(Luke 6:27-38 – Epiphany 7 – February 24, 2019)
Luke 6:27-38 – “But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”
Dear Redeemed, forgiven and loved by God for Jesus’ sake:
Sometimes we hear stories of unexpected love. A man and woman who never met before find each other out of the blue and fall in love. Or though they knew each other earlier in life, their paths parted; and years later, they meet again in different circumstances and fall in love. Sometimes, stories of unexpected love describe reconciliation. A married couple who have been at odds with each other, at last renew their love and live happily ever after. Two people who have been enemies for so long, finally forgive and love each other and become best of friends. It often happens that when people find unexpected love, they love to share their story with others.
The most unexpected love story includes all of us. It is the Gospel story. While we were still sinners and at enmity with God, in love He sent His Son to die for us, win our forgiveness, and reconcile us to Himself (Romans 5:8). When we were not even looking for His love, He found us and united us to Himself by baptism and faith, that we may live happily ever after with Him.
Let us see the “Unexpected love” of God in Christ. It is a love we know as His children. It is a love we want to share. It is a kind of love the world does not expect: 1) It replaces selfish reciprocity with selfless generosity; 2) It replaces hateful enmity with forgiving charity.
1) It replaces selfish reciprocity with selfless generosity
When Jesus spoke these words, the world used various expressions for love. In the Greek language, the word Eros referred to physical or sexual love. This is often the kind of love meant when people express romantic love or attraction. There is also the Greek word Philia, which refers to friendship love. This is the kind of love meant when people like each other because they share common interests and benefit from each other’s company. So far, these forms of love depend on giving and receiving: “If you love me, I’ll love you. If you be my friend, I’ll be yours. If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It is the kind of love that often comes down to selfish reciprocity: I give to receive, and if I do not receive, I do not give – or at least, not happily.
But the word Jesus uses here is Agape. It is an unconditional love that gives without expecting to receive anything in return. When Jesus says: “just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise,” He was describing that perfect law of God that says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39). Such love asks: “How would I like to be treated? I will treat my neighbor thus; I will put him first.” Such love is not based on convenience or how good it feels; but it is an act of the will. It seeks the good of another, no matter who it it. As Jesus even says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
He goes on to describe this love as acting, not in selfish reciprocity, but selfless generosity. He says: “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back.”
Even unrepentant “sinners” – unbelievers who do not know the love of God in Christ – understand selfish reciprocity. In a worldly sense, they know how to love those who love them. Even the crassest sinner may treat well those who treat him well, giving in order to receive back, especially with interest. That’s good business; we can be friends as long as there is mutual gain. But do you see how such selfish reciprocity can wreak havoc in a friendship or marriage? Self-serving love leads quickly to enmity when one feels slighted.
The world fears being taking advantage of, and it selfishly protects its own interests. How often, we also follow the sinful nature and fall into the same pattern. We refuse to give unless there is something in it for us – whether we expect a return favor, or we expect recognition, or we just want to feel good about ourselves. Yet often, we give sparingly and of our leftovers, instead of generously and of our very best. We give to those who will appreciate our generosity; but when we see the slightest sign of unthankfulness or undeserving, we withhold our graces.
Here Jesus speaks of a completely different, unexpected kind of love. He says: “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”
Jesus is speaking to believers, who know the love of our Father in heaven. He is not teaching us to become more generous at giving in order to earn a reward in heaven. Eternal life is already ours as a gift of God’s grace alone. It is given freely through faith in His Son, not by our works even in part (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is not our imperfect love for God or our neighbor that earns us a place for us in heaven. It is only God’s perfect love in Christ that freely gives us this gift.
God’s love is unconditional and undeserved. He acts in love for His enemies, even those who will not love Him back. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45: “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” God continues to give abundant daily gifts, even to the unthankful. He continues to give life in this world even to those who hate Him – in the hope that they will repent and receive His free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus.
