“But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If anyone hits you on the cheek, offer the other also. And if anyone takes away your coat, don’t hold back your shirt either. Give to everyone who asks you, and from someone who takes your things, don’t ask for them back. Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do what is 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 to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do what is good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. For he is gracious to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” -Luke 6:27-38 (CSB)
Sometimes, the guidance we’re given just doesn’t make sense. Despite our best efforts at understanding a situation, sometimes the very thing we most need to do is the exact opposite of what we expect we need to do.
The Lord’s teachings in Luke 6:27-38 are a powerful example of just such a situation. Human nature and, in many cases, human logic says that when someone treats us wrongly, we should treat them wrongly in return. Yet, Jesus says in this passage that we are not to return evil with evil. This simply doesn’t make sense from a purely human perspective. In what world does it make sense to love one’s enemies? How does it benefit people to go out of their way to show kindness to someone who hates them? And the command to “turn the other cheek” is completely contradictory to human nature. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus instructs His followers to do.
Some have interpreted this passage to mean that a follower of Jesus should make his- or herself a “door mat” for others to walk on. That is not what the Lord communicates in this passage. Jesus doesn’t instruct us to love our enemies because He wants us to become weak or feel worthless. Rather, Jesus provides this instruction for precisely the opposite reason. By choosing to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to serve and pray for those who mean us harm, we demonstrate the ultimate moral strength that comes only by trusting in God to guide us through a situation, change the hearts of other human beings, and do all that needs to be done. The Lord Jesus, Himself, demonstrated this same strength in His greatest hour of trial. As the Roman soldiers drove nails through His hands and feet as part of the crucifixion process, Jesus’s response was not to strike them, mock them, or tell them that “their day” was coming. Instead, Jesus looked on these men and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV).
The Lord knows we’re capable of striking back at our enemies. He knows our human desires to get even and avenge the wrongs done to us. However, taking this approach doesn’t glorify Him. To get even with those who wrong us doesn’t show them their need for forgiveness. To get even with those who wrong us doesn’t show them the futility and hopelessness of living a life marked by sin and rebellion against God and the people of God. To get even with those who wrong us doesn’t show them the remarkable love and grace of God given freely to all through Jesus Christ. To get even with those who wrong us doesn’t show them their need for a Savior. As a matter of fact, getting even with those who wrong us often communicates the exact opposite of these biblical truths which are the markers of a Christian’s witness and testimony. Getting even with those who wrong us gratifies only the most carnal parts of a person’s mind and heart at best and leaves us empty, hurting, and further damaged at worst.
Among the great paradoxical truths of the Christian faith is that we show the greatest amount of strength by refusing to use our strength for vengeful purposes. We glorify God by refusing to use the talents, abilities, and resources He has given us to get even with others and instead choosing to use those talents, abilities, and resources to love and serve others in the name of Christ – including our enemies.