Doing good to our enemy
- 1 Samuel 24:1-13
- Luke 6:27-36
When Wycliffe translator Doug Meland and his wife moved into a village of Brazil’s Fulnio Indians, he was referred to simply as “the white man.” The term was by no means complimentary, since other white men had exploited them, burned their homes, and robbed them of their lands.
But after the Melands learned the Fulnio language and began to help the people with medicine and in other ways, they began calling Doug “the respectable white man.”
When the Melands began adapting the customs of the people, the Fulnio gave them greater acceptance and spoke of Doug as “the white Indian.”
Then one day, as Doug was washing the dirty, blood-caked foot of an injured Fulnio boy, he overheard a bystander say to another: “Whoever heard of a white man washing an Indian’s foot before? Certainly this man is from God!” From that day on, whenever Doug would go into an Indian home, it would be announced “Here comes the man God sent us.”
Love made the difference.
The call out of this world
Let’s try to pick up on the context of Luke 6. On a Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields and his disciples began to pick some of the heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. This, to the Pharisees was unlawful and questioned Jesus about it. Then on another Sabbath Jesus healed a man with a shrivelled-up hand. This good deed put Jesus off-side with the Pharisees again. What follows gives us a clue what this chapter is about:
“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” (Luke 6:9, NIV)
After Jesus had healed the man, the Pharisees “were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11)
In the paragraph following Jesus called and named the apostles from amongst the number of disciples who already had been following Him. This event is crucial to the understanding of what follows in the chapter.
With the crowd of people who came to listen to Jesus and be healed by Him, He addressed “his disciples” (Luke 6:20). Two things are significant here:
A different kingdom
Jesus called out his disciples and apostles, He looked at them, and taught them. The “you” in the Sermon on the Mount is therefore not aimed at the world; the “you” are those who left everything behind to follow Jesus. (Luke 5:11, 28) They are the ones who now stand between Christ and the crowd, between the Saviour and those who are still lost. They are not mediators for them; only Christ can mediate between sinners and God; but Peter would now know what Jesus meant when He said he will make him a fisher of men (Luke 5:10). Amongst all the “Blessed are you …” phrases Jesus adds this one:
Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. (Luke 6:22–24, NIV)
That would be a verse that I would leave out of my first sermon to now converts to a new church. Just imagine how different seeker-sensitive churches are these days – give the consumeristic crowd a sugar-coated gospel, easy on the ear, and palatable to digest. Tell them that to follow Jesus will them make them rich, influential and powerful. What a disgrace and folly this consumeristic easy-going gospel is.
And if this is not enough, our Lord adds:
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets. (Luke 6:26, NIV)
“Woe to you…” This verse is immediately followed by the command: “Love your enemies.”
The word enemy convey the inner disposition from which hostility arises, “hatred,” and means “hostility” as such. What is happening here is the war between two kingdoms: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ stands diametrically opposed to the kingdom of this world – these two kingdoms have different kings, different mindsets, different principles, different goals.
Where one is aimed at selfish gains, self-love, esteem and materialistic accomplishment, the other is opposed to it: a disciple of Christ does not seek his self-interest or esteem; it is never about materialistic gain, but always about self-sacrifice.
Sent into the world
A consumeristic crowd
The crowd was representative of those who initially wanted nothing more of Jesus than temporary gain: they were sick and wanted healing; they were possessed of evil spirit and wanted freedom; they wanted to touch Jesus “because power was coming from Him”.
The Gospels tell us that people followed Jesus for bread, but left Him when the fountain dried up; they listened to his teaching but walked away when things got personal, or if did not fit their idea of who the Messiah was, or what He was sent for; they were as easily taken along in spreading palm branches in shouts of “Hosannah!” before Him as He entered Jerusalem, as they were in shouting, “Crucify Him!”
Our Lord knew that his disciples, and so his church in all ages, can easily fall victim to a crowd who’s mind is not attuned to the kingdom of God. When things do not go their way, the very same people will turn around and become enemies – fearsomely and vindictively opposing all the Kingdom stands for. They easily hurl insults and mistreat God’s children.
It is now important to understand that “enemy” and doing good to “those who hate” us do not mean we have to deal with people who don’t like us. All of us know people who just don’t like us. In their eyes we speak too loud or too much, they dislike our fashion tastes, we listen to a different kind of music, we don’t like the colours they like, or we follow different footy teams. And let’s be honest, we don’t always like them for the same reasons.
The “enemy” in this paragraph of the Bible does not refer to the fellow who is off-side with with me because of personal preferences, choices or disappointments. The “enemy” here is in the first instance not my enemy, but the enemy of the Gospel. Enemies of the Gospel might dislike and hate me personally without understanding that they actually hate the cause for which I stand as a disciple of Christ.
