This is not so much a hard saying to understand, but it is certainly a difficult one to live out, “Love your enemies” and “Turn the other cheek” (Luke 6:27-36). Let’s get to know each other a little bit more:
- Who was your favorite villain on Saturday morning cartoons, or TV show?
- Why has Jesus made this shift in the object of love (Leviticus 19:18)?
- What are we to do to our enemies? Is that a noun or a verb, maybe an emotion or action?
- How can Luke 6:29-30 reinforce bad behavior? What is Jesus’ point (Luke 6:31, 36)?
Jesus assumed that anyone who attempted to live by his values would get in trouble with the world’s crowd. To be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, well that would expose people’s sin. The world shows their hatred of believers by avoiding us or rejecting us (Luke 6:22), insulting us (Luke 6:22, 28), physically abusing us (Luke 6:29), and suing us (Luke 6:30). This is something that we should expect as followers of Jesus (Philippians 1:29, 2 Timothy 3:12).
How are we to treat our enemies? We must love them, do good to them, and pray for them. Hatred breeds more hatred and does not bring about the life God desires (James 1:20). This cannot be done in our own strength, we need divine intervention (Romans 5:5, Galatians 5:22-23). There are two principles in action here:
- Treat others as we would want to be treated (Luke 6:31) – this assumes we want the very best spiritually for ourselves and we must imitate our heavenly Father by being merciful (Luke 6:36). We become more like God in our character (Luke 6:35).
- We will reap that which we sow (Luke 6:37-38) – if we judge others, we will be judged. If we forgive others, we will be forgiven. If we condemn others, we will be condemned. If we live to give, God will see fit for us to receive. If we live to get, God will see to it that we lose.
When Jesus said we are to love our enemies, he was creating a new standard for relationships.
- He proclaimed to the crowds listening to His Sermon on the Mount that they knew they were to love their neighbor because the command to love our neighbor was a law of God (Leviticus 19:18).
- That we must therefore hate our enemy was an inference incorrectly drawn from it by the Jews. While no Bible verse explicitly says “hate your enemy,” the Pharisees may have somewhat misapplied some of the Old Testament passages about hatred for God’s enemies (Psalm 139:19-22; 140:9-11).
- But Jesus replaced this idea with an even higher standard: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
- Jesus goes on to explain that loving those who love us is easy and even unbelievers can do that. Then He commands us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus explained to his followers that they should adhere to the real meaning of God’s law by loving their enemies as well as their neighbors.
- A Pharisee once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus then told the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
- Here Jesus taught that His followers must demonstrate love to all kinds of people—no matter what faith, nationality, or personality—enemies included.
- If you love your enemies and “pray for those who persecute you,” you then truly reveal that Jesus is Lord of your life.
By using an illustration of the sun rising and the rain falling on both the good and the evil, Jesus shows God’s undiscriminating love to all people.
- His disciples then must reflect His character and exhibit this same undiscriminating love for both friends and enemies.
- Jesus is teaching us that we must live by a higher standard than what the world expects—a standard that is impossible for us to attain by our own efforts.
- It’s only through the power of God’s Spirit that His people can truly love and pray for those who intend to do them harm (Romans 12:14-21).
What about “turning the other cheek?”
The entire section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in which this verse is found can be understood as one where Jesus actually serves to elevate the importance of following Israel’s moral law beyond the letter to the spirit of the law. Much of the material in the Sermon deals with the nature of his coming characterized by mercy, sacrificial love, and patience toward sinners while at the same time affirming the “last is first” principle upon which the kingdom of God is based. For instance, we are told to go the extra mile for someone who abuses us and to pray for enemies instead of resisting them. All of this can be generally summarized by saying we need to be pure inside and out and should be as accommodating as possible for the sake of a lost world.
To “turn the other cheek,” does not imply pacifism, nor does it mean we place ourselves or others in mortal danger. Like the principle of the eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth in Matthew 5:38, turning the other cheek refers to personal retaliation, not criminal offenses or acts of military aggression. Clearly, Jesus did not mean to negate all God’s laws and injunctions protecting us against violent crime or invading armies. Rather, Jesus is speaking here of the principle of non-retaliation to affronts against our own dignity, as well as lawsuits to gain one’s personal assets (Matthew 5:40), infringements on one’s liberty (Matthew 5:41), and violations of property rights (Matthew 5:42). He was calling for a full surrender of all personal rights.
Turning the other cheek means not to return insult for insult in retaliation, which is what most people expect and how worldly people act. Responding to hatred with love just might grab someone’s attention and afford us a chance to share the gospel. When we respond in a manner that is unnatural, it displays the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus was the perfect example because He was silent before His accusers and did not call down revenge from heaven on those who crucified Him.
Finally, after giving us the admonition to love our enemies, Jesus then gives us this command: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). As sons of our Father (Matthew 5:45), we are to be perfect, even as He is perfect.
- This is utterly impossible for sinful man to achieve. This unattainable standard is exactly what the Law itself demanded (James 2:10). So how can Jesus demand the impossible?
- He later tells us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
- That which God demands, only He can accomplish, including the demand to love our enemies.
- What is impossible for man becomes possible for those who give their lives to Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts.