September 21, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 6:27-28 (NRSV)
“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 abuse you.”
Jesus said many unsettling things, but one of them was downright shocking. “Love your enemies,” he said. He didn’t mean “feel warm fuzzies for your enemies.” Rather, he meant “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” This command of Jesus to love our enemies couldn’t be more challenging . . . or more needed in our world today.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In our recent devotions we have been examining the first part of what is sometimes called Jesus’s “Sermon on the Plain.” It’s similar in some ways to the more famous “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew. But the Sermon on the Plain, literally “on a level place” (Luke 6:17), is quite a bit shorter than its longer cousin.
Both sermons include an utterly shocking command, something that must have stunned Jesus’s audience the first time they heard it. The shocking command is this: “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). Jesus followed this with some specific examples of what love for enemies might entail: “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). This shows that Jesus did not mean “feel all sorts of warm fuzzies for your enemies,” as if this were something we could will ourselves to do. Rather, love for enemies involved tangible actions: doing good, blessing, and praying for our enemies. You can choose to do these things even if your feelings for your enemies are less than happy.
It can be hard for us to hear just how shocking “Love your enemies” would have been when Jesus first said this. For one thing, most of us are so familiar with this command that the shock value has worn off. We’ll need to use our historical imaginations to hear Jesus as did those listening to the Sermon on the Plain. We’ll need to remember that the Jews were a captive nation under the thumb of a foreign power. They had to pay excessive taxes to Rome. They were reminded of their lack of freedom by the presence of Roman troops. Jewish rulers had authority only insofar as granted to them by Rome. And if the Jews ever thought they might rebel against Roman rule, they would quickly feel the lash of Roman might. Shortly before Jesus appeared on the scene, two thousand Jews had attempted to revolt. The Roman army not only squashed this attempt, but, for good measure, crucified all of those who rebelled. Two thousand people crucified at one time! (See Josephus, Antiquities 17.10.10).
Yet Jesus was clear. “Love your enemies,” he said; and do this in tangible ways, through good deeds, blessing, and prayer. I expect that most of those in the crowd would have thought, “Jesus, are you kidding? Love the Romans? Love those who tax us heavily? Love those who oppress us? Love those who kill us if we seek our freedom? How can you be serious? How is this even possible?”
Once again, the teaching of Jesus turns our common assumptions upside down. Whereas we would consider it natural, even acceptable to hate our enemies, Jesus calls us to love. Whereas we would find it completely normal to curse those who curse us, Jesus calls us to bless. Shocking! And challenging!
In tomorrow’s devotion I’ll reflect a bit more on the challenge of loving our enemies. In the meanwhile, I’d encourage you to reflect on this shocking command of Jesus and its implications for your life.
Try to put yourself in the position of those who first heard Jesus’s command to love one’s enemies. How would you have responded? Why?
How do you respond to this command of Jesus now?
Who are the “enemies” in your life whom you have a hard time loving?
What would help you to love your enemies with tangible actions?
You might not have people you consider to be full-on enemies. But I expect there are people in your life for whom you feel quite negatively. Talk with the Lord about how you might show love to these people. See if you can discern what God wants you to do . . . and then, by his grace, do it.
Lord Jesus, I confess it’s way too easy for me to hear your command to love my enemies, to nod my head in agreement and move on. For some reason, I can act as if this imperative really isn’t for me today. Forgive me for avoiding the relevance and incisiveness of your word.
Show me, Lord, how I can love my enemies. Open my eyes to see what this means for me today. Help me to obey your word to me.
I also pray for the church today, that we would be challenged to love our enemies. It’s terribly easy, Lord, for your people to be sucked into the ways of this world, into the nastiness of social media, to indulge in hate-filled rhetoric for those we feel to be our enemies. Help us, Lord, to follow your call to radical love. Teach us what this means for us today. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Praying for Those Who Hurt Us
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.