Hate Your Enemies or Love Your Enemies?

Recently I was flipping through the book of Psalms looking for inspiration and came across the verse, “Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me.”  (Ps 18:40) In Psalm 18, David is giving thanks to God for delivering him from his enemies, but he goes further and delights in the fact that he was able to destroy his enemies.

A lot of people who claim to be Christians, sometimes even church leaders, take this verse, and others like it, as justification for using whatever means possible to defeat their enemies.  Sometimes they take it to the extreme and even pray for the death of their opponents simply because of differences on political, moral, or theological issues.

Whoa!  Let’s stop right there.

If you are going to claim to follow Christ, maybe you should actually obey Jesus’ teachings about the best way to deal with enemies.

“Love Your Enemies…”

Jesus declared in the Sermon on the Mount, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.  But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,”  Matt 5:43,44

What a contrast between the way King David and the Son of David (the Messiah, Christ Jesus) dealt with their enemies.

Now you may be thinking:  Hey the Old Testament was all about killing your enemies and the idea of loving your enemies was a new idea that Jesus preached.

Surprise, surprise!  Jesus learned everything he knew from God and from the Scriptures (which in his case was what we call the Old Testament).

There are several accounts of expressing love to enemies in the older Scriptures.  One that I love is II Kings 6:8-23.  This is the story where the King of Syria is fighting with the King of Israel and Elisha the prophet tells the latter where the former is going to be with his army over and over.  The King of Syria thinks one of his people is betraying his battle plans to the Israelites, but he finds out that Elisha is telling the King of Israel.

So, the Syrian king does the obvious thing to do from his perspective; he finds Elisha, surrounds his town with a great army and plans to capture him and who knows what else.  But he is no match for the prophet.  Elisha causes the soldiers to be temporarily smitten with blindness.  Then he leads them to the king of Israel.  The king is so flabbergasted he doesn’t know what to do and asks Elisha if he should kill this enemy army.   Elisha says absolutely not but give them something to eat and drink and send them home to their king.  And their sight is restored in the process.

The results of loving your enemies

What is the result of this loving gesture to the enemy?  “The bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel.”  So the result of loving the enemy was peace.  Guess what the results are when you hate your enemy?  You got it.   The opposite of peace.  If the king of Israel had killed the Syrians, there would have been retaliation and revenge on the minds of any remaining Syrians.

Here are some more goodies from the Old Testament:

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:  Proverbs 24:17

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink:  Proverbs 25:21

But you know, loving your enemies goes against one of the most basic human emotions of getting back at someone who does something mean to you or being mean to someone who hates you.

It takes spiritual discipline and God’s grace to love your enemy.  I speak from experience over many years of striving to be obedient to Jesus’ command, “love your enemies.”

If I did it, so can you

Once a co-worker seemed to be determined to undermine my character and ability to do my job.  Admittedly, I made my share of mistakes at work, but his piercing criticisms were not offered constructively and were far from subtle.  However, I never retaliated or tried to make him look bad.  I kept loving him and praying for God to show us both more of His love.  Over time, his harsh judgment of me ceased and we had a pleasant relationship.  This was God’s doing!

But loving your enemies does not mean loving the bad things they do.  Jesus said not to judge things by the outward appearance. (See John 7:24)  He looked deeper for something to love.  Underneath all the hate that his enemies hurled at him, he could still love the someone as a child of God.

Of course, this is hard to do when they are not acting like a child of God.  But this is the Cross.  Take it up.  The more you love your enemies, the easier it gets and the sooner they will cease to be your enemies.

If Jesus can forgive those who crucified him while he was hanging from the Cross, then you and I can forgive, i.e. love our enemies, whatever they may do.

Is there someone in your life playing the role of enemy?  You don’t have to condone their behavior.  Just love them.  Did it ever occur to you that the reason they are hateful is because they don’t feel any love in their lives—that they are actually crying out for love?

Give them what they need…love

Now take a moment to love that person and pray for something good to happen to them.  Go ahead.  Bless them with all the blessings you can pour out from your heart.  God is helping you do this.  You can’t do it all by yourself.  If you can’t figure out how on earth to get started with such a prayer, try something like, “Dear God, bless my enemies and teach me to feel compassion for them.”  The words are not as important as the sincerity in your heart.

And while you’re at it, pray for some of the enemies on the world stage to find love for one another.

I’d love to hear how you have loved and blessed your enemies.

Blessings to all,

James