Formations 03.08.2020: Love Your Enemies

Luke 6:27-36

I’ve got to confess, it’s hard to find a good current-event angle on Jesus’ words about love and non-retaliation during an election season!

“Love your enemies.” Nope, not going there!

“Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” That sounds good on paper…unless you are among those who feel hated, cursed, and abused in the current rancorous political climate. There are plenty of those, maybe the majority of Coracle readers. Better leave those commands alone, too.

“If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” I don’t think I’ve observed that kind of behavior in any recent debates or TV spots, have you?

In a world that praises getting even, playing favorites, and asserting one’s rights, Jesus tells us to love our enemies—even when they mistreat us. We are to bless and pray for them. We are to turn the other cheek and lend to those who can’t pay us back.

Frankly, advice like that just doesn’t sell these days. We know what the world thinks about that approach to contentious relationships because we hear it every day from coworkers, celebrities, and politicians of every stripe. It’s better to get even. If we did what Jesus said, we would look powerless.

Of course, from the point of view of the hater, the curser, and the abuser, that’s exactly what we are. The kingdom of God, where people take the teachings of Jesus seriously, is a pretty upside-down place. People don’t jockey to score points against each other. Nobody sticks up for “number one.” Everyone resists evildoers in ways that don’t drag them down into the same mud.

While some would call that way of life transformative, others would call it weak.

And yet, what if Jesus were right? What if these commands were allowed to sow in our world seeds of peace and understanding? What if they led us, perhaps kicking and screaming, into a renewed awareness of the dignity of every human being?


• Whom do you find it hard to love? Why?
• Do you think Jesus intended us to keep these commandments literally? Explain.
• When have you been the hated, the cursed, or the abused? How did you respond?
• When have you been the hater, the curser, or the abuser? How do these commands sound in the ears of one who is in a position of power?
• What difference could keeping these commandments make in our lives? In our communities?

Reference Shelf

Be Merciful

In the NT the specific notion of mercy is rendered by eleos (Matt 9:13; Eph 2:4) and oiktirmos (Rom 12:1; Heb 10:28). The verb splagchizomai meant “to have pity or compassion” (cf. Jer 13:14; 21:7).

God is the father of mercies (2 Cor 1:3; cf. Ps 86:15) and God’s compassion is extended over all creation (Ps 145:8-9). By virtue of God’s own mercy, and not because of any personal righteousness, God saved us (Titus 3:5). Jesus was moved to compassion on many occasions (Matt 20:34; Mark 1:41; etc.). Christians are called to be compassionate and merciful (Luke 6:36; Col 3:12).

Stephen J. Andrews, “Mercy,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 567.

Do Good to Those Who Hate You

“Do good” is broad, but it also probably sounded more specific in Luke’s day than in ours: more like “do good deeds” than “have a good attitude.” Those who hate you, in Luke’s thinking, are not just harboring ill will; they are your enemies, those people who populate the psalms who are always trying to trip you up, who laugh at your misfortune, who rub salt in your wounds by saying that you suffer because you are sinful. Your responsibility to them is not simply to have a good attitude, but to find ways to do them good—on the whole, a much more practical goal for the follower of Jesus than the goal of trying to work up what we think of as the emotion of love. That is, once we realize that we have an adversary who is actively trying to do us harm, our responsibilities are to pray for him or her, to look for opportunities to do him or her a good turn, and to avoid any sort of retaliation. We are not required to feel about them the way we feel about our circle of friends and family, but we are required to act toward them in the way defined here. The moment when we decide, “You are my enemy, and so I must act in love toward you” can actually be a clarifying and liberating point when we cease pretending that this person is a friend or colleague and turn to doing what a Christian must for an enemy.

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 187–88.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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