Luke 6:27-38 - EXEGESIS:
LUKE 6:27-38. AN END TO RECIPROCITY
It is natural to reciprocate-to help those who help you and hurt those who hurt you. "Do unto others as they do unto you" is simple justice, and has been enshrined in law at least since the Code of Hammurabi (18th Century B.C.), which specified an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
Reciprocity is a natural, commonsense way to order one's life, and is far more enlightened than the aggressive, selfish approach that many people favor today. "Do unto others as they do unto you" has morphed into "Do unto others before they do to you" and simply "Do unto others!" We live in a world where powerful and wealthy people use power and wealth to accumulate even more power and wealth-with little regard to the effects on other people. As a wealthy rancher is reputed to have said, "All I want is what's mine-and what adjoins it." In many circles, such aggressive behavior is not only condoned but is celebrated. In some cases, truly evil people deliberately inflict injury on others for no apparent reason. We can understand the person who would steal something of value. It is more difficult to understand a person who would set fire to a church because of racial hatred or shoot a passerby for a quick thrill.
In such a dog-eat-dog world, reciprocity seems positively enlightened. It does not seek to inflict injury except in cases where injury is deserved. Its goal is fairness. The bad person suffers, and the good person prospers. It is as it should be.
And yet Jesus tells us that reciprocity is not kingdom behavior. Just as God goes beyond justice to mercy, we are to do the same. It is a hard lesson, one that goes against the grain. It is un-natural. We can move beyond justice to mercy, but only through the grace of God.
LUKE 6:27-31. BUT I TELL YOU, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES
27"But I tell you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you. 29To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other; and from him who takes away your cloak, don't withhold your coat also. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and don't ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again. 31As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them."
"But I tell you who hear: love your enemies" (v. 27a). Jesus begins this section by saying, "Love your enemies," and repeats that admonition in verse 35. In between, he gives concrete examples to illustrate what he means. He organizes these in two sets of three examples. In the first set of three, he says:
• "do good to those who hate you" (v. 27b).
• "bless those who curse you" (v. 28a).
• "pray for those who mistreat you" (v. 28b).
In the second set of three, he says:
• "To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer also the other" (v. 29a).
• "and from him who takes away your cloak, don't withhold your coat also" (v. 29b).
• "Give to everyone who asks you, and don't ask him who takes away your goods to give them back again" (v. 30). (Some people count this as two examples rather than one.)
These examples are organized for emphasis. By giving two sets of three examples, Jesus establishes a rhythm that captures our attention.
• The behaviors outlined in the first set of three are general in nature: (1) hatred (2) cursing and (3) abuse. These manifest themselves in many different ways.
• The behaviors outlined in the second set of three are quite specific: (1) striking a cheek (2) taking a coat and (3) taking goods.
The specificity of verses 29-30 is further emphasized by the word "you":
• "You" is plural in verses 27-28 (humin, humas, humon). When Jesus tells us to love, do good, bless, and pray, he is speaking to the crowd.
• "You" is singular (se, sou) in verses 29-30. When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to give to everyone who begs from us, he is speaking to us individually. His finger is pointing directly at you (singular) or me. The charge is specific not only in the actions involved but in the persons addressed.
• "You" in the Golden Rule (v. 31) becomes plural again.
Only the most literal-minded person could read these six examples without understanding that they could have been a thousand examples-or ten thousand. The principle is "Love your enemies," and we understand almost instinctively that we must apply that principle creatively and faithfully in relationship to our enemies.
The examples which Jesus provides to illustrate the word "love" are not directed at feelings but at actions. Jesus calls us to love (Greek: agape), but that does not mean that we must have warm and fuzzy feelings for those who mistreat us. Instead, we are to act in ways calculated to benefit the other person-to make that person's welfare our concern.
With the principle of love and the six examples, Jesus clearly establishes that we, as his disciples, are not to allow people of lesser principles to set the agenda. We are not to wait to see what the other person will do before we decide what we will do. Nor are we to be trapped in a vicious cycle that someone else starts. Instead, we are to seize the initiative by loving, doing good, blessing and praying. These behaviors might seem weak in the face of hatred and violence, but Jesus transforms them. He demonstrates at the cross how powerful they can be. On the cross, he did not curse his enemies, but prayed for their forgiveness. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many other disciples have proven the power of love through the centuries. Love wins! It overcomes the world!
