Sometimes people just want to know the rules for living. Children and young people test the limits of what they can get away with. They want to know the rules of the parents, the limits. Get a new job and you need to know what is expected of you, the boundaries. I talked to one woman who got a new job this week and she was just thrown into her new responsibilities with no training. We need to know. Jesus followers have gathered around him in Luke 6, and these are the rules. “Make a commitment to me” he says, “If you are going to play on my team ~ then you must love your enemies ~ and this is how you do it.”
Loving your enemies does not come naturally. The prayer we’d rather pray is expressed by a well known Irish Blessing I’m pretty sure God does not want us to pray:
May those who love us, love us;
and those who don’t love us,
may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
may he turn their ankles
so we’ll know them by their limping.
You might object and say there are people who don’t deserve respect, what they have done is so far off the charts Coach Jesus doesn’t get it. REALLY? You don't think he meant love your enemies only when it's easy do you? Jesus is speaking to the hardest situations when you are called to turn the other cheek, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you. Christianity is simpler than we imagine and more practical than we often realize.
Another way to understand today’s scripture ~ Jesus speaks to one of the most frustrating situations we face: we are hurt, we forgive, and nothing changes. Forgiveness is supposed to lead to a renewed relationship; but too often I am hurt, I forgive you, and your behavior doesn’t change. As a committed follower of Christ, as you engage with people, you will be hurt, /targeted, / neglected, / overlooked. Forgive those who hurt you, /neglect you, / take advantage of you, /causing stress and hell in your life ~ don’t seek revenge, don’t wish bad carma on them, don’t secretly desire they get what’s coming, don’t retaliate and escalate the fight. Forgive them. And if they choose to NOT change their attitude or behavior towards you…. love them anyway. Love your enemies.
Who is your enemy, anyway? Think about it. Jesus says “turn the other cheek,” “do good to those who hate you…” These are people who are close enough to you to slap you. I think Jesus is thinking primarily of the people in your life, not the Taliban half way across the world, that’s a different topic ~ Jesus is speaking to the difficult people in your life. This is not about a stranger robbing you so you turn around and give him more. You turn the other cheek to a person in your life, in your space, that is near to you! Maybe it’s your friends. Your children. Your spouse. Somebody in your church family…. If I read a letter to the editor blasting Christianity, I may not like it, but it doesn’t effect me personally, but if a close friend becomes critical ~ that hurts. If I am constantly critical of my children, I am my children’s enemy. I know a cruel man that keeps telling his wife she is fat. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” is an excellent rule for living out in the world, but when you apply the saying to a friend that has stabbed you, and every ounce of you wants to get even, then the saying can make you mad.
And it can be fun to feud. It gets the adrenaline going. Years ago a couple was not at all happy with me. I don’t want to tell you the problem, it was probably me! The sight of me made their stomach turn. I admit, on more than one occasion, when I’d see the couple at a public event, I’d go out of my way to see them squirm when they saw me! I was at an art show years ago at the PAC, it was crowded. I spotted them on the other side of the gym… as I walked towards them, sure enough, they soon spotted me. And I watched as they did an about face and went the other way… is that loving your enemies? I don’t think so. She had the last laugh on me, though. After her husband died, I still saw her now and then. At first she’d walk away. She’d literally turn her back. But then one day something snapped for the better. We never spoke of our soured relationship. But she just started attending a Bible Study I taught on occasion. From then on, everything was fine, she’d talked to me, she asked me questions, she reminisced. She had the last laugh because she showed me what it meant to love your enemies ~ I was the enemy that was loved by her! Thank you Lord.
Jesus wants his followers/us to give the difficult people in your life better than they deserves. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. If somebody is a mass murderer obviously they need to be removed from society, consequences of bad behavior are still real. Jesus is talking about the people that are close to you… bless those who curse you ~ that’s pretty straight forward isn’t it? Not easy to do when the person deserves justice! Pray for those who mistreat you. You don’t need a silly preacher like me to interpret that, do you? Jesus is pretty simple. And practical. Turning the other cheek means introducing the grace of God into a situation where others expect only retaliation and revenge. We tell jokes about turning the other cheek. A mother heard screams from her four-year old son. She ran to him and found that his hair was being pulled by his 18 month old sister. Mom pulled sister off of her son and said to him, "Now, don't be angry with your little sister; she doesn't know that hurts." The boy nodded his head and Mom left them alone to play. Soon she heard her youngest one screaming. She ran back to check on her children and asked, "What happened?" The brother proudly announced, "She knows now." Turning the other cheek is about giving up retaliation and revenge all together. We still need justice on earth. We still need to protect ourselves and be safe. This isn’t about taking away guns from police officers or letting criminals out of jail to rob the store a second time. This is about grace given to the people in your life that are difficult.
