That’s the only way to say it: “Fun Discoveries.” You’re reading the Word, you find a passage that holds your attention, you find yourself fixated on it, even if you don’t know why, and then it all begins to fall into place.
If you are a preacher, what happens is that you bring a sermon from that passage. However, instead of moving along to a new text for the next sermon, you can’t get that one out of your mind. The Holy Spirit is holding you for that lesson and holding the lesson for you. “Did you think the revelations of Heaven could be downloaded and understood from one week’s study?”
It’s frustrating to the pastor. Since you’ve already preached on it–forcing you to work through a passage until you make it your own, so to speak–you can’t very well preach another one from the same text. “Hey folks, I know I preached this two weeks ago, but I’ve found more in it since then.”
Well, you could, but you don’t. Much of it would be a repetition of what you just got through saying. But you keep thinking about it. It stays on your mind, maybe even bugging you a little.
And then it happens. You see something there not seen before. That passage, that text, opens before your eyes and unfolds. You see a progression to its content, insights you had missed before, and a connection to other teachings in the Word.
That one especially–a connection with teachings and stories found throughout the Bible–is one of the most fun things to happen when you have lingered with a text longer than normal, you have patiently studied and thought and prayed over it, and now the Holy Spirit has rewarded you.
All of this is preparatory to sharing how this happened with me recently. Here’s the text.
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 threaten you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt. Give to everyone who asks of you.
And when someone takes away what is yours, do not ask for it back. However you want men to treat you, do to them.
But if you love those who love you, where’s the profit in that? Even sinners do that. And if you do good to those who do good to you, where is the profit in that? Sinners do that. And if you give to those who give back to you, where’s the profit in that? Sinners give to one another, expecting a full return on their investment.
But love your enemies. Do good, and give, hoping for nothing in return. And (two things will happen:) your reward will be great, and you will be (called) sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. (Luke 6:27-35)
I have probably preached that sermon twenty times over the past decade. Something about it fascinates me. Maybe because it’s so contrary to the way our culture thinks. On several occasions I’ve been forced to choose between practicing it in my own life or retaliating toward a few people who gave me so much grief.
When I began to practice it–to do loving things toward those who were undercutting me–only then did I see the wisdom in these teachings.
What finally occurred to me, after working with this text for many years, is that in verse 27 alone, our Lord is answering three questions.
Three questions we would have surely asked–if Jesus had not anticipated this and answered them before we had a chance.
1. Lord, to whom are you addressing this?
We preachers are often accused of delivering fanciful advice in the counseling room and glorious instruction from the pulpit which looks good on paper and sounds fine in church but doesn’t work in real life. Too impractical for the home, too idealistic for the workplace, too radical for the schoolroom.
Nothing our Lord said has come under more attack than this: Love your enemy. Turn the other cheek. Offer the thief your shirt also. Go the second mile.
After 9-11, I can just hear someone saying, “Oh yeah. We’re supposed to find Osama Bin Laden and love him. All he needs is a big hug. Give me a break.”
The truth is the Lord did not intend this teaching for everyone. So, for whom was it meant?
But I say to you who hear.
That is not a figure of speech meaning, “I say to my audience.” It’s an acknowledgement that not everyone can receive spiritual counsel. Not everyone is serious about his discipleship.
Paul said the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him (I Corinthians 2:14).
This teaching–love your enemies, turn the other cheek, do good to those who hate you–is meant for one group of people in particular: those who love the Lord Jesus Christ supremely and take seriously their devotion to Him.
If that’s not you, if you are not in that group, His word to you is, “Repent and believe the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Only then can you begin the process that will lead you to understand and obey spiritual teachings.
2. Lord, define your terms. Who is my ‘enemy’?
Our Lord is so smart. He knew that would come up, because He knows how people think. (See John 2:24-25) And so He defined His terms.
We are to do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who threaten us, turn the other cheek to the one who hits us and hurts us, and give to the one who steals what we have.
Your enemy is anyone who does any one of these things, or any combination of them.
It is not that Jesus is telling us to assemble an enemies’ list. (Some readers will recall that during the Nixon administration, the White House kept just such a list.) Rather, some people make themselves our enemies by their behavior.
When someone’s hurtful behavior (they are hating you, cursing you, threatening you, hitting and hurting you, and/or stealing from you) becomes apparent to you, you are to treat them as an enemy.
And what do we do to our enemies, class? Destroy them? Absolutely not. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…. Repay no one evil for evil…. Do not avenge yourselves…. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12).
