Most Christians probably think of 1 Corinthians 13 as the Love Chapter in the Bible. The First Letter of John is a strong contender for the Love Book of the Bible, as I have argued in my book, God's Love Letter. And John 3:16 tells us about God's love for the world. But a strong argument could be made for Luke 6 being the heart of Jesus' message about love. Let's see what Jesus says in Luke 6:27-38....
‘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. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you."Love your enemies." That may just be the toughest commandment to obey in the Bible. And Jesus spells out exactly what he means in practical terms. Here are Jesus' top ten points about how to love....
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father 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, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
- Do good to those who hate you.
- Bless those who curse you.
- Pray for those who abuse you.
- Turn the other cheek.
- Give to everyone who begs from you.
- Do to others as you would have them do unto you.
- Lend expecting nothing in return.
- Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.
- Do not judge.
- Forgive and you will be forgiven.
If we examine any one of these points in detail, we will quickly see how far short we fall of Jesus' ideal. In regard to not judging others I think the Christian community in general is doing a particularly bad job of this at present, and perhaps always has. In fact, there is only one person who has perfectly fulfilled Jesus' ideal and that is Jesus himself. The only way we can begin to approach this ideal of love is if Jesus lives out his love in and through us as individuals and as a church.
Jesus' statements in Luke 6 are so radical that they naturally raise many questions in our minds. C. S. Lewis addresses some of those in Mere Christianity....
Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not to subject myself to punishment — even to death. If you had committed a murder, the right Christian thing to do would be to give yourself up to the police and be hanged. It is, therefore, in my opinion, perfectly right for a Christian judge to sentence a man to death or a Christian soldier to kill an enemy. I always have thought so, ever since I became a Christian, and long before the war, and I still think so now that we are at peace. It is no good quoting, “Thou shalt not kill.” There are two Greek words: the ordinary word to kill and the word to murder. And when Christ quotes that commandment He uses the murder one in all three accounts. And I am told there is the same distinction in Hebrew. All killing is not murder any more than all sexual intercourse is adultery. When soldiers came to St. John the Baptist asking what to do, he never remotely suggested that they ought to leave the army: nor did Christ when he met a Roman sergeant-major — what they call a centurion. The idea of the knight — the Christian in arms for the defence of a good cause — is one of the great Christian ideas. War is a dreadful thing, and I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. What I cannot understand is this sort of semi-pacifism you get nowadays which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it. It is that feeling that robs lots of magnificent Christians in the Services of something they have a right to, something which is the natural accompaniment of courage — a kind of gaiety and wholeheartedness…
I imagine somebody will say, “Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?” All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible. Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves — to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.