Questions to consider:
Who are our enemies or can be modeled as enemies?
How are we to treat our enemies?
What does treating our enemies well do for us?
This article deals with what I think the Bible says about how we treat enemies, which are people that we may or may not deal with in our daily lives. Before you write this off as an article that has no relevance in your own life, I want you to think about your workplace, family life, and even those you might consider friends or acquaintances. Have you ever written somebody off as inconvenient to your own life? Maybe this materializes for you as people who beg on the streets, especially if they “bum you out” when you see them begging on the streets. Or maybe about police officers, who many people may be frightened of or may feel hatred towards. Now I’m not saying that Jesus was talking about the homeless during his Sermon on the Mount, but I think that maybe the homeless can sometimes become our enemies when we let their misfortune make us feel cheated or attacked, and we choose to let them stay oppressed by their situations. Cops may may become our enemies when we are break the law, bosses when we don’t work hard (or do, depending on the boss). Anyways, maybe we can apply these passages from scripture to help us treat more people in our lives in a more neighborly way.
Jesus obviously wants us to love everybody if we are supposed to love our neighbors as well as our enemies. Actually, it can be assumed that Jesus considers our enemies to still be considered our neighbors, exemplified by the story of the good Samaritan, one of the most popular passages in the Bible.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37 ESV)
This story is so awesome for multiple reasons. First reason being, Jesus makes it clear that we are to show care for complete strangers as if they were our kin. I think that this is a piece of Christianity that many current-day American Christians miss. In this country, it seems we are raised and trained to look after ourselves, make money for ourselves, and then eventually raise kids to do the same. That’s a topic for another section. Another reason that this passage is great is because of the social baggage that the story carries. The Jews at the time that Jesus was speaking to them about this would have immediately understood that this was an interesting story because the Jews and Samaritans were not exactly groups that liked each other too much. Centuries of conflict were already in the books for these groups, and Samaritans even tried to stop the rebuilding of Jerusalem! The Samaritans were treated as inferior to the Jews of the time. With this parable, Jesus paints the idea that there is essentially no limit to the people that we should love and also paints a picture of love that is genuine. The Samaritan doesn’t just stop and ask “You good?” but actually cares for this person.
Let’s take this lesson and not only extend a hand to our friends, family, own race, ethnicity, and sexuality. We are brothers and sisters.
20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20 ESV)
Paul is actually quoting Proverbs on this one, and obviously there is a piece of it that seems a little off. Burning coals? Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of loving our enemy? This seems to be a bit of a contrast to the Good Samaritan story. The Samaritan wasn’t trying to help the man on the road maliciously. No, I think the burning coals in this verse are essentially talking about shame and call to repentance. Actually, the New Living Translation incorporates the meaning into the translation itself.
Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” (Romans 12:20 NLT)
Of course, this is assuming that it is your enemy who is in the wrong.
What about the Old Testament? Doesn’t God pour wrath on all of Israel’s enemies? I’m not denying that God has a lot of people killed in the Bible. However, there are some prime examples of people showing love, or at least mercy, towards enemies in the Old Testament.
The first example is David. One of David’s enemies in the Bible is Saul, who after being fond of David, hates David and desperately tries to have him killed, because. David has multiple chances to just end Saul’s life, but denies himself the opportunities. One of the opportunities occurs when Saul is, uh, using the bathroom in a cave. David sneaks up on him, cuts a piece of his robe, but doesn’t harm him. David then speaks to Saul, and his words provide insight from a man of God.
10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you today into my hand in the cave. And some told me to kill you, but I spared you.[a] I said, ‘I will not put out my hand against my lord, for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ 11 See, my father, see the corner of your robe in my hand. For by the fact that I cut off the corner of your robe and did not kill you, you may know and see that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you hunt my life to take it. 12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. (1 Samuel 24:10-13 ESV)
Verse 13 is a great reminder of why, as Christians, we are meant to not harm our enemies. We are meant to be the light in this dark world. What does it mean if we seek vengeance on our enemies, just like those without Christ? We are to be a manifestation of God’s love, and whether we agree with it or not, this means not seeking to get revenge on the people we hate. Let’s scale this down a bit. When Susan from HR keeps nagging you about going to her kid’s play that weekend, or if an old friend becomes cold-hearted towards you, we are not to metaphorically (or literally) stab them while they are vulnerable. That would not be the Christian way. What about on the road? My heart seems to turn to stone when I’m in the car sometimes – isn’t this a great time to practice the Christian lifestyle by not using language, not cutting bad drivers off, show compassion for our fellow drivers?
David actually spares Saul’s life again in chapter 26.
6 Then David said to Ahimelech the Hittite, and to Joab’s brother Abishai the son of Zeruiah, “Who will go down with me into the camp to Saul?” And Abishai said, “I will go down with you.” 7 So David and Abishai went to the army by night. And there lay Saul sleeping within the encampment, with his spear stuck in the ground at his head, and Abner and the army lay around him. 8 Then Abishai said to David, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice.” 9 But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” 10 And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. 11 The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed. But take now the spear that is at his head and the jar of water, and let us go.” 12 So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the Lord had fallen upon them. (1 Samuel 26:6-12 ESV).
Here’s another example from the Old Testament.
18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the Lord and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha. 19 And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.
20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the Lord opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. 21 As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?” 22 He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” 23 So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel. (2 Kings 6:17-20 ESV)
What a great story. Elisha shows authentic mercy here to the Syrians, and the outcome might inspire us to treat our enemies well. In this episode, Elisha gets a desirable outcome when the Syrians are stopped non-violently. Their motives aren’t clear – I’m not sure if it is because they respected the mercy or if they were terrified of God. Either way, isn’t this motivation enough for us to show mercy to those who we don’t like? When we show love to our enemies, the wickedness of the world seems to evaporate. What if more people showed kindness to those they once hated? There would be a snowball effect that would spread throughout the world even if only 1% of mankind started showing more kindness.
Returning to the New Testament, Jesus explains that it doesn’t mean anything special when we love the people who love us. After all, don’t some of the worst people in the world probably still love their moms? In order to be perfect, we are to love those who persecute us, hate us, annoy us, inconvenience us.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is 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. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers,[i] what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
What are we to do then, when we are hurt by someone? Jesus also has something to say relevant to this matter.
39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:39 ESV)
Pretty wild, right? We are supposed to turn the other cheek. I’m sure you’ve probably heard about this before in your life, but how often do we actually practice this during our lives? Not often, for most of us, I’d guess. How often do we let people insult us without lashing back? I know that sometimes we’d like to forget this commandment of Jesus, but as Christians, aren’t we supposed to follow Jesus no matter what twist or turn life tosses our way?
Anyways, there are some passages and thoughts on loving our enemies.
Feel free to comment or email me with questions or thoughts!
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