I think we have all been there, at one point or another, where someone has stepped over the line. They have hurt us too many times, and we have to step away from that relationship (romantic, friendship, business). Even though the relationship was unhealthy, we can recognize that their intentions were not bad. They didn’t mean to hurt us, they were reckless with their words or actions, or maybe they just don’t conform to societal norms and honestly can’t help themselves. These are people that we can appreciate the memories we made with them, forgive them for their wrongs… at the same time as we are moving away to a safer distance.
Occasionally though, we will encounter a bonafide ENEMY. This is a person who is intentionally against you.
- The man or woman who is attempting to break up your marriage.
- The boy/girlfriend who is trying to isolate your child from the family.
- The coworker who is trying to sabotage your job or chance of promotion.
- The neighbor who is trying to scare you out of the neighborhood.
- The person who serves with you in ministry, that is vying for your position.
- The competitor that is stealing your customers & trying to shut you down.
- The person who is stirring up strife & trying to divide your church.
And these, are just a few examples of real life enemies who are working hard to make your life miserable. When you are dealing with a unhealthy relationship, it is easy to be kind to that person. Because, you actually care about them despite the need for distance. The scriptures, in Ephesians 4, instruct us to be kind to one another. However, this is a much harder process when it comes to the intentional enemy. How can you be kind and forgive someone who is purposefully working against you?
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The scriptures have a lot to say about being kind to one another, forgiving each others offenses, even the steps of conflict resolution when you have something against your brother.
What are some practical steps you can take, to love your enemy?
#1 – You Pray & Forgive Them
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Note, that in the verse, it says if you have ANYTHING against ANYONE. This means we are called to forgive not just some people, or some offenses, but all. ANY thing. ANY one. In this particular prayer, we are not praying for THEIR sake. We are praying for OUR OWN. We are forgiving in the measure in which we want to be forgiven. We are praying for peace and freedom in our own life from this situation or person.
#2 – Do Good To Your Enemies
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
While revenge may be tempting, even letting them fall to ruin in their own devices may sound good… it’s not what God would want us to do. My grandmother would advise me, when dealing with mean kids, to kill them with kindness. This is actually similar to the scripture in Proverbs 25: If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you. (verses 21,22)
When we are kind to our enemy, we give them no just cause for their words or behavior. Others will see that we have done nothing but kindness, and know that we are undeserving of our enemy’s disdain. Eventually, the enemy will reveal themselves to everyone around them as being the real culprit. They will be known for their misdeeds. We do not need to retaliate, we don’t need to help that revelation process along the way by intentionally not helping or setting them up for failure. No. We just simply go on about our day IN SPITE of their behavior. We continue to be nice and helpful to them, regardless if they deserve our help or not.
The miracle that can happen, is you may end up finding out that your enemy is a person who is suffering. They don’t understand kindness. They don’t understand love or compassion. When you model it for them, it may make them uncomfortable, but in the end…. you may become the person they trust. Your enemy may share with you their struggles, and give you the opportunity of wise counsel and leading your enemy to the Cross.
#3 – Intercede on Their Behalf
Acts 7: 60
And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.
Most people who are just outright mean, were not born that way. They have had a life time of experiences and circumstances that have shaped who they have become. There will be some who literally know no other way of behaving, this is normal to them. Dysfunction is part of how they were raised and relate to others.
I once spoke of a woman I worked with, as others were complaining about her behavior, saying: “I truly think she is clueless. I don’t think she has bad intentions, I think she’s totally unaware of the wake she leave behind.”. This was a woman that many had a difficult relationship with. It would be easy to cast her as an enemy, she always seemed out to get everyone. As I got to know her better, I realized she lived in a home that was highly competitive. Everyone had to fight for their right to simply exist in that home. She was loud, to be heard. She was pushy, to get what she needed. It has nothing to do with us or the job. But, she was totally unaware that she was misbehaving.
Coming to this realization, makes it a bit easier to pray that God will forgive that person … because (as Jesus said) they know not what they do.
However, for the person who is totally aware of their misdoings… we can still ask for God’s forgiveness over their actions & words. We do it from a place of ultimate love, knowing that if they continue down the road they are traveling, they could end up in a final destination that is far from God. We know that it is God’s desire that NONE shall perish. So we pray, not because they deserve it… but because they NEED IT.
I don’t deserve what Christ did for me on the Cross. Like Paul said, of the sinners I am the worst. If Christ died for me, He also died for my enemy. Until they know Him, and have been changed by Him, I can pray on their behalf.
A Word of Caution: Just because you have forgiven them, have chosen to be kind to them and even helpful to your enemy, and elect to pray on their behalf…. this does not mean you have to submit yourself to their cruelty. Loving your enemy doesn’t mean you invite them into your home, share your personal details with them, and treat them as if they were your best friend. You can do all three of these things, at an arm’s length. Boundaries are absolutely appropriate in this case, to protect yourself from their venom.