Today we are going to talk about how we handle our enemies. The topic reminds me of an awesome story. A man who had reached his 100th birthday was being interviewed by a reporter. “What are you most proud of?” the reporter asked. “Well,” said the man, “I don’t have an enemy in the world.” “What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!” said the reporter. “Yep,” added the man, “I outlived every last one of them.” Is that your approach? You just determine to outlast them all? Just hang on and eventually they will all die? Is that your idea of victory or revenge over your enemies? What does Jesus say?
Luke 6:27-31–27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Wow. Anyone sense a challenge coming? How do you handle your enemies? Maybe your approach is like this guy:
Late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Nebraska, a weary truck driver pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather jacketed motorcyclists – of the Hell’s Angels type – decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his French fries, and the third picked up his coffee and began to drink it.
How would you respond? Well, this trucker did not respond as one might expect. Instead, he calmly rose, picked up his check, walked to the front of the room, put the check and his money on the cash register, and went out the door. The waitress followed him to put the money in the till and stood watching out the door as the big truck drove away into the night.
When she returned, one of the bikers said to her, “Well, he’s not much of a man, is he?” She replied, “I don’t know about that, but he sure ain’t much of a truck driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out of the parking lot.”
Is that your first instinct? To get back, to get even, to have the last word, to hurt someone like they hurt you? Do you choose to take things to the next level and escalate the situation?
That may be human instinct and the natural response, but as Christ-followers, we are called to demonstrate a supernatural response when people wrong us.
Would you agree that it takes supernatural strength to love your enemies? To do good to those who what you, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who mistreat you? Those aren’t the natural responses for any of us. Jesus doesn’t even suggest the option of just staying away from those people and of trying to avoid them. Wouldn’t that be a plausible solution? Just cut ties. It’s not even always possible, right? You might work with someone you perceive as an enemy. You probably can’t just quit your job. What about the enemy on the school bus or down the street? If you faithfully follow Jesus, I guarantee you will have enemies just because of your affiliation with Him! Here Jesus is commanding us to find a way to lovingly engage with our enemies.
Luke 6:32ff goes on to say: 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 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.
What Luke is telling us is that loving those who love us doesn’t demand supernatural strength. When we love people who love us, when we are in a reciprocal relationship with someone, which means we are receiving from them what we are also giving to them, that doesn’t require a different way of thinking or being. It comes naturally to reciprocate or to give back what we are receiving. Even non-Christians do that. That isn’t anything special or Jesus-like.
Another scenario might simply be that we are kind to strangers. Maybe we have learned to value kindness or to understand that kindness opens doors and gives us favor with other people. So, we choose to be kind to strangers, to people who aren’t necessarily investing in us, but they are people we have a momentary interaction with and instead of being jerks to them or demanding of them, we simply relate kindly with them. That doesn’t really require sacrifice or a special approach. It’s just in our best interest.
But treating our enemies as friends? Doing good to people who have hurt us, who have made life difficult for us, who have been mean to us, who have trashed us, who have gone out of their way to make life miserable for us? That isn’t something we can do without God’s help. How do we even receive a desire or capacity to do what is being asked of us?
We’re told in the passage to pray for our enemies. Listen, prayer invites the power of God into your life, to transform you, not to necessarily to change the enemy, to change the circumstance, but to supernaturally transform you into the kind of person who can engage like Jesus with people who act like Satan.
You will never want to love your enemy, do good to your enemy, or bless your enemy if you first haven’t prayed for your enemy. Yes, pray that God will help them see the destructive and evil patterns in their life, yes, pray that God will soften their hearts and give them a spirit of repentance, yes, pray for the transformation of their will and character, but first pray that God will give you the heart of Jesus for people you consider to be your enemies. None of what Jesus is asking of us is possible without a Jesus-heart.
Luke 6:31 says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Here is the Golden Rule. There may be people who perceive you as an enemy even though you haven’t knowingly perpetrated any harm upon them. They may view you as a threat just because of your position or because of something someone else has unfairly said about you. How would you want those people to treat you?
You want to be treated respectfully, kindly, compassionately, right? That is the way God is telling us to treat even those we could rightfully call our enemy.
35 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 children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
What does Luke mean when he says we are to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful. Do you realize that the Bible says that at one time, all of us who are now children of God, were God’s enemies? Romans 5:10, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”
We may not understand our position as an enemy of God when we are born, but that’s the way God sees us. Sin makes us enemies with God, but God didn’t distance Himself from us. He came close in the person of Jesus Christ to reveal the deep love of God. What if God had decided He would cut ties with every sinner? We would be without hope for eternal life forever. His heart for us, while we were yet sinners, while we were His enemies, compelled Him to reach for us. We are supposed to cultivate that same God-like, Jesus-like heart.
The next time you read through the Gospels, notice how Jesus interacted with Judas. He never slighted Judas. He never had an unkind word for Him. It even seemed at times, that Judas got better treatments and more special love from Jesus than some of the other disciples. Jesus KNEW what Judas would do to betray Him, and it didn’t impact the way He loved him. He washed Judas’s feet, just like He washed the rest of the disciples’ feet on the night before Judas’s betrayal.