Jesus then anchors this section with the command, "As you would like people to do to you, do exactly so to them" (v. 31). We know this as the Golden Rule. This rule had often been stated in negative form. Philo said, "What you hate to suffer, do not do to anyone else." The Stoics said, "What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not do to any other" (Barclay, 77). Jesus' positive statement of this rule expands its application considerably. We are not only to avoid behavior that we would not want to experience, but are to practice behavior that we would want to experience. This is much more pro-active and dynamic.
LUKE 6:32-34. EVEN SINNERS LOVE THOSE WHO LOVE THEM
32"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive back as much."
Jesus again uses three examples: (1) "If you love those..." (2) "If you do good to those...." (3)"If you lend to those...."
In verses 28-36, Jesus has shown us how to respond to people who misuse us. Now he speaks of people who treat us well. He does not deny us the right to give good for good, but denies us special credit for doing so. Giving good for good is simply reciprocity, and reciprocity is not kingdom behavior. Even people who do not follow Christ give good for good. As Christ's disciples, we are to give good whether we have received good or bad. We are not to be motivated by debts that we owe other people or that they owe us. Jesus calls for an end to such calculation. We are to break the cycle of calculation by giving good-period!
LUKE 6:35-36. BE MERCIFUL, JUST AS YOUR FATHER IS ALSO MERCIFUL
35"But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. 36Therefore be merciful, even as your Father is also merciful."
Here Jesus gives us the theological underpinnings of non-reciprocal behavior. We are to love, to do good, and to act generously, because we "will be children of the Most High." As children of the Most High, our reward is great, because we are heirs to the kingdom. We get to live under the king's roof and eat at the king's table. We get to enter into the king's presence and to enjoy the king's protection. We become like the king, and develop regal manners. It is a life of privilege-a blessed life.
LUKE 6:37-38. GIVE, AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU
37"Don't judge, and you won't be judged. Don't condemn, and you won't be condemned. Set free, and you will be set free. 38Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you. For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you."
"Don't judge, and you won't be judged. Don't condemn, and you won't be condemned" (v. 37ab). Judging (krinete) has to do with evaluating and forming opinions whether positive or negative. Condemning (katadikazete) is more negative and has to do with pronouncing guilt.
There is a genuine tension here. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus warns of false prophets and says, "By their fruits, you will know them" (Matthew 7:16). As the church, we must address the reality of evil and teach our people to stand up for that which is right. We must teach our children to recognize right and wrong. We must avoid doing evil ourselves. To do these things, we must be able to identify good and evil. This involves making judgments. Living faithfully involves discernment.
Perhaps the behavior that Jesus is proscribing here has to do with a mindset that is quick to pronounce judgments on other people-quick to assume God's prerogatives. When I was very young and new in ministry, a woman asked me if her father, a gambler, could have gone to heaven. I answered that gambling was incompatible with the Christian life, so I didn't think so. I shall regret that answer for the rest of my life. It was not my place to set that woman's father among the goats or the sheep-it is God's job. My answer brought that woman pain, and it was unnecessary pain. The truth is that I do not know what God did with her father. I now realize that I am guilty of sins more serious than gambling, and hope that the measure I gave that woman will not be the measure that God returns to me.
Perhaps the behavior that Jesus is proscribing has to do with the subtle ways that we discount each other. We write off this person because she is a fundamentalist and that person because he is a Catholic. Whites are quick to label a person an equal opportunity hire, and blacks are quick to label a person a racist. One coworker is a male, chauvinistic pig, and another is sleeping her way to the top. There is scarcely anyone who is safe from our poison if our hearts are full of venom.
"Set free, and you will be set free" (v. 37c). This promise can be understood on two levels. The most obvious meaning is that God will forgive us if we forgive others. However, it is often also true that people find it easier to forgive a person who has a forgiving nature. We need not choose between these two meanings. It seems likely that both are true.
This promise is consistent with the things that Jesus has to say about forgiveness elsewhere in this Gospel (Luke 11:4; 17:3-4; 23:34).
God rewards us for not engaging in such behavior. "Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be given to you"(v. 38a). The reward is not only more than we have earned but more than we can manage. Packed tightly, it is too abundant for us to contain. It spills out of our largest container, and runs onto the floor.
"For with the same measure you measure it will be measured back to you" (v. 38b). God will weigh our rewards on the scales which we have used to mete out our own generosity. God will measure us for the kingdom with the yardstick which we used to measure our neighbors.
EW: God's agenda is a plan of love.
1. (27-28) Love your enemies.
