What is Genuine Love?
After teaching the Beatitudes, Jesus launches immediately into an illustration of true love, which is the manner of life that every man ought to live. Luke 6:27, 28 says,
27 But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
While this begins a new paragraph in Jesus’ sermon notes, this topic follows the “woes” seamlessly. Given the contrast and conflict between the blessed and the woed, how ought Jesus’ blessed hearers respond to the evil of those not blessed? Should they condemn them or love them? Should they respond in hatred or in grief? There is a great gulf fixed between these responses.
When Jesus speaks of “your enemies,” He does not intend to say that the blessed ones consider their accusers to be their enemies. No, this “enemy” relationship is purely one-sided. The evil ones consider the blessed ones to be their enemies, but the blessed ones return good to them as if they were needy friends.
And indeed, they are in need, for those accusers are devoid of love, which is the foundation of a blessed life. Though they are “rich” (Luke 6:24) in worldly goods, yet they are poor in the things that matter. Though they may love their friends, family, or peers, such love is limited by the selfish, carnal mind. To them, it makes no sense to love those who are outside of their family or circle of friends. It makes no sense to love a perceived enemy. The carnal mind cannot comprehend such love. The poor must be exploited; competition must be opposed; opposition must be crushed.
But to the blessed ones, love is not limited to the few but is a natural expression of one’s character. It enjoys the fellowship that comes when love and affection is returned, but it grieves when the response to love is evil. When the carnal ones are hurt by an evil response to their love, they usually become angry and plot revenge, for they feel justified in doing so, according to their definition of love and justice. But when a blessed one is hurt by such an evil response, they bless and pray for them.
In Luke 6:28 Jesus says to “bless those who curse you.” The Greek word used here is from eulogeo, not makarios. Eulogeo invokes a blessing upon someone else. A “eulogy” is a speech where someone blesses or speaks well of another. Most funerals include a eulogy. Recall that makarios refers to those who are already blessed, or those living in a blessed state. Hence, Jesus instructed the blessed ones (makarios) to bless (eulogeo) those who curse you. Blessing is a natural result of grief, because grief desires the non-blessed ones to be able to enjoy the same blessed state that characterizes their own lives.
Jesus gives more examples of blessed love in Luke 6:29, 30,
29 Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.
The Greek word for “cheek” here is siagon, “jaw.” It is not a mere slap on the cheek but is an act of violence. Jesus says to respond by offering him the other also. In the Mideast, to hit someone on the right cheek is a grievous insult. Jesus, then, was telling the blessed ones that they should respond in love to violence or insult.
Love also has the ability to treat a thief with love by giving him more than he wants without even treating it as a loan. Love has the ability to forgive all debt.
A Personal Example
In the late 1990’s I contemplated this passage and wondered if it should be taken literally. So the Father saw fit to reveal His mind more fully. He put a young man in my path who needed some help, and so I gave it. A few nights later, I was awakened by a telephone call around 2:00 a.m. It was this same young man, asking me to come and give him a ride home.
My thought was that this must be quite an emergency to call me at this hour of the night, so I dressed and got in my car and went to the fuel station where he was waiting. I then drove him to his house. I noted that there was no emergency, and he could have walked home if he had been so inclined. But rather than inconvenience himself, he chose to inconvenience me. It was truly a selfish act designed for his own comfort at my expense.
This experience brought my attention to Jesus’ instructions in Luke 6:30, “Give to everyone who asks of you.” It brought up the question of people continually taking advantage of you, having no twinge of conscience, because they treat your possessions and your time as theirs. If they knew you believed that Jesus truly wanted you to give them whatever they asked for, they would immediately ask you for everything you have. Such people are devoid of love and have no concern for your needs or your rights.
How does one treat such people?
About a week later, this same young man showed up on my doorstep with a companion. He wanted me to pay off a loan to a drug dealer so that he would not be hurt. I sent him on his way, refusing to pay blackmail to the drug dealer.
Did I do right? I cannot say for sure, but at this point in my life, I believe so. It may be that my love is not perfected yet, but I believe that God put that young man in my life to balance my interpretation of Jesus’ instructions.
Since that time, I have had others come to my door for help. All the needs were genuine, of course, but at the same time I have been able to observe the real poverty, which is not monetary but spiritual. Most of those asking for help were incapable of giving love to others but only expected others to show love to them. Some focused very hard on thinking positively so that I would give them money. Some even came after praying hard that God would make their trip “successful,” having no thought that perhaps I might be short of cash myself. Their only concern was for their own need, for they were incapable of thinking of anyone other than themselves.
The question is how to deal with such people. Do Jesus’ instructions really apply to them literally and unconditionally? I believe that the attitude of love has no limitation, but it has a wide variety of expressions. For instance, we love our children, but if we always give them everything they ask for, they will never appreciate what they have, and they will never respect the property rights of others. They will think that they have a right to use or own whatever belongs to others.
In a more extreme example, should we give criminals all that they want? In fact, would a criminal ever have enough? Is the carnally minded man ever satisfied?
How to Treat the Spiritually Immature
It is clear to me that giving people what they want (or ask for) is not always best for them. In fact, when I was a child I often asked God for things which He never gave me. Why would Jesus tell us to do something that He does not do Himself? Is this due to a shortage of love in His heart? Of course not. Yet He has the capability and even the desire to give us every good thing. His heart of love is not in question, but whether or not such requests are truly in our best interest (or part of the divine plan). Here is where Luke 6:31 comes to the forefront:
31 And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way.
This is a good statement based on the Golden Rule. However, if I want people to give me their property according to my own selfish way of thinking, then there is something wrong with the way I want people to treat me. The antidote to such selfish thinking, of course, would be to treat others in the same way. This would immediately cause selfish people to realize that this is not good. Carnally minded people never want others to treat them by the same selfish standards of the carnal mind. No, the carnal mind wants to treat others selfishly, and hope that others will not respond in kind.
Many believers, in fact, need to put themselves in God’s shoes (if He has any) and realize that their demands are not the way they would want God to treat them. Many think that as “sons of the King,” God owes them the world, and if only they had enough faith and persistence, God would be obligated to give them everything their hearts desire. This is common in the so-called “Prosperity Movement.” For the blessed ones, “prosperity” is already a way of life, but for the carnally minded, it is a life of religious self-gratification.
God, of course, never has a shortage of assets, so when He withholds things that we have requested or have “claimed by faith,” there is another reason for it. On the other hand, we ourselves have limited assets, according to the will of God. Hence, we can only give according to our capability. Most of us wish we could give more, but reality determines the will of God. And if the time comes when we will have more to give, we will need spiritual discernment to know when and how to give so that we do not destroy the needy with our gifts or lock them up in their selfishness and immaturity.
The point of Jesus’ instruction is summarized in Luke 6:32-35,
32 And if you love those who love you, what credit 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 credit 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, in order to receive back the same amount.
This is the conclusion of the matter, and so we must interpret Jesus’ previous words in that light. The blessed ones have a quality of love that is higher than the “sinners,” that is, those who are ruled by the carnal mind. But the expression of genuine love, as seen by divine example toward us, looks beyond the needy one’s request or demand. It takes into account both one’s own capability of giving, as well as the effect that the gift might have upon the recipient.
On Being Kind and Grateful
Luke continues with Jesus’ “sermon,” describing to us the love of God. Luke 6:35 says,
35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing [apelpizo, “no hope,” in medical language, having an incurable disease] in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind [chrestos] to ungrateful [acharistos] and evil men.
Jesus says that “the Most High” leads by example. The fact that we are to love our enemies is based upon the fact that God does the same. “He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.”
Jesus says to expect nothing in return when you lend. When you set your hopes on getting back what you lent, it causes worry or even fear that your expectations may not be met. 1 John 4:18 says, “the one who fears is not perfected in love.” God Himself has no fear, for He knows the end from the beginning and therefore knows the outcome of every story and of history itself. His “outrageous love” is not practical or realistic to the carnal mind. Yet we know that all that He does manifests His character.
God does not have a dual character, one side loving and the other side judging. All of His judgments issue forth from His love, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is why His judgments are corrective in nature. His judgments are “kind to ungrateful and evil men.” This is the love of God, as expressed in the life of Christ and in all who are Christ-like.
Jesus used the word chrestos to say that God is “kind” and acharistos to describe ungrateful men. The similarity of chrestos to the title Christos, or “Christ,” in this Greek play on words is unmistakable. It is likely that Jesus spoke in Aramaic and that Luke translated His words into Greek. Hence, we may attribute this play on words to Luke’s inspired mastery of Greek language and of Hebrew thought patterns. To be acharistos is to have no charis, “grace, gift of grace, thanks.” In other words, to be acharistos is to be “un-Christ-like.”
Matthew’s account words this instruction a little differently in Matt. 5:48,
48 Therefore you are to be perfect [teleios], as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The Greek word teleios means “brought to its end, finished, complete, mature.” Perfect love, then, is first devoid of fear and is the goal, for it is who God is and it was revealed and displayed in the life of Christ as the great divine example.
