How Should I Treat My Enemies?

Jesus before Pilate

Our Role As A Peacemaker


Perhaps no question is more perplexing than this one: “How should I treat my enemies?” When someone has wronged us, how do we respond or how are we supposed to respond?

The response of the believer to personal and public wrongs is a very important part of the Gospel message. This lesson looks at the believers’ role as a peacemaker in such encounters. Sometimes the struggle is a very private and personal one involving just you and one other person and the anguish and grief of these personal injustices can be a tremendous trial.

When Christ came into the world, He was the victim of many injustices. The Pharisees, lawyers, scribes, civil and religious authorities, angry mobs and even one of His own disciples thrust a multitude of injustices upon Him.

The climax of these was the experience of the cross—yet, His powerful love and compassion were able to overcome every one of those challenges.

The believer, a Christian, is called to address the following life experiences Biblically: persecution, rejoicing, weeping, wrath, hunger and thirst, when experienced by people.

Romans 12:14-21
14Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. 15Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. 16Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. 17Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. 20Therefore 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. 21Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

The FIRST mention of wrongdoing is persecution. The way the believer is to handle persecution is to “bless, and curse not.” To bless means to beseech God for His mercy and blessings to rest upon the persecutor. This does not condone the actions of the person, but rather that the person might be convicted and ultimately drawn to God that he might receive the fuller blessings of God.

The SECOND situation relates to those who rejoice. This does not name an enemy; however, given the context about persecution, it no doubt relates to the temptation on the part of the believer to despise the rejoicing of someone considered an enemy. Even though a person rejoicing may be considered an enemy, the command still applies. The believer is to rejoice in the good fortune of the other person.

This same principle applies to the THIRD situation as well: weeping. When even an enemy has a time of personal weeping and grief, the believer should not succumb to the temptation to gloat or rejoice; rather, the burden should be shared and the hope of eventual reconciliation kept alive. This can be a tremendous opportunity to display the compassion of the Lord to the other person, even though he may be an enemy.

The final situation is the issue that arises regarding preferential attitudes and treatment. The call of this passage is “to be of the same mind.” Believers are to hold one another in mutual love and respect. Our love is to reach even to the impoverished and destitute. No economic, social or political bias is to be shown.

The exhortation “Be not wise in your own conceits” in Romans 12:16 conveys the primary motivation for division and preferential love. A person whose opinion of himself is based on self-centered perceptions begins to feel that he is better than others.

In Romans 12:14, above, this injunction is very much in the spirit of Jesus’ concern about turning the other cheek and praying for those who despitefully use us.

Matthew 5:39 (Jesus speaking)
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Matthew 5:44 (Jesus speaking)
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;

This behavior, in Matthew 5:39 and verse 44, is contrary to our natural human inclination to “strike back” or to hold a grudge. To maintain a spirit of goodwill rather than vengefulness requires the presence of God in our lives and a reliance on His will and care.

A story was told of a Christian in the days of the great Roman persecutions who was found guilty of not worshiping the emperor and the gods of Rome. He had been tortured and was to be executed. The officer in charge said to the Christian, “What can your Christ do for you now?” The reply was, “He can help me to forgive you.”

Romans 12:14-16 *Repeated here intentionally
14Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. 15Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. 16Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

In these three verses Paul dealt with the proper reaction of the Christian to four different situations.

In Romans 12:14-21, above, this feeling causes him to be insensitive toward others. Whatever love he demonstrates is limited by his selfish conceptions of his own worth.

Christ’s love has never been preferential nor withheld. It is freely extended and its benefits are available to all who will receive it.

As Paul has already indicated in Romans 12:17-21, above, we are to return blessing for cursing. Paul realized it is not always possible to avoid opposition. He had experienced severe persecution in many places, having been stoned, beaten and put into prison, but Paul left us an example of overcoming. This should be our goal and our prayer “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, 1 Timothy 2:2.

We are to live at peace with others if it is possible and “as much as lieth in you” (Romans 12:18, above). We are individually responsible ultimately only for our own behavior. That is not always possible, to live at peace with others, because not everyone is willing to live peaceably, but God’s provision to help us love is never lacking.

The only deficiency in love occurs when we fail to allow God to work within us and when we focus our love on the actions of others. Our love, especially to our enemy, is based on God’s love within us. Love will find a way; indifference will find an excuse.

Matthew 5:43-48 (Jesus speaking)
43Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44But 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; 45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. 46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans the same? 48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Here Jesus is saying that our love should be without discrimination. Prejudice should not draw boundaries around our love. To love our enemies is to bless them, not curse them, do good to them, not evil, pray for them.

One way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend and one way to make him your friend is to demonstrate that you are concerned about him in spite of his ill feelings toward you and any mistreatment of you.

Regarding Matthew 5:45, above, to be children of our Heavenly Father means that we demonstrate the characteristics of our Father in Heaven. We must allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in us and to express through us because we are made in His image.

We read in verse 46 of Matthew 5, above, if we love only those we choose to love because they like us, then we are doing little or acting in an evil manner. Christian love, however, must become as wide, long, high and deep as God’s love. When we are rooted and grounded in love and then demonstrate that love, we demonstrate the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

Ephesians 3:17-19
17That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
Matthew 5:48 (Jesus speaking)
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

If Jesus had merely set forth goals that we could reach without much effort, then having reached them we would ask: What’s next? In following Jesus we never come to the place that we are able to say, “I have attained.” We have to keep praying and keep on following Jesus more closely.

The lives of the American people have never “shone brighter” than in the huge loans, personal gifts of food and clothing and amnesty often granted to enemies that followed the close of World War Two. GI’s shared chocolate and food with hungry children. Thousands of U.S. citizens sent care packages and volunteers gave medical, technical and administrative aid to restore normal life to our enemies.

What we would do on a national level, we need to learn to do in personal relationships. Let us start at home to heal alienation in our families and then watch restoration that is needed to begin to occur.

It is written in Romans 12:19:

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is Mine; I will repay saith the Lord.
1 Timothy 2:1-4
1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour. 4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Author: Nannie Mae Jordan   (Transcribed by Joyce Carter   Transcribed and Formatted by Jerry Knight)

 

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