"But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you."
a. Love your enemies: This is a shockingly simple command to understand, but difficult one to obey. Jesus told us exactly how to actually love our enemies: do good, bless, and pray for those who spitefully use you.
i. Jesus recognized that we will have enemies. This plan of God's Kingdom takes into account real-world problems. Though we will have enemies, yet we are to respond to them in love, trusting that God will protect our cause and destroy our enemies in the best way possible, by transforming them into our friends.
b. Do good... bless... pray for those who spitefully use you: The love Jesus told us to have for our enemies was not a warm, fuzzy feeling deep in the heart. If we wait for that, we may never love them. The love for our enemies is a love that does something for them, quite apart from how we might feel about them.
i. Bless those who curse you means that we must speak well of those who speak ill of us.
ii. "We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible, and even wrong. But we can see to it that, no matter what a man does to us, even if he insults, ill-treats and injures us, we will seek nothing but his highest good." (Barclay)
2. (29-30) Be willing to suffer wrong.
To 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. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back.
a. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also: Continuing His astonishing teaching, Jesus said we must accept certain evils committed against us.
i. When a person insults us (strikes you on the one cheek) we want to give them back what they gave to us, plus more. Jesus said we should patiently bear such insults and offences, and not resist an evil person who insults us this way. Instead, we trust God to defend us. France points out that ancient Jewish writings say that striking someone with the back of the hand - a severe insult - was punishable by a very heavy fine, according to Mishnah BK 8:6.
ii. It is wrong to think Jesus meant evil should never be resisted. Jesus demonstrated with His life that evil should and must be resisted, such as when He turned tables in the temple.
iii. "Jesus is here saying that the true Christian has learned to resent no insult and to seek retaliation for no slight." (Barclay) When we think how Jesus Himself was insulted and spoken against (as a glutton, a drunk, an illegitimate child, a blasphemer, a madman, and so forth) we see how He lived this principle Himself.
iv. It is wrong to think that Jesus meant a physical attack cannot be resisted or defended against. When Jesus spoke of a slap on the one cheek, it was culturally understood as a deep insult, not a physical attack. Jesus did not mean that if someone hits across the right side of our head with a baseball bat, we should allow them to then hit the left side. 2 Corinthians 11:20 probably has in mind this kind of insult slap.
v. It is also wrong to think Jesus meant that there is no place for punishment or retribution in society. Jesus here spoke to personal relationships, and not to the proper functions of government in restraining evil (Romans 13:1-4). I must turn my cheek when I am personally insulted, but the government has a responsibility to restrain the evil man from physical assault.
b. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you: With this, Jesus told us how to deal with people who mistreat, coerce, and manipulate us. We should take command of the situation by sacrificial giving and love.
i. Under the Law of Moses, the outer cloak was something that could not be taken from someone (Exodus 22:26; Deuteronomy 24:13).
ii. "Jesus' disciples, if sued for their tunics (an inner garment like our suit but worn next to the skin), far from seeking satisfaction, will gladly part with what they may legally keep." (Carson)
iii. "The old said, Insist on your own right, and loving your neighbor, hate your enemy, and so secure your safety. The new says, Suffer wrong, and lavish your love on all." (Morgan)
c. From him who takes away your goods do not ask them back: We can only practice this kind of sacrificial love when we know that God will take care of us. We know that if we give away our tunic, God has plenty more of them to give us.
i. The only limit to this kind of sacrifice is the limit that love itself will impose. It isn't loving to give into someone's manipulation without our transforming it into a free act of love. It isn't always loving to give or to not resist.
ii. We might say that Paul repeated this idea of Jesus: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
3. (31) The Golden Rule.
And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.
a. Just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise: The negative way of stating this command was known long before Jesus. It had long been said, "You should not do to your neighbor what you would not want him to do to you." But it was a significant advance for Jesus to put it in the positive, to say that we should do unto others what we want them to do unto us.
i. "The Golden Rule was not invented by Jesus; it is found in many forms in highly diverse settings. About A.D. 20, Rabbi Hillel, challenged by a Gentile to summarize the law in the short time the Gentile could stand on one leg, reportedly responded, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.' (b. Shabbath 31a). Apparently only Jesus phrased the rule positively." (Carson)
ii. In so doing, Jesus made the command much broader. It is the difference between not breaking traffic laws and in doing something positive like helping a stranded motorist. Under the negative form of the rule, the goats of Matthew 25:31-46 could be found "not guilty." Yet under the positive form of the Golden Rule - Jesus' form - they are indeed found guilty.
b. You also do to them likewise: This especially applies to Christian fellowship. If we would experience love and have people reach out to us, we must love and reach out to others.
i. "Oh, that all men acted on it, and there would be no slavery, no war, no swearing, no striking, no lying, no robbing; but all would be justice and love! What a kingdom is this which has such a law!" (Spurgeon)
ii. This makes the law easier to understand, but it doesn't make it any easier to obey. No one has ever consistently done unto others as they would like others to do unto themselves.
4. (32-35) Loving after the pattern of God's love.
"But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And 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. 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.
a. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? We should regard it as no matter of virtue, and no imitation of Jesus, if we merely return the love that is given to us.
i. Remember, Jesus here taught the character of the citizens of His kingdom. We should expect that character to be different from the character seen in the world. There are many good reasons why more should be expected from Christians than others:
b. You will be sons of the Most High: In doing this, we imitate God, who shows love towards His enemies, and is kind to the unthankful and evil.
i. "What does God say to us when he acts thus? I believe that he says this: 'This is the day of free grace; this is the time of mercy.' The hour for judgment is not yet, when he will separate between the good and the bad; when he will mount the judgment seat and award different portions to the righteous and to the wicked." (Spurgeon)
ii. This is an example - that we also are to love our enemies and bless them if we can. In doing so we show ourselves to sons of the Most High. "We are made sons by regeneration, through faith in the Son; but we are called to make our calling and election sure - to approve and vindicate our right to that sacred name. We can only do this by showing in word and act that the divine life and principles animate us." (Meyer)
5. (36-38) The principles to follow.
"Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you."
a. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful: In the Kingdom of Jesus, we have a pattern for the way we should give mercy to others. We should be merciful to others the way God has been merciful to us. That's a lot of mercy, and would only require more mercy from us, not less.
b. Judge not, and you shall not be judged: With this command Jesus warned against passing judgment upon others, because when we do so we will be judged in a similar manner.
i. Among those who seem to know nothing of the Bible, this is the verse that seems to be most popular. Yet most the people who quote this verse don't understand what Jesus said. They seem to think (or hope) that Jesus commanded a universal acceptance of any lifestyle or teaching.
ii. Just a little later in this same sermon (Luke 6:43-45), Jesus commanded us to know ourselves and others by the fruit of their life, and some sort of assessment is necessary for that. The Christian is called to show unconditional love, but the Christian is not called to unconditional approval. We really can love people who do things that should not be approved of.
iii. So while this does not prohibit examining the lives of others, it certainly prohibits doing in the spirit it is often done. An example of unjust judgment was the disciples' condemnation of the woman who came to anoint the feet of Jesus with oil (Matthew 26:6-13). They thought she wasted something; Jesus said she had done a good work that would always be remembered. They had a rash, harsh, unjust judgment.
c. Condemn not... forgive: Jesus expanded the idea beyond simply judging others. He also told us to condemn not and to freely forgive.
d. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over: Jesus encouraged the freedom to give without fearing that we will become the loser in our giving. He wanted to set us free from the fear of giving too much.
i. This is true and has been tested when it comes to generosity with material resources. Simply said, you can't out-give God. He will return more to you, in one way or another, more than you give to Him. Yet the most pointed application of this in context is not so much the giving of material resources, but with giving love, blessing, and forgiveness. We are never the loser when we give those things after the pattern of God's generosity.
ii. Put into your bosom: "The Jew wore a long loose robe down to the feet, and round the waist a girdle. The robe could be pulled up so that the bosom of the robe above the girdle formed a kind of outsize pocket in which things could be carried. So the modern equivalent of the phrase would be, 'People will fill your pocket.'" (Barclay)
e. With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you: This is the principle upon which Jesus built the command, "Judge not, that you be not judged." God will measure unto us according to the same measure we use for others. This is a powerful motivation for us to be generous with love, forgiveness, and goodness to others. If we want more of those things from God, we should give more of them to others.
i. We might say that Jesus did not prohibit the judgment of others. He only requires that our judgment be completely fair, and that we only judge others by a standard we would also like to be judged by.
ii. When our judgment in regard to others is wrong, it is often not because we judge according to a standard but because we are hypocritical in the application of that standard - we ignore the standard in our own life. It is common to judge others by one standard and ourselves by another standard - being far more generous to ourselves than others.
iii. According to the teaching of some rabbis in Jesus' time, God had two measures that He used to judge people. One was a measure of justice and the other was a measure of mercy. Which ever measure you want God to use with you, you should use that same measure with others.
iv. We should only judge another's behavior when we are mindful of the fact that we ourselves will be judged, and we should consider how we would want to be judged.