27"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
37"Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. 38Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return."
- Luke 6:27-38
In my opinion, this is the scariest passage in the Bible. Many think that the most frightening verses might be in the book of Revelation, for example. The pit and the dragon and the lake of fire and all that business. Others might refer to II Peter 3, where Peter talks about the end of the world or perhaps Matthew 24 as Jesus describes the terrible suffering and horror of the destruction of Jerusalem and his final coming in glory and power.
These other passages disturb us because of their dramatic imagery. But since they talk about things that have either already happened or will happen sometime in the future, it's easy to blow them off when the reality of this world comes crashing in when we leave the building.
But when I read Luke 6:27-38, I feel uncomfortable, challenged, even frightened for various specific reasons.
1. The demands are personal
In the first few words of the passage, there is no mistaking to whom Jesus is talking. He says, but I say to you who hear. Well, there are two people involved here and one implied idea.
There is Jesus, who is speaking and specifying that these are his words. These are his commands. And then there's the listener, the one who was there in person.
And then every person who reads these words. He is saying, I'm talking to you. I'm not talking about some existential idea up there about people in general. No, I'm talking directly to you. If you're somebody who hears, then I'm talking to you.
There is the understanding that if you claim to be a disciple, if you claim to be a believer, if you claim to be one who wears the name Christian, then you're the one who hears.
This passage is scary because Jesus is making it personal. He directly confronts all of his disciples and he forces them to deal with what he is saying here. So I'm a little shaky because Jesus is dealing with me on a personal level. Again, this is not some sort of broad doctrinal statements, open to interpretation and fine tuning. He's talking directly to me, very openly and very forcefully.
2. The demands are radical
Every commentary I read about this verse spends most of the time trying to water down or rationalize the things that Jesus is saying here. No wonder. Look at the things the Lord is saying for his disciples to do.
Loving their enemies - vs. 27-35
Not just loving enemies like at arms' length, like maybe not wishing them harm or maybe sending food packages or giving donations to people who have been at war with you in the past. Let's send money to Vietnam because we were at war with Vietnam for a time, or let's send money to Afghanistan because we were at with Afghanistan for a time. He's asking disciples to love their enemies up close and personal.
- Do good to those who hate you. Not just people that bug you. People that hate you.
- Bless (say good things) about those who say bad things about you. You say good things about people who say bad things about you.
- Pray for those who have done bad things to you in the past. They've cheated you, they've lied about you, they've hurt you in some way. You know what? I'm not trying to be mean-spirited here but I have never seen a prayer request card come up and have one of our elders say, well, I have a blue card here. And sister so-and-so wants us to pray for sister other so-and-so over here, because she ruined her reputation or stole money from her, or spoke badly about her or whatever. And she wants to pray for her enemy openly. I've never heard cards come in with us praying for people that hate us.
- Return good for evil - Turning the other cheek, giving the coat, don't demand back what is taken away from you. Resisting the impulse of giving as good as you get, or getting even, or not fighting fire with fire or violence with violence or cheating with cheating.
- Give to people, even evil ones without expecting that they give back to you in the same way or what you deserve.
Jesus is commanding disciples to do this towards their enemies. In addition to this,
Be Merciful - vs. 36-37
To our enemies, we should do good. To all, we should be merciful. He explains the nature of the mercy we are to practice towards all people. We're not to judge or condemn. We are to be forgiving. Sometimes our family and friends hurt us or annoy us or disappoint us. And when that happens, we're not to judge, he says. We're not to condemn, he says. We're to forgive them.
Forgiveness is an automatic response that we should have to people who harm us. Loving our enemies and being merciful to everyone else is radical because if you do this, it would mean a radical change.
- It removes from our lives the reason or excuse or rationalization for revenge of any kind.
- It makes us completely vulnerable to those who would insult us or take advantage of us.
- The idea is that our only response to evil is good, not violence, not threats or worse evil.
- We can see what fighting fire with fire has done to the political discourse in our nation.
- It would see us always obliged to forgive and seek reconciliation whether the other person asked or deserved it or not. That's crazy.
I don't know about you, but this would require a radical change in my own life.
I like to get even. Forgive me, but I like to get even. I don't want someone to hurt me without paying some kind of price. I need to feel secure that no one will insult or hurt or cheat or take my position without a fight. I will forgive, but only if the other person repents and asks for my forgiveness. Okay, then I'm ready to forgive.
The changes that Jesus asks for, they're radical because they strike at every core of my pride and my security as a human being. They ask me to humble myself, to become completely vulnerable and to take on a gentleness that is completely foreign to me. And I don't know about you, but that's scary. That makes me afraid.
The third reason why this passage is the scariest in the Bible.
3. It's impossible
We may have grasped these ideas in our heads, but have you connected with the reality of what this passage means? Can you love and say good things about people you know hate you and have done bad things to you? Can you do nothing if someone slaps you in the face? How about if they insult your wife, can you do nothing? How about they cheat your child out of a deserved prize? Can you then turn the other cheek? Can you give every time someone asks?
I keep some small change in my car because there's always some guy at the corner with a sign "Starving, please. I need food. We're starving to death." And in your mind, you think well this guy's probably going to go out and just buy a beer or do something nasty or whatever. But I'm thinking, give when they ask you. So I give them some change but I don't do it every time because sometimes all I got on me is a 20. "Whoops, the light changed. Sorry."
Can you forgive and love those who don't care if you forgive them and tell you so? It's one thing when the other person says, I'm so sorry. I would never hurt you. I was just upset and I wasn't thinking, and the words just came. Please forgive. And you know, you go, well. Okay, come here. Let's have a hug. That guy I can forgive. What about the guy that says, I don't give a rip how you feel. Keep your forgiveness. You know what you can do with your forgiveness? I don't know about that guy. I don't know how much I'm going to be able to forgive that guy. If someone borrows something, can you not demand it back, even if you need it?
