avoid the commitment of love. Each of the two, Campolo suggests, are actually trying to “under love” (my words) the other, as opposed to outdoing the other in love. The reason is that love has obligations and so the one who loves most owes most. To be free from the debts of love one must love less, making the other partner more in debt to you than you are to them. A kind of “unbalance of payments” scheme.
If we are right in assuming that love has its debts, then we will probably be dismayed to learn from our Lord just how great a debt we owe. In this case, however, we are not dealing with the our debt of love for a husband or wife, or of a friend, or even of a neighbor, but of an enemy. Jesus is specifically dealing with love’s obligation and expression in relationship to our enemy. Quite frankly, we will see that what Jesus requires His disciples to do for their enemies is more than what many are willing to do for their spouse.
The “tough love” we are dealing with is not the kind of love which justifies being “tough” on the other person (which is sometimes required), but rather is a love which is incredibly tough on us to live out.
Admittedly, when we read our Lord’s words in verses 27-30, there are many potential problems with doing exactly as He says. The first thing I would say to this is that Jesus wanted His listener to obey the spirit of His words, not just the letter. He wants His disciples to interpret His words here just as we should interpret the Old Testament Law of Moses. We should find the principle underlying the precept and then interpret and apply the precept in light of the principle.
Second, I would hasten to admit that there are many potential problems which come to mind when one tries to take Jesus’ teaching seriously. For example, should one “turn the other cheek” in the case of rape, or of murder, or of child sexual abuse? What about an abused wife? I think that we can quickly see that one must interpret and apply our Lord’s words in the light of other biblical principles. But while there may be exceptions, our Lord’s intent is to deeply imbed the principle in our minds. In the case of marriage and divorce, Jesus did not want to talk in terms of exceptions, but in terms of the rule (cf. Matt. 19:3ff.). So, here, Jesus wants to avoid undermining the rule by emphasizing exceptions. Thus, we see no exceptions to “turning the other cheek,” even though we know that there must be some. Let us first learn the rule from this text, and then seek to put it into practice, and finally to consider abuses and exceptions.
I view our text as having three major divisions. As a unit, the text contains our Lord’s words to the broader group of those gathered to hear Him (cf. 6:27; 7:1), rather than just the small group of disciples (cf. 6:13-16, 20). Here, Jesus is spelling out how one of His followers must deal with their enemy. Verses 27-30 define some of the practices which Jesus’ follower must carry out for an enemy. Verses 31-38 lay down the principles which require and motivate one to act as Jesus has taught above. In verses 39-49, Jesus “parablizes,” pointing out why this kind of practice is needed. Thus the text may be summarized as follows:
(1) Loving One’s Enemy (Luke 6:27-49)
In this lesson I am going to do something a bit unusual, something I usually seek to avoid—deviating from the order of the text, as recorded. I am going to begin by characterizing the practices which our Lord required for us to love our enemies (vv. 27-30). Then, I will deal with the parables of Jesus, underscoring the importance of our obedience to His commands here (vv. 39-49). Finally, I will conclude by identifying the principles which underlie the practices (vv. 31-38).
Entire sermons could be preached on these verses, but our approach precludes this. Let us begin with an overview of what Jesus is calling for in this section.
(1) Jesus is giving instructions to all of those who would be His followers, His disciples. Verse 27 informs us that Jesus spoke these words to “all who hear.” This may be another way of saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Nevertheless, I believe that Jesus is telling those who would follow Him what practices are required of them.
(2) The practices which our Lord requires here all pertain to our “enemy,” the one who hates, curses, mistreats, attacks, and takes advantage of us. Our enemy, I think we can say, is the one who is not seeking our best interest at their expense, but who is striving to achieve their best interest at our expense.
(3) The practices which Jesus requires are all responses to a specific evil done to us personally by our enemy. The actions our Lord requires are responses to personal offenses against us.
(4) The evils done against us may be due to the fact that we are followers of Christ, although this is not clearly stated. The responses are clearly required of Christ’s followers.
(5) The actions (responses) our Lord requires are those which are contrary to Judaism, to our culture, and to our own fallen nature. The actions which Jesus requires are supernatural responses. We would not do them normally (motivation), nor could we (means, power). Thus, the actions set the follower of Jesus apart from all others.
