September 4, 2019

"How to..." love others - Luke 6:27-36

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Theme: How to love others

Luke 6:27-36 "But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don't hold back your shirt either. 30 Give to everyone who asks from you, and from one who takes away your things, don't ask for them back. 31 Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. 32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do what is good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.  

Love is a reflection of Christ

The devil has many crafty and far-reaching techniques when it comes to temptation. One of the most dangerous is something that we often don’t think about. Satan uses God’s Word to tempt. Sounds strange doesn’t it? But isn’t that what the devil did to Jesus? He used a portion of Psalm 91 in an attempt to get Jesus to follow his command. Satan did the same thing to Adam and Eve. It wasn’t written Scripture per se, but he did use what God had spoken about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Throughout history, this technique has been a major way that Satan has influenced, and even gained the upper hand on, many Christians. We tend to assume that as long as we’re using Scripture, we’re in a safe place. But what we forget is that we have a sinful flesh that seeks out opportunities to follow our own word over God’s. It helps to quell the conscience if we can label one our own opinions as “Biblical” or if we selectively choose what to follow from Scripture, as Satan tempts us to.

The verses before us today contain another piece of the Bible that Satan has used to lead many astray. We know it as the Golden Rule: It comes from the very words of Christ, is in verse 31: “Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them.” This principle is completely Biblical. There is nothing wrong with it, just as there was nothing wrong with Psalm 91 or God’s command in the Garden, either. But Satan takes it, manipulates the meaning, offers an alternative interpretation, and mankind has gravitated toward it ever since. To many people, the Golden Rule has become a universal religious moniker. It stands for them as the main purpose of all religions, not as something unique to Jesus. And it has become a way for humans to justify themselves by their own works, instead of submitting to God in repentance and faith. The idea is that our purpose here is not so much to believe in Jesus or to follow the true God, but to do good to others. Like all false teachings, it operates on half-truth. It takes something well known and experienced and changes its very purpose as ordained by God.

In many ways, the theme of our lesson today – love – has traveled a similar path in our culture. It’s become a highjacked word. It’s been stripped of its Biblical meaning and used as a way to promote sin. It’s been separated from its source – Christ, and championed by human interests and desires.  
So, what is to be made of the Golden Rule today. How should we love others? We ask for blessing in this study from the Holy Spirit – the Author or truth and of our faith.
First of all, the love that Jesus is teaching about is more than a rule. Jesus certainly tells us to love others and we would have them love us. But there’s even more. He also instructs us to: Do unto others more than what one would typically expect of you. You see, we tend to take that Golden Rule and apply our own stipulations to it. Sure, I should love others, but only if they deserve it. I should treat others well, but not if they’re evil people. I should go to the extra mile only if it’s someone who shares my beliefs – whether religious or political. We tell ourselves that if they don’t meet those requirements we’re free to mock them, treat them horribly, make fun of them, and look down on them. Okay, so maybe we don’t tell ourselves that but isn’t that how we often act? Christ tells us even more. He holds us, as Christians, to a higher standard because He established a higher standard by His life, work, and path to the cross.

·       Christ turned the other cheek
·       Christ allowed His garment to be taken away.
·       Christ did good to those who treated Him the worst. (even on the cross He pleaded for their forgiveness).

We see more than a mere rule here through the word, grace, in this section. You may be puzzled by grace not being in the text, but that’s because it comes out in a different word – credit. When Jesus asks the crowd three times, “What credit is it to you?” the word is grace. This doesn’t mean we store up grace when we do good things for others. Rather, it shows us that our good deeds are a reflection of what God has done for us. So Jesus asks us, when we refuse to love others because they don’t align with what we think is lovable, what kind of grace is that? What kind of grace is it to share with others only because we expect to get something in return? What kind of grace is it to love others only when they deserve it? That’s not the grace you were shown by God. Jesus says, even sinners can display those cheaper versions of grace. 

Jesus put it another way when He commissioned the 12 disciples to go out and spread the Word. He said to them, Matthew 10:7-8 “And as you go, preach, saying ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

How we treat others is really a reflection of how God has treated us. It leads us not only to consider what we’ve shown others, but also what God has shown us. If God has been merciful to us, especially in our sins, why should be withhold the same love to others?

Love does not necessarily mean like

One of the things that trips us up the most when it comes to loving others is feeling like we’ve betrayed our own values. This is another reason why love is often cheap in the world – people usually do not practice it in a truly unconditional way. This is not an easy fix either. It feels unnatural to go against one’s own conscience and support something evil or wicked. But strange as it may sound, love does not demand we do that.

God calls us to love others, not to like what they’re doing. You probably remember that there are different Greek words for love. There is a friendship love, and romantic love, and a commitment love. Christian love does not mean that you have to tolerate, support, or condone wickedness and evil. But you must be committed to sharing the love of Christ to all – especially to the wicked and evil. Loving others doesn’t mean you have to support what they do or what they believe. It doesn’t matter what you think is most wicked in the world (robbery, murder, sexual immorality, racism, foul language) you are given the high and privileged status to love others as Christ loved you and thereby help them see that they have a Savior who forgives too. But you don’t have to like what they do. You don’t have to be friendly to the sin they commit.   

One of the reasons we struggle with this is because in our culture love most often is equated with liking. It’s a deep liking of course, but if love is often stripped of its unconditional commitment to what is right, it becomes nothing more than infatuation; and of course, we are not infatuated with the things that violate our values the most. The result? We don’t love others as Christ loved us. This can be fixed by understanding what kind of love we are called to – committed love that stands for the truth of God’s love in Christ – not love that joins in with and accepts any belief or behavior.

Within this committed love is the purest form of love possible – the love of the gospel. Don’t confuse this with the former. Just because we imitate the love of Christ in our lives does not equate the two. People around us need Jesus – not just us. We don’t win souls to God by showing how to love – we do it by showing them Jesus. Only Jesus can love in this way. This is grace. This is the highest form of love. This is the love that no Christian, no matter how kind, compassionate, understanding, empathetic will ever be able to put into practice the way that Christ put into practice. To give people this love we need to give them the gospel.

Love that foregoes individual rights

The last thing we contemplate about love is that it willingly gives up individual rights. You simply cannot love as Christ is calling you to if you don’t put other peoples’ interests above your own.

Matthew’s Gospel in this account hearkens back to an old Jewish law – “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus spoke against this precept, telling the crowd to offer the other cheek when struck and to show mercy in the place of vengeance. Jesus wasn’t forsaking what God previously said, rather He was correcting the misunderstanding of it that had arisen in His time (civil vs. moral law). For Christians, Jesus shows us that we can practice something better than the preservation of our individual rights. We can show merciful love and thereby point someone more directly to Jesus.

This doesn’t mean we must allow anyone to what they please to us. There’s a healthy balance to protecting our lives and self-denial by faith. Truly, it’s not loving to allow wrongdoing or sin to exist, even when directed our way. But for the most part the things God asks us to forego involve rights and freedoms that are not matters of life and death. Jesus is asking you to diligently examine situations that arise in your life when you have the opportunity to deny yourself in order to point more clearly to Him. Are you willing to do this? It really is the pinnacle of a submissive faith before God.  

We think of our Scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 13. Several expressions of love in that chapter involve service to others and self-denial. Listen to a modern paraphrase of verses 4-7:

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is never tired of waiting; love is kind; love has no envy; love has no high opinion of itself, love has no pride; 5 Love's ways are ever fair, it takes no thought for itself; it is not quickly made angry, it takes no account of evil; 6 It takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but has joy in what is true; 7 Love has the power of undergoing all things, having faith in all things, hoping all things. (BBE)

This is definitely a rare form of love today. We live in an era that exalts individual rights above all else. This is one reason why we often struggle as a society to come together. We know that we have to work with others in many areas, but when we hold individuality and personal rights as the greatest virtue, we diminish the importance of helping one another. Part of Christ-centered and motivated love is that it allows us the liberty to forego our personal rights out of concern and care for others, and most importantly out of honor to God. 

There’s great wisdom in Christ’s words on love from our section today. We see that our love is to be a reflection of Christ’s love. We see that to love our enemies or those caught in sin doesn’t mean we have to like what they’re involved in. And we see that love allows us to deny ourselves for Christ’s honor and glory and that others would see Him more clearly in the Gospel. These are important lessons for our lives and values we should diligently consider practicing.

But above all, let us be thankful that God has shown us the highest and most perfect form of love in His Son, Jesus. There’s much to follow here, but the true lesson is astonishment and gratefulness that we could receive such love as sinners ourselves. As John wrote, Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1). Return to the words of your Savior often, to behold His love for you, to appreciate it in thankfulness, and to improve upon showing it to others in your life. Amen.

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