Inspired to Love
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List several specific acts of love that Jesus commanded in this text.
2. Compare the acts of love in Lesson Aim #1 with the mercy and love of God.
3. Treat one “enemy” in the coming week with the kind of love of which Jesus spoke.
How to Say It
Greco-Roman. GREH-ko ROW-men.
Judaism. JOO-duh-izz-um or JOO-day-izz-um.
Sanhedrin. SAN-huh-drun or San-HEED-run.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Jan. 7—Trust in the Lord (Psalm 37:1–11)
Tuesday, Jan. 8—Love Your Neighbor (Leviticus 19:17, 18)
Wednesday, Jan. 9—Love Your Enemies (Luke 6:27, 28)
Thursday, Jan. 10—Absorb Injustice (Luke 6:29, 30)
Friday, Jan. 11—Set the Standard (Luke 6:31)
Saturday, Jan. 12—Expect Nothing in Return (Luke 6:34–36)
Sunday, Jan. 13—Posterity for the Peaceable (Psalm 37:35–40)
Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.
Why Teach This Lesson?
Living a life of love is hard, isn’t it? Yet followers of Christ are told to “be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1, 2). In other words, believers are told to act like God!
Of course this can only be done when we allow the Lord Jesus Christ, who lives in us, to come out and live through us. We are to allow his desires to flow through our goals, our actions, our words, and our attitudes. That is what today’s lesson will help your learners do. As believers grow and mature in this way, their lives become more effective tools for pointing people to Christ.
A. My Rights and My Wrongs
I know a couple who obviously love each other, but they bicker a lot. Usually a visitor gets drawn into the argument with comments like, “Does your husband watch TV as much as mine?” Before there’s time for a response, the grinning husband chimes in, “Do you nag your husband as much as my wife does?” It’s just the pattern they have established.
But recently their small group studied Boundaries, a popular book written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. On my most recent visit, I noticed a distinct change in their tone. Instead of their usual bickering, they were heard to say, “You’re not hearing my no,” and “You don’t respect my boundaries.” So far so good—but not good enough!
They had come to understand the concept that we are to appreciate the needs of others. But they use this understanding only to have their own needs met. Each is concerned that giving too much to the other means being left with nothing. Each wonders, “If I take care of his or her needs, who will take care of mine?” It’s important to have healthy boundaries. But how much should we protect our own interests, and how much should we look out for the interests of others?
Our world is full of messages about “our rights”—as employees, as women or men, as Christians. While our world teaches, “Watch out for yourself because no one else will,” Jesus has a different message.
B. Lesson Background
This week’s passage is an excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17–49). The sermon is dominated by a beatitude section (Luke 6:20–38) that is very similar to that in Matthew 5. It is important to consider the background of the sermon as a whole in order to develop a context for our passage today.
After his baptism (Luke 3:21) and temptation (Luke 4:1, 2), Jesus returned to Nazareth. There he announced the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1, 2 (Luke 4:18, 19). News about him spread rapidly, and he began to perform miracles to affirm his identity (Luke 4:31–41). Then he selected his disciples. He further affirmed his identity in debates with the Pharisees and by healing people (Luke 5).
Luke 6:1–11 begins to show us that Jesus’ understanding of the law was different from that of the Pharisees with whom he debated. Jesus deliberately did things on the Sabbath that certain Pharisees believed to be unlawful. Jesus informed the Pharisees that their understanding of the law was the reverse of what it should be.
This is important because the sermon in Luke 6:20–49 presents the proper way to think about how God expects us to live. Somewhere along the way, religious leaders had begun to teach that godly behavior was based in following minute details of the law. Jesus announced that the details must fit within a bigger picture (compare Luke 11:42).
As Jesus and his apostles came down from a mountain, they were met by a large crowd of people (Luke 6:12–19). They tried to get close to Jesus—to hear him, touch him, and be healed by him. Although the sermon was “in the hearing of the people” (Luke 7:1), we find that Jesus turned and directed his sermon toward the disciples (Luke 6:20). The sermon presented the way to think about the law and what it meant to follow and honor God. Those disciples eventually ended up being leaders of the church. So how did Jesus instruct them on how to live before God?
