In December our sermon series was called “Peace on Earth,” and I spoke about things like loving our enemies and rejecting tribalism. And I was frankly amazed at the responses I was getting from those messages.
I had so many people tell me, especially going into Christmas with family, “Wow. I needed that.” Something about Christ’s call to live differently in a divided time really struck a chord.
Well, today we’re in our series, “It’s not about me,” talking about the self-giving love of Jesus. We’re painting the picture of what it might look like for us as a church and for us as individuals to make 2022 the “year of selflessness.”
How it could change our community, how it could change our reputation, if we actually did what Paul says in Philippians 2 - if we had “the same attitude as Christ” and if we learned how to set ourselves aside.
And I don’t know how to talk about this without at least touching one more time on the concept of loving our enemies.
But rather than just re-hashing what we talked about last month. I want to approach this topic from a slightly different angle and look specifically at the words of Jesus himself on the topic.
So let’s grab our Bibles and look at Luke 6, starting in verse 27.
What we have here is Luke’s version of a sermon Jesus likely gave many, many times. In Matthew it’s the Sermon on the Mount. Here he’s preaching it in a field. But in both places Jesus is describing the fundamentals of life in his upside-down kingdom.
The poor are blessed. You should be happy when people persecute you. And then there’s this…
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.”
What I want to focus on first is this idea of “getting credit” for something. In verses 32-34, Jesus says it three times. “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that?”
In Greek, what he literally says is “What grace is it to you?” Grace in Greek is
χάρις - charis - grace
Now, that may seem kind of weird to us today, because we think of “grace” as a theological term. But in Jesus’ day, it was actually a very normal social concept.
Ancient Israel and Ancient Rome were honor and shame-based societies. What that meant is that your honor - your dignity and status in society - was so, so important. Everybody knew where they were on the social ladder.
And if you had an opportunity to move up the ladder, you took it.
One of the ways you could do this, if you had a bit of money, was to give grace (charis) to people lower on the ladder. Provide some grain to hungry peasants, build a building for them. You could be what’s called patron or a benefactor.
And when you did, the people you helped would repay you with honor and dignity and esteem. You’d move up the ladder by being a patron, and they’d move up by being associated with you. I scratch your back, you scratch mine.
One of the things archaeologists find all over the ancient world are plaques or statues celebrating these great benefactors.
Like this one [image: inscription]. Some guy built a bridge, and so they made a statue and plaque so everyone crossing the bridge would know he was the one who paid for it. “Marcius Marcianus [built this] at his own expense in honor of his own best and dearest friend Cestius Gallus…” and so on.
So that’s what “grace” (charis) looked like in the ancient world. It’s the root of our word charisma. It’s “grace” to give a great gift and receive honor in return.
So with that in mind, let’s look back at what Jesus says here about grace.
In verse 27 he says, “Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you.” In other words, give grace to those who won’t put your name on plaque. Help those who aren’t going to honor you.
Verse 33. Look, if you just do good to those who are just going to do good back to you & celebrate you, how can you call that grace? Why should you get credit? Everybody does that.
This is kind of shocking stuff to say in ancient Israel. Jesus is not just giving some idealistic platitudes about, “why can’t we all be friends?” No, he’s upending the honor/shame dynamics of his world.
Don’t try to go up the social ladder. You go down the ladder. On purpose. Live like it’s not about me.
Lend to those who can’t pay you back. Give freely to those taking advantage of you. Love your enemies.
We may be used to hearing this by now, but this was a shocking, scandalous thing for Jesus to say in an honor and shame-based world. “In my kingdom I want you to dishonor yourself.” It’s wild!
And as I said last month, this idea clearly struck a chord with Jesus’ followers. It was so provocative and yet so central to following Jesus, that it shows up again and again in their writings the New Testament.
Love your enemies.
So, alright… Let’s stop for a second and ask this. How in the world are we supposed to live this way? Are we supposed to just give and give until we are shriveled husks wallowing in the gutter of society?
We offer grace (charis) to everyone, they trample all over us, and then we die. Is that the life Jesus is calling us to?
Well, let’s keep reading.
CHILDREN OF GOD
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
Interesting… According to Jesus, you do get something back for loving your enemies. But it’s not from them. It’s from God himself.
Verse 38. “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full.”
And I love this imagery. Pressed down, shaken together, and running over… I know exactly what he means. He’s talking about measuring goods by volume.
In Kibera Slum in Nairobi, where I’ve spent a lot of time, they sell charcoal for cooking stoves [image: charcoal] , but they sell it by volume. You buy one bucket for 50 shillings or whatever. It doesn’t matter how much is in the bucket, it’s always 50 shillings.
So what these charcoal vendors would do is fill the buckets one piece at a time little structures of charcoal - to make them look really full but have as little charcoal in them as possible. Vendors have always done this. With grain or fruit or anything they’re selling.
But the imagery Jesus uses here is of a vendor filling a bucket with grain or whatever, then shaking it to make more room, then filling it up again, then continuing to pour until it’s overflowing into your lap.
It’s the exact opposite of the stinginess that poverty demands.
In other words, this is not tit for tat. God doesn’t just pay us back exactly what we’ve given away. He’s extravagant and generous and over the top.
We do good to our enemies, and God overwhelms us with good in return.
That’s the economy of self-giving love, according to Jesus.
