Summary: God has given us His grace to aspire towards this high standard of AGAPE Love.
THE GOD KIND OF LOVE
The Sermon on the Plain is directed towards those who ‘came to hear’ Jesus (Luke 6:17). It was ‘toward His disciples’ that Jesus first lifted up His eyes (Luke 6:20). That emphasis is repeated at the beginning of the present passage (Luke 6:27). These are words for those already committed to building upon the rock (Luke 6:47-48).
It is the kind of Love which Jesus modelled when He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). When He forgave Paul the blasphemer (1 Timothy 1:13). When He prayed for his tormentors: ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). When He gave His face to those who smote Him (cf. Isaiah 50:6). When the soldiers ‘parted His vesture among them and cast lots for His clothes’ (John 19:23). When He gave His all for us, even WITHOUT our asking: for it was ‘while we were yet sinners’ that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Jesus has already indicated that He is fully aware that His followers will face persecution (Luke 6:22). “DO GOOD to those who hate you,” He says. “BLESS those who curse you. PRAY for those who despitefully use you” (Luke 6:27-28). Throughout these two verses the word “you” is in the plural: in other words “‘ye all’ who hear” (Luke 6:27), collectively.
Then He turns to the singular, personalising the situation. If anyone strikes “you” on the cheek; takes away “your” cloak; to everyone who asks “you”, give; takes away what is “yours” &c. (Luke 6:29-30).
Reverting to the plural of “you”, Jesus presents His version of the ‘Golden Rule’. This is not ‘tit for tat’, but preemptive. “According as you desire men do to you, you also do to them in like manner” (Luke 6:31).
Jesus explains this attitude by looking at the alternative. There is literally no “grace” in loving those who love us: even sinners do this. There is literally no “grace” in doing good to those who do good to us: even sinners do this. There is literally no “grace” in lending to those from whom we hope to receive: even sinners do this (Luke 6:32-34).
Jesus repeats the call to the God kind of love: “But ‘ye all’ love those hostile to you, and do good, and lend, nothing hoping for again” (Luke 6:35). “Great reward” is mentioned here, not as a motive, but as an expected fruit in the lives of those who are “sons of the Highest.” Be who you are!
Bishop Ryle suggests that Christian people should care for their neighbours in a better way than worldly people do. But, ultimately, it is about basing our behaviour towards others in the way God has dealt with us. He was good to each believer even when we were “ungrateful” and “wicked” (Luke 6:35).
“‘Ye all’ therefore be merciful, as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36; cf. Romans 9:15). We are being called to be compassionate, to exercise grace towards those who are hostile to us. It was ‘when we were enemies’ that ‘we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Romans 5:10). It was while we were yet unlovely, and unlovable, that His Love was thus poured out for us!
Having said that reward is not the motive, we do find that, incidentally, love does bring its own recompense (Luke 6:37). Sometimes in this life (Luke 6:38), always in the hereafter. Measure out what you would hope to get, for God desires mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13).
We may think this teaching impossible, and with good reason: but it is modelled on Jesus' own example. Furthermore, God has given us His grace to aspire towards this high standard of AGAPE Love. Born of the Spirit, we are His sons!