As I walk the streets of Sumas, when somebody betrays another person and I am told about plans to get even, I cannot argue with them because that is justice: “An eye for an eye” is how the old testament puts it. Jesus says to give them better than they deserve, especially when it’s hard. Love your enemies. Do to others as you would have them do to you… (Luke 6:31). That’s a great principle for all of life, but in context it especially a guideline in how to treat people that mistreat you, when there is bad blood, when somebody has hurt you, lied about you, taken advantage of you.
Love your enemy for your enemies sake: Love them into the kingdom of God.
And love your enemies for your sake! I love the phrase in a Sunday School lesson months ago: “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” By retaliating against those who curse you, what does that do to your soul? The unrest, the lack of peace, the turmoil…you justify it and say it’s the other persons fault, but for your own peace let the offense go… love, pray, give, turn the other cheek, treat them as you would like to be treated… Love your enemies. Refuse to fight. And you will be blessed. Love the difficult people in your life for their sake and for your sake.
The rest of this scripture Luke 6:32-36 points out it’s easy to be loving and kind to those that you like. To underscore the point, the instruction to love your enemies is repeated in Luke 6:35, and once again the same phrase is used to follow up: do good to them. Jesus says it twice for emphasis because it’s hard to respond in kindness when you’ve been shot with an arrow.
Practical suggestions ~ how to love your enemies:
~~ Disarm your enemies. That’s what you do when you turn the other cheek or go the second mile. You disarm them by doing the very thing they least expect. Add grace when revenge and punishment is expected.
~~ Do Good to Them. Be pro-active. Both times in this passage when Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” he follows it immediately by saying, “Do good to them”. Doing good to your enemies means seeing beyond your pain and their meanness to their humanity. It means seeing them as people made in the image of God and understanding. When somebody hurts you, the truth is that even though the wound is real, it says more about them than you. There is something twisted inside them that causes them to do what they do. “Doing good” means you do what will promote their healing despite the way they have treated you. You make the first move. You send the e-mail. You pick up the phone. You make the contact. You bridge the gap. You set up the appointment.
~~ Speak no evil. I’ll say it in a positive form: BELIEVE IN YOUR ENEMY ~ imagine them as a transformed person… That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Bless those who curse you.” Refuse to think evil thoughts. Refuse to speak evil words against those who have wronged you.
Proverbs has a great deal to say about the power of words. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21 NIV). Every time we open our mouth, life or death comes out. Here is an amazing thought I read that is worth considering: “Forgiveness in many cases is not possible because we will not stop talking. As long as we talk over and over again about how others have hurt us, we will never find the strength to forgive. At some point, we have to stop talking and start forgiving.”
~~ Pray for them. When Martin Niemoller, a German pastor, was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he prayed daily from his prison cell for his captors. Other prisoners asked why he prayed for those who were his enemies. “Do you know anyone who needs your prayers more than your enemies?” he replied. But what if you hate the person you are praying for? Tell that to the Lord. He won’t be surprised. Then say something like this, “Lord, I hate this person, but you already know that. I ask you to love this person through me because I can’t do it in my own power. I ask you for a love I don’t have and can’t begin to produce.” God will not turn you away when you come with an honest heart, admitting you need his love to flow through you.
Ask God to bless your enemies. Here’s a simple way to do that. When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you. Seek the blessing for them that you want God to do for you.
Jesus words are so simple. He is the coach instructing his players how to respond to the people that will hurt them. You will be wounded. That is a given. Jesus does not say here is a strategy for avoiding being hurt. He assumes that as you go into the world and get to know people you will be hurt. Jesus words are so simple. They speak best for themselves with no complicated interpretation. I’d like to end with the words of Jesus one more time as he says it. Luke 6:27-31. READ.