- Imagine yourself sitting in a waiting room with a single door opening out onto a hallway. You are alone in the room when you hear footsteps coming down the hall. They are closer and closer. The door knob turns and into the room walks the person or persons you love more than anyone else in the whole world. Who do you see?
- Imagine yourself back in the room a second time. Alone, waiting, and hearing footsteps. The door opens and in walks the person or persons you hate the most in the whole world. If ever you had an enemy, this is the enemy. Who do you see?
- Now listen as Jesus talks to all of us about the people who just walked into our imagination. The words are recorded in Luke 6:27-36 on page 1601.
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 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.
“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. 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 sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
- Jesus said many surprising things but few as revolutionary as what we’ve just heard.
The ancient Lawgiver Hamurabbi emphasized getting even when he wrote “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” If you knock out my tooth or blind my eye, then I should inflict the same back on you.
Jewish Rabbis, Greek philosophers, and even Confucius all taught that you should not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. That is a high and demanding ethical standard. If you don’t like your enemy doing bad things to you, then don’t do bad things to your enemy.
In modern America we have come up with a less honorable ethic. It is the New Golden Rule which says that “he who has the gold sets the rules.”
- Jesus’ Golden Rule was radically different than anything anyone else has ever taught. Remember that he was teaching people living under an oppressive Roman military occupation. They hated the Romans, usually with solid justification. What Jesus taught sounded wrong – – immoral and traitorous.
- Even today, anyone who is not upset by Jesus’ teaching probably doesn’t get it.
Jesus’ Golden Rule Luke 6:27-28, 31
Love your enemies
- Jesus started with a powerful punch: “Love your enemies.” For the Jew, this meant the Romans. For citizens of Northern Ireland, it means to love Catholics and Protestants. For the people of war-ravaged former Yugoslavia, it means Muslims and Serbs. For people everywhere it includes murderers, rapists, child abusers, thieves, cheaters, hit-and-run drivers, slanderers, and politicians who stand for everything you hate.
- In modern America the list may include:
The boss who makes work miserable
The former spouse who turned a child custody battle into the worst experience of your life
The teenager who tore your family apart
The teacher who falsely accused you of cheating and got you kicked out of school
The minister who turned your friends against you
The next door neighbor who repeatedly threatens you and your family
The creditor who drove you into bankruptcy
The physician whose malpractice stole your health and left you in pain
The stockbroker who lost your life savings
The fiancé who was unfaithful and broke your heart
The lover who gave you a disease that can’t be cured; the bully who beat up your child.
- Jesus says that these are the people we Christians are to love. But how am I supposed to love someone I don’t even like?
- The Greeks had several different words for love. The word used to quote Jesus doesn’t refer to the romantic love a man and woman have for each other, nor the love between a parent and child or the best of friends. The Greek word “agapan” refers not to feelings but to actions.
- Jesus called his followers to choose to love their enemies. Even if I dislike my enemy, Jesus tells me to treat that enemy to get God’s best. I find this a little easier, although still very difficult. But it is also a psychological and practical reality that repeated actions of good toward another person often change attitudes toward good as well.
- The Golden Rule of Jesus is to always treat others the way you would want them to treat you. If you hurt them, what would you want them to do? If you were the enemy, the bad guy, the liar, the cheater, the assailant, the abuser or accuser – – – how would you want to be treated? That’s the way to treat an enemy.
Do good to those who hate you
This includes doing good to those who hate you. I’m not sure I’ve ever really hated anyone in my life but I’ve had a few people who have acted like they hated me. The reasons aren’t important any more but the experience grew me a great deal.
One person in particular let it be known that he hated me. He never said it to me but he told others. I never really understood why – – it probably had more to do with him than it did with me.
I asked to meet with him to try to find resolution and peace. It was not a positive experience. Almost everything I said seemed to be misunderstood and made matters worse.
When someone is upset with me I tend to become hurt more than angry. It was a long painful experience stretching over years.
I tested this advice of Jesus. I looked for every opportunity to do this person good, to speak well of him, to refer business his way, to befriend his family.
It worked! His attitude changed. My attitude changed. An apparent enemy became a friend.
- Not that it will always work. Probably most times it doesn’t end up as well. But, it’s still the right thing to do. “Do good to those who hate you.”
Bless those who curse you
- And “bless those who curse you.” Maybe this is more difficult. When someone curses you, they wish the worst for you.
- Picture someone shouting in your face “God damn you!” or “You go to hell!” which are probably the two most common curses an enemy is likely to give. Can you choose to bless that person in return – – – either directly with kind words or indirectly by choosing goodness and happiness for the one who cursed you.
- By the way, the manner in which this is done is very important. It is possible to reply sarcastically to the person who curses you saying “Yeah and God bless you and send you straight to heaven, preferably soon!” Instead, Jesus speaks of genuinely wishing the best blessing on the person who lays the worst curse on you.