Jesus also called Saul, the murderer and imprisoner of Christians, an enemy of Christ and His Church, Jesus called Saul to Himself. He called Saul into a special relationship with Him. An elevated position in His Church! He redeemed Saul even though Saul had violently attacked God’s people. He gave Saul a huge Kingdom promotion even though Saul hadn’t shown any promise of being able to do the job. His track record would suggest that he would wreck the efforts of the apostles to established and expand the Church. In spite of that, Jesus transformed Saul’s life and mission. Saul became Paul and went on to lead the many evangelistic efforts that are recorded in the New Testament. Someone who was an enemy of Jesus became His friend, His follower, and a founder of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Jesus blessed those who crucified Him. He prayed for their forgiveness in Luke 23:34. That had to be a new experience for Jesus’ torturers. This wasn’t their first rodeo. They had done many a crucifixion. None of the victims had been willing. Certainly, none prayed for them. Jesus should have cursed them, but He blessed them instead. God’s love is truly extravagant.
What did Jesus mean when He spoke of lending to your enemies without getting anything back? First of all, people didn’t borrow money in that day the way we do today. They didn’t live on credit. They weren’t encouraged to get a credit card in their early 20’s so that they could “establish” good credit. Borrowing wasn’t a regular practice. People only borrowed when they were down and out, when they had a calamity or crisis. It wasn’t something people did quickly or entered into lightly. In that case, Jewish families were quick to pitch in and help each other out.
Jesus’ words here about lending to an enemy were really an opportunity to show compassion on someone when they were at their lowest point, when they were down and out. One reality of life in the first century was that there was actually a debtor’s prison. If someone lent money and it wasn’t repaid and didn’t seem likely that it would be, the person who lent the money could have the person put into a debtor’s prison until he could pay his debt. It’s pretty unlikely that someone in prison, who now can’t work to make any money, is going to be able to pay that debt. So, family and friends would have to ante up to take care of the debt. But what if the person in prison had no family or friends? What then?
Here was an invitation to the Christian, the one who has been persecuted by the person in prison, to lend the money to the enemy to get him released. Whether the Christian was repaid or not, this was an opportunity to love someone with no hope of ever being rewarded or repaid for doing so. That’s true mercy. That is God-like. Who among us could ever repay Jesus for the debt He paid to free us? Jesus was teaching about more than love. He was teaching people about mercy. Mercy, not just when it is useful and gains you an advantage. Mercy, not just when it is convenient and costs you nothing. Mercy, not just when the recipient is worthy to receive it. Mercy is never justified. It is simply given freely.
Let me quickly address verse 29 so that no one leaves here with the wrong idea. It says, If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. The Bible isn’t advocating for you to allow yourself to be physically abused. What it actually refers to is when someone insults you, don’t respond back in kind. You have probably heard the phrase, “Well, that was a slap in the face.” That is the sentiment that is being expressed here. There is no Christ-like reason to resort to insulting someone back when you are insulted. Jesus suffered this kind of treatment on the regular. He was called a glutton a drunk, an illegitimate child, a blasphemer, and a madman, just to list a few derogatory comments. He didn’t respond to any of them.
Let me clear up another point in today’s text that could leave you feeling unsettled. Here is the second part of verse 29 again: If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
Jesus isn’t advocating for criminals to just run free. If you are robbed call the police. The reason the language of Jesus is over the top is to help us see that our call is to love generously. We don’t dismiss the laws in favor or random chaos, but we do what we can to be generous with all people, even if that person has wronged us. When your enemy seeks to take from you, whether a job or a material possession or a relationship or whatever, our call is still to love. That is Jesus’ simple point. If you have an opportunity to treat an enemy as a friend, that is the way of Christ.
If asked to summarize Jesus’ words in our text for today, I think I would say that as disciples of Christ, we are called to radically love our enemies, to be radical in our responses to them, and to be radical in the way we reach to them with God’s love.
It’s radical to love your enemy. It is radical to refrain from responding when someone does you harm. It is radical to go out of your way for someone who has been mean and antagonistic toward you. This is the way Jesus has loved us, and because He did, we are no longer God’s enemies. He now calls all who have received Him, His friends!
A Christian lady owned two prized chickens that got out of their run and busied themselves in the garden of the lady’s rather grouchy neighbor. The man was incensed when he saw the 2 hens. So, he ran out, caught the hens, wrung their necks, and threw them back over the fence. As you can imagine, the woman was upset, but she avoided her urge to get angry and rush over and scream at the man.
Instead, she took the birds, dressed them out, and prepared two chicken pies. Then she delivered one of the freshly baked pies to the man who had killed her hens. When she handed him the chicken pot pie, she apologized to him for not being more careful about keeping her chickens in her own yard.
Her children, expecting an angry scene, hid behind a bush to see the man’s face and hear what he’d say. But the man was absolutely speechless! The chicken pie and apology filled him with a burning sense of shame, and he apologized to her for reacting so harshly.
Who is it that has pushed your buttons, hurt your feelings, been mean-spirited toward you, threatened you, belittled you, or talked negatively about you to others? Pray for them, bless them, assist them, and do the good you would do to them if they were your friend. In the end, they just might turn out to be.
If you only love those who love you, you haven’t distinguished yourself as a Christ-follower. You look like every other human on the planet. God’s people are supposed to be peculiar. They are to stand out. They do so as they reflect the character of Jesus, and that is the character of love. Oh God, give us a Jesus-heart to love even the most difficult of people in the midst of the most difficult circumstances.