The Lord's Day Morning
September 27, 2009
Luke 6: 27-36
“Loving Those Who Don't Love You”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you’ll remember throughout Luke chapter 6, from the time Jesus called twelve disciples to follow Him, He is clearly sending the signal that He is creating the people of God anew. And just like Moses gathered twelve tribes and Joshua led twelve tribes into the Promised Land, so also Jesus has twelve disciples in this new Israel that He is bringing about. As we looked at the Beatitudes these last few weeks, we saw that Jesus was saying that one difference between His disciples, His followers, and the world, is that His disciples value something different than the world values. They treasure something different than the world treasures. They worship something different than the world worships. And that makes all the difference in the hard places and the good places in life. When circumstances are hard, whether it's poverty, hunger, or friendlessness, His disciples react in a certain way because who their treasure is. And when circumstances are good, instead of worshiping those circumstances and reveling in those gifts above all else, His disciples continue to treasure God, to worship Him, to value Him above everything else because they understand who the true treasure is. So one great difference between His people and worldlings is going to be what they value, what they treasure.
Now in this passage, He begins to address another distinction between His people and the world. And it has to do with their default setting when they are dealing with unloving people. Now very frankly, what Jesus is speaking about today has to do with every single one of us here today. I don't know how it has to do with you specifically. I do know how it has to do with some of you specifically, just because you have been so kind to open your lives up to me and let me know some of the things you struggle with. But Jesus has quit preaching and gone to meddling in this passage. If you listen closely, there will be no one who walks out of here without our toes thoroughly stepped upon. And of course, He intends to do that because one of the vital differences between His people and the world is precisely seen in this area.
Now let me say one more thing before we read the passage. If you think the Golden Rule is how Jesus intends you to get right with God and be saved, I've got some really bad news for you. If being loving towards those who are unloving to you is the way you get saved, we're all going to hell. Jesus Himself in this passage makes it clear that obedience to His Golden Rule is not the way we are saved, but the proof and evidence and the result of the salvation which He has gained for us. The way that we treat those who are unloving towards us is the effect of having received His undeserved mercies. That is one of the key things that He says in this passage.
So it's important for us to bear this in mind as we read this passage because moralists like to take a passage like this and turn it into Jesus’ words on the way of salvation. When in fact, Jesus is talking to His disciples who have already received God's mercy and He's telling them how they are to live. It's important for us to remember the distinction between those two things as we read God's Word. Let's bow before Him and ask for His help and blessing as we read His Word.
Lord, this is Your Word, and that means that we need it as much as we need food, even more. So help us to open our mouths and taste it and chew it and digest it and take it in, O Lord, and permeate every part of our being. Change us from the inside out. By Your Holy Spirit, apply the truth to parts of our hearts that would rather not hear it. Change our lives in places that we're so busy protecting ourselves that we haven't lived alive to the radical, freeing power of the Word of God and the command of Christ. Wake us up and get Your own glory for it while You do everlasting good to us. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's Word beginning in Luke 6, verse 27:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abused you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you know anything about default setting? My computer has default settings, and sometimes I don't like the default settings that my computer has and I want to change it. When I open up the screen, I want to go to a certain place. When I click on a certain button, I want it to take me to my sermon files first or I want it to take me to my email or to some other place. I know a little bit about computers; I do like gadgets; I'm a boy after all, but I don't know that much about computers and so if it's very complex and if it involves changing the default settings, frankly I have to ask Jason or David how to do that. “Jason, can you help me change my default settings so I can get where I want to go?” “David, could you come change the default settings, I don't know how to do it, so the computer will work the way I want it to work?”
You know, in our own hearts and lives and attitudes and character we also have default settings. Have you ever recognized your default settings? When “X” happens, you almost always respond with “Y”. Whether it's good or bad, it's a default setting. In our relationships we have certain default settings — maybe the relationship between you and your husband or you and your wife, or it may be your relationships with your parents, your adult parents, your elderly parents, or their relationship to you, or it may be in your relationship to your children, your adult children.
