Luke6v27to36: LOVE YOUR ENEMIES

(A) Introduction (Read the passage.) See also Mat5v38to48.

It is only by comparing the passage in Luke with the fuller version in Matthew's gospel that it is possible to understand what Jesus was teaching. The little group of sayings in Luke6v27to36 make very great demands upon the disciples of Jesus - so great that many Christians virtually ignore them. As a school teacher I may have occasionally set an exercise my pupils could not do so that they realised how much they still had to learn. A reader of Paul's epistle to the Romans could be forgiven for thinking this is why God gave his people the Law - to highlight their failure to keep it. I don't think this entirely true. The Ten Commandments can be kept! As a schoolteacher I learned very quickly that it was counterproductive to set homework that the majority of pupils could not do. It was demoralising and demotivating. Christ's commands must be 'doable' otherwise they are pretty pointless. The parable of the 'Wise and Foolish Builders' suggests that Jesus expects his follows to implement his teaching!

The four lessons that Jesus taught:

(B) The impartiality of love.

"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you." v27.

(1) The love Jesus referred to.

Jesus was not talking about what C.S. Lewis called the natural loves: affection, friendship or eros (romantic love). These are involuntary loves - they just happen. It is impossible to conjure up any of these loves or to have any of them for everyone. A man doesn't fall in love with every woman he meets!

In this passage Jesus uses a new word for love - agape. It is what G.B. Caird described as a gracious, determined and active interest in the true welfare of others. Agape involves the will and action but not necessarily the feelings although it may be activated by pity or compassion.

(2) How this love is shown.

The passages in Luke and Matthew give us a good idea how agape is exhibited: by doing good, helping out, being kind, prayer, greeting and chatting.

Jesus summed up the love that does these things as: "Doing unto others as you would have them do to you." v31. It is supremely a 'doing' love.

(3) What prompted Jesus' remark?

Matthew's gospel reveals what prompted Jesus' controversial remarks on love. Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'" Mt5v43.

Although the Scriptures urge the Jews to love their neighbour nowhere in the Old Testament are they commanded to hate their enemy. Jewish scholars defined 'neighbour' in such a way that it excluded a man's enemy and then argued that it was quite acceptable to hate that enemy. So the Samaritans, Romans and Greeks were enemies of the Jews and it was almost as God honouring to hate them, as it was to love your neighbour.

People in the Southern States of the U.S.A in the 19th century were exceptionally God fearing. However, they did not love their neighbour. In 1843 Elizabeth Blackwell, who later became the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the United States, taught for a while at Henderson in Kentucky. One incident considerably affected her. The mistress of the house where she was lodging was relaxing in her rocking chair one balmy Sunday morning listening to the distant church bells when her daughter appeared delightfully arraigned in all her finery ready to attend church. At the same moment a slave from the plantation arrived dressed in dirty rags and asked his mistress for a new shirt in which to attend his church. Elizabeth Blackwell wrote in her autobiography: 'The contrast of the two figures, the young lady and the slave, and the sharp reprimand with which his mistress from her rocking chair drove the slave away, left a profound impression on my mind. Kind as the people were to me personally, my sense of justice was continually outraged.'

The religious white people did not consider a slave was their neighbour. Even after slaves were freed white Christians did not necessarily treat blacks as their neighbours - excluding them from their churches.

In present-day England there are people who oppose giving aid to Africa. They say things like, "Charity should begin at home." In other words a poor and malnourished person in Africa is not their neighbour. I have heard others say on TV, "We shouldn't be giving benefits to asylum seekers. Our own people should come first." By this reckoning asylum seekers are not our neighbours either.

Jesus in his parable of the Good Samaritan made it clear that anyone in need is our neighbour irrespective of their colour or origins.

(4) The love that is kind and does good should be impartial.

Jesus leaves us in no doubt about this! He said: And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. v33. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. v35.

    (a) Before we dismiss this as being too difficult we should consider the principle upon which many voluntary organisations operate. The Mountain Rescue Service, Samaritans, Red Cross, RNLI and Hospice Movement do not pick and choose whom they help. They operate wherever there is a need. The RNLI will go to the aid of any vessel in distress. The brave men who volunteer for this service do so knowing that those they rescue can never repay them for their efforts.

    (b) Jesus expects us to operate like this on a personal level. In some ways this is harder than working for one of the voluntary organisations above. It doesn't always help to know the person in need! Jesus tells us that we must help and be kind to those who haven't always been good to us. We are asked to love those who dislike us. This means we shouldn't:

      (I) Avoid people we don't like or try to get rid of someone who is boring or stop greeting the less than friendly. My brother Philip used to be the village policeman in Exning. He often passed an old man working in his garden while on his beat. The first time my brother greeted him the old man spat. He hated policemen. Every time Philip passed the old man he smiled and wished him, "Good morning." The crusty gentleman eventually stopped spitting but said nothing. Then he responded to my brother's greeting with a grunt. Finally he graduated to a cheerful, "Good day to you constable." Eventually the old man was one of Philip's greatest supporters.

      (II) Just help the grateful and appreciative. For several years Jack attended our church. He was a most ungracious man. Whenever he got into a muddle he sent for my friend and fellow elder Edward. Jack was not kind to Edward! He sometimes belittled my friend. He considered himself twice the man that Edward was - especially when it came to spiritual matters! Over and over again Edward helped Jack in his hour of need and never a word of thanks. Edward would say to me sometimes, "That's the last time I'm going to sort out one of his muddles," but there never was a last time until Jack's death. It was left to Edward to arrange his funeral and clear his flat!

      (III) Give just to those from whom we expect to receive. Many years ago now an insurance agent called monthly at our house in Brockley to collect a small amount of money from my parents. Alf was kind to me. He would sometimes give me an old comic or an Ipswich Town Football Club program. When I started work Alf expected a return on his investment and I took out an insurance policy with his company. Better to be like Mr Snagsby in Dicken's novel, 'Bleak House,' who slipped an half-crown to Joe the crossing speaker whenever he had the chance. He wasn't going to get repaid! Not in this life!

(5) Why our love should be impartial.

Our love should be impartial because God's is. Jesus said: He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. v35 He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good .... . Mt5v45.

The love that God has and the love we should have is well illustrated by this true story that I have used elsewhere in my series of expositions. Stephen Brookes in his book, 'Through the Jungle of Death', describes how his father obeyed Jesus and showed love to his enemy. Stephen was fleeing with his family from Burma for India to escape the advancing Japanese during the Second World War. On their long trek from Mandalay to Shingbwiyang the Brookes family was ambushed by a group of Chinese soldiers who robbed them of much needed food and humiliated Major Brookes, Stephen's father. As they continued on their journey they passed from time to time a dead Chinese soldier. The sight did not elicit much sympathy in young Stephen still smarting from his ordeal. Eventually they came upon one who wasn't quite dead and was able to tap his open mouth - a plea for something to drink. The family passed by. Brookes writes: What followed next has inspired me all my life. For Father stopped on the trail and said to us: 'That Chinese soldier is about to die. We cannot go past without giving him some water. We must go back.'

No-one wanted to go back. The quarrel was bitter but eventually Major Brookes' family gave way and traipsed back to the dying man. Stephen was asked to pour water from the flask he was carrying into its metal lid. His Father held up the soldier's head and let him drink. Then he put the man's discarded bag under his head so that he was more comfortable. As the other members of the family turned away to retrace their steps Stephen became aware of his Father squatting beside the soldier saying something to him. The dying man watched him with dark, tired eyes. His face was relaxed, almost serene. Major Brookes was praying: 'The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want .... he maketh me to lie down in green pastures .... yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me ... .' Somehow the unintelligible foreign words spoken with such feeling and compassion brought peace to the soldier.

Stephen Brookes concludes his account by writing: As for me, I realised that I had misjudged my father, for he was a bigger man that I could ever have imagined. Even in his darkest hour he struggled to keep faith with his God and his Christian beliefs. There, by the dying Chinese soldier, Major Brookes was a true son of the Most High ... kind to the ungrateful and wicked. v35.

(C) Renounce the spirit of retaliation.

Matthew gives us Christ's teaching on this in full: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you: Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Mt4v38and39.

(1) What this doesn't mean.

Jesus is not asking us to abandon common sense! This provocative statement doesn't mean that:

    (a) A nation takes no action to defend itself from an aggressor or to prevent crimes against humanity like ethnic cleansing. It is no use talking softly and reasonably to leaders like Adolph Hitler - Neville Chamberlain tried that!

    (b) Society takes no steps to defend itself. If murder, rape, theft and fraud went unpunished then sadly there would be a lot more of it. The break down of law and order leads to anarchy and the survival of the fittest.

    (c) Individuals are never punished. It is necessary to punish children to discipline them. This is what the writer to the Hebrews believed. See Heb12v4to13. It was because this was widely accepted that the author of Hebrews could assert: The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. v6.

    Punishment can be redemptive - it can bring a man to his senses. A young man who I once taught in Sunday school went off the rails. He got married, drank too much and to fund his drinking habit pilfered 1000 from his employer. Although this was his first offence he was sentenced to a year in Norwich prison. It was the shock he needed. Since his release over 30 years ago he has set up his own business and been a model citizen.

(2) What it does mean.

    (a) On a personal level. Jesus warns us against the spirit of retaliation. A slap on the cheek is not life threatening. It is an unexpected hurt, an insult, humiliating, annoying and a blow to our pride.

    There used to be an advert on commercial TV in this country for a fizzy drink called Tango. It consisted of a mad orange creature running round and asking people if they had been 'Tangoed.' If the answer was, "No" the creature slapped the respondent in the face and said, "You have now." This caught on in a big way in schools! One boy - Peter Goodrum - had the temerity to come up to me in the playground and say, "Mr Reed have you been Tangoed?" and slap me hard on the cheek. Needless to say I slapped him back - harder!

    It is a natural reaction to slap back. If we are hurt we aim to get our own back - to make the offender pay - to pay back with interest.

    There is another TV advert running at this present time. I think it is for Toyota motorcars and it is based on the spirit of retaliation. The advert shows a lovely young woman flying her boyfriend's model aircraft and deliberately crashing it. Then there is a flashback to an earlier incident where the boyfriend gives the door of her beloved Toyota car a hard kick to close it.

    Jesus doesn't want us to be like this! He says, "Don't retaliate." This is one of Jesus' teachings that I have found very, very difficult to obey! It took me many years to realise that retaliation is wrong. My problem is that I tend to respond instantly to an unexpected hurt. If I give myself time to calm down I can usually avoid lashing out - but it is not something I find easy! I played competitive hockey for 50 years and acquired a reputation for giving as good as I got.

    (b) On a national level. I believe that Jesus' teaching on retaliation is relevant on a national level. It is permissible to win a war against an aggressor or criminal regime but it isn't permissible to operate on a tit for tat basis. Some historians claim that Churchill permitted the saturation bombing of Dresden in the Second World War to pay the German's back for the blitz on London. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed as Dresden went up in flames. It is unlikely that their deaths prevented many Allied casualties. If this was a simple matter of retaliation it does not redound to the glory of Britain. It would have been understandable but wrong to treat Japanese prisoners of war in the inhumane way that they treated British prisoners.

(3) Retaliation makes a bad situation worse.

This is why retaliation in sports like football is prohibited. Whenever the spirit of retaliation prevails in a game of football, violence escalates and the game ends in a brawl.

The same thing can happen in families and churches. Two people fall out over something trivial and this gives rise to an escalating series of reprisals. Before long others are drawn into the conflict, divisions harden and church unity is destroyed.

Retaliation is so often disproportionate. Dinah's brothers avenged the rape of their sister by putting to death every male in the city of Shechem. They justified their action to Jacob by saying: "Should he (Shechem) have treated our sister like a prostitute." Gen34v31. When Nabal rashly refused David's request for provisions during his days on the run David reacted by telling 400 of his men to put on their swords and set off to teach Nabal a lesson. It would have been a very painful lesson but for the intervention of Nabal's wife - the lovely Abigail.

It is so easy to overreact when we receive an unexpected hurt. When we fly off the handle for next to nothing we can do irreparable harm to our churches.

(4) Retaliation was not Christ's way.

In Isaiah we read: He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent so he did not open his mouth. Is53v7.

Jesus did not come to earth to pay men and women back for the sorrow they have caused God. He did not come to retaliate but to reconcile. Reconciliation is impossible without grace and forgiveness.

If we are upset by, and feel alienated from, a fellow Christian we need to show grace and forgive. If instead we retaliate there may be short-term satisfaction but there will be no lasting reconciliation. I like the story about the poet John Clare's childhood sweetheart, Mary Joyce. Once John hurt Mary Joyce by accidentally hitting her in the eye with a green walnut and because he did not want to be thought a sissy he laughed with the other boys who thought it funny. He brooded over the incident all night and the following morning waited anxiously at the churchyard gate until Mary Joyce arrived. There was no need to explain or apologise. She understood. He was forgiven.

For 60 years Japan has remained a staunch ally of the United States in spite of losing to that country in the Second World War. This must be due in part to the enlightened way that General McArthur managed the occupation of Japan between 1946 and 1952. Once the war was over the U.S.A adopted a spirit of reconciliation rather than one of retaliation. For example, the Japanese economy was sustained by a grant of 500 million dollars annually. The United States made a substantial contribution to the rebuilding of Japan - and it has paid off!

ANY COMMENTS FOR JOHN REED: E-mail jfmreed@talktalk.net

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