JESUS’ TEACHINGS Luke 6
“I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28).Jesus’ “teaching on the plain” (v. 17) is a typical sermon of Christ from His Galilean ministry.
Luke summarized Jesus’ Sabbath conflict with the Pharisees (6:1–11) and listed the Twelve Christ chose as Apostles (vv. 12–16). He also summed up common elements in Christ’s preaching: His lists of blessings and woes (vv. 17–26), His call to love enemies (vv. 27–36), His prohibition of judging (vv. 37–42), His demand for evidence of righteousness (vv. 43–45), and His call to put His teachings into practice (vv. 46–49).
Understanding the Text
“What is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Luke 6:1–2 Each Gospel records Sabbath controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees. This focused on the multiplied rules of Sabbath observance that the rabbis had piled on during the preceding centuries. Sabbath controversies served as test cases, in that here the approach of rabbinic Judaism to the Scriptures was most clearly seen. It is important to keep in mind that neither Jesus nor His disciples actually broke a biblical law, though the disciples did violate a rabbinical ruling. In the Sabbath controversies Christ exercised His right as Lord to define authoritatively what the Sabbath was for—and not for. Essentially Christ taught (1) the Sabbath was instituted for man’s benefit (cf. Mark 2:27) and therefore helpful deeds are permitted (Luke 6:9); (2) that Jesus Himself is Lord of the Sabbath (v. 5); and (3) that as God works on the Sabbath it is lawful for the Son to work also (John 5:17). Human interpretations of Scripture must always be carefully scrutinized—particularly when they are in the form of rules and restrictions! Luke frequently pictured Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath (4:16, 33; 6:6). Even small communities had synagogues, which served as houses of study as well as of worship. Archeologists have excavated this first-century synagogue, whose foundation was found underneath a fourth-century synagogue in Capernaum. The drawing shows the plans of the discovered synagogue, which is most probably the very Capernaum synagogue in which Jesus taught! “Spent the night praying to God” Luke 6:12–16. Luke has described some of the pressures on Jesus. He was surrounded by milling crowds in search of healing. He was the center of controversy. And He had to make a critical decision, choosing 12 from among the many who followed Him to be “designated Apostles.” When the pressures are greatest and the decisions most significant, the best way to spend time is in prayer. “He . . . stood on a level place” Luke 6:17–20. This summary of Jesus’ teaching has been called the “sermon on the plain” in contrast to Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5–7). Luke may be describing the same event, but not necessarily. Most likely he reported standard features in the “keynote address” Christ likely repeated often when presenting His kingdom. The features we find here surely are basic elements in Christ’s present kingdom, and foundational to our life as citizens in it. Jesus’ focus on His disciples (v. 20) makes it clear this sermon is for us. “Blessed are you” Luke 6:20–23. The blessing Jesus referred to is the unique joy experienced only by those who participate in His kingdom. Note that Jesus used the present tense here: “Blessed are you.” Out of what others call deprivation flows the unique joy of experiencing God’s living presence. We who look beyond the material world not only have great reward in heaven, but even as we suffer we “rejoice in that day and leap for joy.” What a mistake to assume that joy and blessing depend on our bank balance, or well-stocked closets. Joy and blessing flow out of relationship with the Lord, and are dependent only on our closeness to Him. “Woe to you who are rich” Luke 6:24–26. The woes stand in direct contrast to the blessings. The misery Luke associated with wealth is not rooted in riches themselves, but in the impact of riches on the individual. The wealthy are tempted to seek satisfaction in the things they can buy now, rather than giving priority to the world to come, and tend to ignore spiritual realities. And the wealthy seem to consider what others think of them more important than what God thinks. James 2:6–7 seems to assume, as Luke here may, that anyone in the first century who was wealthy had gained his or her riches at the expense of someone else. Whatever their source, Christ clearly taught that riches are deceitful. Rich or poor, we must learn to depend solely on the Lord. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” Luke 6:27–36. Sociologists call the pattern Jesus criticized the “norm of reciprocity.” In any culture, people will tend to keep the social books balanced. If you invite the Joneses over for dinner, they’ll feel they owe you an invitation. If you loan Mrs. Smith chocolate chips, she’s likely to bring you a few of the cookies she makes. Jesus didn’t criticize this norm. He simply observed that even sinners live by it, so it is nothing special when we show love to those who love us. And He called us to live by the standard set, not by others in our society, but by God. Since God does good and loving things even for those who hate Him, we who are God’s children and citizens in His kingdom are to do likewise. We are not to live by the norm of reciprocity, but the norm of redemption. “Do not judge” Luke 6:37–42. There is a great difference between using our ability to distinguish (judge) between right and wrong and what Jesus is speaking of here. Luke carefully ruled out any misunderstanding by using parallel repetition, common in Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature. We are to be morally discerning—but we may not use that discernment to condemn others. If we must be critical, let’s turn a critical eye on our own behavior—and correct it! “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit” Luke 6:43–45. Jesus’ teaching here is no commission for you and me to become “fruit inspectors.” It is, however, the statement of a principle that holds true in the spiritual realm as well as in nature. The fruit of a fig tree is figs. The fruit of a good heart is loving words and godly deeds. Some take these words to be directed against the Pharisees, who stressed rigid obedience to hosts of man—devised as well as biblical regulations. Certainly Jesus’ saying discounts the ritual in which they took such pride, and exalts ordinary goodness. Even more important, however, Jesus’ words remind us that the quality of our life depends on our hearts. If your heart and mine overflow with love for God and a desire to please Him, our lives will be filled with an obvious and overflowing goodness. That’s why Augustine could say, correctly, “Love God and do what you please.” Augustine saw that if a person truly loves God, what that person wants will be to please God! “Who comes to Me and hears My words and puts them into practice” Luke 6:46–49. There is no better foundation on which you and I can build our lives. We have come to Him. Now let us listen to His words—and go put them into practice. If we do, we will stand firm whatever the storms life may hold.
The Measure You Use (Luke 6:27–42)
Jesus’ call to love enemies frightens us at first. If we love our enemies, surely they’ll take advantage of us! If we love our enemies, we’ll be more vulnerable to attack. At first Jesus seemed to ignore this rather obvious objection. He simply reminded us that God is a lover of enemies, and that as God’s children now we are expected to act as He does. Never mind the practicalities. Just do what is right. But then Jesus went on to remind us that doing what is right is practical as well! “Give,” He says, “and it will be given to you. . . . For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (vv. 37–38). You can break patterns of hostility and animosity! You can use the innate principle of reciprocity which God has planted in human nature by breaking the pattern of blow for blow, of pain given for pain received. You can initiate a new pattern by returning love for hate, good for evil, and in so doing establish the measure by which, in time, it will be measured back to you. After all, didn’t God do the same thing? We human beings were “enemies in our mind by wicked works” (see Col. 1:21). And God broke the pattern by one bold act of love, sending His Son to suffer and die for our sins. As we respond to that love, accepting the salvation Christ brings, our whole attitude toward God has changed, and we now love and want to please Him. God too has received in measure as He has given. Oh, I know. It doesn’t always work. Some who know of Christ remain as hostile to God as before. And, sometimes, the people we treat lovingly continue to do us harm. But the principle remains valid and true, whatever the individual exception. There is a way to break patterns of hostility in relationships. And that way is to take the initiative and begin, now, to give love where there is hate, compassion where there is hostility, and devotion where there is antagonism. When we do, we live out our calling as God’s children. And we initiate transforming change.
The larger the measure of love you use, the greater the possibility of receiving love in return.
“It is possible to have compassion without love, and it is possible to have kindness without love; but it is impossible for one who has put on love to be unkind and without compassion, for love itself is not just an accessory garment. Love is the complete garment that has all the others built into it, so that love is a total way of life.”—Ray Anderson