Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27-36)
by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Text Luke 6:27-36
 "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.
Love Your Enemies (6:27-28)
The world says -- rightly
-- "Love your friends. Be loyal to your friends. Look out for
your friends." Why? Friends will look out for you. Loving your
friends is just smart. This also goes to loving your wife or
your husband. As the Apostle Paul observes, "Husbands ought to
love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife
loves himself" (Ephesians 5:28). Loving your wife is a
no-brainer unless you're self-destructive. Loving your friends
and your spouse is just enlightened self-interest.
But it's altogether
another thing to love an enemy, someone who has your disgrace or
destruction as a goal. Notice as Jesus teaches his disciples in
this passage he uses the familiar rhythm of Hebrew parallelism.
"Love your enemies,
Do good to them who hate you."
Jesus uses some heavy
words to describe the Christian-haters:
Greek echthros means
"the (personal) enemy" from echtho, "to hate." Ethros
means "hateful," and as a noun, "adversary, enemy, foe."
Greek miseo means
"hate, persecute in hatred, detest, abhor." These are
people with an active desire for our hurt. Miseo is
particularly used as "to persecute." There is a malicious
attitude. These are people you can't turn your back on.
means "to curse." Curses are utterances that are designed to
bring harm by supernatural operation.
Greek epereazo means
"threaten, mistreat, abuse."
But Jesus says that we are
not to just force a smile and mind our own business when we are
hated and mistreated. We are to actively try to do good towards
our attackers. Agapao is a rare word in Koiné Greek. It was
developed almost exclusively in Christian literature to refer to
the kind of love that doesn't serve itself, but extends itself
for the sake of another. The other Greek words for love are eros,
erotic love, philos, love for family, brotherly love, and
stergos, natural affection. Agape love is really a different
category of love that the world hadn't seen in action until
Jesus came along and infected his followers with it.
Jesus uses four very
strong action words in these verses:
Greek agapao -- love
Greek poimeo kalos --
do good to those who hate you.
Greek eulogoeo -- to
speak well of
Greek proseuchomai --
to pray for, to intercede for.
None are in the passive
voice. They don't just take care of themselves. They are active
verbs describing deliberate action to do good to one's enemies.
Let's pause for a moment.
Who are your enemies? I'm not asking who you hate? I'm asking
who hates you, or despises you? Often they are the people close
to us who have been hurt. A spouse or former spouse. A parent. A
son or daughter. A co-worker at the job. An enemy of God who
takes it out on you. Someone whose evil action you have exposed
and is now out to get you. Who are your enemies?
Now what can you actively
do to seek their good? That is the way Jesus is training his
disciples to think.
How do I love my enemy?
you ask with all seriousness. This isn't a matter of just
thinking nice thoughts. We need Jesus to do a heart change
within us, to put the kind of heart within us toward our enemies
that was in God who sent Jesus to redeem and forgive a world
full of despicable people. God-haters, vulgar, foul-mouthed,
unfaithful to spouses, lying, cheating, stealing, selfish. The
list goes on, and on describes us at our worst. Somehow God
loves the people of Israel who thumb their noses at him again
and again. He doesn't quit. They are unfaithful and are
punished, but then God is at it again seeking to bless them. He
doesn't give up. He has a heart of love toward the loveless.
That is what we need to love our own enemies. We have plenty of
strong examples from our God to follow.
So how do you do it? I
don't think we wait for emotions of love. Rather we start with
actions of love, and emotions may follow later. We start doing
what Jesus taught right here:
Do good. When you
find a way you can do something good for one of your worst
enemies, do it. Not to shame him, but because you are trying
to find it in your own evil heart to love him for Jesus'
Bless. When you think
of the person who is slandering you, and saying untrue and
nasty things about you, find ways to work blessing into your
thoughts. Speak a blessing out loud. When you are with
friends, instead of complaining about your unjust treatment,
go out of your way (actively) to speak well of your enemies.
Why? To shame them? No -- though it will. But to find it in
your own heart to love them.
Pray. Intercede. When
you're praying, you probably pray for your family and your
pastor, and your friends and family. Why don't you begin to
pray and intercede for your enemies. Actively. Start to ask
God to help them. Ask God to heal the hurts in their lives
that are some of the motivators of their evil actions. Ask
God to bless them and show mercy to them. Why? To shame
them? No, in order to find it in your heart to love them.
And if you'll do good when
you find opportunities, and bless when you think of them, and
pray and intercede earnestly before the Lord, you'll find that
God will begin to put love in your heart toward your enemies.
Actual love. Sometimes loving emotions, too.
You see, Jesus is out to
create an army of disciples that look at enemies as he and his
Father look at them. As people to love and care for. People to
provide rain for. People to die for. Jesus is out to change you
and me. And obeying Jesus' commands in these verses, along with
the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, will accomplish
The Use of Hyperbole in
Before we discuss Jesus'
teaching in the next verses, we need to talk about hyperbole
(high- PER-bo-lee) as a teaching tool. Hyperbole is the use of
exaggeration to make a point. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary defines it as "extravagant exaggeration." Before
we say that Jesus could never exaggerate to make a point, let's
consider how you and I use hyperbole in everyday speech -- to
make a point.
"I've done that a
"If I had a nickel
for every time you've said that, I'd be a rich man."
"You are more radiant
than the sun, and your eyes sparkle like beams of sunlight."
"I nearly died
"I was hopping mad."
You get the idea. We are
constantly finding means of expression to make a point. We allow
"poetic license" to create word pictures that aren't literally
true, but that make a point in a specially poignant way. We're a
people of exaggeration in speech. Don't get me wrong. I'm not
talking about stretching the truth here. I'm talking about using
exaggerations to make a point.
Jesus used exaggerations
to make a point, too. This was a common way of speaking in his
day. Here are a few examples of hyperbole in Jesus' teaching:
Cutting off a hand or
gouging out an eye
A camel going through
the eye of a needle
A beam or timber in
A man should hate his
father and mother, wife and children
Hyperbole has a respected
place in teaching. Don't make the mistake of expecting every
word Jesus says to be LITERALLY true. What he says IS true, of
course. But we must take it as it is meant. And we must take it
very seriously. He probably uses hyperbole only to highlight a
concept that his hearers are likely to miss without it. When
Jesus speaks in hyperbole, we must be a thousand times more
careful to listen. But we'd better discern when Jesus is
speaking in hyperbole, or we'll make big mistakes in
Refuse to Retaliate (6:29)
"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" (6:29)
"Turning the other cheek"
has made it into the English language as an expression meaning
to go out of your way to avoid a nasty confrontation. Even
though provoked, instead of lashing out, you turn the other
cheek. In fact, I think that's pretty close to what this
sentence means in Jesus' teaching. Remember, the context is
enemies, those who insult us and seek to embarrass us.
Jesus' point is that we
are to avoid hitting back, the natural human reaction. How can
we love when we hit back with something that will wound our
opponent? Husbands and wives sometimes get into arguments;
tensions that may have been simmering for years boil over once
again. And with the boiling comes anger, and with anger a
willingness not just to defend, but to strike back. To get an
advantage. To have the last word. To wound.
Though Jesus' instruction
to turn the other cheek is intended in the arena with a sworn
enemy, the principle applies to every area of our lives. Don't
retaliate. Don't hit back. Don't move from a position of
prayerful love for your enemy to a drop-down, drag-out fight.
Love doesn't retaliate. Love seeks the enemy's good (1
The second command is
harder yet to understand. "If someone takes your cloak, do not
stop him from taking your tunic" (6:29b). But the principle is
the same -- after all, this is Hebrew parallelism. When your
enemy takes your cloak, remember that you love him. You are
praying for him. You are blessing him and seeking his good.
Don't get grabby and nasty and accusing. You love him, remember?
Let him have your tunic also.
Oohhh! I can hear you say.
You don't think you can do that. I don't think you can, either.
But with the Spirit of Jesus working through you he can teach
you to love your enemies -- even at their ugliest.
After all, we can learn
from the masters of patience, and repeated forgiveness. The
Father told Hosea to marry a prostitute and have children by
her. Inevitably she returned to her old ways, and left Hosea.
But he went searching for her, and brought her back and forgave
her. I hear the old, old story of the searching Father loud and
clear in the story of Hosea, as I do in the story of the
Prodigal Son. On the cross, this is how Jesus treated his
enemies ... he treated them to the words, "Father, forgive them,
for they don't know what they are doing."
And we would quibble over
a cloak or a tunic? Jesus is seeking to train disciples to think
and act and love like he does. Turning the other cheek is indeed
what he did as the soldiers spat on him and flogged him, and
jammed a thorny crown into his scalp and mocked him as king. Was
he tempted to retaliate. Oh, yes! But he didn't. Why? He loved
them. That is the radical lesson of verse 29.
Taking It Literally
If you've got the point,
then Jesus' hyperbole has struck home. Now let's consider what
his words don't mean. They don't mean that we as a society
should let criminals run free to do violence on any citizen. It
doesn't mean we shouldn't call the police when robbed. It
doesn't mean that we should stand idly by when someone is
Jesus words aren't about
crime or pacifism in war. They are about loving enemies in a
radical way. If we seek to make a new law that overrides the
civil law in Exodus against violent crime we miss the point.
Then we're trying to make a new law where Jesus intended that we
look underneath the law intended to restrain sinful people.
Having now a glimpse of love, don't try to legislate it.
The same goes for people
taking your clothes off. If you were to take this verse
literally, nudity would be the result. Is that what Jesus
intended to go with this? Of course not. This is hyperbole to
make a point: radical love for your enemy. But we aren't to
misunderstand and suspend the law. That would be foolish.
Possessions Are Less
Important than Love (6:30)
"Give to everyone who asks
you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it
back" (6:31). Verse 31 follows along in the same vein as vs. 29.
When our enemy seeks to take what we own, we are to STILL love
him. Our love is to transcend evil deeds. That is Jesus' point.
Does Jesus mean that we
are to give to every beggar or con man we meet? Of course not.
He expects us to be good stewards of our money. The point is how
we treat our enemies, the radical way we love them.