Let us get this shallow, naive idea out of our minds that to live faithfully and successfully for the Lord in this world means we are always at peace with everyone. Everyone likes us. We are the most popular person in the room. And, likewise, if someone hates us, it implies a failure on our part.
Not so. Jesus said we are no better than He. If they crucified Him, you and I should not be surprised when they turn on us. (See Matthew 10:24 and John 15:20.)
3. And Lord, what do you mean by ‘Love’?
We have such screwed up ideas of love. The culture we are part of it thinks of love as an emotion (we feel it or we don’t), a condition (we fall into it and fall out of it), and blissful situation (so many are in love with love).
In Scripture, love is an action, pure and simple.
To those who hate you, do good. To those who curse you, bless them. To those who threaten you, pray for them. To those who hit you and hurt you, turn the other cheek. And to those who would steal from you, give to them.
Do good, bless, pray, and give.
Those are the four most basic acts of love. If you love a baby or your sweetheart, your pastor or your grandmother, you will do these four actions. You’ll do more than those, of course. But you’ll do these four.
That’s how we are to treat the person who is working against us, making life miserable for us, treating us unfairly: do good works, say good things to them (bless them), ask God to do good things in their lives (pray), and give good gifts to them.
Every time Scripture calls on us to love someone–God Himself, our neighbor, the stranger within our gates, our children, our parents, other disciples, and even our enemies–the Lord is not asking us to feel anything. He is calling on us to do loving things.
That’s what Jesus did for us. He could easily have remained in Heaven and sent messages telling of His love, how He hurt for us, how it grieves Him when we disobey. But He did more than that. He came personally.
Not only did He come, He went to the cross and died for the very people who were killing Him. To His executioners, He did good, blessed, prayed, and gave Himself. No wonder the Apostle John says, “Herein is love. Not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).
The Apostle Paul put it this way: “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
This is how we are to live. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue (only), but in deed and in truth (I John 3:18).
There you have it. That’s how the Holy Spirit loves to work.
You labor over a passage, fall in love with it, practice it to the best of your ability, continue reflecting on it, and little by little it opens up more and more to you.
This command of our Lord to love our enemies and do good to those who mean harm to us is “the toughest and most profitable instruction ever.”
It’s tough because–
–it is not our nature to return evil with good. We want to retaliate. Half the action movies at the cinema at this moment have revenge as their theme. Imagine what would happen to the plots if the victims of harsh treatment responded with acts of loving kindness. The lust for harsh justice would drive viewers out of the theaters in frustration.
We want the thief, the murderer, the drug pusher, the racketeer–but also the gossip, the bully, the backbiter, and the mean mother-in-law–to get what’s coming to them.
–we do not have it within us to do loving things to people who do bad to us. That’s why you don’t see outsiders, people who make no pretense of following Jesus, doing this. It’s rare enough to see Christians obeying God by doing loving acts toward those who do them wrong, but almost impossible to find anyone else doing it.
We will be needing the power of the indwelling Christ (the Holy Spirit) to pull this off.
–we will get precious little support from anyone once we start responding with loving acts to our enemies. Even our friends at church will advise us to report them to the Sheriff, file a lawsuit, or respond in kind.
It’s hard. In fact, it’s downright impossible to do in the flesh.
But the payoff is so great. When we do the hard thing–loving the enemy, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, blessing the one who is cursing us–twelve things happen. Twelve wonderful, miraculous things.
1. God is honored.
2. Jesus is pleased.
3. The Holy Spirit is liberated (armed, empowered, however you want to put it) to do whatever He was planning to do in this situation.
4. The devil is infuriated. This is not going according to his plans.
5. The enemies are puzzled. You are not responding the way they had expected.
6. The critics of the church are silenced.
7. The church itself is strengthened and blessed.
8. Believers going through hard times are encouraged and instructed by your example.
9. Outsiders–the unsaved, the unchurched–are attracted to Jesus by your behavior. Finally someone is living as Jesus did. They want what you have.
10. You yourself are blessed. Your anger–a natural consequence of what has been done to you–dissipates.
11. And according to Luke 6:35, two additional things happen: Your reward in Heaven is great, and….
12. Your reputation goes through the roof.
Pretty good payoff for nothing more than buying your cursing neighbor a king-cake and taking to him. Pretty good profit from nothing more than writing a love-note to the deacon who helped run you off from your last church. Pretty good take-home from nothing more than making a cake for the relative who hurt you so badly in earlier years and now wants to be friends.
God’s way is always best.
It’s often the hardest, but in the long run the wisest, sharpest, most profitable.
And looking back, absolutely the most fun.