2/20/2022 “Imitating God.”  Luke 6:27-38 (Note NIV TEXT USED THIS WEEK FOR GOSPEL READING)

We are going to do something different this morning.  I have given you a hand out of a virtual verse by verse outline of the text.  I want you to grasp the literal understanding of this all important, many times misinterpreted text.  So here we go. . .

Jesus, after addressing his disciples, now turns to all who will listen. In a series of sayings, all applying the way God loves to the way Christians should love, he illustrates how generosity in its many forms is also a form of love and a form of forgiveness.

Matthew and Luke both give attention to Jesus Sermon on the mount. Luke’s version is much shorter than Matthew’s, encompassing 32 verses to Matthew’s 109. Although Luke says that Jesus is speaking to his disciples, it is clear that he also means to include a much larger and varied audience, especially the “rich.” God’s promise of salvation is an invitation to all to become the “poor of God,” but not all accept it. The “rich,” including the economically rich, but not restricted to them, are those who remain content with their present, materially, emotionally, spiritually comfortable existence.

The way to become the “poor of God” is to imitate God in his generous giving of gifts, be they material, emotional or spiritual, and expecting nothing in return. So, imitate God by, forgiving debts, giving generously and loving enemies both inside and outside the Christian community. 

In verse twenty-seven, “love your enemies”: This is not a command to feel good about one’s enemies, but to do good toward them regardless of feelings.  The word used here for “love” is the Greek word, agape, a word Christians reserved to refer to Jesus’ special kind of love for others. Jesus’ followers are not to be selective in loving, as in the case of friendship love. They are to love all, regardless of whether or not the other persons have good will toward them.  “Do good to those who hate you”: It is not enough to refrain from hostile acts. Disciples are to actively do good. Contrary to the natural impulse to “hate those who hate you,” the disciple returns love for hate. This defines “to love” as simply the same thing as “to do good.” Love is an attitude that leads to action, not a feeling that is a reaction to a pleasant circumstance.

In verse twenty-eight, “bless those who curse you”: This is consistent with the above and can be done in the privacy of prayer, the acid test. True Christian love finds expression in words as well as deeds. But the acid test is when one prays and only God is there. To pray for those who mistreat oneself is a sure sign of love unless, of course, one prays that they be cursed.

In verse twenty-nine, “when someone slaps you”: A slap on the cheek is a metaphor for extreme insult. Such a gesture was a formal sign of expulsion from the synagogue for heresy, to give an example.   Whether physical or symbolic a “slap in the face” or “punch in the jaw,” is not to be returned in kind, but forgiven, let go, dismissed. Since nothing infuriates an enemy more than forgiveness, the likelihood of another “slap” will follow is considerable.

Jesus is serious, generosity is the hallmark of love, prompts one to give freely to those who have no legitimate claim on us whether we like them or not, even if they be thieves or robbers.

In verse thirty, “give to all who beg from you”: Again, this extreme example illustrates the principle of generosity. The word “give” is in the continuous tense in Greek and means “keep on giving.” It is a habitual attitude, not an occasional impulse, such as one might see at holidays. Such unremitting generosity may seem as absurd as giving to a beggar, but so it is with God’s love.

In verse thirty-one, “do unto others”: The “Golden Rule” does not say to do as others do unto us, but as we, ourselves, would like to be treated. It removes from the equation how others treat us.

In verse thirty-two, “if you love those who love you”: This carries on the thought of the “Golden Rule” is to love like God does. Doing good to others in the hope that they will do good unto us is not wrong. The point is that there is no “credit,” Luke uses the Greek word charis, “grace,” Matthew uses the Greek word misthos, “reward.” The person who does good expecting nothing in return receives reward or grace thanks from God.

Verses thirty-four to thirty-five, “repayment”: Jesus never urges people to serve for the sake of reward. To do so would be to exchange material selfishness for spiritual selfishness. But he insists that the reward is there. For a Christian that reward is communion with God and opportunity for more service.

In verse thirty-six, “be compassionate”: Where Matthew uses “perfect,” Luke uses “compassionate” to describe and summarize what we are to emulate in God, modeled after the equally succinct Old Testament command: “Be holy as I am holy.”   “Be or do…as “just like,” I am.” We are called to imitate none other than God himself as he has revealed himself to be. Paul would say, “Become what you are.”

Be like God or Godlike. Jesus did not see humans as children of God by nature but by choice, a choice expressed in repentance, faith and good works. To become like the Father is the reward. Imitating God’s character, enjoying his love shows one has the very same character and love, reward enough. God’s mercy supplies both the pattern and the standard of comparison for his children to emulate and imitate.

In verses thirty-seven to thirty-eight, “do not judge”: Certainly, we are compelled to pass judgment on the morality of actions. That should not extend to people, however. If the principle of generosity is not applied in our attitude toward people who do wrong in our judgment then the principle of reciprocity will be applied in our case. We will be judged according to the same standards we have applied to others. If we have been narrow, stingy, rigid, self-righteous, censorious toward others, God will measure us by the same yardstick.

Condemnation of another spells our own condemnation. A refusal to forgive prevents our own sins being forgiven by God.

If God judges us according to our actions, then if our judgment is generous, so will be his. If stingy, he will use the same measure. God will treat us better than we deserve until judgment. Then, he will treat us as we have treated others.

Jesus is saying that we should practice generosity now and we will receive justice later. At judgment we will be judged not on how “just” we were, but on how generous we were in this life. In the end God will apply the standard of our own personal generosity to us when he meets out justice upon us.

One of the very important things Christ came to tell us is that the standards of eternity are different from those of earth. Personal generosity is more important to God than justice. In the end justice and mercy will meet. Essentially they are the same, but only in the final analysis, in the final outcome, on the last earthly day.

Jesus recommends “uncommon” behavior. “Uncommon” is a synonym for “holy,” that fundamental quality of God that makes him “uncommon,” “unique,” “incomparable.” If we want to be like God, “uncommon,” “holy,” we need to compare our behavior not to that of other humans but to God’s. Jesus gives us insights and examples on how to do just that. Of course, for Jesus being holy and being loving is the same thing.

In the Old Testament the uniqueness of God was described as “holy;” in the New Testament it is described as “love.” Not love in the sense of romantic love, but sacrificial love, self-giving love, love that is not reciprocal, like romantic and friendship love, one-way love, love that does not depend on any response from the other, good action love rather than simply good feeling love.

The essence of this “uncommon” behavior is treating people better than they treat us, treating them better than they deserve in the even-steven justice sense. For Jesus that is also the essence of love, the essence of forgiveness and the essence of generosity.

In turning the other cheek Jesus is not advocating that we refrain from defending ourselves, any more than he would want us to refrain from coming to the defense of another person under attack, physical or otherwise. The principle behind all these is simply make generosity the standard.  Take generosity to its nth degree.

On earth, God’s justice is found more in overdoing generosity than insisting on your way. Remember, forgiveness is a form of generosity, treating people better than they have treated us, more than they deserve. This is a “Be Godly Attitude”  Amen.