The Golden Rule (6:31)
Now Jesus moves from love
of enemies and the radical way we are to exercise that, to a
principal that CAN be applied generally. It's been called the
Golden Rule, and with good reason.
Scholars observe that it
has been stated negatively by many before Jesus. The great Rabbi
Hillel, for example, taught, "What is hateful to you, do not do
to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the
commentary thereof." But that is merely prudent, a wise way
to keep out of trouble with your neighbor. When Jesus turns this
to a positive, it IS radical. It states for us clearly how we
are to exercise love. We are to treat people the way we would
like to be treated. Not the way they DESERVE to be treated, but
the way we would like to be treated. There is still the strong
current of radical love of the Father. If Jesus had treated us
as we deserve, we'd all be doomed. But he has shown us grace,
and now expects his disciples to dispense that same grace and
graciousness to the world in his name.
Exceed the Self-Aware
Goodwill of Unbelievers (6:32-34)
"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." (6:32-34)
Now Jesus gives several
examples to illustrate the difference between a selfish, prudent
way of dealing, and his own radical love -- looking out for the
other person's best interests. Even "sinners," unbelievers,
shrewd but relatively moral people, care about their friends.
It's good business. "What goes around, comes around," so let's
all be nice. But that isn't Jesus' point. He tell us to show
kindness, especially when we won't be beneficiaries of it later.
Unselfish, serving love -- agape love -- is what he is
illustrating here. Self-love seeks repayment -- the sooner the
better. Agape love seeks no repayment.
But there will be a day
when we will be repaid in full. In the Father's Kingdom Jesus'
disciples will have the high status of sons of the King. There
will be a payday, someday. But we are not to seek it now, in
this life. The eyes of faith are trained to look beyond the
seen, to the unseen. "For what is seen is temporary, but what is
unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Learn Mercy from God's
"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
Jesus has digressed a bit
and generalized his instructions about love to all mankind. But
now he narrows the view again to enemies. Anyone can love
friends -- and we must -- but the test of real love comes with
loving enemies. And into that school Jesus thrusts his
disciples. If they would follow him they must learn the Father's
way, the way of long-suffering, the way of love, the way of
mercy. Jesus gives three commands as the elements of this
In America we live in a
credit culture. Young people are encouraged to incur a little
debt and then pay it back at regular intervals in order to
develop a credit rating. People commonly borrow to buy a house,
buy a car, purchase living room furniture. Buy now, pay later.
When we read about lending in the Bible we need to purge our
thoughts of borrowing for these purposes. They just didn't.
might borrow to set up a business, but interest rates could be
20% or 30%. Moneylenders were tolerated in First Century
Palestine (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 19:11-27), though despised.
There was no Small Business Administration loan to provide a
"grubstake" to begin a business. Business loans were a much
later development. Jews were prohibited to loan on interest to
other Jews, especially to help them subsist. The Law provided
considerable protection to the poor, when it was enforced.
People borrowed only when
they were needy, when they had a reversal of fortunes and needed
money for food. Borrowing was not entered into lightly. If you
think loaning money to your useless brother-in-law to help
provide for your sister's family is a recent invention, you'd be
wrong. People lent to family members. Sometimes they were paid
back, often they were not.
One nasty fact of First
Century life was debtor's prison. The lender could demand
repayment, and if it were not forthcoming, he could throw the
debtor into prison until he would pay his debt (Matthew 5:25-26;
Luke 12:58-59; Matthew 18:30). This seems counter-intuitive to
us. How can he pay his debts if he can't work? we wonder. Family
and friends, having pity on their blood relative -- or feeling
shame for not doing anything for their own flesh and blood --
would ante up, pay off the debt, and the debtor would be
But what if the debtor had
no family or friends? What if he were a miserable
good-for-nothing whose friends had long ago deserted him? What
if he were threatened with prison. What then?
Then, says Jesus, the
Christians whom he is persecuting should ante up on his behalf
and lend the money to get him released. No matter if the
Christian is not repaid. Here is a wonderful test case for
Jesus' disciples, an opportunity to help a miserable insolent
unbeliever purely out of love, with no hope of reward.
That, Jesus says, is real
mercy. That comes closer to the Father's style of mercy than any
other possible repayment the Father can expect from us miserable
sinners. We surely can't repay enough to compensate for the
precious blood of Jesus that was shed on our behalf, that atoned
for our sins. Mercy to those who have no way of repayment?
Jesus' death for our sins is one such case.
And disciples of Jesus
must learn to be merciful. Not when it is useful. Not when it is
convenient. Not when the recipient is worthy. Mercy is never
justified. It is given freely. That is what we disciples must
"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." (6:35b-36)
The cost of learning this
costly mercy to enemies may be some insults and slander. Some
blows to the cheek and stolen cloaks. But to learn this is to
learn the essence of the Gospel -- unmerited, costly
forgiveness. And the reward is God-likeness, the most rarefied
gift Jesus' Spirit can bestow.
the more I ponder these uncompromising words, the more I realize
that I am in agape kindergarten. Please help me to take
your words seriously and not discount them. Make your point deep
in my heart. Teach me your mercy. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"Do to others as you would have them do to
you." (Luke 6:31)