What is genuine love?
Jan 29, 2014
Jesus’ “Sermon” in Luke 6 shows the contrast between the blessed ones and those who are not blessed. In our Western way of thinking, we normally assume that “woe” is a condemnation, when, in fact, it is an emotional exclamation expressing grief. The Hebrew word is howy, or oi vae, and is translated “alas!” or “ho!” or “ah!” Isaiah 5:20 uses the term in this way:
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness, who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Perhaps this is the verse that Jesus had in mind when He said in Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when men…spurn your name as evil.” The woe corresponding to this is found in Luke 6:26,
26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.
In other words, the truly blessed ones are called evil, while their self-righteous accusers are given accolades. Men call evil good, and good evil.
Jesus does not condemn those who do this, but expresses grief over it, saying “Alas!” It is a terrible tragedy that men could be so blind and show such lack of love.
Jesus then 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.
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.
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?
Therefore, 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.
This is part 1 of a mini-series titled "What is Genuine Love?." To view all parts, click the link below.
This is part 25 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones