Back in the ’80’s my family and I were missionaries in a Southeast Asian country. For some time, trouble had been brewing between two of our national pastors. When one of the pastors resigned he began to seek redress in various forms for what he saw as a damaged reputation (a BIG deal in the culture we were living in).
The day our senior missionary left for furlough, the disgruntled pastor confronted the other pastor after the farewell service. I was called to help with the dispute (which was heating up pretty fast) and felt I needed to call the police to evict him from the property. This incurred the wrath of that pastor and I acquired my first real enemy. The funny thing is that I had just preached a sermon a few weeks earlier on how to treat your enemies. Here was my chance to “road-test” Jesus’ teachings and practice what I had just preached!
Have you ever had an enemy – someone who has committed himself to your social, physical, financial or spiritual destruction? Whatever his or her motive, an enemy is someone who is “out to get you.”
God always has a purpose for allowing enemies to rise up against His people. In the time of the Judges, He allowed the Philistines and the Midianites to conquer Israel at various times to call them back to Himself (Judg 2:14). Throughout the Old Testament, victory over enemies was a sign to Israel of a right relationship with God while defeat was a sure sign that sin had entered the camp. In this “age of grace” God has allowed enemies to rise against His church in society as well as against individual Christians in their schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and even families. Many churches have also suffered because of enmity between members. Understanding that God has a purpose in allowing enemies in our life gives the confidence and peace that is necessary to work through the process Jesus laid out in His teaching (Mt. 5:43-44; Lk, 6:27-29, 35 – see previous post.)
The problem is that these teachings go against our old nature; they seem almost impossible to obey. When enemies rise up we often are tempted to throw these foundational truths into the pretty nursery Bible tale bin, put on the gloves, and enter the ring to the cheers of the crowd. But when we recognize the blessings of having an enemy, it is much easier to respond correctly.
A Pure Life
Joshua’s reaction to the defeat before his enemies at Ai was to fall down before the Lord and ask Him why it had happened (Josh. 7:6-13). He was not on his face very long before God gave him some very specific instructions on how to clean up the sin that had caused the defeat.
If we sincerely seek God when an enemy rises up (as opposed to starting a whispering campaign in church or at work), it won’t be long before He’ll show us some things about ourselves we were too busy to see or too stubborn to admit.
First, He might reveal that our enemy is not persecuting us for our faith or our stand for righteousness; instead, he might be reacting to something in our character – such as pride or a scathing tongue.
Sometimes God allows enemies to rise up to mirror our own behavior. Hurtful words or boorish behavior will shock us when seen on the other side of an offense. So many times I have “boo-hooed” to God, complaining of mistreatment or persecution, only to be rebuked by Him as He led my thoughts to the times I’ve treated others the same way. Many times, if we take the proper steps to make our offense right, our enemies will be enemies no more (Prov. 16:7).
In the Psalms, we see another way that having an enemy can purify our lives:
Lead me, O Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. Psalm 5:8
Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Psalm 27:11
During the time that this pastor was making it known he was out to destroy me, his son was a student at a school I was administering. I realized that any idle word or indiscretion could give him “ammunition” to accomplish his purpose. This made me take a second look and evaluate everything I did. These verses from the Psalms became my daily prayer and the Lord used the experience to grow in my walk with Him. Through praying these verses my enemy actually helped me grow in obedience to Christ!
The Psalms Become Real
It was not long after the incident at the church that I received a subpoena in the mail informing me that I was a defendant in a lawsuit this pastor was bringing to the Department of Labor against our mission. This was very unsettling, especially as an American living in a developing country. I kept thinking, “I know he does not have a case, but then, again, if he doesn’t have a case why is he going through the trouble and expense to file a suit? What is up his sleeve?” Every day I felt as if the Sword of Damocles was hanging over my head.
In my devotions I had a habit of reading through the Psalms every month – five a day. After that subpoena arrived I noticed something I had not seen before – the words “enemy” and “enemies” were everywhere in that book! David and the other authors of the Psalms were men who knew what it was to have an enemy. In fact, the Psalms speak more about enemies than any other book in the Bible. An exciting new landscape of the Bible opened up before me as I voraciously read through those same verses I had read many times before.
Increased Knowledge of God
As I read though the Psalms God began to show me how He could become to me what He became for David when he was running from Saul or Absalom. Phrases like “high tower,” “my rock,” and “my fortress” are only tourist attractions and interesting architecture until an enemy is pursuing you – then they become a matter of life or death! Getting to know God in this way bolstered my courage, increased my endurance, and deepened my peace.
A Demonstration of God’s Power
The lawsuit continued through four appearances before the provincial arbiter and one appearance before the regional arbiter before the case was thrown out. During that time, I purposed to bless this pastor with my words. I spoke well of him to others, and also to the arbiters as I sought to defend our position as a mission. He had been one of our best pastors and had been very zealous for the Lord! He had also been a good friend at one time. While praying for him through the litigation process, he still rebuffed any attempts at reconciliation.
