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If someone disrespects us, slanders us, ill-treats us or even attacks us, our first reaction may well be to strike back, to repay in kind, perhaps to exceed the original offence. Individuals and communities can be driven by the desire for revenge for wrongs suffered, real or imaginary. Jesus shows that the attitude of a disciple is radically different. We turn now to consider Luke 6:27-36 Radical love.
1. Loving enemies
The teaching many of Jesus’ hearers had received was ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy’ (see Matthew 5:43) – attractive in an occupied country. Jesus’ command is therefore radical – ‘Love your enemies’ (v27). He reinforces the point – ‘do good to those who hate you,’ (v27-28). Disciples are not only to refrain from harming – they are to do positive good. This requires a mindset shaped by the grace of God. In the context of abuse suffered because of the Son of Man’ (v22), in view chiefly is persecution for Jesus’ sake. The response of believers to the world’s hatred is to be ‘Love your enemies’. It can also be applied in a secondary sense to personal enemies. By grace the Christian is to ‘Love…do good…bless…pray’. Do we take literally turning the other cheek (v27) or giving to whoever asks (v30)? Will we not then be impoverished and exploited? These are best seen as examples of Jesus’ vivid dramatic statements often used in teaching. Jesus is requiring a generous spirit, a readiness to forgive, not a willingness to be abused or exploited.
2. Excelling sinners
In v32ff the Lord draws a stark contrast between the outlook of ‘sinners’ and of disciples. Disciples are not to lose their distinctiveness or adopt the attitudes or lifestyle of sinners. The crucial test is the kind of love they show. Note v32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Disciples are to go beyond the love that the world shows. The same applies to ‘do good…lend’ (v33-34) – it is insufficient to calculate the likelihood of repayment or to respond merely to good received. Jesus drives the lesson home in v35 – the disciple is to show love that has its focus on the good of the recipient, love to the unlovely and unworthy (v35). This needs Spirit-given wisdom. It is crucial to discipleship and provides a powerful witness to a world which operates on different principles. When Christians are hated by the world, the challenge is especially great (see John 15:19).
3. Imitating God
A disciple never loses by obeying these commands. In earthly terms he may be exploited, taken for a fool, etc, but in spiritual terms, ‘your reward will be great’ (v35). The ultimate reward will be received at the Lord’s return – Matthew 25:34. Rewards are a gift of God’s grace. Also ‘you will be sons of the Most High’ – love demonstrates that we are sons. We imitate our Father, manifesting the family likeness. Note ‘he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked’. True disciples will increasingly look like the Lord – ‘Be merciful just as your Father is merciful’ (v36). Mercy is seen supremely in the Messiah who speaks these words. ‘Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love’ (Ephesians 5:1).