In the last essay we studied Luke 6:12-26, which included the call of the twelve apostles and the first part of the Sermon on the Plain. In this essay we are studying Luke 6:27-49, which will complete our study of the Sermon on the Plain. Here we come to the heart of the sermon, and we immediately see the main theme, love. In verses 27-42, Jesus lays out several manifestations of love, which sets forth love as the main theme of the sermon.
In verses 27-28 Jesus teaches his disciples to love with an active love. They are to love those who would hate and persecute them with actions, bless them with words, and pray for them. Of course prayer includes both action and words (vv. 27-28).
In verses 29-30 Jesus broadens his teaching about love. If someone strikes us on the cheek, we should turn the other, rather than strike back. If someone tries to steal our coat, we should give him our shirt as well. Frederic Godet calls this expression of love passive love, because it sacrifices our rights to the rights to others. The idea is that love has no limits.
Now we can debate how literally Jesus meant for us to take this kind of teaching. It may be that he was more concerned with the spirit of the teaching than with an absolutely literal performance. But the idea of sacrificing one’s rights for the rights of others is quite clear.
Then Jesus caps off the segment with golden rule love. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This teaching was known before Jesus in its negative form. That is, others had taught that one ought not do anything to others that one didn’t want done to oneself. That was a matter of prudence. It protected oneself from retaliation. Jesus put it in a positive form, which is quite different. We are to treat others well without regard for how they might treat us.
In the next segment, Jesus teaches unconditional love. Verses 32-35a explain how golden rule love works out in life. It is an unconditional love. Loving those who love us, doing good things for those who do good things for us, and lending to those from whom we expect a return is conditional love. Sinners do as much for one another. Instead we are to love, do good to, and lend to even our enemies, expecting nothing in return.
In verses 35b-36 we see divine love. Jesus declares that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked,” and he is merciful. Moreover Jesus says that those who love unconditionally in the ways he has taught will receive a great reward, including being “children of the Most High.” Clearly, Jesus expects God’s children to show the character of their heavenly Father.
In verses 37-42 Jesus explains further what it means to be merciful with love. The first principle, seen in verses 37-38, is to not be judgmental. Frequently, people misinterpret this statement, “Do not judge,” to mean that we should never make judgments about others. Jesus certainly did not mean that. It would contradict other scriptures. We are taught many times in the Bible to make judgments about sin, both ours and others. For example, Jesus told us that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. We cannot do that without making judgments about the righteousness of the Pharisees. It is the judgmental attitude that refuses to be merciful that is under attack here, not the use of discernment. Paul harshly criticized the Corinthians for failing to judge the sinful activities of one of their church members (1 Cor. 5:1-2). Jesus’ point is that those who judgmentally condemn others will themselves come under the judgment of God. The Pharisees in Jesus’ audience that day may have been Jesus’ primary targets for the remark about inappropriate judging. In any case, Jesus wants his followers instead to forgive, and give. Then we will be forgiven and blessed by God. It isn’t that we will escape the judgment, but that we will receive mercy in the judgment.
The picture that comes to my mind in verse 38 is that of a large bag of movie popcorn. Sometimes the counter person will simply fill it close to the top and let it go at that. At other times the counter person generously shakes the bag and tamps down the popcorn in order to get as much as possible into it and then throws a final scoop of popcorn onto the top so that it overflows. I like that kind of counter person. Jesus is saying that God will reward us with that kind of “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over,” if we give with that kind of measure.
In verse 39 Jesus tells “a parable.” The term that is translated “parable” has a broader range of meanings than many Christians realize. In this case, it basically means a proverb, because the idea of the blind leading the blind was proverbial. In this context, Jesus was using it in connection with the idea of not being judgmental in verses 37-38. The Pharisees, and any followers of Jesus who were judgmental like the Pharisees, were spiritually blind and thus were unable to lead others who were blind. Jesus used almost this exact same language when speaking about the Pharisees in Matt. 15:14.
Verse 40 expresses a truth about that culture. There were few books available to students in those days. Therefore they were dependent upon their teachers for all their learning. Thus they literally could not be superior to their teacher in knowledge. The disciples of the Pharisees, therefore, could only fall into the pit with their leaders.
In verses 41-42 Jesus turns again to parabolic material. He asks two questions. First, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? And then second, “How can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye?’” The idea is that people like the Pharisees seek to correct others without correcting themselves first. Indeed they are so arrogant they presumptuously take on the moral education of others when they are not moral themselves. Jesus continues, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” This teaching is crystal clear. God will not tolerate judgmental hypocrisy, or any other form of hypocrisy for that matter.
Verses 43-45 turn to the positive side of the issue. Instead of trying to influence our neighbors in a hypocritical, judgmental way, we are to influence them by being good ourselves. Jesus gives here two parables about trees. In the first, he offers the truism that a good tree will not bear bad fruit, and a bad tree will not bear good fruit. In other words, good trees are useful, because they produce usable fruit; and bad trees are essentially useless, because they produce “bad,” or useless, fruit. With the second parable Jesus declares that one has to have the right kind of tree, or vine, in order to get the right kind of fruit. One does not get figs from thorns or grapes from bramble bushes.
With the analogy of a tree and its fruit Jesus is saying that a person of bad character cannot produce good words or deeds. On the one hand, good people have a “good treasure” in their hearts; and from that treasure, they produce good words and deeds. On the other hand, evil people have an evil treasure in their hearts; and evil words and deeds are the result. The last clause of verse 45 indicates that Jesus had words primarily in mind, but the same is true for deeds. In other words, the kind of “fruit” we produce depends on the kind of heart we have.
In the closing three verses of the sermon, Jesus appeals to his listeners to obey the teachings he just gave them. A good person such as he described in the previous verses will obey the teachings, not simply listen to them. The apostle James said the same thing even more clearly. He commanded those to whom he wrote; quote, “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (James 1:22). We are to hear and obey our Lord. Indeed, verse 46 implies that it is dangerous to do otherwise: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you. The implication is that Jesus is not really our Lord unless we obey him.
In order to nail down his point, Jesus tells the parable of two houses, one built on a rock foundation and the other built right on the ground without a foundation. The house built on the rock represents believers who hear the words of Jesus and obeys them. The house built on the ground represents followers who hear Jesus’ words but fail to obey them. Thus persons who hear and obey are like houses built on a rock foundation. Those persons keep standing when the floods of life come against them. But persons who hear and do not obey are like houses built on the ground without a foundation. When the floods of life come against them, they collapse.
Study of this sermon demands that we ask certain questions of ourselves. Are we disciples who have a good heart, who produce good words and deeds? Do we obey Jesus in all things? In other words, are we like a house built on a rock foundation, or like one built on the ground without a foundation? As we learned from earlier parts of the sermon, do we love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who abuse us? Do we do good things for our enemies and lend to them expecting nothing in return? Are we merciful, as God is merciful? Do we legalistically condemn others, or do we, with God’s help, freely forgive? Do we try to remove specks from the eyes of others while having a log in our own? All of these are important and serious questions.