William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Golden Rule (Luke 6:27-38)

6:27-38 Jesus said, "But to you who are listening I say, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-use you. To him who strikes you on one cheek offer the other cheek also. If anyone takes away your cloak, do not stop him taking your tunic, too. Give to everyone who asks you; if anyone takes away your belongings, do not demand them back again. As you would like men to act towards you, so do you act towards them. If you love those who love you, what special grace is there in that? Even sinners love those who love them. If you are kind to those who are kind to you, what special grace is there in that? Even sinners love those who love them. If you are kind to those who are kind to you, what special grace is there in that? Even sinners do that. If you lend to those from whom you wish to get, what special grace is in that? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to get as much back again. But you must love your enemies; and do good to them; and lend with no hope of getting anything in return. Your reward will be great and you will be the sons of the Most High, because he is kind both to the thankless and to the wicked. Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful; do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. People will give into your bosom, good measure pressed together, shaken down, running over; for with what measure you measure it will be measured to you back again."

There is no commandment of Jesus which has caused so much discussion and debate as the commandment to love our enemies. Before we can obey it we must discover what it means. In Greek there are three words for to love. There is eran (compare Greek #2037 ), which describes passionate love, the love of a man for a maid. There is philein ( Greek #5368 ), which describes our love for our nearest and dearest, the warm affection of the heart. Neither of these two words is used here; the word used here is agapan ( Greek #25 ), which needs a whole paragraph to translate it.

Agapan ( Greek #25 ) describes an active feeling of benevolence towards the other person; it means that no matter what that person does to us we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but his highest good; and we will deliberately and of set purpose go out of our way to be good and kind to him. This is most suggestive. We cannot love our enemies as we love our nearest and dearest. To do so would be unnatural, impossible and even wrong. But we can see to it that, no matter what a man does to us, even if he insults, ill-treats and injures us, we will seek nothing but his highest good.

One thing emerges from this. The love we bear to our dear ones is something we cannot help. We speak of falling in love; it is something which happens to us. But this love towards our enemies is not only something of the heart; it is something of the will. It is something which by the grace of Christ we may will ourselves to do.

This passage has in it two great facts about the Christian ethic.

(i) The Christian ethic is positive. It does not consist in not doing things but in doing them. Jesus gave us the Golden Rule which bids us do to others as we would have them do to us. That rule exists in many writers of many creeds in its negative form. Hillel, one of the great Jewish Rabbis, was asked by a man to teach him the whole law while he stood on one leg. He answered, "What is hateful to thee, do not to another. That is the whole law and all else is explanation." Philo, the great Jew of Alexandria, said, "What you hate to suffer, do not do to anyone else." Isocrates, the Greek orator, said. "What things make you angry when you suffer them at the hands of others, do not you do to other people." The Stoics had as one of their basic rules, "What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not you do to any other." When Confucius was asked, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" he answered, "Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."

Every one of these forms is negative. It is not unduly difficult to keep yourself from such action; but it is a very different thing to go out of your way to do to others what you would want them to do to you. The very essence of Christian conduct is that it consists, not in refraining from bad things, but in actively doing good things.

(ii) The Christian ethic is based on the extra thing. Jesus described the common ways of sensible conduct and then dismissed them with the question, "What special grace is in that?" So often people claim to be just as good as their neighbours. Very likely they are. But the question of Jesus is, "How much better are you than the ordinary person?" It is not our neighbour with whom we must compare ourselves; we may well stand that comparison very adequately; it is God with whom we must compare ourselves; and in that comparison we are all in default.

(iii) What is the reason for this Christian conduct? The reason is that it makes us like God, for that is the way he acts. God sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He is kind to the man who brings him joy and equally kind to the man who grieves his heart. God's love embraces saint and sinner alike. It is that love we must copy; if we, too, seek even our enemy's highest good we will in truth be the children of God.

Luke 6:38 has the strange phrase, "People will give into your bosom." The Jew wore a long loose robe down to the feet, and round the waist a girdle. The robe could be pulled up so that the bosom of the robe above the girdle formed a kind of outsize pocket in which things could be carried. So the modern equivalent of the phrase would be, "People will fill your pocket."

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible