What does it mean to be a disciple? Discipleship is about following Jesus. This word discipleship comes from the Latin discipilus, whicgh means 'a learner'. But a discipilus is more than a cognitive learner just getting head knowledge. The best English word approximating 'a disciple' is apprentice - someone under the tutelage of a master, learning to emulate - not just the knowledge - but the body of work that makes the master great.
So a disciple is a follower of Jesus - but more than following, a disciple is an apprentice, called to learn the ways of the Master. Jesus calls us to whole-hearted commitment, embracing the ways of His kingdom, believing the truth of the gospel, and receiving the new life made available through His death and resurrection. In Luke 6, Jesus begins his induction process by teaching his disciples about the nature of his kingdom.
Reflecting the Father
In Luke 6:27-36, Jesus commissions his disciples to demonstrate how different the kingdom of God is by calling them to emulate the character of God. In this section, Jesus begins by telling us to ‘love your enemies’ and ends by saying ‘be as merciful as God the father’. The point of God’s mercy is that he gives mercy to those who don’t deserve; Jesus teaches us to do the same.
In Luke 6:22-23, we read the persecution context of this teaching: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. So Jesus isn’t simply calling us to love; he is calling us to engage with love those resisting us because of the gospel.
The Call to Love
In Matthew 10:8, Jesus sent his disciples out to minister to others, telling them, ‘Freely you have received; freely give’. When we understand how much God has loved us, it empowers us to love him.
1. v. 27: Love your enemies
It’s easy to love friends, it’s hard to love enemies. Jesus uses the word enemy specifically to describe those who were antagonistic to the gospel and who would persecute the early church.
2. v. 27: do good to those who hate you
Normal morality is, ‘do harm to enemies, be of service to friends’. More than the emotion of love, this is love in action: to do good refers to specific, concrete acts of doing good to others.This is the opposite, and reminds us that more than love as a positive emotion, our love should take action.
3. v. 28: bless those who curse you,
Blessing is to invoke God’s favour on another person’s behalf; to appeal to God for that person. Cursing is to invoke God’s judgment on a person because of their injustice or mistreatment of others. To bless those who curse us means we recognise a person is out of touch with God, and that God will ultimately settle all accounts in heaven.
4. v. 28: pray for those who abuse you
Normal morality is ‘do harm to enemies, be of service to friends To pray for one’s enemies/persecutors is the peak of love.
The point: Jesus advocates love – not because it is intrinsically superior – it is! – but because it reflects the Father.
Examples of Loving Enemies
1. v29: to the one who strikes you on the cheek, off the other also.
The context makes clear that a slap is intended and an insult is in view. An ancient slap usually involved the back of the hand and may picture public rejection from the synagogue. Love involves not defending ones rights and accepting wrongs committed against one by being willing to forgive, with the additional qualification that one is willing to turn around a second time and still offer help, even if that means being abused again. Love is available, vulnerable, subject to repeated abuse. Revenge is excluded while doing good to the hostile is commanded. We continue to minister in the face of persecution. The point: loving our enemies means we do not retaliate against those who persecute us.
2. v.29: From one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tuniceither.
If this were literally obeyed, Jesus would be promoting nudism: ‘if someone asks for your outer clothes, give them your underwear also’. The picture here is highway robbery while one was on the way in missionary work. Paul said he was often ‘in dangers from robbers’. The point: in the face of persecution and religious hostility, we should maintain a posture of vulnerability to repeated onslaughts without seeking revenge.
3. v. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you,
Be more attached to doing good than things; it’s hard to give things away if you get attached to things.
Summary: these are hyperbolic commands expressed in absolute terms to shock the listener by giving a vivid contrast to one’s own thinking. By their radical character, they communicate the importance of prioritising love rather than getting even. God is the judge who will balance everything wit justice in the end: Don’t get even, give love.
The Golden Rule
v. 31: And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
This is not, ‘The way I want things done is the way I should do it to others’. This doesn’t mean, ‘if I want to be left alone, I’m going to be aloof from other people’. Rather, Jesus is describing a love that is sensitive to others and aware of their preferences. This ‘golden rule’ means, ‘As you wish to be treated with sensitivity for your preferences, so treat others with sensitivity to their preferences’.
5. Jesus reframes the expectations for behaviour:
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
1. v. 32: If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
The ancient world lived by this motto: do good to others so they will do good to you. Love given only to those who love you is the type of love sinners have and is nothing special. Jesus asks us to love the unlovable and expect nothing in return – this is how we model the love of God.
2. 33: And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
More than the emotion of love, this is love in action: to do good refers to specific, concrete acts of doing good to others. God does not grant favour to those who do ‘what’s expected!’ This is positive, ethical action: doing good without the expectation of it being returned.
3. v. 35: Andif youlend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
Jesus is saying that ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ is not the kind of love he is after. God does not grant favour to those who do ‘what’s expected!’ One should give without strings attached.
- 35: But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in returnand your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
First, Jesus summarises what kingdom behaviour - contrary love - looks like (v. 35)
- love your enemies
- and do good
- lend to those who can’t pay back
Second, Jesus describes the benefit of kingdom character:
- your reward will be great:
God’s reward is his favour and blessing for doing that which is right. This doesn’t earn salvation, but it does merit commendation from God: God promises reward and recognition of faithfulness. It’s not the blessing of life, but the Father’s pleasure and affirmation at the disciple’s having been faithful stewards by loving a way that goes beyond a sinner’s love.
- you will be sons ofthe Most High
The disciple who loves their enemies demonstrates their connection to the Father. Love is the mark of that relationship. The point: Loving your enemies isn’t what makes you a son; loving your enemies is what demonstrates you are a son.
- for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
God the Father calls us to represent him by being like him. In a world full of pain and hatred, we are called to be agents of peace, healing, and love. We demonstrate God’s love by being loving. This word merciful can also be translated gracious or good. God causes the son to shine on both the good and the bad; he sends rain for the righteous and the unrighteous. Gracious love represents God to the world, and he sees it, acknowledges, and celebrates it.
Conclusion: Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
God is merciful and he calls us to be merciful. Mercy prevents us from being overly harsh in judgment. The ‘for’ is again the character of God: the Father is like this, so be like the Father. Matthew says it like this: be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. The Greek word for perfect is teleos, which means mature or complete – this is the same thought as Luke, and it seems Matthew has captured the meaning whereas Luke retains the original wording. That is, the mature person is the one who is already sharing the characteristics of the Father, and those characteristics include mercy.