“You have enemies? Good, that means you’ve stood up for something in your life.”
Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II, never said this.
That’s a good thing because even though it sounds nice and reassuring, and looks cool on Facebook, it’s not true.
The mere fact that you have enemies doesn’t mean that you’ve stood up for something, and it certainly doesn’t mean you stood up for something good.
You could have had enemies in grade school because they picked on you the first day of school for standing shorter than everyone else (I’m not speaking from experience here).
You can have enemies right now, and not because you’re standing for something good, but instead because you’ve done something terrible.
Plenty of people have had enemies because they were terrible people. Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung all had plenty of enemies, but would we say to them, “Good! That means you’ve stood up for something in your life!”?
Of course, not.
So, why do we love to say – or type – statements like this?
Maybe because we love encouraging people? That could be part of the reason why.
It could also be that quoting Churchill makes us feel smart.
And, it could also make us feel better about the fact that we have enemies.
As an aside, Jesus did tell us that we would have enemies if we followed him (Matthew 10:22). This is true. If we're honest, however, most of our enemies aren't opposed to us because of our faith.
So, who are your “enemies”?
Is there someone at work, or in your family that you would consider your enemy? Maybe it’s a group of people you don’t know, but you don’t like. You might think Republicans or Democrats are your enemies. You might think someone with a different belief about God is your enemy.
No matter who they might be, we all have them.
Enemies are the people that when you hear their name you think negative thoughts
You don’t want good things to happen to them. It’s not that you want them dead or anything like that, but you don’t want anything good. You might hope that something bad (not awful, but bad) happens to them so they might learn something.
It’s OK, though. You don’t hate them, right?
You know that as a Christian you’re not supposed to hate. That’s why it’s easy to say things like, “Oh, I don’t hate [fill in the blank] I just…”
But hate, properly defined, is an intense dislike. It’s not an I-want-to-murder-them feeling, but more of what we’ve already described,
It’s no secret that Jesus spoke to his disciples about hating their enemies. However, so many of us read his teachings on hating our enemies and plainly dismiss them for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, “I don’t hate them,” and “I don’t really have enemies.”
Let’s look at his teaching on this topic.
43“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV).
Let’s quickly jump ahead to verse 45b. If you feel the temptation to say, “I don’t really have enemies,” I’d encourage you to reflect on Jesus’ words.
He says, “For he [God] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Essentially, God allows those who do bad things to experience good things. The question for us, then is who in your life do you not want to experience good things?
Maybe a better way to phrase it is, “When something good happens to these people, you feel negative.” You might hope that good things don’t happen to them. These good things might not even affect you, it’s just that you don’t think that person deserves those good things. They may have hurt you – or said something that hurt you – in some way, and so now you don’t want them to experience God’s “sunlight” and “rain.”
These people are – effectively – your enemies.
So, what do we do?
Jesus tells us.
He says, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!”
Love them and pray for them.
You might already struggle to pray as it is (if that's the case, here's what you should do), and so the limited time you do spend in prayer, you'd rather pray for family members, close friends, help with a problem, and more. Praying for your enemies is not a high priority because they are not a high priority.
But Jesus didn't leave this open to a choice. He didn't say, "Yes, pray for your family, your friends, your church, your health, and some other stuff, and then, if you have the time, you can pray for your enemies."
No, instead, he says, "Love your enemies," and "pray for those who persecute you."
Because "In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven," and because "you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect."
True children of God - true Christ followers - love their enemies and pray for their persecutors.
What does it mean to love our enemies?
Jesus defined it, and it doesn't make this any easier. In John 15:13, he says,
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
The Apostle John explained this in his epistle, 1 John when he wrote,
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16, ESV).
Love means to be willing to give up everything. That's the love to which Jesus called us.
What happens if you don't?
Some of the more confusing and chilling passages deal with this question.
For instance, in The Lord's Prayer, Jesus tells us, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV).
Obviously, your salvation is not dependent on your ability to forgive. Most theologians agree that Jesus isn't saying that if you don't forgive someone, God will revoke your salvation. Instead, what is glaringly obvious is that your relationship with God on this earth will suffer if you do not extend forgiveness to people. If you choose not to love your enemies, you will grow further and further apart from God.
This isn't the only place he says it. In his sermon on the mount, he tells us that before we offer anything to God, we should make sure we are reconciled with our brother (Matthew 5:21-25).
Even more explicit is the Apostle John's message to us about our enemies.
In 1 John 4:20, he writes, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen."
In essence, his argument is that our love for God is directly tied to our love for people. He even argues that we can't actually love God if we don't love our brothers. He essentially says, "You can't even see God, and you love him, but your brother is right here and you don't love him?"
You might be thinking, "John is talking about our brother, not our enemy." The problem with this is that John is referring to someone whom you hate - an enemy.
All of these passages - and some others - point to the fact that your relationship with God will suffer if you do not choose to love your enemies.
Do you feel distant from God?
Does reading the Bible feel like reading a textbook?
When you're praying do you feel like you're just talking to yourself?
If intimacy with God is something you desire, then you have to love your enemies.
How do we do this?
There are plenty of ways to do this. But we'll focus on prayer.
Make a list of the people that qualify as your "enemies."
Then each day this week, devote a portion of your time in prayer to asking God for help in loving your enemies. Ask for assistance in forgiving them and in removing your bitterness toward them. Ask for God to bless them with salvation (if they're not Christians) and bless them with a more intimate relationship with him (if they are Christians).
Pray for their families. Pray for their friends. Ask God to help you love them.
Do this every day and record your progress. Reflect on how praying for your enemies has improved your relationship with God.
Click here to download a helpful chart.