For the past several decades, the Church culture in America has focused the topic of our enemies as coming mainly from within ourselves, keeping the focus on our own sins, our own failures, our own weaknesses, and our self-esteem. This coincides with the culture at large when the subject of “self-esteem” became a hot topic back in the 1980’s and 1990’s (see article published in 2017 titled, “How the Self Esteem Craze Took Over America and Why the Hype is Irresistible,” at this link). However, when dealing with the subject of our enemies, there is more involved then our own internal focus on ourselves and our self-esteem.
For millennia, apprentices of Jesus have spoken of the “three enemies of the soul” – the world, the flesh, and the devil. But all three have dropped out of the conversation in the modern, western church. So often [as] we struggle to experience the life God has for us and our world, there’s a sense of opposition and push back and even violence, from within and without. This ancient paradigm has the potential to unlock a new sense of victory and freedom and growth in our life. (Quote source and list of series of videos and teachings at this link.)
For the purpose of this blog post, I won’t address all “three enemies of the soul” listed above. The focus will be on the fact that we do have real enemies in this world (and not just the internal kind mentioned above). For example, while King David had internal enemies of his own that got him into real trouble (just think of what he did with Bathsheba when, as King, he should have been out on the battlefield with his soldiers–see 2 Samuel 11), he also had real external enemies that he had to battle constantly, too.
In an article published in 2002 titled, “Ten Truths About Enemies,” by Richard A. Kauffman, Mennonite pastor and author of “An American in Persia: A Pilgrimage to Iran” (2010), he writes the following ten truths about enemies:
- Everyone has enemies.
The Bible takes enemies seriously. King David and Jesus had enemies. If having enemies weren’t a part of life, Jesus wouldn’t have had to tell his disciples to love their enemies. Matthew 5:43-44
- We either fight or run from them.
Humans often respond to enemies in two ways: we either fight back or flee. Both are natural responses—our instinct is self-preservation. However, when we flee from our enemies, we can still carry them inside us. When we fight back, we take on the character of our enemies. If we strike back at our enemies, we might set off a downward spiral of attack and counterattack that quickly gets out of control.
- We want to curse our enemies.
Many psalms that deal with enemies make Christians uncomfortable. The psalmist didn’t just pray for them or for his own protection. He often cursed his enemies, seeking bloodthirsty revenge. Instead of dismissing these psalms, we can use them as God-given words for dealing with our own feelings of fear and anger toward enemies. If we pray these words, we release our hate and hostility to God. Then we don’t need to act on our feelings of vulnerability and hostility. Then we can trust God to protect us from our enemies. Psalms 55-59; 137:7-9
- God loves them.
Jesus taught us that God loves enemies and treats them justly: God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” Therefore, we too should “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Matthew 5:45b; Luke 6:35-36
- Jesus makes peace possible.
Jesus didn’t just teach his disciples the way of peace. Jesus is our peace. The apostle Paul said that while we were warring against God, Christ died to make peace with us. Although we sinful human beings were at odds with God, God took initiative to make peace with us—through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Jesus has reconciled us to God in order to stop our warring madness with God and with each other. Romans 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Ephesians 2:14, 17-18; Colossians 1:20
- God’s family makes peace.
If God makes peace with enemies, then so do God’s children. As Jesus said in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Peacemaking is a family trait in God’s family. When God’s children work for peace, they are demonstrating a family likeness, just as children in human families show traits of their parents. Matthew 5:9
- We disarm our enemies.
Jesus taught his disciples to respond to enemies in unexpected ways—ways that sometimes “disarm” them. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Jesus’ disciples respond in concrete ways to their enemies. They do not retaliate or seek revenge. They pray for their enemies. They do good to those who want to harm them. Matthew 5:39-41; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27; Romans 12:17-21
- Enemies can hurt us.
“Disarming” actions do not guarantee that Christian disciples will win over enemies. In fact, Christians are still persecuted and even killed by their enemies. It is not an accident that Jesus linked the Beatitude about peacemakers with the one about persecution. But Jesus’ disciples believe there are worse things than dying. We would rather die than take another’s life, since we have hope for eternal life. Matthew 5:9-12; Matthew 10:28; 1 Corinthians 15; Philippians 1:21
- We “arm” ourselves against the real enemy.
Christians are not fighting against flesh and blood. We are not struggling with Adolf Hitler or the latest terrorist, but with principalities and powers, dark and evil spiritual forces. Our weapons are not worldly ones but spiritual ones: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit, and the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17
- We can learn from our enemies.
