Luke XXV: Lk. 6:27-38
When you follow Jesus, you are committing your life to the One who became impoverished for us, hungry for us, sorrowful for us, rejected and excluded for us. This is why when we experience those same things, we can rejoice and be glad. The reason we receive those situations in faith and rejoice in them is because they are uniquely suited to unleash God’s powerful grace.
Colliding With Unbelief
Fundamentally, when people take refuge in riches and material possessions and sentimental kitsch or popularity contests, they are refusing to believe in Jesus. And by refusing to believe in Jesus, they are refusing to believe in His strategy to bring God’s blessing to the world. His strategy is to overwhelm sinners with grace, to overwhelm His enemies with love (Rom. 5:6-8). These commands to love our enemies will seem frustrating and pointless unless it has happened to you. Jesus gives a series of sixteen imperatives, like a general preparing to send His troops into battle. This is the strategy of grace, which is not at all passive, but is rather a militant mission to overcome all evil with good (Rom. 12:20-21).
Central to the battle plan of Jesus is disarming evil, rendering it impotent. This is what the first eight imperatives are all about. An enemy “loves to hate,” and the central aim of an enemy is for the target to feel hated. The intended response is either to cause the hated person to return the hatred or to cower in self-loathing as a victim. In either case, the enemy has “captured” his victim by defining them by his hatred and abuse. When Jesus commands his disciples to love their enemies, He is requiring them to resist capture. Doing good, blessing, and praying for those who curse and abuse you (Lk. 6:27-28) are all responses that refuse to be defined by the evil done to you. Therefore, they are responses that render the evil powerless. Being struck on the right cheek indicates a degrading act of abuse, but offering the other cheek refuses to be cowed into shame and instead requires the abuser to respond and expose his cruelty more clearly (Lk. 6:29). But it’s also an offer of peace. Likewise, giving your tunic, and giving to those who beg or demand disarms manipulation by grace (Lk. 6:29-30). It says, you can’t demand it if I’m giving it. You can’t steal it if it was a gift. Again, the point is to disarm the evil with good. And curiously, in every situation it is precisely a moment of weakness and powerlessness that grants you the power to overcome evil.
The Power of the Most High
Next, Jesus asks three questions and gives roughly the same answer to all three: Sinners love people who love them, do good to those who do good to them, and lend to those they expect to receive back from (Lk. 6:32-34). But what credit is that? Literally, He asks, ‘What “grace” is that to you?’ At least part of the point seems to be setting sights on big goals: a great reward as sons of the Most High (Lk. 6:35). But the other part of the point is the whole point of the passage. There’s no need for grace when you’re treated well, loved in return, and paid back. In other words, these tactics of grace are not merely defensive; they are offensive. In fact, the title “sons of the Most High” is striking since that was the particular title given to describe the child Mary would conceive (Lk. 1:32). It was the “power of the Most High” that would overshadow Mary and cause her to bear a son (Lk. 1:35). Jesus is implying that this grace and mercy is a similar sort of power. First off, it takes that same power to be a son of the Most High: You can’t love your enemies like this unless God’s power overshadows you. Secondly, if God is turning ordinary men and women into sons of the Most High through Jesus, then the implication is that their acts of mercy and grace will do the same to their enemies (Lk. 6:38).
The Good Measure
The key to the last four imperatives is the last: “give.” And this has already been stated earlier: “As you wish others would do to you, do so to them” (Lk. 6:31). Here, it is: “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Lk. 6:38). These are not merely ethical guidelines; these are tactics of grace. If you are set on pure, wooden justice, you may be technically “right,” but you will miss opportunities to give grace. Of course avoiding vengeful judgment and condemnation are fine, but what you really want is “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over…” (Lk. 6:38) And you get that by forgiving freely.
Conclusions & Applications
1. The flesh wants to retaliate with evil or it wants to cower and hide, but Jesus says we must stand and fight by overcoming evil with good, giving blessing for cursing.
2. For this reason, these tactics of grace are no guarantee of immediate peace and comfort. A soft answer does often turn away wrath, but Jesus was crucified. They stoned Stephen; they beheaded Paul. These are “burning coals.”
3. Overcoming evil with good presupposes clear definitions about what is good. This is one of the reasons why we are fighting over providing cakes and flowers for celebrations of sin. We are fighting over the definition of good.
4. We must insist on lines as clear as possible of good and evil, or agreement and disagreement so that we can love our enemies. Ironically, sometimes we shy away from stating the truth/disagreement clearly and thereby blunt the edge of our grace.
5. God causes rain to fall and the sun to shine on all men, and therefore, all ordinary human goods and necessities are weapons in our hands: beautiful music, basic health care, birthdays, dinner, good beer, laughter, kind words, gifts, and prayer.
6. The grad school of this goodness is learning to speak and act like Jesus and the other prophets and apostles: preaching, writing, arguing, storytelling, holy mockery, strategic silence, and provocative actions (like tossing tables).
So who are your enemies? Begin praying that God would show you how to overcome evil with good. We believe in the power of God’s goodness because He overcame our evil through the death of His good Son.