Ephesians 1:11-23 Psalm 111 Luke 6:27-36
This morning I am going to spend a bit of time looking at the Gospel teaching which speaks about how Christians….as opposed to non-believers, are expected to behave towards others. Jesus’s admonition draws a stark contrast between the two. In one picture we see the way of the world, that which we experience daily…and actually concentrates on the rights of every individual human being. The other picture is so radically different that it is almost unbelievable, a least from the perspective of the society in which we live today. It is so dissimilar from the other viewpoint, because it is based on grace rather than rights, on mercy rather than experience. Therein lays the essential difference between the Christian worldview on the one hand and a secular one on the other. One is based on supposed entitlement, the other on sacrificial love.
Luke positions this teaching immediately following his version of the Beatitudes…or what theologians call the “Teaching on the Plains, as opposed to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. It is easy to suppose that instruction of this significance would have been repeated by Jesus on more than one occasion…so there is no real need to try to reconcile the differences between either the two contexts or the different applications that Jesus employed following the Beatitude teaching. He used this foundational moral code to prepare the ground for different ideas in different situations. The Matthew version seeks to correct a Pharisaic abusive application of the Law, whereas Luke’s focus is on how believers are to manifest or to pass on the grace and mercy that they have themselves received through Jesus sacrifice on the cross. They are different applications that stem from the same spiritual truths.
Just before we begin to look in detail at the text of the Gospel, I would like us to fully understand the justification for the kind of radical love, non-normal behaviour…that is, that Jesus is calling for in this teaching. To do that, we will need to turn to the Epistle reading assigned for today. Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV, In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. How can we be expected act so completely different from the people around us? We can and should act radically different simply because those who have come to Christ are in possession of a different end game. We are living…or should be living, in a completely different philosophical and spiritual context than those who do not know Jesus as their Saviour. Sometimes it takes a long time for believers to get this. That lack of understanding results in us looking and behaving very much like the unbelieving world around us instead of how the Lord intends Christians to behave.
For the non-believing world there is nothing else except that which is presently before them. There is nothing except that which they can accumulate in this life, wealth, accolades, power, and influence…a name for themselves. It’s all about the present and about what they can make happen in the time they have left on this planet. The best they can hope for is a bronze statue in the park or an honourable mention in the history books that will celebrate their finite existence. Therefore, their measuring rod is about entitlement, accumulation, payback, rights and reputation in the present tense.
Christians, on the other hand, should know that our lives are eternal. We are assured of that by the presence of the Holy Spirit and sealed as Christ’s own…that is, we belong to Jesus and should be living in an entirely different context as a result of that realization. We know that we are the sons and daughters of God, who have been adopted into his family, and will live with Jesus in eternity. We know that this present world is fleeting and that the promises of God for the future far outweigh anything that we could accumulate to ourselves or gather in the present moment. Whereas even the most beneficial non-believer’s primary focus is self-fulfilment and self-glorification, a Christian’s motivation should be thanksgiving for the huge gift we have been given. Because we have a thanksgiving & an eternal perspective, we are then freed up to give of ourselves, our resources and our reputations, our rights even… sacrificially in ways that don’t make sense to the unredeemed. We should never be in competition with the unredeemed for the fleeting emotional & physical capital that they pursue for fulfilment.
So, with that context, we can make Christian sense out of what Jesus is saying in this teaching. The first verses contain a number of actions or should I say reaction verbs. Luke 6:27-28 (NIV) 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. The instruction given in these two verses is actually antithetical to the way of the world. In the present age’s economy, enemies are hated, we protect ourselves from those who hate us, return curses for curses, and either ignore or find ways to return the favour for those who would mistreat us. Those are self-protective responses and very understandable in an environment where time and resources are limited and finite. There is only so much to go around and only so much time to enjoy it.
However, in God’s economy resources and time are infinite. So, we can give without measure. Luke 6: 29-30 (NIV) 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. Why? Because the reality is, you don’t need it! We can receive abuse without concern because we know that, in the long run, it doesn’t matter a whit. Not one hair on our head will be harmed. As the kingdom is brought to completion, we will be perfected emotionally, physically and spiritually. So, it doesn’t matter what people say or do to us. In the new heaven and earth we will want for nothing and have every need met for eternity. So, it doesn’t matter what they take from us now.
However, it does matter how we respond. Some of them are also being called into the kingdom. Our behaviour as believers will either demonstrate to them the infinity of God’s love and provision, or conversely exhibit that the kingdom is in reality no different from the world. We witness whether we intend to or not. Once you hang the Christian moniker on yourself, you are a witness. Our behaviour is hugely important. Also, we as mature as Christians, we have a responsibility to disciple new believers, to show them how to live out the remainder of their earthly existence in an infinite kingdom context rather than a finite worldly one. Luke 6:31 (NIV) Do to others as you would have them do to you. Sometimes we get mistreated by believers who are young in the faith and stuck in the worldly paradigm, simply because we haven’t bothered to demonstrate to them how live any other way.
That is what the next part of the teaching is all about. Jesus speaks about “credit” to us. Luke 6:32-34 (NIV) 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. Let me define two words for you. The word that is translated in English as “credit” in this passage is “charis” in Greek. It is the word for grace or thanksgiving. The Lord is speaking about grace…that is unmerited love. The question is, then…”Are you demonstrating the same kind of unmerited love or grace to others as has been shown to you?” The key to this is the concept of unmerited. We don’t deserve what we have received, why should they have to before we give to them?
The second term we need to define is the word translated here as “sinners.” It comes from the Greek root “hama” which means to be joined together with something. “Hamartolos” is the word used in this passage, and it refers to those who are still joined together with their guilt or their sin. That is, they have not yet been set free by the blood of Christ. Those who have not been freed from that bondage of sin have a completely opposite perspective from those who have. Their nature is different. Their viewpoint is, “I will do unto you as you have done unto me.” That is…if you have loved me, I will love you. If you have done good to me, I will respond in kind. If you repay your debts to me, I will lend to you again. The opposite is also true. That is, if you haven’t done these things, then we are going to have a problem. It is all about earning trust, about cause and effect.
The Christian believer on the other hand, is called by the Lord to demonstrate or manifest God’s grace and mercy before the other person behaves in that way…and not as a response to them. What is more, we are not to expect anything from them return…and even to continue to heap grace and mercy on them when they don’t respond in kind. Jesus taught this concept in another place when he was asked about forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV) Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. We are to behave with unmerited grace and mercy regardless of how the other person responds, and we are to do it over and over again…..just as God has with us!
Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. It doesn’t say, “until they do evil to you and then respond like the world. God has demonstrated unmerited grace and mercy to us in sacrificing His Son Jesus so that all of our sins could be wiped away, and so that we could be reconciled to the Father. As much as we are able, because we cannot replicate that sacrifice, but as much as we are able we are to behave in the same way sacrificially towards others. Why? That will create a situation, an opportunity, in which they can both be reconciled to us and also come to know that they also can be reconciled to God. Again, this is our witness. If we behave like the world, then they will believe that they have to earn their way into the kingdom….which as we and they know, is hopeless. However if we demonstrate God’s mercy and unmerited grace in the way we treat them, they can see that there is indeed a different way. They know hope and find forgiveness. Luke 6:36 (NIV) Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.