Can you just say good things about people, even people you don't like?
This passage is scary because it's impossible. Who can be like this all the time? The answer, nobody. Nobody can be like this all the time. So it's pretty scary when the Lord commands us to do something that's impossible. So if it's impossible, then why did Jesus say that we should do this? A couple of more reasons:
A. Jesus is weeding out the true disciples from the fakes.
The person who hears these words and thinks he is already doing them or can do them is a self-righteous fool. Yeah, I can do that. No problem. You're living in a dreamland, my friend. The person who hears these words and thinks that they are impossible to do and quits the Lord is one who has no faith. But the one who hears the words, ignores them and calls himself a Christian anyways, he's a hypocrite. He's saying, ah, he didn't really mean that. It's not really for me. But the person who hears the words and sees that they are beyond him or her and cries out to God for help, this is the person who truly hears. This is the person who truly understands. This is the true disciple.
Can you not hear the words of the father whose son was ill and nobody could cure him. And Jesus says, if you believe, and he says, I believe, but help my disbelief.
Can you not just hear that cry of anguish from that father? Okay, I believe. I believe anything. Please take care of my son. What is he saying? I know I have to believe, but I can't get there. I can't get there, Lord. Please help me get there.
Jesus gives these words to weed out the fakes, the hypocrites and the fools.
B. Jesus is giving us a glimpse of the kingdom that is fully developed in us.
It's a preview. These words represent a person who is totally dependent on God, totally vulnerable, totally removed from this world while still in it, totally filled with love for others without regard for self. These words show the pure spirit of Christ as he was and as we can become through him. When he says these words, he's holding up an image, and he's saying, this is you in the future. This is who I want you and who I will enable you to become. He loved his enemies, Jesus did. He gave without thought of return.
He did not resist the evil he was sent to bear. He forgave those who hated him even while they were hating on him. In this passage, Jesus literally describes his own personality and the character that his disciples will eventually take on as they continue to follow him.
C. Jesus is challenging his disciples to believe that with God, all things are possible even the impossible.
Things like walking on water, things like eating his flesh and his blood, things like being a man or a woman of the kingdom. In a world without law and order, it would be impossible to be as vulnerable as this passage says. We'd be killed. We'd be robbed. We'd be crushed immediately. But God has provided law and government to protect and to render justice in this world.
And that law also protects Christians as well. It's not perfect, it's not evenly distributed, but it's there. Christians cannot seek revenge, but they can seek protection under the law. And they have a right to a fair justice that God has provided for everyone living in this world.
So we can practice the love of enemies and the doing of good within the context and the protection of law and order. In a world where we would have to provide for ourselves, freely giving without demanding a return would be foolish and costly, but God promises us that he will provide, not only for our needs, but also for our acts of giving as well (II Corinthians 9:8).
So we can practice charity with the assurance that God will provide the charity that we give.
In a world of payback, which is the only way to protect oneself in this world, where forgiveness is painful and seen as a sign of weakness, God offers his son, Jesus Christ, in public disgrace, as a sacrifice for your personal sins, to obtain your forgiveness.
This is done also as an example for you to follow. I ask you a question.
Has anyone ever had to suffer as much or endure as great a humiliation as Jesus in order to accomplish forgiveness?
When was the last time saying, I'm sorry, or please forgive me or I forgive you when was the last time this cost you as much as saying, I forgive you, cost Jesus? If you're ever in a situation where someone has harmed you and you're working on the strength to be able to forgive them, just compare what happened to you to what happened to him. Just compare how much is this costing me to forgive this person to what it costs Jesus to offer forgiveness to all of us. And it'll get things into spiritual perspective.
You see, Luke 6, these words are impossible without Christ, but with Christ, they become possible, even desirable, as we are changed into his character. You see, they're impossible for the earthly, human, temporal person, but these scary words become possible for the heavenly, spiritual, eternal beings that we are becoming in Christ Jesus.
The Lord is a weeding out his followers and he is continually doing this. We think, well, he was weeding out the apostles and those people in the first century, but the work of weeding out, of pruning continues to this day. He prunes churches. He prunes individuals. He prunes you. He prunes me. That work is always happening. If we could just kind of get our life into this context, that everything that happens in our lives is taking place through the sovereignty and the authority and the knowledge of God.
How is it serving us in our development as kingdom dwellers? That's the question we need to ask ourselves. Not, oh dear, because of this, I can't do this anymore in the world. Or I can't do that anymore in the world. Or I can't achieve this earthly objective. And we forget that that's not what we're about. We're about living in the kingdom. We're about building the kingdom. Everything that happens, happens to us according to what we are doing in the kingdom. And so even this lesson is a pruning process for those who hear.
So do you feel comfortable with these words, you, you people who are sitting here? Do you want to quit? Does it make you want to quit? Do you even hear them at all? Are you saying to yourself, Lord, help me. Lord, let me be able to do these things. Jesus, this is impossible to do without you. Is that what you're saying? Jesus gives us a scary passage. He gives us a difficult moment so we will be forced to let go of the possible, the probable, let go the just do it or no fear attitude of this world and cling to him in faith in order to achieve the spiritually radical and seemingly impossible things of our life in the kingdom.
If you need him for the impossibles in your life, then we encourage you to come forward now for prayer, for encouragement, for conversion and repentance and baptism. Whatever your need, remember the place to come to achieve these needs is at the feet of Jesus Christ.