Why You Need Your Enemies and Your Enemies Need You—Part Two
March 9, 2008
“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
A few days ago a friend sent me an email that contained a reading called “Enemies as Emissaries of God’s Grace.” Rather than quote the entire piece, let me highlight a few things that caught my eye:
If I keep a heavenly perspective and believe Romans 8:28, enemies are not really enemies… they are some of the best friends I have. What is sometimes meant by some to hurt me actually helps bring about a work of grace in me that wouldn’t take place any other way.
When a supposed enemy attacks, God exposes the sinful blind spots that lie hidden in my heart. When friends extol my good virtues and praise me, I appreciate their expressions of love, but it is more important that I be told the truth especially when it will wound me deeply (Proverbs 27:6). Otherwise I will not work to become more like Christ and the blind spots I have will grow and further infect my soul.
There are lessons I must learn that can only be learned in the crucible of adversity, pain, and difficulty. And God uses those perceived as enemies to expose the things that otherwise would never be seen, much less understood or removed from my life. And so what some might call an enemy is really my best friend, a helper, an emissary from God for my good! For the way to Christlikeness is the cross, and the navigator that God uses to direct me there are those who some might call enemies.
Without people doing what they think will hurt or destroy me, I would never find the way to being more like Jesus. They are a required part of becoming holy. And because of that I must see them as my best friends!
There is much more to the reading, but these excerpts give the flavor of the whole. The whole emphasis strikes me a profoundly biblical, especially if you believe in the sovereignty of God over all the circumstances of life. It is not enough to simply say we believe that God has a purpose in everything that happens to us. That much is true, but this reading suggests (with good biblical support) that God always has a beneficial purpose, though we often to do not see it clearly.
With that in mind, we turn to the very practical question of how we are to respond to those who hurt us deeply. Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). Easier said than done, especially when you are in the middle of an ugly conflict. In the particular case in Jeremiah 29, the Jews had been forcibly deported from Jerusalem to Babylon. Many of their leaders had been killed, and many had been marched away in shackles. The Babylonians were quite ruthless in their treatment of their enemies. And now the Jews were in exile for 70 years, which meant (at least for the older folks) that most of them would never return home again.
What does it mean to love the people who have ruined everything you hold dear?
How do you pray for someone you despise?
How do you seek the good of people you wish were dead?
How do you survive in a foreign land where everything you believe is ridiculed?
Why would you seek their prosperity after what they did to you?
It all goes back to the question I asked in the first sermon in this series: What do you do when you don’t like the circumstances of your life and it seems as if those circumstances aren’t going to change anytime soon?
Here is God’s unfolding answer …
1) You are where you are because I put you there (verse 4).
2) Settle down and make the best of your situation (verses 4-6).
3) Seek the good of the city and pray for those who have taken you into exile (verse 7).
In Part 1 of this message we discussed two key questions:
1) Where do my enemies come from?
2) Who are my enemies?
I ended Part 1 with these words:
Of course, it is easier to talk about this abstractly. It is much harder to love our enemies on a daily basis. We are to love those who despitefully use us and abuse us and victimize us again and again. It’s not easy to do this in any case, but it is much harder to love when we feel deeply and repeatedly violated and our trust has been destroyed.
Yet the command remains: “Love your enemies” (Luke 6:27). We cannot escape it. This is a key part of our own spiritual journey from bitterness to forgiveness to freedom. To say it another way, we cannot be set free until we set them free to be blessed by the Lord.
We come now to the third and final question.
III. How Are We to Love Our Enemies?
Here are seven suggestions that will move us in the right direction.
1) Greet them.
Greet your enemies. We often overlook this simple step. One part of loving our enemies is to greet them graciously when we see them. Sometimes (often, perhaps) instead of turning the other cheek, we turn away so we won’t have to say hello to someone who has hurt us. Some of us have been quite adept at looking the other way, ducking into a room, crossing the street, or even using Caller ID to keep from greeting those who have hurt us. But if we only greet our friends, what benefit is that? Do not even sinners greet each other? One part of loving your enemies is to greet them instead of avoiding them.
2) Disarm them.
That’s what you do when you turn the other cheek or go the second mile. You disarm them by doing the very thing they least expect. You do it by speaking well of them when no one expects it. General Robert E. Lee was once asked his opinion of a fellow officer who was widely known as one of Lee’s greatest detractors. The general responded that he thought the man a very fine officer. “General,” his questioner replied, quite perplexed, “I guess you don’t know what he’s been saying about you.” “Oh, yes I do,” replied Lee. “But I was asked my opinion of him, not his opinion of me.”
3) Do Good to Them.
Doing good to your enemies means seeing beyond your pain and their meanness to their humanity. It means seeing them as people made in the image of God and understanding that there is something twisted inside that causes them to do what they do. “Doing good” means that you do what will promote their healing despite the way they have treated you. The idea is, you make the first move. You send the e-mail. You pick up the phone. You make the contact. You bridge the gap. You set up the appointment. I met a businessman who is greatly gifted in sharing Christ with others. He has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time so that people are eager to know Jesus. What’s his secret? He said there are four keys to being used by God to help others: Show up, hang loose, trust God, stay alert. Those four keys will work for you if you want to help those who have hurt you.
4) Refuse to speak evil of them.
That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28). It means you choose not to think evil thoughts and you refuse to speak evil words against those who have wronged you. Proverbs has a great deal to say about the power of words. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). Every time we open our mouth, life or death comes out. I am increasingly impressed with this thought: Forgiveness in many cases is not possible because we will not stop talking. As long as we talk over and over again about how others have hurt us, we will never find the strength to forgive. At some point, we have to stop talking and start forgiving.
