I confess that I love to read revenge books. I especially like the author Lee Child. Child’s novels are all about an ex-military police major, Jack Reacher. Reacher, as he is known, is a no-nonsense guy, a man’s man who goes about getting justice his own way. You don’t want Reacher to be chasing after you because Jack Reacher definitely does not love his enemies, nor does he do good to those who hate him. The Reacher series includes the books: Bad luck and Trouble; Make Me; Personal; Killing Floor; and Die Trying. I’m sure you get the picture.
In the world’s eyes, Reacher is a hero and a winner. But not so much in God’s eyes.
In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus tells us to be the exact opposite of Jack Reacher: to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. This passage is of the most challenging of the teachings of Jesus.
Don’t just love your friends
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. (Luke 6:27)
The religious leaders limited the command to love your neighbours to loving other Jews – who were normally from the same socio-economic class.
Jesus said we must love our enemies also.
If we live as disciples of Jesus, we can expect (as v22 tells us) people to hate, exclude and revile us. What will our attitude be to them? We are to love them.
This doesn’t mean that we must like them, or agree with them, or that we can’t remove ourselves from an abusive situation; but we must act in love towards them. The people of this world will naturally and automatically hate their opponents back. But we are to do them good, to bless, and to pray. Why? Because that’s how God treated us when we were his enemies
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
Our overall attitude to those who do not love us, or indeed, hate us, is to be disposed to their good because that’s how God treated us.
In v29-30 Jesus gives four examples:
To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also… (v29)
Jesus said do not return violence for violence. To strike someone on the cheek was an insult, but his disciples would not respond in the same way. This does not mean we should not protect ourselves when attacked, nor does not mean you can’t report a crime, nor does it mean you shouldn’t report an assault to the police. Reporting an assault will most probably be for the long-term good of the offender. Jesus was talking about our relationships with others, which are to be characterized by love.
…and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. (v29)
The tunic was the long undergarment that Middle-Eastern people wore and still wear. If someone takes your outer cloak by force or otherwise, Jesus said, offer them your tunic. Why would you do that? I guess it’s because you view God as in control and that all your possessions belong to God anyway. The wrongdoer is not taking my things; he’s taking God’s things.
Again, I don’t think Jesus is not talking about being robbed in the street, but if one is wronged in a relationship.
How do you react? Are you willing to be offended and yet show love because that’s how God treated you?
Give to everyone who begs from you… (v30)
We have a huge challenge of poverty in South Africa. The authorities tell us, and I think they are 100% correct, that by giving money to beggars on the street we are not actually helping them; we are enabling them to stay on the streets. Radical love gives money to a Christian organization that helps beggars get off the street.
I think Jesus was referring to someone in real need and perhaps known to you. If you are able to help, give them what they ask. In v35 Jesus said that we shouldn’t expect to be repaid . If they do repay, that’s a bonus.
…and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (v30)
The world, and even religious people, say that one should love your neighbours and hate your enemies. Jesus said: Love you neighbours and love your enemies.
The God of radical love
Imagine God just loved his friends; we would all be lost. Jesus’ life was characterized by radical love, even for those who hated, abused and reviled him. Jesus didn’t hold back from speaking the truth and saying what needed to be said – but he spoke the truth in love.
Was Jesus insane?
Why would anyone choose to live like this?
…and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (v35)
Firstly, our reward will be great. If you look back at v23, that means that our reward will be great in heaven. Our reward, our hope, our confidence and our reference point is not this world but the next. If you’re looking for your reward in this world, in money, status, and power; you definitely won’t love your enemies – you’ll hate those who oppose you and prevent you from getting your reward.
But if you follow Jesus as King and want to live like he lived, looking forward to a reward in heaven – you will be willing to do good to those who oppose you.
Secondly, by living lives of radical love we will demonstrate to ourselves and others we are sons and daughters of the Most High, Sovereign God. Living in radical love shows that you belong to the God of radical love – the God who sent his Son for those who hated him and were his enemies. The bottom line is:
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (v36)
God is merciful to the undeserving and so are his children.
Thirdly, notice the end of v35:
…for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Imagine that when it rained, it rained only on the houses of Christians. Or imagine only the babies of Christian parents were born healthy. No, it rains on all – atheists, Hindus and Christians. Babies of all kinds of parents are born healthy. God is kind to the ungrateful and evil, that is, people who live in God’s world but don’t recognize God as King. God shows mercy to the undeserving, and so should we.
Jack Reacher is a hero in the world’s eyes. But how does God view him? That’s what really matters. The world may say we are losers; but why would we care? We’re looking for our reward in heaven, not in this world.