(6) Generally speaking, the actions required of our Lord necessitate the surrender of our personal rights. To put it in other words, we could file charges against our enemy for their doing to us what they have done.
(7) The list of practices which Jesus laid down here is suggestive, not all inclusive. Matthew, for example, gives us additional matters to consider, which were a part of this same sermon (cf. Matt. 5:41). Jesus did not intend for this list of required responses to be considered complete, but rather suggestive. These are but examples of the way in which a more general principle: Do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.
(8) The things Jesus required require faith and supernatural enablement. These are not acts which one does in his own strength, in order to be saved, but are acts which one who has been saved does, due to the new mind and the new strength Christ gives through His Spirit.
(9) The things which our Lord here commands could be abused and may need to be set aside in order to carry out other instructions. The Christian life is not simple, as the Pharisees sought to make it (they really complicated it further). The Christian seldom acts on just one principle at a time, but on several, all held in balance and tension. We are thus something like a juggler, trying to keep several principles in the air at the same time by our deeds.
(10) The practice of the commands of our Lord given here relate to the “blessings” pronounced by our Lord above. Doing as Jesus commands may make us poor. We may object, “But I’d go broke doing this!” Jesus’ words above, “Blessed are you who are poor … ” would become very relevant.
(11) Knowing that one had made the commitment to practice these precepts would have a great impact on his conduct. For example, if I knew that I were not going to strike a person back who hit me, I would be encouraged thereby to become a blessed “peacemaker” and “gentle” person (cf. Matt. 5:5, 9). Those who choose to carry firearms in their cars know that this does not tend to make them meek, just as those who choose a more pacifistic lifestyle tend to avoid developing chips on their shoulders. The conscious chose to obey Jesus’ commands here will also tend us to develop other godly characteristics.
I would not “go down fighting” for the fact that all of these words are parables, but I do think that the one common factor is that of explaining why it is essential for Jesus’ followers to obey these commands. In simplest terms, Jesus is saying that it is necessary for His followers to “march to the beat of a different drum,” to live life by a higher standard, to have their practice be better than that of others, who are not His followers. “Betterness” is the unifying thought which undergirds these verses and gives a unity of thought. Let us briefly summarize the impact of each statement which our Lord makes here to see His reasons for “betterness” in living of His followers.
(1) Guides of the blind need to see better than those they lead, v. 39. The first parable has to do with those who lead the blind. If the “guide” is as blind as the one he leads, both will get hurt. The guide for the blind must see better than the one he guides. Jesus came, He said, to “give sight to the blind” (Luke 4:18). This, I believe this involved more than the giving of physical sight (cf. John 9:35-41). If Jesus’ followers are going to do as He did, their sight must be better than that of sinners.
(2) Teachers must be better than their students, v. 40. Jesus reminded His of what we all know: teachers must be better than their students, for it is the student’s task to come up to the level of his teacher. We do not have a 5th grade student teaching 12th grade students. We might, however, have a 12th grade student teaching the 5th grader (in the old days this happened). Because students are in the process of becoming like their teachers, teachers should be better.
(3) Eye inspectors and correctors must have better vision than the one whose eye from which they are trying to remove a small foreign particle, vv. 41-42. If one has bad eyesight, caused by a large foreign object, he can hardly function well at helping another remove a small imperfection from his eye. One must have better vision than the one with impaired vision, whom we are seeking to help.
(4) The superiority of some things can only be discerned by the better quality of their output, their “fruit,” vv. 43-45. The quality of some unseen things can only be measured by the visible “fruit” of their output. The nature (species) and quality of a tree can only be known by the nature and quality of its fruit. The condition of a man’s heart, invisible to other men, can only be judged by what proceeds from him (his mouth). If following Christ is the better way, then Christians should produce better “fruit.” Thus, Christians are called to live by a much higher standard.
(5) Obedience to the “tough” commands of our Lord proves a person to be a true follower of Christ, and handling the tough tasks now assures us of enduring tough times ahead, vv. 46-49. Jesus taught that it is not only to call Jesus Lord, they must prove He is Lord by obeying His commands (v. 46). It is in doing the tough things which shows our discipleship. It is not test of a child’s obedience to hand him money and instruct him to go and buy candy. It is a test of obedience to have the child submit to an inoculation at the doctor’s office.