I. What to Do (Luke 6:27–31)
A. General Principles of Love (vv. 27, 28)
27a. “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies,
The dominant ethical command in the New Testament is to love (Matthew 22:36–40). Modern Christians have numerous ethical issues about which to be passionate: abortion, homosexuality, and stem-cell research are just three. It is troubling, though, for Christians not to be at least as passionate about the rigorous discipline of love.
Love is often considered to be a romantic idea, fit for weak and emotional people. But this sort of thinking ignores the fact that love is “the bottom line” of Christian behavior: the Christian walk begins with love; other ethical ideals follow after that. First John 4:20 is an important text here. In John’s view, to fail to love one another is to fail to love God.
As we read through the New Testament’s perspective on love, we are alerted to the fact that the kind of love in view is not primarily an emotion. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Love in the New Testament is the practice of self-sacrifice!
The truth is, though, that some are not willing to engage in the sort of self-sacrifice the New Testament stresses. Perhaps we are willing to do some work for someone or give money to a godly ministry in a way that’s not too inconvenient. The New Testament, though, sees a love that goes beyond this. The New Testament sees a love that is characterized by allowing one’s own needs to be subordinate to the needs of others, even if they despise you (compare Philippians 2:3).
The most difficult form of love required of us is the type of love Christ displayed in his own life. He loved people who hated him, ignored him, and did not even know him. But in practice, how is it possible to love an enemy? To get us started on answering this, we must first get away from the notion that love and like are the same thing. That is, we must not confuse the command to love with an emotional experience. To love someone is to be willing to sacrifice for that person.
Before we move on, we should pause to note that Jesus’ command to Love your enemies is nothing new. See Exodus 23:4-5 and Proverbs 25:21.
27b. “ … do good to those who hate you,
What Do You Think?
How do the enemies we face today compare and contrast with the enemies of Jesus’ time? What are some ways you have shown love to your enemies?
The normal response to someone who hates you is to hate him or her right back. If people do nasty things to us, we naturally are not very likely to respond by doing things that are genuinely in their best interest! But the life of Jesus provides an example of how love-as-sacrifice reveals itself. By commanding us to do good to those who hate you, Jesus is asking us to sacrifice our feelings and indignation on the altar of obedience to him.
We must be careful to note that Jesus is not saying, “Don’t hate them back.” He is requiring us to go beyond not hating—actually to go so far as to do good for them! Further, the underlying language suggests that Jesus is not talking about just one act of kindness. Rather, he is referring to an entire way of life that is characterized by doing good to those who hate us, as difficult as this may be to implement.
Jesus’ command goes against certain elements of the culture of his day. For example, the “Rule of the Community” that is part of the Dead Sea Scrolls calls for love of “all the sons of light” and hatred of “all the sons of darkness.”
28. “ … bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
The phrase mistreat you refers to abusive treatment. We’re still dealing with the same kind of enemy we saw in verse 27, but now Jesus shifts the focus from their attitude to their behavior toward us. Interestingly, in the previous verse we were told to confront hateful attitudes with a good action; here we are commanded to confront hateful behavior with prayer and blessing. That is, Jesus requires us to go even further now and bring an action of love into our private thought world. This speaks to the importance of our inner orientation.
What Do You Think?
What are some specific ways that we can “do good to those who hate” us and “bless those who curse” us?
B. Concrete Examples of Love (vv. 29, 30)
29. “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.
The idea in this and the following verse is contrary to the cultural ideal today that we should demand that others observe our personal rights. Once again Jesus is calling us to have a sacrificial attitude. We are commanded to surrender our instinctive reaction toward an enemy for an entirely different response.
Some commentators suggest that the idea here is more of how to respond to religious persecution than to criminal mistreatment. We note, however, that both Jesus and Paul responded sharply when they were struck in the face as acts of religious persecution (John 18:22-23; Acts 23:2-3).
Paul noted that the attack against him was in violation of the law. After some dialogue, Paul eventually humbled himself before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:5). Paul also used the Roman legal system to protect himself from persecution (Acts 22:25; 25:10–12). Clearly, applying Jesus’ command as he intends will require much study and prayer! See the next verse.
30. “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.
The commands of Jesus seem severe, don’t they? We may ask ourselves how the behavior proposed in this verse is even possible! Is Jesus saying that if someone asks me for my home and all of my possessions, then I am to give it all away with a smile to boot?
Keep in mind that Jesus is further developing the idea of love. In so doing, he is saying that our attitude toward our possessions, our sense of entitlement, should not get in the way of our ability to exhibit Christian love. Christian love cannot work in a context where we privilege ourselves over others.
We may note in passing that to give away our homes and possessions to others merely because they ask may violate 2 Thessalonians 3:10 in that our actions may reward laziness. Such giveaways may also violate 1 Timothy 5:8 if we lose the means to provide for our own families.
C. Golden Rule of Love (v. 31)
31. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
In Jesus’ day, there are two forms of this rule floating around: a negative form and a positive form. The negative form is something like, “don’t do bad things to others lest others do bad things to you.” This form is popular in both Judaism and in the wider Greco-Roman world of the first century.
Jesus stresses the positive form of the Golden Rule. This is the less common but not unknown form at the time. The positive form has a different function: it shifts the focus from self to others. The negative form says, “Keep yourself safe by not stirring up trouble”; the positive form that Jesus uses says, “The way you treat others should be based on how you would like to be treated.”
That Jesus uses the less common form demonstrates that he is not just tossing around a popular cliché. Furthermore, the positive form of the Golden Rule reflects the values Jesus has been developing throughout his sermon. In particular, it reflects the idea that our actions toward others cannot be based on how we have been treated so far. Again, we see a reflection of the sacrificial attitude that is required by Christian love.
What Do You Think?
Who among those you know is best at living out the Golden Rule? What do you see in that person’s life that demonstrates this?
II. Why to Do It (Luke 6:32–36)
A. Proper Motive (vv. 32–34)
32–34. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full.
There is an obvious repetition in the structure of these verses as they repeat ideas from earlier parts of the sermon: love (v. 27), do good (vv. 27, 31), give/lend (v. 30). Each of the verses before us contains the phrase what credit is that to you? This means something like “why should you get any recognition for doing that?” Returning love for love, good for good, and stuff for stuff is what sinners themselves are very capable of doing. That’s just natural. But Christians are to go above and beyond this.
When Jesus commands us to live according to the Golden Rule, we should be careful to note that he does not promise that people will respond in kind. The rule is a command from our Lord to act toward others in a specific way, regardless of their response. It is, therefore, not based on a desire to make our lives easier. The single point in these three verses is that the Golden Rule is a norm for our behavior and lifestyle. As such, the way we implement this rule is not dependent upon the actions of those whom we are called to love.
What Do You Think?
In the twenty-first century, what does loving, doing good for, or giving to people who can return the favor look like? How does that contrast with Jesus’ example?
Servers in restaurants know that the better service they provide, the bigger tip they should receive. We provide Christmas gifts for our mail carriers because packages are left (and will continue to be left) carefully inside our screen doors. It is always a temptation to do things for others with the expectation that they will respond by doing something special for us.
Basil of Caesarea (ad 329–379) set a different example. As an early leader of Eastern Orthodox monasticism, he saw many monks practice lives of extreme self-denial (asceticism). But he thought it was to little purpose other than self-satisfaction. So Basil decided to point monasticism toward a great measure of service outreach with no thought of intrinsic rewards.
As a result, some monasteries became hospitals and took in the sick. Others became educational centers. Many monasteries sent their monks out into the fields to gather the town crops at harvest time, then return to the monastery and refuse any payment for their work.
Jesus encourages us to give without expectation of receiving in return. Such is the essence of true Christian service. Did Basil of Caesarea understand this better than we do today? —J. B. N.
Visual for Lesson 7
Point to the military uniform as you ask, “How should love for enemies show itself in wartime?”
B. Proper Attitude (vv. 35a, 35b)
35a. “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.
Jesus repeats the threefold theme of love … , do good … , and lend. Tying these to not expecting to get anything back again highlights once more a major idea of our passage: don’t focus on yourself.
It is tempting for us to agree with Jesus that genuine Christian love does not seek any benefit beyond the opportunity to act in love, then turn to the next verse. But if we stop and think about how Jesus repeats this idea, and if we reflect also upon the fact that love is the dominant ethic in the New Testament, then perhaps we ought to pause to investigate our own intentions carefully.
In all honesty, are we able to act in a way that is self-sacrificing? Can we act in the interests of others with no expectation of anything in return? Can we act with no expectation of thank-you cards or pats on the back? God knows our hearts!
What Do You Think?
Without mentioning names, when was the last time you helped someone who absolutely could not repay you? How have you found your motivation to be different when you helped others who could return the favor from when you helped others who could not?
Love Your Enemy
Dirk Willems was an Anabaptist living in Holland in 1569. The Anabaptists were a persecuted religious minority under the Spanish rulers, who were still trying to enforce a Roman Catholic monopoly in the country. Willems was thrown into prison to await trial as a heretic. The prison diet was inadequate, and Willems lost a considerable amount of weight. Knowing his life was at stake, he made a rope out of knotted rags and lowered himself out of an upper window. Then he ran!
A prison guard saw Willems and pursued. Willems was able to cross over a frozen pond safely; his lightweight, emaciated body did not break through the thin ice. But his pursuer, much heavier, broke through the ice. He tried to get out on his own but was unsuccessful.
Willems heard the man’s cries. But Willems knew that if he tried to help the pursuer, he most likely would be caught again. He could not let the man drown. So he returned and helped the man to safety. Then the guard promptly hauled Willems back to prison. Shortly thereafter he was burned at the stake for his “heresy” of being an Anabaptist.
Willems exemplified exactly what Jesus was talking about. Willems loved his enemy to the extent that it cost him his own life. Jesus’ words are easily acknowledged, but rarely implemented. Dirk Willems is a marvelous exception. —J. B. N.
35b. “Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High,
Here are the ultimate benefits of the kind of love that Jesus has in mind. The stated benefits are a part of a worldview that Jesus is presenting in this sermon. Jesus clearly is stressing that the ability to love others in a self-sacrificial manner is an important component of our eternal reward. This kind of love is a vital part of our identity as sons of the Most High.
Thus Jesus’ sermon presents the idea that the motivation for living a certain kind of life is not based on “what we can get out of it” in the here and now. Even so, isn’t the motivation of an eternal reward at least somewhat selfish in and of itself? The next passage answers this.
C. Proper Example (vv. 35c, 36)
35c. “ … because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
God’s character is our ultimate example. Our desire to please him is our ultimate motivation. The character of God is to love all people, even those who are ungrateful and wicked.
Jesus introduces this point so that we can understand that the way we’re being called to live our lives is not arbitrary. Rather, it is a life that imitates our heavenly Father. So here we have the motivation for achieving the objectives Jesus laid out for us in the earlier part of the sermon.
36. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
We could restate this as, “Since you have benefited from the Father’s mercy, who are you to be unmerciful to others?” That is, the command refers to a kind of behavior (being merciful) and a way to measure that behavior (as God is merciful).
This idea is repeated elsewhere in the Gospels. Consider the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18:21–35. Jesus uses the parable to show that God can be endlessly merciful, but that a failure to reflect the very mercy we ourselves are shown is to encounter the wrath of God.
Through all of these verses, the underlying principle is that everything we have is a result of God’s love and mercy to us. Thus we are in no position to be unloving, ungracious, or selfish. To do so is to reject God outright.
Think of the person you like least. This can be someone you know personally or an infamous public figure. Why do you dislike or fear that person? What would it mean to love him or her as Jesus desires?
This brings us to another question: What does love really look like? It’s hard to say, especially when we consider the kind of love Jesus spoke about. Is there such a thing as a loving quarrel? Can a bouquet of flowers be given in hate? Jesus seems to teach that the motive is the deciding factor, not necessarily the action itself. If we argue with an alcoholic sibling in order to convince him that he needs help, it becomes an action of love. If we present an expensive gift in order to be seen as more generous than other guests at the party, it is far from the act of love it would seem to be (compare Matthew 6:1–4).
The love of a mother seems to be a perfect example of the kind of love that sacrifices at each turn. From the moment of conception, she gives over her very body to the needs of the child. The act of bringing her child into the world is one of extreme pain.
As the child grows, the requirement for sacrifice grows, moving the mother to forego sleep to care for him in sickness and to put aside her embarrassment when he causes a scene in a store. In these daily choices, a mother shows her selfless love. Jesus calls us to exhibit that same kind of love, not only to those we hold dear, but also to strangers, even to those who hurt and hate us.
Thought to Remember
Love doesn’t always feel good, but love always is good.
Our loving Father, thank you for exhibiting true love to us through Jesus. Please help us to love as he loved because that kind of love is so difficult. In Jesus’ name and by his love we pray, amen.
Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2007-2008. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing, 2007, S. 171