Today we are looking at our second week of our series Upside Down: Life in the Kingdom. This series is looking at how our lives when they follow Jesus seem to be upside down from the values and norms of culture.
Last week Matt covered the message of The Way Up is down and looked at Humility and did a great job of it, along with some help from his friends.
Today we are going to be covering the theme of loving your enemies.
Before we jump into the Scripture text for the morning, I want to share an experience that I had earlier this week that sheds light on our Scripture and our theme. This past week I traveled to Tampa, FL to attend the 2015 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, of which our community is a part of denominationally speaking. One of the things that took place during the conference was the participation in the conference of the EYN women’s choir. EYN stands for Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria and is the largest Church of the Brethren body in the world, larger than us here in the US. Many of you know what has been happening in Nigeria in relation to Boko Haram. We heard about the Chibook girls who were abducted in April of 2014. The majority of these girls were EYN members.
There were two things that happened during conference that truly stood out to me. The first was when there was a “wall” of victims of Boko Haram in front of the gathered body. This “wall” stretched from one side of the stage to the other and each section of the “wall” was around 5 feet tall and had names of people killed in the conflict. It was deeply moving and ripped my heart out to see those thousands of names. Names of men, women and children massacred in cold blood from 2008 to the present. And to see those who were holding the sections, knowing that probably every single one of them had lost friends, family, and relatives to the senseless acts of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram.
The second thing that happened during the conference was that the EYN Women’s Choir sang several times throughout the conference. One of the first times they sang was during a worship gathering early in the week (it was either Saturday night or Sunday morning). During one song sang in their native tongue they sang about Christ’s call for those who follow after him to forgiveness. One of the lines in the song was something like “What kind of person are you if you can’t forgive?” Here was these women who had suffered so much, who stared at the face of evil, who no doubt had friends and family members murdered, and possibly even been attacked themselves, up on stage singing about God’s call to forgiveness. God’s call to love our enemies. Over and over the call was for prayer for Boko Haram. In those prayers and messages there was no hint of hatred, bitterness or rage. No, they had a love for Boko Haram and wants them to come to know Jesus and his saving love and forgiveness. I was so struck with the fact that those dear sisters and brothers understood something that I don’t. They understood what Jesus meant when he called for his disciples to love their enemies.
Let’s look at our text today and see what Jesus is calling us to live out in his upside down Kingdom. Let’s look at Luke 6:27-36.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
From first glance we can obviously see that this text is radical, subversive, and upside down from the world and culture. This is not how we are taught to live according to the ways and attitudes of the Kingdom of this world. But Jesus call here is for those of us who would follow after Him, and in following after Him and His Kingdom, we live an upside down existence.
Jesus spends no time in getting right to this upside down call of loving of enemy. In fact the first four things he calls his followers to, are so upside down, that in our fleshly state, we can’t see how this call even makes any logical sense. If we are to follow what Jesus is calling us to, we don’t need to do an external change of behavior, what is truly needed is a change of heart. And this change of heart can only come from an encounter with Jesus. One of the questions that came to my mind when hearing the EYN Choir was “where does this kind of love, forgiveness come from?” I knew the answer, the only answer that would allow someone who had faced so much hell on earth, to turn around and love the ones who had inflicted so much pain on their lives. The answer to that question has to be an encounter with the living, resurrected Jesus.
The first thing we see in verse 27 is Jesus call for us to love our enemies. If you were sitting there listening to Jesus speaking and you heard his call to love your enemies, your mind no doubt went to the Roman empire. That was the largest enemy that the people of Israel had. The empire that taxed them heavily, took over their land, and crucified them if they go out of line. So when Jesus was calling on them to love their enemy, he no doubt meant that they were supposed to love the Romans.
But what does it practically look like to love your enemies? To truly flush out in the every day this upside down call of love for enemy? The rest of verse 27 and verse 28 give us some clues about loving one’s enemy and what it looks like. Jesus goes on to say after his call to love our enemy, that we are to, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Talk about upside down- life in the Kingdom. What Jesus lays out in this 3 simple to understand, but extremely difficult to live out actions, is what it truly means to live an upside down- Kingdom of God existence. There are passages in Scripture that can be hard to truly understand what they really mean. I don’t believe this Scripture is one of those. It is really easy to understand that we are to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who mistreat us. Very very simple to understand, but very very difficult to actually live out and put into practice. Usually these are the last 3 things we want to do to our enemy. Instead of doing good we want to get them back for what they did to us. We want revenge. When we get cursed we want to curse back. When we get mistreated, we want to turn around and mistreat them. The last thing we want to to do is to do good to those who don’t want to do good to us. The last thing we want to do is to bless those who are cursing us. The last thing we want to do is to pray for those who are mistreating us. And when we live in the flesh, these 3 things are next to impossible. We can't will ourselves enough to live them out. We can't work enough love up in our lives to respond to evil with good. No, these kinds of reactions, this kind of love that would rather love and forgive then hate and get revenge can only come into our lives through the power, grace, and love of Jesus. After all, he isn’t calling us to do anything that he hasn’t already done. You are to be like this because this what he is like. He didn’t show love only to his friends, but he also showed love to his enemies, weeping over the city that had rejected his plan for peace, forgiving those who had crucified him while hanging on the cross, etc..
You see Jesus is saying that it really is easy to love those who love you. It’s easy to do good to those who have been good to you. It’s easy to loan to someone you know who will repay you. But it’s really difficult to love your enemy when they want to harm you, curse you, mistreat you, abuse you, and want your downfall. But that is exactly what Jesus is calling his disciples to then, and that is what he is calling his disciples to today. This radical, counter-cultural, subversive, upside down, Kingdom of God life that Jesus is calling us to, if we really want to live this out, it will require our death. No, not in the literal sense (though it has costed others literally to lose their lives by loving their enemy instead of fighting back). No if we want to love our enemy the way that Jesus wants, we will have to die to ourselves and follow him. Just a few chapters after our text for the morning, in Luke 9:23, we find these words, and unless we take them to heart, and seek to live them out, our topic about loving our enemies is really moot. Luke 9:23 says, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Unless you die to yourself and seek to follow Jesus, all this conversation about loving your enemy, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, and praying for those who are mistreating you, makes absolutely no sense. And not only does it not make any sense, you actually won’t want to follow Jesus into his upside Kingdom life. So before you can love your enemy, the first thing you really need to do is to get on the cross, die to yourself, and then get off the cross and begin to live His life through your life. And part of this life living through you is not only the desire to, but also the ability to. The desire and ability to look at your enemies and to love them. The desire and ability to pray for those who are or want to mistreat you. The desire and ability to actually do good to those who are or want to harm you. The desire to bless those who are cursing you. And the desire and ability to repay evil not with more evil, but to repay evil with good.
That is where the EYN women’s choir and the whole EYN church got it from. That is where they got the desire and ability to love their enemies and to forgive them. They got it from Jesus and that is where we will get it from.
So let’s flesh this out a little more fully. Let’s talk about the text, let’s tell stories of when we have seen this passage fleshed out in our world, let’s talk about how we might love our enemies more, and let’s talk about what God might be saying to us through his word, the messages, and our conversation together.