In verses 47-49, Jesus sought to illustrate the fact that doing the hard thing now gives confidence in the hard times ahead. When building a house, the wise man “goes the extra mile” of laying a strong foundation. Digging deep to establish a solid foundation is not the easy way, but when the storms come, the building will stand. Obedience to our Lord’s commands regarding the loving of our enemies is not easy, but it does give us confidence that in the future we will have been well founded, well established in our faith and obedience, and able, by His grace, to withstand any coming storms.
In each and every one of these illustrations, the need for “betterness” has been established, even though the cost is high to live according to Christ’s higher standard. The commands of Christ regarding loving our enemies is a very high standard, higher than that which others hold or practice, but this only shows that which God all things are possible for those who trust in Him, who obey His commands, and who are sustained by His power and grace.
The precepts about loving our enemies, which our Lord has given us in verses 27-30 are based upon principles. Beginning from the lowest level principle and ascending to the highest, Jesus gives us several governing principles in verses 31-38. Let us briefly consider these.
(1) Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
This principle is based upon a fundamental premise, that of reciprocity. We tend to respond to others in kind. Those who love us, we love. Those who are kind to us, we are kind to. Those who are harsh with us, we tend to be harsh with. The “golden rule” teaches us that that given the human tendency toward reciprocity we should treat others in the same way that we want them to respond to us. If we want people to be kind and gracious toward us, we must be kind and gracious toward them.
There is nothing particularly noble about following this principle, since we serve our own best interest by being kind toward others. Kindness shown toward others tends to be reciprocated toward us. We gain from what we give. Much of the secular counsel in how to relate toward others is based upon the principle of the golden rule. It does not rise above the standard which unbelievers set for themselves.
The golden rule, however, is but a minimum requirement. It relates toward with the expectation that our kindness will be returned. It does good so that good will be done for us. The golden rule can be followed by any self-seeking person. Obedience to it has little virtue, for it sets a standard which all men would try to keep. The golden rule is not bad—it is simply not good enough. Thus, our Lord presses on to other (higher)principles.
(2) Do good unto others when they have done evil against you.
Jesus made it very clear that there is no virtue in living according to the same standard as others, even sinners (vv. 32-34). Then Christian is to surpass the world’s minimum standard in the matter of loving others. The world gladly responds in kind. Sinners love those who love them. But the saint must love those who hate him. This is by far the more difficult path. If others reciprocate in kind, we are to respond otherwise. We are not only to give love for love, and good for good, we are to love our enemies, and to return good for evil.
(3) Do unto others, without looking to men for your reward.
If we are to do good to those who have done evil against us, we are also to do good to men who will do evil against us. Men do good things for others, expecting them to do for them in return (reciprocation). The Christian not only is to disregard what their enemy has done against them, but is also to act kindly toward others, knowing that they may not reciprocate, and may do evil to us when we have done good to them.
Sinners look to men for their reward, and they look for their rewards to come quickly. Christ’s followers are to look to God for their reward, and that may not come until eternity. This means, of course, that men must live by faith in order to love their enemy, faith that God sees, that God rewards, and that blessings will come later on.
(4) Do unto others as God has done unto you.
While sinners deal with others in accordance with the way they have been treated by them, saints are to deal with others in accordance with the way God has treated us (and all men). Christ’s followers are to show mercy to their enemies because God has shown mercy to us. In His mercy, God has always provided men with a way to escape the judgment of God. This has always been by means of God’s grace, through the instrumentality of man’s repentance and faith (which is also a gift of God). The mercy of God is to provide the follower of Christ with the motivation to show mercy to his enemy. We are to treat others as God has treated us.
(5) Do unto others in the same way you want God to do to you.
We have already seen that we are to deal with men as God has dealt with us. Now we must press this even further so that we deal with men in such a way that determines how God will deal with us in the future. This is not an easy principle to grasp, but the Lord Jesus taught that the way we treat others determines how God will treat us. In the “Lord’s Prayer” Jesus taught that we are to ask God:
“‘AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS, AS WE ALSO HAVE FORGIVEN OUR DEBTORS’” (Matt. 6:12).
