How to Treat Your Enemies

In our everyday life it is normal to encounter those with whom we have disagreements or even personality conflicts.  However there are a few times in life when we encounter people who not only dislike us – they hate us.  They do not just want to avoid us – they want to destroy us politically, socially, financially, or even physically.  Enemies are not just people who treat you bad because they are having a bad day, they are people who just want you gone and are willing to do what they have to do to see it happen.

Sometimes we have an enemy because of something stupid or sinful we have done.  If that is the case it is time to “leave your gift at the altar” and do whatever is needed to seek reconciliation. When we acquire an enemy we should first stop and ask ourselves if they are hating us because we did what was right or what was wrong. 

I have only encountered one or two real enemies in my life.  I expect that will change for all who willing to live as a Christian in this post-modern world. That is why it is important to revisit Jesus’ teaching on how we are to treat our enemies and even those who are just having a bad day (it is good practice for the day we meet a real enemy)! 

 Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets. But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,  Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.  And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.  Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.  And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.  And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Luke 6:26-36

  First of all, we see that it should be unusual for a Christian not to have an enemy at least sometime in their life. As followers of Christ in a fallen world it is inevitable that we will  meet a few people who will hate us.  As the world system doubles down on its rebellion against God, this hatred of us will increase.

This doesn’t mean we should not defend ourselves or those for whom we are responsible. Like Paul the Apostle, we should avail ourselves of whatever rights as citizens that are left to us, and do so in the spirit of our Redeemer. In this passage (and in a parallel one in Matthew 5: 43-48) Jesus gives us four steps to follow to help us do just that. 

Love your enemies. In Matthew – Jesus puts this command in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom of the day – to love your neighbor but hate your enemy. Why should we love our enemies? We must love our enemies because hating them does not destroy them – it destroys us.  Returning an enemy’s hate increases their influence over you and destroys your soul. 

Another reason to love your enemy is because there is a reward for doing so.  Apparently loving our enemies pays very well – mostly in the influence you will have on others. John tells us in 1 John 3:1 that we are the sons of God – but those around us do not know that yet.  But Jesus tells us that loving our enemies transfigures us (in a sense), so those around can recognize us for who we really are – the children of the Highest. This moment comes when we love our enemies. 

But how do we love someone who is out to destroy us? Jesus follows this command with three others that, if followed, makes this impossible task not only possible but inevitable.

Do good to them which hate you. Having an enemy is a powerful opportunity to demonstrate what the love of God really looks like. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells us that His Father does not withhold what people need because of their faults and neither should we.  When confronted with one who hates us we need to intentionally look beyond their efforts to destroy us and see their needs.  This introduces a paradigm shift in our attitude that is the first step to truly loving our enemy.  

When we do good to an enemy by meeting his or her physical needs with our “treasure” (time, money, energy), we are also investing in them emotionally.  In Matthew 6:21 Jesus said regarding giving, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” This helps us to truly forgive and even love those who hate or offend us in some way.  A note of caution here: Timing is essential. An attempt to help may be perceived by an enemy as only an attempt to placate his anger if it is offered at the wrong time. If your help or generosity is rejected – do not be discouraged, but keep praying about the matter. God will open up opportunities that will amaze you!

Bless them that curse you. A curse does not have to be a “four-letter word.”  It could be an angry insult, a whispering campaign to sully the reputation of another, or just plain trash-talk. It is using our mouth to strike back at our enemy in some way.  However, gracious words spoken to or about  a foe can go a long way in extinguishing the fire of an enemy’s wrath.  Solomon tells us that tender words sends wrath into retreat while painful words only stir up anger (Proverbs 15:1). He also tells us that soft words go a long way to breaking down barriers (Proverbs 25:15).

How can we bless those who are cursing us? First, we must make up our mind to do so – this a command, not a request.  It is our duty,  as followers of the crucified One, to always render blessing for cursing (1 Peter 2:20,21).  Second, we need to look for ways we can give a good report about our enemy. Is he a good father, or is she an efficient secretary?  Do they work hard?  Don’t lie or flatter – but pray about the matter, and seriously think about their good points.  I can assure you – even the meanest enemies will have some!  Also, beware of the talebearers . . . the gossips who will try to bait you into cursing your enemy “secretly” so they can carry the news back to them to hear their response.    Some people just love a good fight – don’t give it to them!

Blessing an enemy has an effect on us as well. As we consider their good qualities, they suddenly don’t look like the monsters we thought they were.  Blessing an enemy humanizes them in our eyes. We begin to see that they really are not that different from ourselves.

Pray for them who despitefully use you. It really stings to be on the business end of a threat. Jesus makes it clear our first response is not to pray against our enemies – but to pray for our enemies.  Why should we do this?  First of all, we do not need to pray against our enemies because God already said that vengeance is His – and He has already promised to repay (Romans 12:19-21).  When He does repay – that is our opportunity to help! Second, praying for our enemy gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to keep our hearts soft toward that person so we will joyfully seize that opportunity to help when it presents itself.  Third, we are to pray because that physical enemy we have is God’s reminder to us that we have a much greater enemy who is always at war with us (even when everything is going well).  Flesh and blood enemies wake us up to the reality that we are always wrestling against principalities, powers, the rulers of darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places whose whole purpose is to destroy us (Ephesians 6:12). Your physical enemy is only a pawn in a much larger game and if you respond to his hatred in kind you become a pawn as well!  Praying for your enemy is the remedy.  A proper response to an enemy actually begins with praying for them.

As you will see in my next post, enemies can be a mighty blessing if we respond correctly.  God has a social economy that operates differently than ours in every way.  As we walk in His ways (which are much higher than ours) the doors open for Him to show His glory and draw people to Christ.

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