But almost all of us can recognize the default settings that get ingrained in relationships and sometimes they are very destructive and we've been playing them out for years. You say this, and you know exactly what dad is going to say. And what you say back is not going to be good and what he says back is going to be even worse, and suddenly you’re caught up in this cycle that you cannot break. And you’re in the car and you’re on the way there for lunch and you’re thinking to yourself, “I'm not going to do that again,” and then he says this and you say that and you’re right there again. The cycle repeats itself. It's a default setting. And no matter how many times you resolve to break it, you don't know how to get at it. You don't know how to reset the default.
I'm going to suggest to you that in this passage, Jesus is concerned to reset a default setting for all of His disciples that is deeply ingrained in every one of us. We may think of ourselves as basically loving people, basically nice people. But the fact of the matter is, most of the time that we are loving, we are loving those who love us. Now that can be a challenge because those who love you can hurt you. Those who are close to you can hurt you. But Jesus is especially talking about how we deal with those who do not love us, who really don't have anything to offer us, and sometimes those who have our positive injury in mind in their actions and their intentions. He is talking about how we are to respond to those who do not love us, and in so doing, He is talking about changing our default settings. Now, in what I'm about to say, there are going to be 674 questions that pop into your mind — “But does it apply here? But does it apply here? But do you always have to do that? But do you always have to do this?” Let me just say very quickly, Jesus is talking about your default setting – what is going to be the standard, believing Christian response to those who do not love you. He is not covering every circumstance of life with this one particular dictum.
For instance, if you were here last Sunday night, you will have already heard Derek address the question of pacifism. Now this passage is a poster child passage for pacifists. They say, “Jesus said love your enemies. That settles it. Christians may not be involved in war — ever, at all.” Now Presbyterians have never believed that. That's why Quakers put us on the frontier in Pennsylvania between them and the Indians. They could be all spiritual and not fight and we could shoot Indians. So I am fully aware that this is not the only dictum that we have to follow as Christians when we are dealing with difficult, unloving people. And I understand as well that when Christians who have a proclivity to be doormats anyway hear a passage like this, it sometimes reinforces their tendency to let themselves be trodden on, and that's where others of us can come alongside and help them.
But I also know this my friends, when we hear hard and demanding words from Jesus Christ, our temptation is the same temptation from that of the Pharisees. You know what the Pharisees always did? This was always their first question — “When do I not have to obey God's law? What are the exceptions?” The Pharisees, and you and me, are always looking for loopholes. “But Lord, when do I not have to obey this principle?” Jesus is talking about resetting our default setting so that when we are dealing with those who are unloving and unkind, those who have no claim on our affection and who do not evoke our delight, and some of whom actually seek our harm, He is wanting to reset our default setting so we respond to them in a particular way.
And what He says is nothing short of breathtaking. This is what He says — “Love your…” and you’re waiting for “neighbor” to come out of His mouth, but that's not what He says. He says, “Love your enemies.” Jesus is saying that His disciples will love and be merciful to those who do not love and are not merciful to them. Do you hear that exhortation? Love and be merciful to those who don't love you and aren't merciful to you and from whom you have nothing to gain. This is a radical, radical command, and the very standard of it separates His people from the world.
Notice what Jesus says, “Even sinners love those who love them, but My disciples are going to be different. They are going to love even those who don't love them. They are going to give to even those who can't give back to them. And they are going to seek the best interest of even those who aren't seeking their best interest because they’re Mine.”
Our natural tendency is to wish the hurt, or at least to coldly desire the good of those who hate us or who have hurt us or who have wounded us. But Jesus says, “No, positively, you will love them.” And by the way, He doesn't leave that up in the esoteric, airy-fairy realm of sort of feeling kindly about them in fleeting spurts. Notice how concrete He is. Look at verses 27 and 28. The end of 27, all of 28, He tells you three things you’re supposed to do towards those who do not love you. Here they are: “Do good to those who hate you, so your actions towards them are to be just and right and good and to seek their self interest. Secondly, you are supposed to bless those who curse you, so your speech about them is to be kind and good. And third, you are to pray for those who abuse you, not to pray down curses upon them, but to pray down blessings upon them.”
Some of you have been watching the train wreck at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church over the last few months in the wake of Jim Kennedy's death and the new pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, coming on as the senior minister. He's the grandson of Billy Graham. There's been a large portion of the congregation that doesn't want him to be the pastor, and this last Sunday, about 400 of them tried to vote him out. And he was interviewed in the wake of that congregational meeting about these people that had been organizing against him and one of the things the interviewer asked, naturally, was, “Have you talked to you grandfather about this? What did Billy Graham have to suggest to you, Tullian, about this?” And one of the things Tullian said was, “My grandfather told me that there were things I could learn about myself and my ministry even from those who hate me, even from those who were my enemies, even from those who want me out, and I want to pastor the whole congregation, including those who want me out as the pastor.” I thought it was a wonderful response of forgiving spirit and of true Christian love that captures exactly what Jesus is talking about here — that we are to love those who do not love us, that we are to be good to those that have not acted in a good way towards us, that we are to bless those who speak ill of us, and we are to pray for those who do not have our best interest in mind.
You know, it was said of Thomas Cranmer, that the quickest way you could become his friend was to do him wrong, and the minute you did him wrong, he would work so hard to love you back, that eventually he would win you as a friend. I think that is a glorious testimony to the Christian spirit of that great man, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
Jesus is telling us here that it is our duty as Christians to love those who do not love us. He means that we are to show practical kindness towards those who have no claim on our affections, who do not evoke any sense of delight in us, and who are actually seeking our harm. It is a radical, radical thing that Jesus is calling us to. Now one of the questions that ought to be popping up into your mind right now is, “How can I do this? How can I possibly do this?” And Jesus kindly tells us exactly how in this passage. There are two things in particular that I want you to see that He says in this passage that helps us to know how we are to love those who do not love us. Look first of all at verse 35. He says, “Love your enemies and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” Now you may say right now, “Why in the world would God talk about rewarding you for loving someone from whom you are not to look for a reward in that relationship? Why would God talk about rewarding you for loving someone who's not going to love you back? Doesn't that seem to insert a selfish motive into your interaction with that person?” Not at all. How do relationships normally work? We love, either because we have been loved by the one we are loving or we love in hopes that our love will evoke a response of love from that person.
But Jesus is talking about how you love those who don't love you. So your reward is either absolutely not going to come in that relationship or it may wait a long time until it comes. How do you love in that circumstance? How do you love when somebody is not going to give back to you the love that you’re giving? If you know that God is going to give you what you need. He is going to give you what you need so you don't have to worry about that person giving you what you need. You’re called to give because God is going to give what you need.
But it gets even better. Look at the end of verse 35 and then the whole of verse 36. At the end of verse 35, Jesus describes His Heavenly Father, your Heavenly Father, as the Most High. And how does He describe Him? “He is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” And then He says, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful.” Do you see what Jesus is saying? The way that you are able to love the unloving is not because you hope they will change and one day will be able to be loving back to you and give back to you what you've given to them, but because God, in Jesus Christ, through the Gospel, has already given you a gift of grace that you did not deserve that is enough to fill your soul with joy and gratitude so that you are able to love those who will not give back to you.
I know, because you've shared this with me, that there are people in this congregation who love their parents but have had difficult relationships with them almost all their lives, who are now in the process of caring for those elderly parents. And frankly, the care is on you, and you had so hoped that the relationship would get better because after all, you’re working all the time to care for them, but they are crankier than ever and it's breaking your heart. Or maybe it's a relationship with a child, an adult child, and you just can't get through. The cycle just keeps going on. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about here. If we expect to be motivated by love, by the prospect of the unloving loving us, we are going to be deeply frustrated and profoundly disappointed.
But if we love out of the love that God has given us in the Gospel, if we realize what God has done for us in the Gospel, in other words, if we realize that God has already done for us in the Gospel what He is asking us to do to the unloving, it changes everything. Do you realize that? God will never ever command you Christians to do anything that He has not already done for you Himself. Do you realize that? He has never ever asked you to do anything that He has not already done for you Himself. He loved you when you could have cared less about Him. He loved you when you were in rebellion against Him. He loved you when you hated Him. He reached out to you in His grace in Jesus Christ and He made you His child. And now He says, “Child of Mine, be like your Father. I love you enough that you don't have to build your hopes of being loved like you deserved on somebody in this world who is unloving to you, changing. No, you can build your hopes on My unchanging love and that allows you to give in circumstances where you have no hope of reciprocation, no hope of reconciliation, no hope of a person changing their heart attitude towards you, or their ways of speech towards you, or their mindset towards you.”
And my friends, you see why I said the Lord Jesus is stepping on all our toes? There's not one of us in here today that doesn't have to deal with a situation like this. Not one of us. And isn't it kind that Jesus has not just said, “You've got to love those that don't love you.” He's told you how you can do that.
See, I don't know how to change the default settings on my computer. I have to go to Jason or David, and Jesus knows that we don't know how to change this default setting on us. Only the Gospel can. Only the grace of God can. But here's the trick friends – there are so many of us here today, we know the Gospel and we believe the Gospel, but the Gospel has not permeated our lives in this area. It has not gotten hold of us till the ends of our fingers are tingling with it. What's your default setting in this area? Is your default setting to be a fairly loving person to love those who love you, but when someone has betrayed you and wounded you, you are ready to blow them away? You want justice? You’re wounded, you walk around hurt, you’re angry, you’re frustrated, you’re bitter? Or has your default setting been changed so that you realize that it is precisely when you have experienced unloving behavior from someone else, it is precisely then and only then that you can manifest the power of the Gospel in your life. Because you see, you were forgiven when you didn't deserve it, and the only place you can manifest that kind of love is when someone who doesn't deserve your love and hasn't earned your love and hasn't sought your best interest has been brought into your life and then you get to love the unloving and you get to seek the best interest of those who aren't seeking your best interest. And who's that like? It's like your Heavenly Father. It's like your Savior, Jesus Christ. That is the very place that we get to show the Gospel and it's effect in our lives. Is that your default setting? Is that how you think?
I've told you this story before, but it's profoundly affected me for over three decades so I want to share it with you again. The man who was the head of the fine arts division at FurmanUniversity for many, many years was a family friend. He taught me voice in high school. He was an amazing man. He started the music program at Greenville High School back in the 1930's, he started the fine arts division at Furman University and the choir program there in the 1940's, he was a man's man — he played football for Davidson and once knocked out an all-American tackle from Georgia Tech in the middle of a football game, so he was a very commanding presence. People trembled a little bit when DuPre was in the room. Well, right before he got to retirement age, his son-in-law, who was my dentist, left DuPre's only daughter. They were married with four children and he left her high and dry, really destitute. A number of months after the marriage was dissolved, this man was diagnosed with cancer, brain cancer. At that time it was a virulent and inoperable and terminal brain cancer that he was diagnosed with. When he was in the hospital for the last time, who do you think was there to comfort him and share the Gospel with him — the man who was the father of the woman he had left; the man who was the grandfather of the children that he had left; the man who had had to come out of retirement in order to now support a family of five when he should have been enjoying his golden years and playing with his grandchildren. That man was there to comfort him with the Word of God and to share the Gospel, and he led him to faith in Christ. But it was a humble act of a man who was showing love to a person who had done anything but show love to him and to his family.
My friends, if our default setting is where Jesus says it ought to be, we ought to be looking for those opportunities to show that kind of love instead of looking for the loopholes when we don't have to show that kind of love.