Verse 27 is an interesting one. It begins with, “But I tell you who hear Me.” Of course the disciples were close enough to Jesus to hear Him, and this phrase does not mean that those who couldn’t hear Him had no obligation to do as He commanded. This “hear” is to take to heart what Jesus is saying; it is something that dare not be forgotten when someone is considering the blessings and the woes of the previous paragraph. Jesus is singling out the true believers. To them, as the blessed ones, all that He now says applies. A new life-principle dominates their hearts: that of the kingdom of God.
Disciples of Christ will show their presence in the most distinctive and tangible way to the world. The fruits of repentance which Jesus names are those which the world cannot achieve by any ethics it may invent or practice.
Love your enemies
This “love” is special:
It sees all the hatefulness and the wickedness of the enemy, feels his stabs and his blows, may even have something to do to ward them off; but this fills the loving heart with only the one desire and aim to free its enemy from his hate, to rescue him from his sin, and to save his soul. (Lenski, R.C.H., 1961. The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
How do we express our love for our enemies? It seems to me verse 27 speaks of three ways our love should respond, and the tense of these commands in Greeks speaks of actions based on ongoing princples:
[Continue] to do good
The Pharisees interpreted the Law of God to fit their bill. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” (Matthew 5:43) That’s easy! Our Lord gave the original meaning of the Law back: “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44–45, NIV) That’s exactly what He did!
To those who detest and abhor us for being Christians we must continually do good. Overcoming this hate is to keep meeting it with kind deeds. If our enemy goes on hating in spite of us doing good, our conscience will be clear, we shall be showing the true spirit of the disciple, and the Lord’s favour will be ours.
[Continue] to bless them
The enemy of the cross can sometimes be vicious. The word “curse” has the meaning of calling on a supernatural force to condemn. This this not imply that enemies of the cross really have someone powerful to call upon, but it expresses the hatred which they have for the church. We see the hatred of Muslims against Christians all over the world today. Allah is invoked to pour judgement on the so-called infidels. Then, the command comes, “bless them” – it means the opposite of what they are doing: they curse, we bless. It is not always easy, but the heart of the Christian always want that God may do him all manner of good. Our prayers for their blessing in the Name of the Almighty God must act as a counter attack on their prayers to condemn us.
Brother Andrew of Open doors says:
“…as followers of Christ, we must take a bold step: we must shed the ‘enemy image’ we have of those who persecute us. Because the moment we have an enemy image of anyone, God’s love can no longer work through us to reach them! We must pray for and even love those who hate us.”
[Continue] to pray for them
The buzz word of our day is “human rights”. It is surely not implied in this verse, but can be paraphrased this way: “When your enemies treat you inhumanely, pray for them.” Our Lord sets the example, “Father forgive them.”
God’s people are different from this world. We need to love one another, we need to do good to one another, and sometimes we find it extremely hard to do that. The everyday-Christian is renowned for back-biting and lovelessness.
The true disciple of Christ has a different principle at work in him: he goes beyond the expectation of everyone and loves and does good to those who do not deserve his love and good deeds. It requires patience, forbearance, willingness to forego our rights and to suffer wrong in order to overcome the evil with good. Indeed, we need to keep our eyes on Jesus, who endured all the insults and still loved to the end – to save those who were once his enemies.
About all television drama of our day has as retribution as theme – even family cooking shows. It is seen as a virtue to get even. But the biblical principle is, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)
It is better to sometimes let go of one’s rights to be treated well, or one’s possessions and money not returned to you, than to let passions and wrong desires possess the soul. Jesus speaks here about his disciples; the enemy who wrongs the disciples will have to deal with God.
We are different because, as verse 35 puts it, we are sons of the Most High. No one will ever understand the love of the Father who loved an undeserving world full of sinners. No one will ever understand why He love us so much that He sent his Son to die for sinners. Our verse says He is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”
What a statement: the word “ungrateful” describes everything which is opposite to the very nature of God. Our Father is good, kind, compassionate, forgiving, merciful; the sinner is bad, nasty, self-centred mean-spirited, and merciless. God is love, pure, holy, faithful; the sinner is wicked, cruel and abominable – yet, God forgives this enemy and him He turns into his child.
God commands us to merciful too. What a calling!
Our Lord is not hiding from us that we will have enemies in this world. They hated Him, they will hate us too. “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” (2 Timothy 3:12–13, NIV)
This is the world we live in. This is the world we need to live as disciples of Jesus Christ: we are called out of this world, we are sent into this word – but we must live differently!
May God help us. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 6 April 2014