Sometimes our enemies do us a service. Friends tend to accept or overlook our weaknesses, but enemies reflect back to us aspects of our personalities we don’t like. So we ought to listen to our enemies. What are they saying to us about who we are? What can we learn from them about ourselves? Can they make us better people? We cannot be reconciled with our enemies unless we’re able to see the situation from their perspective. (Quote source here.)
So much in our society tells us to seek revenge when we’ve been wronged, or to try to get even when we are insulted and/or persecuted. Lying and deception is the name of the game today (and it always has been). It’s a very human response. However, Jesus makes it quite clear that the way of “the world” (as in our culture) is not the way for his followers to respond. Yet, too often, we witness those claiming to follow after Jesus in regard to how they treat their enemies trying to get even or get back at them, and too often we, ourselves, do the very same thing. We even do it with each other (Christian to Christian).
In our culture today, our “superheros” are those who can completely and totally annihilate their enemies. How often do we turn on the TV or go see a movie where revenge and deception and violence are key components to the story. It’s everywhere. And we’ve been conditioned to believe that this kind of behavior is okay; that it is our “right” to get even or “settle a score” or get back at someone we think has done an injustice to us; and that it is our right to destroy someone who doesn’t think like we think; or act in ways that are acceptable to us.
Is it tempting to act like that? It is… and how often is that our first reaction? But it’s not the way Jesus taught us to treat our enemies. In fact, it is the exact opposite of what he taught us to do.
In an article published on April 5, 2018, titled, “How to Love Our Enemies,” by Kathy Ferguson Litton, leader of a national ministry for pastors and planters wives at the North American Mission Board (an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention), and she developed and manages a website for pastor’s wives called Flourish at flourish.me, she writes:
“Love your enemies” — Jesus
Perhaps this is among Jesus’ most revolutionary statements — and certainly most humanly counterintuitive. We already were struggling to “love our neighbor,” and then He throws this at us. Seriously, Jesus? Our enemies?
He did have plenty. And even a frenemy or two. Yet in His Sermon on the Mount, He shockingly resets what people and their lives should look like in the Kingdom of God:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:43-48)
Jesus even defines enemy for us:
- He means people who oppose us, try to hurt us.
- People who have harmful intentions and clear hostility toward us.
- Those who literally persecute us.
Then He points out what we should do:
- Love them.
- Bless them.
- Do good toward them.
- Pray for them.
I don’t know about you, but this is what I do for my family, not my enemy. Our enemies run the spectrum from mild hurt, to a serious offense, to one who devastated our lives permanently. Our enemies may attack us physically or merely gossip about us. They may even persecute us because of our beliefs. In our highly charged religious and political climate, our enemies may be in the Middle East or just on the opposite pole of current American politics. Racial and ethnic tensions are very high, creating battlefields and enemies in communities and hearts. Ironically, churches themselves have people who powerfully oppose each other — and some even have harmful intentions.
Jesus tells us we have to respond counter to our hearts and counter to our culture. He says plainly, “Don’t just love those who love you, love your enemy.” He says we then will be true sons of our Father in heaven. In other words, we would be treating them like He treats us…. (Quote source here.)
In her article she also mentions the following story:
Martin Luther King Jr. in his sermon, Loving Your Enemies, delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church Montgomery, Alabama, Nov. 17, 1957 [stated]:
Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must not do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
Keep in mind the very volatile context. The hate was strong against him and his movement. His followers being struck, hosed with water, fire bombed, killed, etc. This is not a small moment, but a highly charged one. And eventually King was killed by an enemy.
I love Martin Luther King’s language in these thoughts:
When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
Reading this helped me see how very slowly God has changed my perspective toward my enemies. When I thought of my enemies as “bad” people, they remained my enemy. They were just like me–living in an evil system of sin. But in time I began to see my enemies through a gospel lens. I saw them as sinners who are deceived by sin.
I am caught in the same system of sin. My enemies really aren’t the issue; sin is. Diverting my attention from them to sin and deception has gone a long way in helping me love as Matthew 5 suggests. When I readily relate my enemies to the idea of sin and being deceived, I am more prone to dispense love and grace — as my Father dispensed to me. This is the beautiful, powerful love MLK called for. And modeled by Jesus Himself: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:24) Let’s be countercultural and love our enemies. (Quote source here.)
It is Jesus who has the final word on how we should treat our enemies (Matthew 5:44)… But I tell you…
Love your enemies . . .
And pray for those . . .
Who persecute you . . . .
YouTube Video: “Bleed the Same” by Mandisa, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin: