But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. – Luke 6:27-28 ESV
These two verses are included in Luke's account of the Sermon on the Mount. They are the words of Jesus Himself and with the rest of His sermon that day, contain His teachings concerning true righteousness. Jesus was presenting a higher standard of righteousness than was being practiced in His day. He was raising the bar, so to speak. He was letting the people know that the righteousness required for inclusion in God's Kingdom was much more demanding than they had ever suspected. Luke gives a shorter version of Jesus' sermon because he was writing primarily to a Gentile audience and so he removed much of the content having to do with the Mosaic law or legal matters. He was interested in those words of Jesus that had a universal appeal. The two verses above are preceded by four “woes” that are designed to contrast with the beatitudes or blessings given by Jesus. Jesus said, “woe to you who are rich…”, “Woe to you who are full now…”, “Woe to you who laugh now…”, and “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you…” (Luke 6:24-26 ESV). The Greek word that is translated “woe” means “alas” and carries the idea of pity or sorrow. It conveys a sense of sadness regarding those who are under God's judgment. Those who choose riches, physical pleasure, temporary happiness, or popularity over a relationship with Christ will suffer in the long run. They will enjoy temporary pleasure, but miss out on the eternal rewards made possible through Jesus.
These woes directly precede the verses above. Jesus said, “But I say to you who hear…” He then gives a series of seemingly impossible standards to live by. Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt or abuse you. These words sounded as impossible then as they do now. But they represent the kind of righteousness that God requires. Something far more difficult than had ever been imagined. And only made possible through a relationship with Jesus Christ. In Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount, he records Jesus saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20 ESV). For the average Jew in the audience that day, this statement would have sounded implausible and impossible. The scribes and Pharisees were the spiritual elite. They were the religious rock stars of their day. But Jesus was looking for a different kind of righteousness. What He had in mind was not a works-based righteousness based on human effort, but a whole new kind of righteousness made possible by His sacrificial death on the cross.
What Jesus is asking us to do in these verses is impossible. Left to our own devices, we would never be able to love our enemies. We could never muster up enough inner strength to do good to those who hate us or bless those who curse us. And why in the world would we want to pray for those who hurt us? And believe me, Jesus is not suggesting we pray for their destruction. He is telling us to pray God's blessings on them. Our prayer should be that God does them good even while they are doing us harm. Impossible? You bet. Unless it is done in the righteousness of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. Only believers have the capacity to pray that way – and mean it. But in order to pray God's blessings on those who are in the process of hurting us, we need to be living in submission to the Spirit of God. We must be relying on His strength and not our own. We must recognize that God's desire is that we live like Christ, Peter writes regarding Jesus’ actions during His trials and crucifixion: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:23-24 ESV). The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3 ESV).
Pray for those who hurt you. That is not our natural response. We want to hurt them back. We want vengeance, retribution, payback. But Jesus came to provide us with a new kind of righteousness, a new way of living in this world. His death provided us with a new capacity to love the unlovely, pray for the undeserving, and to do good to the ungodly. To pray God's blessings on those who hurt you is to put them in God's hands and let Him do what He deems best. It is to put your trust in His wisdom and your life in His care, knowing that He can protect you regardless of what others may choose to do to you. Prayer isn't about getting what you want from God. It is about doing what God wants. It is about living according to His standards and relying upon His power to accomplish His will.