While we were still in the process of coming before the arbiters, I would occasionally encounter this pastor at the city post office. He was usually with companions and would start talking with them as I approached. As they turned and looked at me with wide eyes, and sometimes anger, I wondered what he was saying about me. He even went on a local radio program to broadcast his complaints about me. When I was going through this I was asking God why He just didn’t “shut him up.” You might say that God responded, though His word, as I ran across Paul’s words to the Christians in Rome (who were having their own problems with enemies much worse then mine):
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:19-21
When this pastor started talking about me I was tempted to publish any “dirt” I could find on him. But God made it very clear that was not my right, as a Christian, to do that. I was to leave the work of vengeance to Him.
I also found there was more to this verse than I had seen before. After God brings vengeance, and my enemy “hungers” or “thirsts” it would not be the time to sit back and rejoice (Proverbs 24:17). It would be my opportunity to minister to his need! After learning this, the next time I saw him at the post office “having me for lunch” I said to myself, “Go ahead, cut me to pieces. Your time is coming, and when it does I am going to be there to help you.”
After the case was thrown out, I continued to contact the Pastor to discuss our personal differences and he continued to spurn me.
I soon discovered that this sword of God’s vengeance was “double-edged.” At the same time all this was transpiring, our area was going through a lot of instability. The criminal element was having a field day while the police and military had broken into battling factions and the Communist guerrillas were increasing raids in the region. During this time my family headed south for a business trip to the capital on the midnight bus. About 1:00 AM our bus was hijacked by five armed men who had previously boarded the vehicle. After relieving us of our money and valuable possessions, they put most of the passengers off the bus in a deserted area – allowing only my family and I and an elderly lady to remain. From there they drove us into the night and eventually left us in the bus in the middle of town with very narrow streets. We eventually made our way to the police station and saw that our stranded companions had already been found.
We finished our trip and eventually returned home with a story to tell – but there was another story waiting for us. That same weekend that pastor’s son (who had been a student at our school) had been stabbed seven times by drug addicts and was in serious condition at a local hospital. Before heading to the hospital I went to the post office to pick up our mail and, once again, met my “enemy.” This time he was alone and broken-hearted. We shook hands as I shared my concern for his son and, having already heard about our incident, he shared his concern for us as well. I asked if we could visit his son in the hospital and he said we could.
I cried all the way home – a mixture of sorrow for what he was going through and joy for the prospect of reconciliation.
When my wife and I entered his son’s hospital room, the pastor and his wife smiled at us for the first time since the incident at the church. Then we prayed together. For the first time since the trouble we held hands and prayed together! As we interceded for their son (who was still in guarded condition) we also wept together. He soon dramatically improved and was out of the hospital in seven days! Our churches in the area also took up offerings to help the pastor and his family with their expenses.
Shortly after that, the pastor asked if he could speak at the same church where all the trouble started. In front of a packed out crowd he spoke to give public thanks for God’s blessing and protection in their lives and for the help the churches extended to them. In a country where conflicts like these can continue “Hatfield and McCoy-like” for generations – God showed his mighty power and many benefitted from it!
An Alert Spirit
Earlier I mentioned that God’s “sword” of vengeance was double-edged. In this case – I found that He can use His sword with the expertise of a surgeon. He skillfully used it in both of our lives to cut and soften our hearts and bring us together through similar experiences in separate places. It was a remarkable demonstration of what He can do when we walk in His ways. When we pursue peace we defeat the devices of our real enemy – Satan himself.
This is the final blessing of having an enemy: Having an earthly enemy makes us more aware of the tactics of our real enemy that is always seeking our destruction. Most of us do not live as if we are soldiers in a great war with a formidable enemy that has raged for millennia. We are lazy, sleepy, and negligent of our duties. Sometimes we complain and whine abut the things God requires of us. To cure us of these maladies God allows flesh and blood enemies to rise up to put us back “on the alert” and make us battle-ready.
When our enemies rise up we must remember that God does not command us to wrestle with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers. In this battle we must use the weapons that are “mighty through God through the pulling down of strongholds” by fighting these battles His way. If we are not careful to follow Jesus’ teachings when dealing with enemies whom Satan may be using as pawns, we risk becoming one of his pawns as well!
After reconciling, our friendship continued, even though the pastor did not return to our organization. We would meet ever so often as we went our separate ways , and those meetings were always friendly and encouraging. One time when we ran into each other (yes – at the Post Office), I was having problems with my vehicle. This pastor helped me work on it until we got it started. When we decided to leave the field 10 years later, the pastor made a special trip to the our house. He had heard there were some new problems and asked if that was why we were leaving. I said, no – it was just God’s timing for us to go. It really touched my heart when he responded “Good, because, if that was the reason, I was going to fight for you.”
So, when (not if) you acquire an enemy remember the blessings God has in store for you through that experience. Those blessings may not play out just as they did with me but they will come, in some form, as you walk in His ways.