Now, having looked at the four blessings and their corresponding woes, we continue with a close look at what many consider Jesus’ most difficult teaching…
Luke 6:27-30 (Matt. 5:38-48)
27“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29To 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. 30Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.
When we misbehave, most of us recognize and accept just punishment. As a child, before my parents spanked me, they told me to “go into your room and think about what you’ve done.” Often, the recognition of my own wrongdoing was worse than the punishment itself. Even though we don’t enjoy the discomfort of punishment for our misdeeds, we usually recognize the justice of it, and therefore are able to accept it. The last time my mother spanked me I was already stronger and larger than she was. When she came into the room after giving me adequate time to ponder my transgression, she said, “If you didn’t deserve this, I wouldn’t do it,” to which I replied, “If I didn’t deserve it, I wouldn’t let you.”
But the direction Jesus gives in this passage represents a radical departure from our own sensibilities about justice. He commands us here to accept punishment and misuse, not only when we deserve it, but also when we do not.
27“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. 29To 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.
This teaching isn’t difficult to comprehend. On the contrary, it is quite straightforward. Jesus is instructing humble, godly people how we are to respond to injustice – submitting to whatever comes along, whether we deserve it or not. Being fully man, Jesus understood how hard this concept was to accept. That’s why He emphasizes “I say to you who hear:” before giving this difficult direction.
But hard as this teaching is to accept, it’s much more difficult for us to put into practice. Why is that? Because to do so flies in the face of the very root of all sin – pride. Pride in itself is difficult for us to come to grips with. Where does our pride come from? Recall when we looked at Jesus’ blessing upon those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that we found this hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice is built into us as part of our fundamental nature, because God created us in His image, and He is the very creator of righteousness and justice themselves. Did He also create us with an inborn prideful nature?
Recall that God created mankind as the culmination of all He had made on the sixth day…
Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
When God rested from His creation labor, the world was complete, and had in it all of the characteristics human beings universally find attractive – beauty, integrity (completeness), order, peace, love, etc. Indeed, as God Himself observed, it was very good. Yet, in the midst of this perfection, mankind lacked one characteristic which he now possesses – the knowledge of good and evil. In Eden, Adam and Eve, in their pre-fall state, were indeed part of this “very good” universe, without knowing any other state of being was possible. Hence they were incapable of pride in anything – neither themselves, nor the garden, nor even God. They were perfectly good without knowing it. They simply were, and consequently were in perfect fellowship with their Creator.
Throughout the scripture, pride is never associated with anything good or desirable. It was only after the temptation of the evil one, that mankind acquired pride as an element of our character. Indeed, as we have seen before, it was Lucifer in his rebellion who brought pridefulness itself to Earth.
12“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
13For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
14I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’
Recall that he then used the pride he imparted to them by his lies, to tempt them into the rebellion against God which brought death and decay into the world.
4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
It was the prideful desire to be like our perfectly beautiful God, with whom we once had perfect communion (if not total union), that led to mankind’s destruction, and set the entire hitherto perfect creation into the downward spiral in which we now find it. Indeed…
Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
Does this mean that we shouldn’t be proud of our children, for example? Well, actually, it all depends on the particular nature of our boast. There is nothing wrong in boasting, if indeed our boast is in God.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
My soul shall make its boast in the LORD;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Then into this prideful world of chaos, death, disease, pain, hatred, etc. which all rode into the universe on the coattails of our pride, came Jesus, the humble king, perfect in His beauty and righteousness. Although He was and is the embodiment of almighty God in the flesh, He set aside his rightful place and humbled Himself that He might be an example for us of how the godly man must live.
5Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Jesus proved time and again by signs and wonders, His supernatural power over His creation. In this we know that while He was fully man, He was yet fully God. Yet in meekness and humility, He didn’t stand up for Himself when He was persecuted, ridiculed, tortured, and finally killed. The thief on the cross beside Him recognized this.
39Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”
40But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”
Thus, as with everything He commands, Jesus Himself demonstrated obedience, not calling us to obey any command He Himself could not, or would not.
But the commandment is even more radical. He calls us not merely to patiently tolerate injustice and mistreatment, but to actively return good for evil in love!
27“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
This direction is just simply beyond our capacity. We are utterly unable of ourselves to accomplish it. In order to defeat our pride and carry out this direction from our Lord, we need the power and guidance of His indwelling Spirit. Because our Lord commands it, we strive by the power of His Spirit to obey. But why was this direction given in the first place?
As followers of Jesus Christ, our future is assured by His atoning sacrifice on the cross. The full union with our Creator which Adam and Eve never had is promised to us when we are joined with Him as His bride at the wedding of the Lamb. In the meantime, as we saw when we studied His beatitudes, we know that in this world we will have tribulation. Yet we rest assured that one day, our suffering will be over.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Our future is secure, and our suffering is temporary. Not so for those who afflict us. Without the salvation that can only be obtained by humbling of our hearts, forsaking our pride, and throwing ourselves upon His mercy, we have no hope. In fact the eternal future of those who do not accept this Gospel is suffering and torture forever. For many of these lost people, the most effective witness we can give of God’s gift of salvation through His own suffering is the way in which we face such suffering ourselves.
Once again, we find the model in Jesus Himself, who at the very moment of His crucifixion prayed for mercy upon His torturers.
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
We have no way to know whether Stephen – the first Christian martyr – had witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion personally or not. But we do see him conforming to the same model Jesus set forth at His crucifixion when Stephen was being stoned unjustly for his belief in the Gospel. Recall that in response to the charges against him, Stephen had given a lengthy and eloquent presentation of the Gospel, reasoning with his accusers from the scriptures, yet his witness only angered them all the more. They took him out of the city and stoned him to death. But in the very midst of Stephen’s unjust suffering, the Spirit of God became the Gospel Witness to them..
55But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
57Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
We are not told what effect this powerful testimony of God’s Spirit had on Stephen’s executioners, but we do know that the event had a powerful effect upon the young man, Saul, who at least tacitly approved of Stephen’s unjust punishment, even if he didn’t actively participate. As we know, that young man would later become Paul the evangelist whom God used to proclaim the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean basin, and who was also eventually killed for the sake of the Gospel. We know that witnessing the suffering of Stephen had a profound effect on Paul by his own testimony, given ironically by Paul after he had himself been taken into custody for proclaiming the Gospel.
“And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”
Bible trivia – in Matthew, the tunic and cloak are reversed.
Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.
This is another hard teaching that runs against the grain of our nature, because we know that not everyone who asks of us is actually in need. Furthermore, some people take from us, or misuse or destroy the things we give them to use. Here in verse 30, Jesus gets at the heart of what we need in place of the pride that causes us to bristle at these teachings – trust in Him and His provision. Furthermore, if we reflect upon it for a while, we remember that whatever possessions we might have ultimately belong to God anyway, and are only temporarily entrusted to our care. The famous words of Job after he was informed of the loss of his family and possessions spring to mind.
And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the LORD.”