But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.Jesus (Luke 6:27-28)
There are a lot of great and important passages on love in the Bible, and one of them is found right at the beginning of today’s gospel reading (Luke 6:27-38): “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies.”
Before we get to the part about loving our enemies, I want to think first of some of the other great passages on love in the Bible. And to do that, I thought I would share with you my personal “Top Ten” passages on love in the Bible (other than today’s). These are not ranked, and they are not in the order of where we find them in the Bible. I have ordered them theologically, in a way that teaches us about the nature of love, according to God. Here’s my Top Ten:
- God is love. (1 John 4:8)
- We love because God first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
- God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5)
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
- Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
- For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. (John 3:16)
- Love one another. Just as I have loved you (Jesus said), you also should love one another. (John 13:34)
- By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
- Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
- Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
When we put all these together, we get a great picture of what love looks like, according to Scripture. First of all, God is love. God and love are synonymous. God loves us, and will always love us, because God is love.
We are commanded to love the Lord our God, not to earn God’s love, but to return God’s love. We love because God first loved us. God’s love has been poured into our hearts. That is why we can love God. And that is how we can love one another, just as we are commanded to do.
We don’t always do that very well, of course. We sin. But God’s love remains. And in fact, God so loved the world, and God so loves us, that he gave his only son, Jesus, who loved us, who died for us, and who taught us how to love.
We are taught to love others as Jesus loved us. And in fact, we are taught that our love for one another is what will show the world that we are followers of Jesus. Our love for one another will cover all sorts of sins. Whatever else our shortcomings, if we love one another, we know that we are on the right track. Because the greatest of all of God’s gifts, and God’s commands, is love. God is love. God loves us. So love God. Love our neighbor. Love one another. And yes: love even our enemies.
Love Our Enemies?
Today’s gospel reading is asking a lot, isn’t it?
Love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.
And on and on. Jesus is asking a lot of those who follow him. These teachings just seem so difficult, and, frankly, so misused over the years, that it’s tempting to ignore them. Or, perhaps, just boil them all down to the Golden Rule, which appears in the middle of all these teachings. It’s tempting just to focus on that wonderful rule, to treat others as we want to be treated. Can’t we just stick to that one? Or maybe just stick with the greatest commandment, to love God and to love our neighbor? Why do we have to love our enemy?
And yet, Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms to do just that. And we can’t just cut and paste the things that Jesus said that we like, or that we find easy to do. We also have to tackle the harder things, too. We have to wrestle with what it means to love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us, and bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us.
An Example for Us All: Archbishop Desmond Tutu
When I think of this passage, I think of people who have shown us what this looks like in extreme circumstances. People who have endured real hatred and abuse, and who still have managed to love. And one in particular that I want to talk about this morning is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He died just a couple of months ago, of cancer, but his legacy certainly lives on, because he was a Christian who taught us and showed us how to love even our enemies.
Bishop Tutu served as a leader in South Africa during the struggle to dismantle apartheid. And he certainly earned a lot of enemies along the way. And what makes him such a great example of what today’s gospel reading looks like is how he treated those enemies. Bishop Tutu never became bitter or hateful. He never deviated from what the Bible taught him – to love and forgive one’s enemies. He managed to go through his entire life with this focus.
He was asked his secret to doing this. How was he able to live by these challenging teachings of Jesus? Bishop Tutu’s answer was both complicated and simple. The simple answer is found in an answer he gave in an interview, when he said this:
“I hold on, and often only by the skin of my teeth, to believe that God is in charge of his world, in spite of all appearances to the contrary.” (Bishop Tutu’s Hopes and Fears)
When you truly believe that you can love even your enemies. You can pray for those who mistreat you. You can turn the other cheek. And you can forgive. And you can do all of this because of this deep inner conviction that God is in charge of his world, no matter how bad things look. It is a simple but life-changing belief. That was his simple answer.
The more complicated answer is found in several of his books, including his memoir, “No Future without Forgiveness.” In this book, he talks about forgiveness as a process that is not simple, and not quick. As he puts it so eloquently:
“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”
“Forgiving,” Bishop Tutu went on to say, “is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering – remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning.”
And this kind of forgiveness is only possible when we truly believe that God is in charge of this world. When we don’t really believe that, we try to take matters into our own hands. And we lose the ability to love and to forgive and to bless and pray for those we might consider our enemies.
It all starts, as does so much of our Christian faith, with the belief that God is in charge of his world, no matter what is happening in this world. When you believe that, you can love your enemies. You can turn the other cheek. You can pray for those who abuse you. You can do all of this because of this deep inner conviction that God is in charge of his world, in spite of all appearances to the contrary. It is a simple but life-changing belief.
Now, I suspect that if Bishop Tutu were here today, he would remind us that there is a much better role model than him, and that is Jesus. When you think about it, Jesus lived by his own teaching in an incredible way. And he did that because he himself believed that his Heavenly Father was in charge of his world, no matter what was happening in his life.
And so, he chose to love his enemies, even when they mocked him and spat upon him. He was determined to do good to those who hated him, even when they cried out for his crucifixion. He opted to bless them when they cursed him, and he prayed for them when they abused him. Even when hanging from the cross, he forgave those who put him there: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Filled with the faith and conviction that God was in charge of his world, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, Jesus lived fearlessly, loved courageously, and forgave endlessly. And aren’t we thankful for that? We are certainly thankful that Jesus did what he taught us to do later in this same reading, when he went on to say:
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
Because Jesus did exactly that for us all. Jesus didn’t come to judge us, or to condemn the world, but to save this world, and to love us. And in the same way, Jesus sends us out into the world not to condemn it or to judge it, but to bless it and to love it. And to do all this trusting in the one who is truly in charge, even when the evidence might suggest otherwise.
“God’s dream,” Bishop Tutu once said, “is that you and I, and all of us, will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.”
God’s dream for us starts with God’s love for us. And God’s dream for us becomes real because of God’s son, who loved us enough to die for us. And God’s dream for us is shown to us through people like Bishop Tutu. But also through people like you and me.
The world will know we are followers of Jesus by our love for one another. But the world will become convinced of this love when we love even our enemies, just as Jesus taught us to do. Let us love God, and love ourselves, and love one another. But let us also love those who will not love us back, until all the world knows the love that we are blessed to have in Jesus. To the glory of God. Amen.