Living Gracefully (4): Why Bother?
Intro – A student called up his mom one evening from college and asked her for some money. Mom said, "Sure, sweetie. I will send you some money with the economics book you left 2 weeks ago.” "Uh, oh yeah, I need the book, too,” responded the kid. So his Mom packaged the book along with two checks and went to mail it off. When she returned, Dad asked, "Well how much did you give the boy this time?" "Oh, I wrote two checks, one for $50, and the other for $1,000." "$1050!!!" yelled Dad. "Are you crazy???" "Don’t worry Hon," Mom said. "I put the $50 check on top, but I put the $1,000 somewhere between the pages in chapter 15! He’ll never find it!"
Makes me wonder how much reward from God we’ve left tucked in chapter 15 by disobedience? God says, “Love your enemies.” We say, “But surely not this one,” and we just left $1,000 tucked between the pages.
Living gracefully – the theme of Luke 6:27-36. True followers of Jesus live with a gracefulness that is just not natural. To help us do that He gives us four precepts (vv. 27-28 = Love your enemies; Do good to those who hate you; Bless those who curse you; Pray for those who abuse you), four prototypes or examples and today a 3-fold purpose or motivation. Why in the world should we be the only one on our block who is loving and praying our enemies, turning the other cheek, etc.? Why bother? Jesus answers.
I. It Benefits Ourselves
Living with grace is one way we invest in eternity. We see this beginning in v. 32, “If you love those who love you, what benefit 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 benefit 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, to get back the same amount.” What Jesus is saying is, “Look, it’s great you love your friends – but so does everybody! Investing in eternity is costly – rights, reputation, riches, maybe even life. Will you go THERE with me?”
We’re all just human enough to ask, “What’s in it for me?” right? How do I know this supernatural living won’t just be a waste of time? How about – you have God’s guarantee! Even if my enemy never comes to faith in Christ, even worst case, they do me serious damage, still I have God’s promise. He will grace my life. And the reward will far exceed whatever I give up. Look at v. 35, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.” This is a “can’t lose” proposition, It’s the only “can’t lose” proposition because it is offered by an omnipotent (can do anything), eternal (forever), truthful (never lies) Savior. When Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21) – this is what He is talking about. Giving up your rights to revenge, grudges and “natural” living. He is looking for supernatural, not natural.
So what reward is He talking about here? Well sometimes there’s reward in this life! Occasionally, God’s servants prosper physically – men like Abraham, David, Daniel and others. But the Bible never promises physical prosperity as a reward. But it does promise peace and contentment. Do you realize how many people would kill for peace of mind? Contentment – the satisfaction of knowing that our whole future is in His hands – that’s a great reward. God promises that if we bring our anxieties to Him in prayer, “ the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). That’s priceless, Beloved. Paul went on in Phil 4 to say in v. 12, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” There is priceless reward even now in serving Christ.
But when Jesus says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great”, He is primarily thinking of eternity. He has in mind the same promise that God issued through Paul in Rom 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The ultimate reward is sure – but it is out there! Jesus knows full well that things will never balance out in this life, but the day is coming when it will all come right. What if the enemy that I love and pray for continues to abuse me and mine? Even kills me? What then? God answers in II Cor 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Jesus is saying, “Don’t get hung up on temporal abuse – bad as it is. True reward awaits you – hidden, unseen, but even more real.
Turn to Gen 14. Abram’s nephew, Lot, is taken captive by some neighboring warlords. Uncle Abram comes to the rescue and returns Lot and all the other residents of Sodom who have been taken. So we read in Gen 14:21, “21 And the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, but take the goods for yourself.” 22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have lifted my hand to the LORD, God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal strap or anything that is yours, lest you should say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me.” You can bet the king of Sodom couldn’t believe his ears. No self-respecting leader in his time would have turned down such a reward. But Abram was not living on default settings. He was living radically. So look at 15:1: “After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” “Abe, I saw what you did. Don’t worry. I have your back. I am your shield, your protection. But more than that, your reward shall be far more than you turned down.” But wait. The Hebrew can be translated another way. KJV translates: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” In that case, Abram’s reward is God Himself. That’s the greatest reward of all. That’s what we were made for. That’s what Abram got; that’s what Jesus promises. Reward far greater than any price we might pay. God promises in Rev 21:7, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.”
We have no idea what we lose by living on natural reaction instead of grace? William McKinley once had 2 names for Ambassador to Eng. Years before McKinley had rushed onto a streetcar to get the last vacant seat. Soon an elderly woman got on, carrying a heavy basket. No one offered a seat as she walked the aisle. One of the men McKinley was later to consider for ambassador was on the car. But instead of helping the woman, he deliberately shifted his newspaper so it would look like he hadn’t seen her. When McKinley saw this, he walked down the aisle, took her basket, and offered her his seat. The man never knew someone saw, but that one little act deprived him of the crowning honor of his life. I wonder what temporal idol is costing us eternal reward? God always rewards grace-filled lives, sooner or later!
II. It Benefits the World
Second, radical living benefits our world. Believers long to see others come to Christ. A lifestyle that defies natural explanation compels consideration. Thus, v. 32, “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. Remember we have said that the word translated “benefit”, or “credit” in some translations, is actually the word “grace”. What grace is it to you to do what everyone else does? You treat family and friends well? So does your neighbor, the mafia kingpin! Don’t stop doing it, but that’s not graceful living. That’s just getting to ground zero.
We’re quick to congratulate ourselves some kindness to a friend. Is that a good thing to do? Absolutely. Is that grace in operation? Nope. That’s natural reaction. Grace kicks in in v. 35, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” That’s when grace starts; that’s when credit accrues; that’s an investment in eternity. And that’s when our world begins to sit up and take notice. “Hey, Dude, you’re different -- not like the rest of the world. What gives?” Grace-filled living causes people to ask: “What makes you tick?” We think people are attracted by success. They could care less – they can do that on their own. They’re attracted by graceful living under persecution! They can’t explain that. They can’t do that.
But very few of us go there with Jesus. We’re too busy protecting #1. Not Jesus. Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” How many of His rights did Jesus take with Him to the cross? Zero, right. How much reputation did He protect? None – died in humiliation as a common criminal. Did He horde any riches there? Paul answers: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (II Cor 8:9). There is a picture of grace, Beloved? Do you see yourself there – anywhere? We’re too busy guarding our rights.
The only pix most people will ever see of Rom 5:8 is what they see in us. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus wants us to join Him there. Are you willing to go? If you ever visit the Alamo, you’ll see stories and pictures of all the heroes – all but one. John Bonham died there with all the rest. But no portrait was ever made of John. But there is a pix there with a plaque that reads, "No portrait of John Bonham exists so in its place has been placed a portrait of his nephew who greatly resembled him. It is put up here so that people will never forget the face of this one who died for freedom."
Folks, we are the only Christ that many will ever see. Some of our own friends and relatives wouldn’t darken the door of a church if their life depended on it. So we are it. We are their only means of grace. But we can’t demo grace by living a normal life. Grace costs. Jesus is saying, “I need you to join me in living above the crowd, in paying the price to be different.
It is possible that some of us are caught up in this – family feuds, neighborhood brouhahas, workplace drama. We must make sure that we are not like everyone else – looking for vengeance, trying to insure our rights. Let God insure our rights. Live by grace. Love your enemies. You have no idea what God might do through your graceful living.
III. It Benefits God
Here is the greatest incentive of all to grace-filled living – to represent the family well. That’s Jesus’ point in v. 35, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” When we begin to really love our enemies and do good to those who are abusing us – guess what? That is when we are most like our Father. That’s when we really belong. That’s when the word Christian is a true fit. We are acting like family.
When someone wrongs us, we want justice. But, Beloved, if we got justice, do you realize none of us would last a single day. God’s justice would crush us under the weight of our own selfish indifference to His ways and His will. We don’t need justice, we need mercy. And as our Father favors mercy, so must we. Matt 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” So He’s saying, ease up. Copy Dad. Show mercy while you can. Judgment will fall soon enough. Wouldn’t you rather that enemy had every chance to avoid an eternity in hell than you get your revenge? Won’t you take the long view of your Father? So much is going on behind the scenes that we don’t see. He’s in absolute control. The only way to be part of that is to copy the Father – adopt the family default settings. We can never lose by copying Him; we can only lose when we don’t.
I was 13 when the knock came at our front door. Mom answered, but as soon as I heard the voice, I knew who was there and I knew why he was there. It was Bob Johnson, the truant officer. We all knew him because he had often made presentations in our elementary school. Now that school, had been closed down. For months it sat idle and over time, kids started throwing rocks to break the windows when we would be playing ball at the playground. I resisted for weeks, knowing it was wrong. But eventually I gave in to peer pressure, rationalizing it would get torn down anyway. I thought why not. And I joined in. Now, Bob Johnson was at the door, and I was as guilty as sin. Consequences followed. I had to pay for and help Dad replace a bunch of those windows. But far worse for me was the realization I had let Dad down. I knew I had shamed the family name, and I found that a heavy burden to bear.
That’s what it’s like when we can’t get over the wrong that’s been done to us. We are giving a false picture of the Father and dragging the family name through the gutter. As a child of God, our every action either brings Him glory or shame. Jesus is saying, “Bring glory to the Father. Be merciful if for no other reason than that He is merciful, and you will be upholding the family name.” What a privilege that is, isn’t it? Isn’t that worth a little adversity?
Conc – Are we looking between the pages for the reward of living for Christ this morning? Lizzie Atwater did. She and her husband were missionaries to China who were caught in 1900 in the largest massacre in the history of Christian missions. It was staged by a rabidly anti-Christian group called the Society of Harmonious Fists, better known as the Boxers. Nearly 200 missionary adults and children plus 30,000 national Chinese Christians were killed. On August 3, Lizzie Atwater wrote home, “Dear ones, I long for a sight of your dear faces, but I fear we shall not meet on earth. I am preparing for the end very calmly. The Lord is wonderfully near, and he will not fail me. . . . I just pray for grace to meet the terrible end bravely. The pain will soon be over, and oh the sweetness of the welcome above!
My little baby will go with me. I think God will give it to me in Heaven, and my dear mother will be so glad to see us. I cannot imagine the Savior’s welcome. Oh, that will compensate for all these days of suspense. Dear ones, live near God and cling less closely to earth. There is no other way by which we can receive that peace from God which passes understanding. …
… I do not regret coming to China, but am sorry I have done so little. My married life, two precious years, has been so very full of happiness. We will die together, my dear husband and I. I send my love to you all, the dear friends who remember me.”
Twelve days later the Atwaters perished. But not for nothing. Through the years they have watched from glory as an underground church began to grow and thrive, fueled by continued persecution, growing to an estimated 5 to 7 million by 1980, but estimated at 50-100 million today. Living differently cost the Atwaters their very lives – but Oh, the reward! Here’s one thing you can bank your life on. Anything we give up for Christ will be paid back 1000-fold. Let’s reset the defaults. Let’s not leave reward tucked between the pages because we’ve never been there. Let’s pray.