Last time we took a look at Jesus’ teaching that we are to tolerate abuses at the hands of our enemies, and to do so with a true heart of love and compassion for them. We saw that our natural revulsion to this teaching is rooted in our pride, and that our only hope of overcoming our pride so we may be able to love our enemies is to trust fully in the Lord. We also noted that such behavior in the face of abuse is a mighty witness to the power of God’s Spirit dwelling in the heart of His children, as we saw in the unjust execution of Stephen, and indeed the Lord Jesus Himself.
Now as we turn our attention to verse 31, we see Jesus’ simple and concise, yet powerfully practical general principle for living godly lives – The Golden Rule…
31And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
In this verse, Jesus expands His exhortation to give to others and place our trust in God to provide what we, ourselves, need. In Matthew’s account, Jesus fills this concept in more thoroughly…
7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! 12Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
When Jesus says, “for this is the Law and the Prophets” here, He is referring the spirit of generosity and care for others in preference to the strict letter of the Law, trusting in God’s provision in the hope that others will do likewise. This by no means implies that we should disregard the Law, but that in giving to others of what we have ourselves from God we would actually be fulfilling the Law…
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
32“But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back
Recall that when we examined the calling of Matthew, we saw that Jesus had used “tax collectors” in place of “sinners” in Matthew’s version of this saying.
46For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
The point Jesus is making here regards partiality. We are not to regard any person above another.
1My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
5Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
This is easy to say, but when we apply the principle to our enemies – those who hate us, curse us, and spitefully use us, it’s tougher to do. Not only must we treat them as we would wish to be treated ourselves, we must do so with an honest love for them. This is, of course, impossible for us to do in our prideful nature. We can only love in this way by the power of God’s Spirit dwelling within our hearts, just as Jesus Himself loved us while we were yet sinners.
1 John 3:16-23
16By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
18My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 20For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.
In this final reiteration, first take note of the phrase “hoping for nothing in return.” Many English translations render this as “expecting nothing in return,” and I believe that translation is closer to the mark of what Jesus is saying. Once again, as with all His teachings, Jesus Himself gives the model for us to emulate. He is the Creator and owner of all things as we saw when we looked at Luke 6:30. Yet He gave us salvation by His own sacrificial death, knowing full well we have nothing to offer Him in return. This same unselfishness of heart is what He commands us here.
But while we could never repay Jesus for His sacrifice on our behalf, His promise here is that He will reward us for our sacrifices on behalf of others, and will even adopt us as His own children.
14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
God honors the quality of mercy in us, just as He demonstrates mercy for us. Everyone who has humbled his heart before the living God, and called upon the Name of the Lord Jesus for salvation understands God’s infinite mercy, and our desperate need for it. Once again, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector springs to mind.
13And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Before we move on, we need to look again at the parallel passage in Matthew. When Jesus tells us here in Luke 6:36 that we should be merciful, we might think we could to that. We might even deceive ourselves into thinking we could offer mercy under our own power. But in Matthew, Jesus sets the bar beyond our reach.
“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Every English translation and commentary I’ve seen of this verse takes this saying of Jesus as an imperative – that is Jesus directing us to be perfect (or at least strive to be perfect) using God as our example. But this verse could also be taken as a promise of what we will one day attain by the power of God’s Spirit.
The LORD will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O LORD, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
This conception of Matthew 5:48 makes more sense when we take a closer look at the Greek word τέλειος teleios translated here as “perfect.” The root of this word means the end of a journey undertaken with a specific goal in mind. Thus τέλειος teleios really means finished, lacking nothing needed to be complete. It implies, coming into a state of final purification or refinement.
This was Jesus’ prayer for us on the night of His betrayal.
20“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
In the next few verses, Jesus lays out some particulars of how we should put this Golden Rule given in Luke 6:36 into practice.
Luke 6:37 (Matt. 7:1-5)
37“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
Verse 37 is among the most misunderstood and misrepresented verses in all of scripture. Many of those who don’t know or follow the Lord have verse 37 memorized – at least the first part. If a Christian points out some area of sin in their lives, or even the general principle of God’s condemnation of sin, they often say something like, “I thought Jesus taught you not to judge, but you’re judging me.” Sadly, Christian witnesses often allow the accusation that they are being judgmental to silence their outcry against sin.
Furthermore, many (even some ostensibly Christian teachers) take this verse, and proclaim that Jesus is gentle and loving to all, and does not actually condemn sin. They make a mistaken distinction between the so-called judgmental and vengeful God of the Old Testament, and the loving, inclusive, and tolerant Jesus/God of the New Testament. But this distinction reflects a limited and mistaken understanding of the full counsel of God’s Word.
Indeed, it is true that Jesus proclaims that all sins but one may be forgiven.
28“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; 29but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”— 30because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
But this by no means implies that sin will not be judged. Praise God, indeed, that He alone is the judge of hearts. Certainly no one but God is qualified to judge. Since He is perfect, but we are not, only He has the needed objectivity to be a righteous judge. If the truth be told we who are by nature sinners, tend to overlook those sins we ourselves practice, while hypocritically pointing out other types of sin in others. Only God, being the Creator and owner of all people, and the very author of righteousness itself, has the right to judge people. Only He is able to either reward or condemn our works. Indeed, He promises that is exactly what He will do.
11Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
So exactly what is the difference between those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and those not found there. We know that our salvation is not determined by our works, whether good or evil, but by our faith in Jesus alone.
8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9not of works, lest anyone should boast.
But we can’t extrapolate these reminders that God alone has the right to judge people, and His promise that all sins may be forgiven, to imply that we may practice sin, or even disregard it. On the contrary…
1What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
The old Christian bromide, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,” is an over-worn cliché, but is nevertheless valid. God, indeed, loves all people.
He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Yet in the midst of His love and care for all creation, God abhors sin and will not dwell in its presence. We are called to struggle against sin – primarily against our own sin, but also against the sin of our brothers and sisters in Christ, not in judgment of their hearts, or in a spirit of condemnation, but in loving desire for their restoration and sanctification that they may obtain Jesus’ promise of abundant life.
7Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul decried not only the sin being practiced among them, but also those who tolerated the sin, congratulating themselves for being non-judgmental…
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife! 2And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
There is an important lesson for us today, as our society falls into the trap of moral relativism. We say we are loving one another when we turn a blind eye to their transgressions against what we believe to be right. We proclaim that everyone must decide for himself what is right and wrong, promoting the mistaken idea that no one’s concept of morality is more or less valid than another. We see this trend, not only in the society at large, but tragically within today’s church.
Yet any true follower of Christ, must believe that God alone is the arbiter of what is right and what is wrong. Those who have walked with the Lord for some time should be aware of what God says in His Word about those things He calls sin or unrighteous. We who have been taught these things by the Word of God, then have a sacred duty to teach both new believers and unbelievers the Truth of what God says about sin.
We must remember, though, that our goal in taking action against the sin of another must always be their restoration into fellowship and upright standing with God. After having written the scathing admonition we just saw, Paul later urged the Corinthian church to restore the member of their fellowship they had previously disciplined. This is the forgiveness that Jesus speaks of when He says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
2 Corinthians 2:5-8
5But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. 6This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.
Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that any admonition against sin must be sincerely offered in a genuine spirit of love. The most effective way for us to have this spirit is to remember our own sins, and Jesus’ forgiveness of them.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
9Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
It should also be pointed out that the call to resist sin implies action, not simply noting or reporting. Indeed tattling on each other is a sin in itself that is specifically forbidden in the Law.
“You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
In Matthew, Jesus gives us comprehensive direction regarding how sin is to be handled within the body.
15“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
18“Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Before we move on, notice that the discussion of verse 37 so far has focused on how we must deal with sin inside the body of Christ (starting with our own sin). The next question is, How should the child of God handle sin among people outside the body? What is the correct balance between sharing Jesus’ love of sinners, and His hatred of sin with those who have not yet called upon Jesus’ Name? To understand Jesus’ teaching in this regard, we need to note the context of verse 37. Remember that Jesus is giving specific directions to flesh out His general admonition in verse 31 – “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
There are a few pitfalls in sharing the Gospel.
First, if we sugar coat the Gospel, and share only the good news…
16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
…we run the risk of lulling the lost sinner into a false sense of security. This was the state I myself fell into for 27 years after hearing and believing the “Good News,” and calling on the Name of Jesus, yet continuing in my life of sin and rebellion apart from the fellowship of the saints, and almost wholly ignorant of God’s Word. I don’t know if I was saved during that time or not, and thank God I’ll never have the need to know. I can assure you that neither I nor my family were living the “life more abundantly” that Jesus promises.
But we must also be careful not to decry sin to a lost person, and proclaim that they must stop sinning in order to be saved. In doing so, we risk condemning them to a lifetime of strife against their sin doomed to failure in the end because the standard is utter perfection.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.
This is a very fine balance. We know that the Good News is that Jesus Christ came to save all mankind and give eternal life to whomever believes in Him. Yet we know the reason He came in the first place was to rescue us from sin that we might be made worthy to dwell in God’s presence by Him imputing His own righteousness to us. Furthermore, we know that none of our own righteousness or good works are sufficient to the task, but that…
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
When we approach an unbeliever who is in sin, and we point that sin out to them, as we have seen they may respond by quoting Luke 6:37 to us. We must then be prepared to share the entire Gospel with them, explaining the full significance of not only the justification we have for the asking by Jesus’ sacrifice in our place, but also the sanctification Jesus promises to all believers who daily seek His kingdom.
A great help in such witnessing is remembering that Jesus has also rescued us from the same predicament. If we cast our minds back to before Jesus called us, we can then apply the Golden Rule effectively in our witness.