Pray for those who mistreat you
- Then, “pray for those who mistreat you.” That is not the natural choice. Usually our prayers are primarily for those in our family, those we love and those who are important to us. In fact, that’s one of the ways I know the love and commitment people have for the church – – – when they tell me that they regularly pray for Wooddale Church.
- Jesus invites us to pray for those who mistreat us. If I may again use a perfect example, I have found it a spiritually powerful experience to pray for God to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against me. Instead of praying for them to be punished, pray for them to be forgiven and blessed.
- If you have a written daily prayer list, include:
The boss who under pays you
The judge who rendered an unjust verdict in your case
The neighborhood kids who vandalize your house
The obscene caller who won’t stop phoning
- “Pray for those who mistreat you.”
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Or, to sum up Jesus’ revolutionary teaching, figure out how you want to be treated when you are on your worst behavior and then “do to others as you would have them do to you”
Three practical examples Luke 6:29-30
For those who think that Jesus is joking or can’t quite translate his teaching into everyday life, he offers three practical examples:
When hit in the face
- Example #1 is when an enemy hits you in the face. When someone slaps you on the right side of your face, let him hit the other side of your face. Literally? Perhaps, but probably not.
- This actually happened to Jesus. During one of the trials that led to Jesus’ crucifixion an official slapped Jesus across the face. Jesus did not turn his other cheek to be slapped as well (John 18:22 ff). Instead, Jesus asked why he was slapped and if he had done something wrong.
- What Jesus was saying was “don’t hit back.” When an enemy attacks a Christian, the Christian trusts God not his right fist.
- Example #2 is either a robbery or a lawsuit. Under first century law you could lose your inner tunic in a lawsuit but not your outer cloak. But suppose a plaintiff illegally goes for both? Or, suppose a thief steals one and then returns to steal the other?
- Jesus says – – let him have it. Whoa! If everyone really lived this way we would end up with a lot of very poor completely naked Christians and a lot of very rich well-dressed everybody else.
- Jesus is not suggesting we abandon our legal rights. He is saying that giving in can be a powerful demonstration of Christian love. Show the enemy that people are more important than things. It often takes far greater strength to give in than to fight back.
- In some cases, the Christian thing to do is to surrender it all as an evidence of obedience to God and love for enemy.
- Example #3 is about lending money and getting paid back. Jesus talks about a situation where someone asks you to lend money. The person has a legitimate need and you have money to lend. But, that person has never been especially nice or generous to you. What are you going to do? Jesus says, lend the money. And, what if the person pays back the principal but not the interest? Jesus says, let it go and don’t get a bad attitude over it.
- In other words, be generous. Generosity is always a mark of a Christian. True Christians always delight to help others with what they have. Besides, Christians aren’t supposed to be all that attached to money anyway. We hold money and possessions with a very loose grip.
- To quote Jesus one more time: “Do to others as you would have them do to you!”
- That’s what Jesus says, but we all have a question: “WHY?” What on earth is the rationale for this very different approach to the way we treat people, especially our enemies? Jesus explains . . . .
Reason? Be like God! Luke 6:32-36
There are two very different types of people when it comes to human relationships. There are those who are not like God, called sinners. They are not special.
There are those who are like God, called Christians. They are very special.
- Not special people love those who love them. Really, everybody does, Christians and non-Christians. It is easy and natural and normal to love the people who like you, love you, and are always nice to you. It’s good to do, but not particularly special.
- Not special people do good to those who do good to them. This is great! Everybody should do good to those who are good to them. If you are nice to me, I should be nice to you. If I’m nice to you, you should be nice to me. It’s the way you expect everyone to be, but not very unusual and not very special.
- Not special people lend money for a profit. It’s good business to lend out your money and get fully repaid with interest. Who wouldn’t? Smart! But not special. Really quite common and ordinary. Billions of people do it all the time.
- But, Christians are different. Christians are very special. If you are a Christian, you love your enemies, you do them good, and you even lend money you don’t get back. That’s unusual. That’s uncommon. That’s special. That’s Christian.
- That is just like God. God loves those who hate him. God gives to those who never give anything back. God blesses those who curse him. God seeks the good of those who won’t even believe he exists. God is very special and those who live the Golden Rule are just like God.
Do you know the story of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables? Besides a classic bestselling book it has been repeatedly performed on the stage, in movies and on TV.
It is the story of a French man who was sent to prison and hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread. He was hardened and harsh from his terrible prison experience. When he escaped from prison he was given overnight shelter in the home of a Roman Catholic bishop. What did the escaped convict do in return for the bishop’s hospitality? He stole the bishop’s silver candlesticks. But it wasn’t long before he was captured by the police who asked the bishop to identify him and reclaim his stolen property. In an amazing Christ-like act of compassion and generosity, the bishop simply insisted that the silver candlesticks were his gift to his guest. The prisoner went free, his life eventually transformed by the love and grace of God through one Christian man who did what Jesus commanded.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 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.
8/2/98 Wooddale Church, Copyright, Leith Anderson, 1998.