After the blessings and woes, Jesus continued to teach. And he continued to say things that run contrary to the way most men and women think.
First, Jesus said to love your enemies. (27) This is in contrast to loving those who speak well of you, who love you. (26)
For a people under the domination of a powerful foreign country, those were hard words. The Jews did not have to look far to find enemies. The Romans built garrisons in the country, including in Jerusalem. They built castles for the king appointed by the Romans. Roman soldiers could push you around. Plus, there were Jews who cooperated with the Romans and were considered enemies.
In his teaching of the blessings and woes, Jesus basically said there are you who suffer for my sake and there are those who make you suffer. How do the sufferers relate to those who make them suffer?
Jesus said to love your enemies and he gave four examples. Notice that none of these are about feeling. They are all about actions.
Example 1: do good to those who hate you. That is seriously a difficult command to follow. If you have ever had someone hate you, undermine you and try to bring harm to you, you know the last thing you want to do is to do good to them. I know this personally. You may struggle even to be neutral and not do harm to them, but going even further to do good to them is really difficult.
Example 2: bless those who curse you. When someone speaks to you rudely, or about you wrongfully, you should respond with blessing.
Example 3: pray for those who abuse you. Not only should you do good to your enemy and bless them verbally, you should ask God to bless them also.
Example 4: if someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other for them to strike. Yes, this is where the saying “turn the other cheek” comes from. Naturally, we want to fight back. You may have even been raised that way. The context here seems to be a slap as an insult as opposed to an assault or fist fight. Jesus was saying do not escalate an insult into a fight and do not return the insult. If anything, remain vulnerable to the insult, especially if it means suffering humiliation for following Christ.
Example 5: if someone takes away your cloak, let him have your tunic. This would be like saying today, if someone takes your coat, give him your shirt also, or your sweater. I think this is more about borrowing than stealing. Jesus said give to everyone who asks and do not demand the items back. (29-30)
The summation of this teaching is what we know as the “golden rule”: as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. It helps us to judge what we should do. I want someone to let me merge into traffic, or pull out of the Starbucks parking lot onto a busy street. I want someone to let me have the parking space I am waiting on and not zoom around me and get it. I want people to say hello and smile at me when I walk by. I want people not to cut in front of me in line. I want people to be nice on the telephone, to not insult or demean me, or to talk bad about me behind my back. So, I should do all those things.
Why did Jesus demand this of us? I believe it is so that we will reflect his nature to men and women who do not know him.
Who were Jesus’ enemies? First of all, it was the Romans, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. How did Jesus treat them? He prayed for them. As his enemies drove nails into his hands and feet, he prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. (Luke 23:34)
But, the fact is, all human beings who have not received Jesus as savior and lord are enemies of God. That is because a sinner is one who is in rebellion against the rule of God. You are either a subject of the king or an enemy of the king.
How did Jesus treat us, his enemies? He loved us and died to reconcile us to God. Romans 5:8 says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. And verse 10 says while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
If we hate our enemies, we act like the world. If we love our enemies, we act like Jesus and testify about him as we reflect his character.
This is what Jesus means in verses 32-35. If we love our friends only, we just act like the world. If we do good to our friends, if we lend only to those who can repay us, we just act like the sinners, the unsaved. It is of no benefit to our sanctification and it does not glorify Jesus. But, it we do good to people, even lending to them, not expecting any return, we will be rewarded by God, the Most high. We will be seen as sons of God.
The final word on this topic is in verse 36. It is short but powerful. Jesus said to be merciful as your Father is merciful. The fact is that we received from God the ultimate mercy. He did not give us the death we deserved as sinners. (Romans 6:23) Instead, he gave his Son to die in our place and gave us eternal life.
Having received that mercy, how dare we be unmerciful? What a defamation of the name of the one who saved us. But, we often are not merciful. We look at hose who suffer and say they deserve it. Therefore, we will not help them. They are just experiencing the consequences of their sin. That is all true. But, Jesus tells us to love them and show mercy to them even though they do not deserve it.
When I first went to work after graduating, I had an experience of this that is very common. One Saturday, one of my bosses took me to breakfast. As we walked along, a man stepped up and asked if I would give him money to call a relative to come pick him up. I found two quarters in my pocket and held them out to him. But my boss stopped me and told me not to give him money because he would just “drink it up”.
I have found that to be the common attitude among people, including Christians. In effect, they say do not show him mercy, let him experience the full force of his sins”. All the while, they do not apply that principle to themselves. They do not want punishment for their sins, they want mercy. And in fact they have received mercy. Jesus said to testify to God’s mercy by showing mercy.
I do not think you can love your enemies except in the power of the Holy Spirit. The natural man or woman hates their enemies. It is what we do. Even teaching you this short lesson has likely created a war in your soul as you wrestle with the command versus your desire. You have thought of excuses and exceptions already. Just know those exceptions and excuses are yours not Jesus’.
The works of the flesh include enmity, strife, jealousy, & fits of anger
all those things you want to do to your enemies. (Galatians 5:19) The fruit of the Spirit includes love, peace, patience, kindness, & gentleness.
These are the things necessary to love your enemies as Jesus said to do, to be merciful.