You can criticize the Babylonians, or
You can pray for them.
But you can’t do both at the same time!
As long as we talk over and over again about how others have hurt us, we will never find the strength to forgive. At some point, we have to stop talking and start forgiving. We will never “seek the good of the city” as long as we hate the people of that city. What God said to the exiles applies directly to us. We will never seek the good of our enemies until we stop speaking evil of them.
5) Thank God for them.
If you believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that your enemy is sent to you by God’s design and with God’s approval. Your enemy could not torment you apart from God’s permission. Behind your enemy stands the hand of God. And God would never permit it if he did not intend to bring something good out of it. You should take a picture of your enemy, frame it, stick it on your refrigerator door, and thank God for your enemy every time you look at the picture.
6) Pray for them.
But what if you hate the person you are praying for? Tell that to the Lord. He won’t be surprised.</h6 class=”pullquote”>
When Martin Niemoller, a German pastor, was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he prayed daily from his prison cell for his captors. Other prisoners asked why he prayed for those who were his enemies. “Do you know anyone who needs your prayers more than your enemies?” he replied. But what if you hate the person you are praying for? Tell that to the Lord. He won’t be surprised. Then say something like this, “Lord, I hate this person, but you already know that. I ask you to love this person through me because I can’t do it in my own power. I ask you for a love I don’t have and can’t begin to produce.” God will not turn you away when you come with an honest heart, admitting you need his love to flow through you.
7) Ask God to bless them.
Here’s a simple way to do that. When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you. Seek the blessing for them that you want God to do for you. Think of it this way: The greater the hurt, the greater the potential blessing that will come when we forgive from the heart and by God’s grace bless those who curse us.
Let me put this in a broader perspective. Let’s suppose you find yourself in “Babylon” right now. Perhaps you feel forgotten, overlooked, downtrodden, misused, and taken for granted. Maybe you don’t like where you are or the people you are around. If so, join the crowd because most people feel that way at one time or another—some of us seem to feel that way permanently. So here’s the question. How is God going to reach Babylon? His method has been the same throughout history. God reaches the lost by sending his people to the lost. But what if they don’t want to go? He sends them anyway! That’s what he did with Jonah. And that’s what he did with the Jewish exiles. By putting them in the hands of the people they hated, the Lord was really saying, “You are my missionaries in Babylon. Though I put you there as a punishment, I also intend you to be a blessing to your captors.” That’s a remarkable, uplifting, encouraging thought because it means that even when we have really, really, really, really, really, really messed up and when we are suffering badly for our mistakes, God continues to use us so that even our discipline becomes an opportunity not only for spiritual growth but for ministry to others.
But you’ll never enter into that “missionary” experience until you begin to bless your enemies.
A woman wrote me to say that she realized she needed to forgive her husband who left her for a younger woman after 26 years of marriage. She found out later that he had been having an affair for the previous year. To make matters worse, she discovered that some of her friends not only knew about the affair, they were aiding her husband and helping him cover up his infidelity. When she wrote to me, she said that she realized she had never truly forgiven those friends for what they had done. Here is her story:
Today I wrote to four people that the Lord brought to my mind that I needed to pray for, ask for a blessing for them, and I felt the drive to write to them and tell them I had asked God for them to receive a blessing from God. At first it was the hardest thing I had done in sooooooo long, but then as I started writing the quick message telling them after hearing a sermon (didn’t say on what) that I was writing to tell them I’d asked God to give them a special blessing. Three of the four people have claimed to be Christians, but they all contributed to my ex’s infidelity and adultery. Yet, after writing the emails, I felt better and more at peace.
This is an especially good example because she did not mention their sin. She simply wrote to say she was praying for them to receive a blessing from the Lord. How did they respond to those notes? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. She did what she needed to do, and it set her free.
Let me offer one final word: Your enemy is a gift from God to you. Though you don’t know it and often can’t see it, the person who has hurt you so deeply is a gift from God to you. To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment. It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Our enemies humble us, they keep us on our knees, they reveal our weakness, and they expose our total need for God. Just as David needed King Saul to pursue him, to persecute him and repeatedly attempt to kill him, we need the enemies God sends to us. If we didn’t need them, he wouldn’t send them. Therefore, we thank God who knows best, and we love our enemies the best way we can. Often God raises up an enemy to see if we really want to be like Jesus. He will keep our enemies alive and well as long as we need them.
Jesus had enemies. They killed him. He loved them anyway. Do you want to be like Jesus?
“I would rather die than hate you.”
– Martin Luther King</h6 class=”pullquote”>
In 1957 Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on “Loving Your Enemies” at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. As he came to the end of his sermon, he said there is a little tree planted on a little hill and on that tree hangs the most influential person who ever came into this world. In the cross of Christ, the love of God has broken through into human history. Now we know what love looks like in a world filled with hatred, distrust, bitterness, pain, mistreatment and abuse. As the hymn writer said, “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.” It is a message from God that love is the only way. It’s the only way to heaven, and it’s the only way to live on the earth. If we believe in Jesus at all, we must say to our enemies, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” When Jesus walks with us, we will find the strength to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who despitefully use us.
Don’t get even with your enemies. Ask God to bless them instead. If you can let go of your anger long enough to pray like this, you will discover a wonderful benefit. When you pray for grace for others, you put yourself in a position to receive it yourself. So here’s a new reason to pray for your enemies: Your blessing depends on their prosperity.