Lest we fail to grasp what this means, our Lord explains,
“For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:14-15).
God deals with us in the same way that we deal with others. God judges us according to the standard we use for others (Matt. 7:1-2). When we deal with men in mercy, God deals with us according to mercy. When we demand our rights, that is, justice, then God gives us justice (what we deserve) too. So, Jesus taught that God deals with us in the same way we deal with others, including our enemies:
“And do not pass judgment and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you shall not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour into your lap. For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return (Luke 6:37-38).
Here it is, then. While ordinary men live ordinary lives, Christians are to live supernatural lives. While ordinary men love those who love them, Christians are to love those who hate them. And they can do so because they look to God for their reward, not to men. Christians can be taken advantage of by men because God is the one who blesses and rewards them. Christians can engage in a kind of “deficit spending” of love because God will always replenish the supply.
These words of our Lord are indeed difficult and perplexing, but their essence is clear. We are to do what no one else will do—love our enemy. We are to do so because God has loved us while we were His enemies. We are to do so because God is the One who will bless us for obeying His commands.
We know from the gospels that our Lord practiced what He preached. He loved His enemies and He went the extra mile on the cross of Calvary. He provided, at His expense, the way of salvation for men. Through the cross of Christ men can be transformed from enemies to intimate friends (cf. Ephesians 2).
There are a number of ways in which our text could be misinterpreted and misapplied. Let me say that this text was not written to suggest or to sanction the abuse of our Lord’s disciples by evil men. This text was not written for the thief, to sanction his taking of our coat or our shirt. This text was not written to justify borrowing money and not paying it back. While there will always be those who will use such texts to demand unreasonable things from Christians, this was obviously not our Lord’s intent. He was advocating the overcoming of evil with good, not the practice of evil against the good.
This text also surfaces the fact that we often act out of unrealistic expectations. Much of our acts of “love” done toward others is very selfishly motivated. We love others in order to be loved in return. We give in order to receive. We do good, so that good will be done to us. We serve on the basis of expected reciprocity. Whether or not we continue to serve and to love others is conditioned by how they respond toward, by how must we get back from them in return. Our Lord’s words are intended to show such thinking as utterly mistaken. We must serve others, expecting nothing in return from them, but assured that we will receive our reward from God. And the beauty of God’s grace is that He rewards us far beyond that which we deserve. He rewards in accordance with His grace and His riches.
I personally believe that much of the so-called “burn-out” in ministry is simply people who are angry with men (and with God) because there has not been any reciprocity, and return for our sacrifices and service. This kind of burn-out is based upon self-interest and self-seeking, not on the obedience of a true disciple of Christ. Let us forsake our expectations of receiving our rewards from men.
I have already indicated that our Lord’s concept of “tough love” is vastly different from that which is often propagated in the name of Christianity today. “Tough love,” as it is commonly spoken of, is love that is tough on others, love that looks out for one’s own interests. Biblical “tough love” is that which is tough on us, the lover, and which is merciful to others, even our enemies. You will not find our text in most books which deal with “tough love” because our Lord’s words condemn what is popularly taught.
This leads me to a final word of advice about the way we listen to sermons and the way we read “Christian counsel books.” We have a tendency to quickly accept the “sounds good to me” advice and counsel, that advice which conforms to our own sinful tendencies and preferences. Of course we don’t want to be taken advantage of by evil men. Naturally we do not want to return good for evil. And thus we quickly look for reasons which we should not have to do what Jesus has taught here.
But let me remind you that God’s thoughts are not man’s thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. Therefore, we should expect that much of what our Lord has to say is going to be hard to accept. Truth is going to initially be reacted to. Only after much thought and prayer can we see that the hard things are exactly what our Lord meant, and what our fallen nature wants to reject. The corollary to this is that false teaching, that which makes things easy on us, is going to “sound good” to us, and be accepted without a great deal of critical thought. Let us beware of that teaching which “sounds good” to us too quickly. The renewing of our minds requires that our thinking change into conformity with God’s Word. Hard to hear or not, let us listen to what our Lord has taught us in this passage.