The Love of God
The Apostle Paul also describes the love of God in Rom. 5:7, 8,
7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
This is how God shows kindness to “ungrateful and evil men.” He did not wait until they deserved such kindness. He took the initiative, even to the point of being willing to die for the ungodly. This is the example that shows us “perfect love.” It is our own goal in life, for this level of love will characterize all of us when we are truly Christ-like. Such love is seldom seen and hardly taught by religion.
Even Christian religion largely fails to understand the love of God, for they have attributed a dual personality to God. On the one hand, they acknowledge that God is love, but they juxtapose His love side with His holiness side. His holiness, they say, demands that God torture sinners forever if they do not accept the love of God.
In other words, God’s holiness limits the full expression of the love of God. Such “holiness” teaching does not balance the love of God, but actually limits it. Paul, however, goes on in Romans 5 to show the results of God’s perfect love, saying in Rom. 5:18, 19,
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
This compares Adam’s act of sin to Christ’s act of righteousness. Even as Adam’s sin brought mortality (death) to all men, so also did Christ’s righteous act bring life to all men. Adam’s sinful act brought consequences to the entire creation “not willingly” (Rom. 8:20) but by the Judge decreeing His own will in the divine court. So also did Christ’s righteous act result in a court decree declaring the law fully satisfied.
This result could not be achieved through the Old Covenant, by which men vowed to express their love for God by their obedience in order to obtain God’s blessing (salvation). Rather, it was achieved through the New Covenant, by which God Himself bound Himself by an oath to turn the hearts of all men, whether they were present or not in Deut. 29:10-15. This prophesied of the New Covenant, for it was based fully upon God’s desire and ability to fulfill His oath.
The New Covenant, then, is the full demonstration of the love of God, as He shows His kindness to “ungrateful and evil men.” He did not wait for men to accept Him or for men to become perfected. Christ “died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6) as a first step in fulfilling His vow to bring them to perfection.
Judging by Love
God’s judgments, based upon His holiness, are not from a separate part of His personality or character, but rather issue from His love itself. His judgments are designed to correct men through discipline, rather than to reject all who reject His love. His judgments prove His intent to fulfill His New Covenant oath. Because men are incapable of coming to God except as a response to His drawing, God has vowed to draw all men to Himself. John 12:32, 33 says,
32 “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” 33 But He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.
Hence, if Jesus were to die on the cross as the Mediator of the New Covenant, He will succeed in drawing all men to Himself. His death and resurrection not only made the salvation of all men possible, it made it inevitable. 1 Tim. 4:10 thus says,
10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.
The “special” salvation afforded to the believers is that they are brought to perfection first. There is more than one resurrection, as Revelation 20 indicates. Believers receive their reward much earlier than unbelievers. Nonetheless, in the end, the great law of Jubilee will apply to all those who have been sentenced by the law to pay their debt incurred by sin.
The fact of salvation was established by God’s oath, first to Abraham, then to Moses, David, the prophets, and finally by the righteous act of Jesus Christ which ratified and sealed God’s oath by His blood. The timing of salvation, however, as it works out in practical history, is another matter. First we note that each individual lives in his or her own generation. Secondly, not all are given opportunity to hear of Christ and the New Covenant during their life time. But most important, God’s vow, coupled with His holiness, demands that He should fulfill His oath.
To fulfill that oath requires God to overcome all resistance that is inherent in mortal men. The Old Covenant proved that men were incapable of doing this by the power of their own will, even though they made a solemn vow to do so (Exodus 19:8). The Old Covenant was meant to fail, in order that God might demonstrate His ability as a contrast to man’s inability.
God would never have taken such an oath, had it not been for His love. It is His love that motivated Him to take steps to save all that was lost through Adam’s sin. It is His holiness that drives Him to fulfill that oath, even if it means bringing judgment to correct the sinners.
Loving Judgment is Successful
Divine Judgment is not an admission of failure, but a means to success.
His love will be satisfied, because He has the ability to raise the dead and reveal Himself to all men at the Great White Throne, where every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:10, 11). In the great chapter on the sovereignty of God, Isaiah 45:23-25 speaks of God’s oath, saying,
23 I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. 24 They will say of Me, “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.” Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him shall be put to shame. 25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory.
At the Great White Throne, when all men see His glory, they will all “swear allegiance” to Him, acknowledging the truth that “Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.” This is not talking about the believers, but “all who were angry at Him.” These are the ones who will become believers. In the judgment of God’s “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2, KJV), these will be placed under the authority of the believers, who will train them in the ways of God and the paths of righteousness, even as we read in Isaiah 26:9, “when the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.”
Divine judgment, then, is a means to an end. Its goal is to teach righteousness and to make corrections where necessary. Divine judgment ensures the ultimate success of divine love.