God’s unexpected love replaces our selfish reciprocity with His own selfless generosity. 1 John 4:10 says: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” When we were not even looking for His love, when we were still enemies of God in sin, He gave His very best gift to us. He sent His own beloved Son to the cross with all our sins – including all our selfishness, all our unthankfulness. Jesus paid with His own blood to win our full forgiveness. Now as God looks at us through His Son’s perfect life of love, He counts that life to us – as if we have always loved God above all, and loved our neighbor as ourselves. And God gives us the reward Jesus Himself has earned for us in heaven!
Jesus says: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” We have received God’s unexpected love, having been made His children by faith in His Son. Now, His selfless generosity toward us moves us to show the same to others. It leads us to pray with the hymn:
Lord of Glory, who hast bought us With Thy life-blood as the price,
Never grudging for the lost ones That tremendous sacrifice;
And with that hast freely given Blessings countless as the sand
To th’ unthankful and the evil With Thine own unsparing hand;
Grant us hearts, dear Lord, to yield Thee Gladly, freely, of Thine own.
With the sunshine of Thy goodness Melt our thankless hearts of stone
Till our cold and selfish natures, Warmed by Thee, at length believe
That more happy and more blessed ‘Tis to give than to receive.
2) It replaces hateful enmity with forgiving charity
Secondly, we see that God’s unexpected love replaces hateful enmity with forgiving charity. For this is the highest form of charity, to share the forgiving grace of God in Christ with others.
Jesus describes such unexpected love by saying: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either.”
Again, how different this is from worldly love. The world expects vengeance against enemies. If someone hits you, hit him back. If someone curses you, damn him back. If someone takes from you, or so much as hurts your feelings, take him to court and sue him for all he is worth. The world seeks self-justification by condemnation of enemies.
There are times when justice must be done. Evil should not have its way in society; the weak and innocent should be defended. God has established government and those in authority with the duty to carry out justice for the good (Romans 13). There are times when the loving thing to do in defense of our neighbor and society is to take someone to court. But even then, one should forgive and love the wrongdoer, while seeking what is just and right.
But here Jesus is speaking against personal vengeance rooted in a hateful and unforgiving spirit. Have we been holding a grudge against someone, refusing to forgive what he said or did? Have we been grinding our teeth in anger, cursing in our mind and spirit, damning that person who has hurt us? Have we been seeking self-justification by condemning our fellow sinner?
For such a self-righteous spirit, Jesus gives this stern warning: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” If I set myself up as a judge over my enemy, wishing condemnation on him instead of forgiving him, what does that say about my Christian faith? Does it not mean that I have forgotten how much God has forgiven me? Have I not become like the unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable? The king forgave him an unpayable debt. But then, that unthankful servant demanded full payment from a fellow servant, condemning him to prison for a small debt (Matthew 18:23-35).
Who of us, this side of heaven, will ever have perfect love for our enemy? Once again, Jesus is not teaching us to become better at forgiving in order to earn God’s forgiveness. We do not make our forgiveness a work by which we gain God’s favor. God forgives and saves us from our sin by His gift of grace alone, apart from works. But if we truly know His forgiving charity, if we have been found by that unexpected love, we will seek to share it with our fellow sinner.
Therefore, may we be saturated with God’s perfect forgiveness and love. Let us take to heart the greatest love story in the Gospel that includes each one of us. God forgives unconditionally; there is no offense too great, but He sent His beloved Son to the cross to take it away. So it is all forgiven. Our Savior who gave His life for all, never wishes evil on anyone, but only blessing. Even as He hung on the cross in agony, surrounded by a world that hated and cursed Him; yet He prayed: “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). In answer to Jesus’ prayer, God has forgiven all our sins – including all our hateful enmity, all our failures to forgive. All is forgiven!
Dear children of our heavenly Father, who know His mercy through faith in His Son. What a joy it is to be part of this true story of unexpected love. It is a love that found us when we were not looking. It is a love we are privileged to share, freely as we have received. It is that unexpected love of God in Christ – overflowing to each one of us in His selfless generosity, and His forgiving charity. It is a love that moves us again to pray with the words of the hymn:
Lord of Glory, who hast bought us With Thy life-blood as the price,
Never grudging for the lost ones That tremendous sacrifice.
Give us faith to trust Thee boldly, Hope, to stay our souls on Thee;
But, O best of all Thy graces, Give us Thine own charity. Amen.