Love of enemies. 6:27-38


Like Moses, Jesus comes down from the mountain to speak to the gathered people on the plain below and to declare to them the Covenant agreement between God and his people. Our passage for study focuses on the command to love our enemies, and in so doing exposes our need for a righteousness that is given as a gift of grace rather than a righteousness that is earned by obedience.

The passage

v27-28. In the Qumran commune that existed beside the Dead Sea in Jesus' day, the members were taught to "hate all the sons of darkness." Jesus, on the other hand, demands nothing less than perfect divine love. Rather than loving the lovely one, Jesus calls on us to love the unlovely one.

v29. Without promoting passivity, nor excluding self-defense, Jesus gives two examples of limitless love offered toward an enemy in the face of their hostility. The enemy is probably someone within the "household of God", a self-righteous believer, or particularly for the New Testament church, a Jew. For the New Testament church the enemy may possibly be a persecutor of the faith, but is probably not a criminal, or corrupt government official. The slap on the cheek is most likely the ritual slap given to a Christian heretic in a synagogue.

v30. Jesus now generalizes his exhortation. Again he calls on the disciples to break the nexus of retaliation in the face of insult or persecution. What he doesn't do is give ground-rules for self-defense, or the restraint of evil, in a corrupt society. Jesus is dealing with ideals, not practical ethics.

v31. As for the "golden rule", the reciprocal ethic of returning good for good has a long history in the Greco-Roman world. Jesus, on the other hand, demands the returning of good as if good is given.

v32-34. The shape of a love that loves enemies has little in common with the love of this age. Jew's cared for those within their own religious community. For a secular Roman, kindness was reciprocal, self-serving. Similarly, the love of caring friends is reciprocal, it provides mutual support and kindness. Yet, the love Jesus calls for is not an investment in the future, but rather a gracious kindness free from any expected return.

v35. Although we are to love without expecting a reward, we will be rewarded for a love that images God's love, a love that shows itself "kind to the ungrateful and wicked." The reward is sonship, an eternal loving relationship with God. Yet, here is the rub; such love is beyond us. Thankfully, sonship is possessed in Christ by those who repent and believe, ie., those who put their trust in Jesus.

v36. If we have still missed the weight of the divine demand for perfection, Jesus summarizes with the words "be compassionate as your Father is compassionate."

v37. Although admonition and moral discrimination are necessary tools for those in authority in an evil world, God's law of love calls for non judgemental generosity. If God prefers to act mercifully, then so should we; to act otherwise is to invite his condemnation. To invite God to condemn another person is to invite a similar condemnation on our own failings, and who can claim to be free of sin?

v38. This saying of Jesus underlines the notion that God will deal with us as we choose to deal with others. As such, the saying draws out the obvious consequence of God's demand for "unreasonable compassion". In truth, we are not "merciful, just as our Father is merciful" and therefore we are in dire need of his mercy.

True love

In our passage for study today, Jesus encourages us to be loving, not just loving toward people we like, but loving toward people we don't like, even people who have hurt us. Jesus' focus is probably on the Christian fellowship, he is talking about relationships within the church, but his words extend beyond the Christian fellowship to our extended family, neighbors, work-mates and the like. Of course, "love" is a bit of an airy-fairy word and so maybe we would do better using the word "compassion". Even so, the final two verses in our passage give us the nuts and bolts of love. Love involves not judging people, not condemning people, but rather being forgiving and generous. So, in these words Jesus has given us an ethical guide to the Christian life, but, he has also done something else.

Earle Ellis in his commentary on Luke states: "the effect of Christian love in a person is in exact proportion to their practice of it." That is, the measure in which a believer receives God's grace is in direct proportion to their practice of graciousness toward others. Inevitably, the demand for such love serves to undermine any notion of self-righteousness. Who is there that can be "merciful, just as (our) Father is merciful"? If the "measure we use" is the measure we get, then we are in trouble when we have to face up to the day of judgment. We are in dire need of receiving a gracious mercy from God that transcends our constant failure.

In these exhortations from Jesus' Great Sermon we can again observe the two functions of the law, namely, to lead us to Christ and to give direction in our Christian life.

The law serves to remind us of our own unworthiness. In reality, we can't love as Christ demands. If gaining God's forgiveness depends on our ability to forgive others, then we are in trouble. With our sin before us we are reminded that our standing before God is not dependent on our own limited obedience, but on Christ's perfect obedience. The best we can do is seek out the Nazarene and find mercy in the one whose capacity to forgive is unbounded.

The law also serves to give direction in our Christian life, a direction motivated and shaped by the indwelling compelling of the Spirit of Christ. The law reminds us to "be what we are." So, Jesus' exhortation to "unreasonable compassion", or more particularly forgiveness, sets before us a quality of discipleship well beyond the norm. Although we can never reach such an ideal, in the power of the indwelling Christ, we can certainly press toward it.


1. Who is our enemy?

2. If the house next door runs it's sewerage into your property, should you seek legal redress?

3. Why is it wrong to give a drunk a hand-out of money?

4. When it comes to lending money, should we be a "soft touch"? If not, why not?

5. What does judging others (particularly fellow believers) entail?

6. Support the proposition that love is encapsulated in forgiveness.

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