In Luke 6:17-49, Luke gives us his representation of the more well known Sermon on the Mount. Since Luke was written later, this is more than likely a compilation of much of Jesus’ teaching with a lot of being delivered on the Plain as Luke describes here.
What especially stuck out to me in my reading this morning is Jesus’ teaching of love and mercy. Fundamental to ethics is love — not a love like the world’s, but a unique love that endures. These exhortations are expressed with reference to enemies in verses 27-28, from a human perspective in verse 31, and as a divine standard as in verse 35. Love evidences mercy, just like the Father, so that the result is a hesitation to judge and a readiness to forgive.
Four exhortations in verses 27 and 28 make the key point. The special objects of love are one’s enemies. The love Jesus commands is not an abstract love tucked away in the person’s inner recesses, but a love that demonstrates itself in concrete action. The disciple should do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, and pray for those who abuse them. The exhortations expect action, not just a private expression to God. In the context of rejection, Jesus calls for extraordinary trust in God. Disciples should reflect such love constantly.
Lest there be any doubt that Jesus calls his followers to active, visible love for their enemies, four illustrations guarantee that this is his focus. Turning the cheek pictures a person slapped on the cheek in rejection. Numerous examples of this kind of use of violence appear in Acts. Yet the early church consistently turned the other cheek by continuing to share the gospel with those who rejected them. They have never fought back in kind, but attempted to overcome evil with good.
To exemplify love in a hostile world is difficult. It takes a supernatural perspective and a change of thinking. The world is used to dealing with people either on the basis of power, utility, or equal exchange. The idea of simple service and unconditional love are not in vogue. When Jesus calls us to love our enemies, I have a hard time seeing that love in the way we communicate with those who possess different values from our own. We must hold to our convictions while communicating a sensitive, loving concern. The world may misunderstand us, but that does not allow us to be insensitive or to harbor misunderstanding towards them.
Love, doing good, blessing, and praying for those who are our enemies also assumes another reality, that we are in relational contact with the outside world. The ability to be struck on the cheek means we are in striking distance and have risked making the effort to have contact. The fortress mentality that sometimes invades the church is a form of retreat, as well as a denial of what Jesus calls for from disciples in this sermon. It is an abandonment of the very relational ground that can turn a Saul into a Paul. To give to those who beg means we know where they can be found. To love as we wish to be loved means acknowledging the dignity of other people as made in the image of God. To love in a way that does not reflect some personal payback is to offer the world a different kind of love that is not based on what the self receives but on what we can give. It is to love in a way different from sinners.
Sadly, often we cannot love so selflessly even within the community of God, much less to our enemies. By failing to love, we fail to reveal the loving and merciful character of God. Perhaps one reason evangelism fails is because people cannot see the grace of God evidenced in the church’s relationship to herself. To accomplish such an outreach and evidence such love means to depend totally on the Father, who will reward those who reflect his character to a needy but hostile world.
The connection between God’s blessing and our ability to love should not be missed. Because of his blessing to us and our appreciation for him, we are able to love others. Because he gave, we can give. Because we know the joy of receiving from him, we are motivated to give to others. The actions Jesus calls for in his sermon apply to others what he has already applied to us. The deeper our understanding and appreciation of what God has done, the better prepared we will be to reflect his character to others.
Bock, Darrell L. “Contemporary Significance” In NIV Application Commentary, New Testament: Luke. By Darrell L. Bock, 197-198. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1996.