Living Gracefully (2): Giving Grace a Chance
Intro – Mom was teaching 4-year-old Carly her address. The girl could get the street, but not the house number. Mom said, “If our house is on fire and you call 911, how will the firefighters know where to go?” Carly replied, “I’ll tell them to go to Maple and look for the house that’s on fire.” Pretty good answer, right? Look for the house that’s different! Well, our text is about how Jesus wants His followers to look different, too! Paul says in Titus 2:14 Jesus, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” We belong to God, not the world. As God’s children we must look different. That doesn’t mean strange hats, long dresses and sad faces. It means we react in unnatural ways. Our default behaviors have changed.
Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6:27-36 is aimed at how we deal with difficult people –our enemies. Natural reaction – hate them. Get even. Jesus says, “Anyone can do that. You’re mine, so be different.” How? Four ways in 27-28.
I. The Precepts
A. Love Your Enemies – That was a blockbuster because from childhood these people had been taught, “Love your neighbor, but hate your enemy.” But Jesus says, “Not so! God’s children love their enemy as well as their neighbor.” V. 32 shows us, “Everyone loves friends. That’s normal, not Xn. God’s family loves enemies – like He does.” Natural reaction (hate them) must become grace reaction (love them). Tough assignment.
B. Do Good to Those Who Hate You
But there’s more! Last half v. 27, “do good to those who hate you.” This puts faith into action. Jesus looks for positive “good.” This doesn’t mean you have to be their best friend – or pal around with them. But it means to wish them well, and do them positive good. The default must change from ‘I’ll get them’ to ‘How can I benefit them – grace them.’ For most, this is uncharted territory. “Do good to those who hate me? Isn’t it enough if I just somehow manage not to hate them back? Cut me some slack here!”
Most don’t have this gear. We have reverse to crush enemies, and maybe neutral to ignore them. But forward to do them good? Jesus can’t mean that! But, of course, Jesus means exactly that. He knows if we don’t break the retaliation cycle, we become part of the cycle. Jesus is saying, “I want my followers to break the mold.” V. 33, “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit (grace) is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Grace starts when we do good to those who hate us.
But wait! Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘An eye for an eye’? I know it’s in there somewhere! You’re right. Exod 21:23-25, “But if there is harm (from a fight), then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” It’s there, but even this was to separate God’s people from the pack. Typical reaction to hurtful actions was tenfold payback —“You slap me, I’ll break your neck”—“You take my shirt, I’ll chop off your hand.” God’s law limited the response to an equitable penalty—“life for life, eye for eye.”
But the main point is these penalties were reserved to government – to the people as a whole – not to individuals. There is no biblical warrant for an individual taking someone’s eye or life. And – get this – love was required even in OT! Individuals were to stop the cycle – to get out of retaliation mode and into helping mode even in the OT. Prov 25:21 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.” For God’s sake – break the cycle! Let God take up your cause! He specifically reserves to Himself the right of revenge in Deut 32:35, “Vengeance is mine, and recompense. ’” We get into revenge mode, and we’re invading God’s territory. We don’t want to be there. It turns God against us as well as our enemy. Paul says in Rom 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Revenge is His concern!
This is not default mode. When you get punched in the nose, your first response is not going to be, “I wonder what his favorite color is so I can get him a new shirt to replace his bloody one.” That’s not natural. To do good, we must leave the vengeance to God, and reset our defaults to grace. Instead of how can I get even, how can I show God’s grace to this person? It’s tough.
Few people exemplified grace like Abe Lincoln. One example. He appointed an enemy, Simon Cameron, Secretary of War. Cameron was crooked and incompetent, and Lincoln’s reputation was severely damaged when it came out Cameron was buying dead horses and rotten food. Congress issued an 1100 page report accusing Cameron of “conduct highly injurious to the public service.” Cameron thought sure Lincoln would fire him. Instead, Lincoln wrote a long public letter to Congress declaring that he and his entire cabinet “were at least equally responsible for whatever error, wrong or fault was committed.” Rather than fire Cameron, he made him ambassador to Russia where he could do no further harm. Then he assigned Edwin Stanton, a bitter political foe who first called Lincoln “the original ape”, to head the War Department where he thrived. Both men became highly devoted to Lincoln. Historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, comments, “Lincoln was not like most other men, as each cabinet member, including the new secretary, would soon come to understand.” Lincoln broke retaliation cycles, graced undeserving people, and it paid rich dividends. He exemplified “Do good to those who hate you.” He gave grace a chance.
C. Bless Those Who Curse You (v. 28)
Jesus did this on the cross. The scene is excruciating to those who love Jesus, to see Him being reviled by the very ones for whom He was dying. His response? Luke 23:34, “And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He blessed those who cursed Him. Stephen did the same when he was stoned to death—the church’s first martyr. Acts 7:60, “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” We have a lot to live up to, Beloved.
Now, some will say, “Jesus Himself pronounces woes on people in vv. 24-26.” Yes, but He’s not writing them off. He is warning those who are rich in their own goodness, satisfied in their own righteousness, happy without God and seeking men’s approval above God’s are already living under judgment. They need redemption. His woe is a blessing, urging repentance. We don’t bless someone in danger by withholding warning, but by giving warning. Failure to warn someone of the 18-wheeler bearing down on them – that’s a curse, not a blessing. So is our failure to warn love ones that they are accountable to God. God challenges us is Ezekiel 3:18-19, “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” To warn someone is to bless them, not curse them.