And you’ve probably seen this in action. You look at those people in your life who are just incredibly loving and it’s like they’re blessed by God. They seem filled with peace, they’re patient, they live like they always have more than enough… They set themselves aside, and God’s pouring this stuff in their lap.
But that raises an important question. Is Jesus saying, then, that our motivation for loving our enemies is because we expect to get something in return? Divine blessing or success or something? Is that why we do it?
Well, not exactly.
Look at verse 35. He says, “Lend to [your enemies] without expecting to be repaid,” and then yes, “your reward from heaven will be very great.”
But by doing this, “you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.”
Here’s what I think Jesus is saying here.
Yes, your Father is going to bless you as you set yourself aside and live like it’s not about me. He lavishes gifts on his children. Pressed down, shaken together, pouring over…
As you live like Jesus, you’re going to be blessed - with life, with joy… But that’s not why you love your enemies. You do it because you are God’s children. That’s just what this family does.
Maybe your family has a “thing” you all do. “In this family, we are Cubs fans.” Or “In this family, we write thank-you notes.”
I love what Cameron and Becca Heasley tell their girls. “The Heasley kids are capable kids.” It defines the family’s identity.
The same thing is happening here. Because you are a part of this family of God, you share his character. Verse 36. “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.” It’s what this family does.
Jesus used all this honor/shame patronage language before.
Well, our Father is the ultimate patron. The ultimate benefactor. But the grace (charis) that he gives has no possibility of repayment. He loves sinners. He loves those who hate him. He entered our world and died on our behalf to make us his children.
That’s his grace. There’s no strings attached.
He didn’t do it for a plaque. What honor could we possibly give him that he doesn’t already have? No. He did it out of his incomprehensible love.
That is his character. And that is the character he expects of his children.
We are in God’s family now. And in this family, we love those who don’t deserve it.
God loves his enemies. So do his children.
Yes, God blesses his children abundantly. Life, joy, peace, hope… gifts pressed down, shaken together, and running over. It’s good to be the children of the king.
From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
Literally, “grace upon grace” – charis upon charis.
The question here is not whether we’ve earned those gifts - the grace of God - by doing the right stuff. That’s impossible. The question is whether we are responding to this undeserved love by truly living as his children, living in the family of self-giving love…
Because if we are - if we’re sharing the character of our Father - then loving our enemies is the natural thing to do. He fills us up. We pour it out. And the well never runs dry.
Now I think this is a really helpful way of reframing this idea of loving our enemies. Because it’s about identity and not just about action.
Let me explain. Most of the time, when I think about things like loving my enemies, or practicing self-giving love, I go straight to to-do lists.
I think, “alright, I’m going to go look for an enemy I can love today.” Or, “I’m going to find someone I hate and give them a gift.” And of course that always falls flat, because that’s not really how life works.
It’s like Paul’s famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude…”
I treat it like a checklist. “I’m going to do better. I’m going to be more patient. I’m going to be more kind.”
So I file it away as something I need to work on, and then when I’m faced with a conflict or an enemy, so to speak, I’m disappointed with my natural response. “Ugh, I was supposed to be more loving and patient than that. I’m going to do better.”
I file it away. I’m disappointed. I file it away. I’m disappointed. And nothing actually changes.
Maybe you can relate to that.
That’s what happens when we treat self-giving love as a to-do list. But there is another way. It has to do with our identity.
It’s something the late author Dallas Willard talked about a lot.
He actually believed that spontaneous loving of one’s enemies is the proof of true spiritual maturity. So not exactly lowering the bar. But he agreed that treating all this like a behavior modification to-do list is not the way to go.
Like with that 1 Corinthians passage. Love is patient. Love is kind. Here’s what he said:
“We don’t try to do those things—we become the kind of person who does those things. If you try to do those things, it will just kill you. But if you receive love as the principle of your life in all dimensions of your being, then you will see love: Love is kind, love does not envy, and so on all the way down the line. And having received love, you will be transformed into a person who loves.” - Dallas Willard
What he’s saying, in other words, is that loving our enemies, practicing self-giving love of Jesus… it’s not something we do. It’s something we are.
Or to go back to what Jesus said in Luke 6. It’s something that flows naturally out of being children of God, because it’s who he is. It’s what his family does.
He is the patron, the benefactor, giving grace (charis) to those who don’t deserve it. We are invited to join him in that.
God loves his enemies. So do his children.
What if loving our enemies had nothing to do with trying harder to be nicer to people we don’t like and everything to do with fully grasping the undeserved grace - the charis - that God has given us?
What if we truly received the love of God and let it shape us?
What if our lives were defined by this love that is pressed down, shaken together, and pouring over into our lap?
What if we lived like the children of God?
EMBRACING THE LOVE OF GOD
Here’s what I want to do right now. I’m not giving you a list of action steps today. No to-do list.
Instead, I want to give you a moment to simply receive the love God has for you. To just soak in his compassion for a moment. To let that love continue to transform you.
Because when it does, loving your enemies is the natural thing to do. You’re just imitating your Father. It’s just what this family does.
[Response moment to reflect on the love of God]
When we are transformed by receiving the love of God, loving our enemies can start to come naturally. It’s what this family does. And when that happens, guess what we’ll discover?
Our enemies are invited to be a part of this family too.