When Jesus requires that we bless those who curse us, He is not requiring that we bless those who curse God. He’s not promoting some PC “everybody will be okay in the end” attitude. That is not what this is about. There is a big difference between cursing others who have violated our rights and warning those who violate God’s character. Jesus blessed those who were taking His own life – never insisted on His own rights. But He was at pains to warn those who violated the character and glory of God.
So, we must warn of the danger of trampling God’s gospel underfoot. But we are not to defend ourselves. Jesus does not say, “Bless those who curse God”, He says, “Bless those who curse you.” When we come to Christ, we give up the right to our rights, and that’s the lifestyle He is encouraging here.
A few years ago a TV movie called “The Scarlet and the Black” told the story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flannery. During WWII he lived in the Vatican and helped POWs, Jews and other refugees who came inside the white line painted around the Vatican that represented a “no man’s land” even for the Nazi’s. First a trickle and then a stream of refugees found shelter in that way. O’Flannery was fearless in his resistance to his archrival SS commander of Rome, Kepnor. He used various disguises when going in and out of the white line after being warned he would be killed on sight. Kepnor hated him with a passion, but despite many close calls, he could never catch him. Of course, the day came when the Allies arrived. Kepnor received a long prison sentence. No one ever visited him – that is no one except O’Flannery who not only smuggled Kepnor’s family to safety in Switzerland, but came to visit Kepnor once a month, every month – for 15 years. In 1959, Kepnor was baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ because O’Flannery blessed those who cursed him. He gave grace a chance and it changed everything. So – who is it that we need to bless? We all have someone, right? Yes we do.
D. Pray for Those Who Abuse You
But Jesus is not quite done. “Pray for those who abuse you.” The word “abuse” is often translated “mistreat” – basic meaning, slander. Now, our first reaction is predictable. “Pray for those who slander me! You betcha! I’ll pray for them. Lord, will you please wipe them out! You bet I’ll pray for them.” Think of the prayers David wrote like in Psa 69: 24) Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them. . . . 27) Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. 28) Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.” That’s heavy stuff. So, is that the prayer that God intends us to pray for our enemies, those who mistreat and abuse us?
That can’t be Jesus’ intent when He just said love our enemies, do good to them, bless them and pray for them. He’s urging prayer for their salvation, not their destruction. So how do we square that with David’s example? Tough question. Couple things to consider. First, David’s enemies were already under God’s judgment. In the words of Gen 15:15 their “iniquity was complete”. They’d had hundreds of years to repent and turn to God. When they did not, God had commanded their destruction as an example of the ultimate fate of those who reject the Lord. Second, David’s enemies were destroying God’s own people. David had been sent as their protector. He was the government; he was king. He was not seeking personal vindication, but was acting under God’s orders.
War time would be an appropriate time to pray as David did? But when it comes to dealing with personal assaults on our character, when there is no reason to believe someone’s “iniquity is complete,” – leave the vengeance to God. Rather, pray for their salvation. Jesus and Stephen both prayed for the forgiveness of their abusers. And think on this! Those weren’t just throw-away, well -intentioned but useless words. Those prayers were answered!
Matt 27:44 tells us, “And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.” Both thieves mocked Jesus like the rest of the crowd. Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, and look at Luke 23:39-43. One of those thieves reversed his field. V. 42, “And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” What an answer to prayer! Furthermore, 7 weeks after this event, 3,000 of these same people came to faith in Christ in one day – and then thousands more. Answered prayer!
And as Stephen prayed for his killers, a young man named Saul was holding the coats of those casting stones that day. Soon after Stephen prayed for him he had a dramatic encounter with Christ himself, became a believer, changed his name to Paul and the rest is history. Answered prayer! Prayer is not window-dressing, Beloved. Not for Jesus, not for Stephen and not for us. How God answers is His business. We only fail if we don’t pray. So, when did you last pray for an enemy? You join God’s heart when you do.
Conc – In the mid 50’s, Jim Elliot and 4 companions in their late 20’s and early 30’s took their families to Ecuador as missionaries. For months they tried to contact the Aucas – a remote jungle tribe living a pre-historic existence. They located the tribe and began to drop gifts from their plane to indicate friendly intent. Eventually they landed on a desolate beach hoping to find the tribe. To their delight a small group of Indians cautiously approached; they communicated with signs as best they could. Other visits followed and once they even gave one of the men a ride in the plane. But unbeknown to them, that man lied about the missionary’s intent. And when they made a landing in January, 1956, they were met by a large contingent coming out of the jungle who began to threaten them with spears. The men had weapons which they fired – but they fired them into the air, refusing to take the lives of those who were spearing them to death. Think how easy it would have been for those men to rationalize – their family needed them. There would be other tribes. But they had long ago agreed that if it came to that, they, as believers, would die first rather than take the lives of those who did not yet know Christ. By firing into the air, they gave up their right to live. Jim Elliott had once written in his diary, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” He believe it; he lived it.
But the story doesn’t end there. Long story short – one wife and one sister later returned to the tribe, earned their trust and over a period of years saw almost everyone come to Christ. Nate Saint’s son was baptized by the man who took his father’s life. Now, over the years, those five young men have had the privilege of welcoming one after another of the Aucas as they arrive in heaven – all because they refused to defend their rights – rights they had long ago given to God. God can do marvelous things thru us, Beloved. But we have to be willing to do hard things – like love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us. Hard, hard things. But that is how we give grace a chance. Grace only begins when we do the hard things. But you will be amazed what God will do then. So what enemy do you need to pray for this morning? Let’s pray right now, and give grace a chance.