Love Our Enemies?!
In my first year as a Christian, my faith and obedience to the Lord were tested. I lived and worked in a rough part of San Francisco, California. Almost every day, I walked eleven blocks to the junior high school where I worked as a teacher’s aide. Knowing the neighborhood, I usually carried what I would need for the day in my pockets—hidden from potential thieves. However, one day I took my purse along, planning to stop at a local market to purchase coffee for the teachers’ lunchroom. Walking up a familiar hill, I spotted a man on the sidewalk ahead of me. The thought entered my mind as I passed him that I would make an easy target for a purse-snatcher, but I told myself that I could not be afraid of everyone I saw on the sidewalk.
After my route made a turn to go down the hill, there was the sound of footsteps racing toward me. The man I had passed just a few minutes before stopped directly in front of me and placed a knife to my throat. He said, “Give me your purse.” Despite the circumstances, I remember feeling a calm Presence; there was no fear. Looking him in the face, I replied, “No!” We had a tug-of-war with the purse. Then the straps gave way, and he ran off with it.
Reaching up to my neck, I realized I was bleeding. In a nearby daycare center, I explained the situation and they helped me call the police. I was taken to a small office where a doctor stitched up the cut. He informed me of how fortunate I had been as the cut was close to my jugular vein.
Returning home, as the harrowing events settled upon me, the Lord spoke to my heart...The Lord’s still, small Voice said to me, “Pray for that young man that he might find salvation.”
Returning home, as the harrowing events settled upon me, the Lord spoke to my heart. Previously that morning I had read Matthew 5 for my devotions. I sat down on my bed, picked up my Bible, and re-read those verses. Matthew 5:44 stood out to me: “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.” The Lord’s still, small Voice said to me, “Pray for that young man that he might find salvation.”
What a challenge from the Lord! Situations where we are attacked or hurt by others can present a real test of our faith. We may wonder why God would let people get away with these things, and how He can expect us to repay malicious behavior with love and blessing. Yet, if we really believe God’s Word, then we must trust that His divine providence is always at work, whether for our blessing, another’s blessing, or both. The different situations we encounter in life will challenge us, and hopefully teach us to have a more mature understanding of His love. While it was not instinctive for me to show love to my enemy, the Lord helped me. Following are some of the lessons the Lord has taught me through that experience.
- Look to Jesus’ example. Jesus is our best example of loving those who “despitefully use you,” for while we were yet sinners, He died for us. There has never been a greater display of undeserved love and forgiveness! As we read through the Gospels and take note of Jesus’ mercy toward sinners, we are inspired to do the same. If we think back on the love Jesus showed us, and recall that His love for each one is equal, it will help us to see others as He sees them—individuals created in His image with the potential to be a great blessing. Jesus is a living example to which we can always look to keep focused.
- Pray for the offender. When dealing with any type of trial, prayer is the best place to start. Prayer changes things. Whether it is a person who has hurt us or just someone we find difficult to be around, our resistance will melt as we mention their names before God’s throne of grace. When we ask the Lord to work in their lives, we find that He does a work in us! He helps us to see the situation from His perspective, and imparts to us His love for that soul. Perhaps that person is suffering and going through some trial of their own; only the Lord knows what is going on in their lives. This person may be in desperate need of prayer, and we could be the one to provide it. May we never forget that someone prayed for us too!
- Choose to forgive. Forgiveness does not always come easily, and sometimes it is simply an act of the will. We can also choose to let go of our hurt. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was an example of this. In Acts 7:60 we read that as he was being stoned: “. . . he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.” Stephen forgave and even prayed for his murderers! We know that at least one of those present—Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul—was converted and his life transformed. No doubt, Stephen’s act of forgiveness had an effect on Paul, whose life was also eventually taken for the sake of the Gospel. Stephen and Paul recognized that those who desire to hurt others are in desperate need of Jesus’ forgiveness and life-changing power. They were more concerned with seeing lost souls saved than their own well-being. Though it may be difficult, with God’s help we can also choose to forgive, and who can say what good may result from that decision?
- Show kindness. In some situations, we actually have the opportunity to encourage the very person who is trying to discourage us. If it is an antagonistic co-worker, we might leave an anonymous small gift or note on that person’s desk to brighten his or her day. We could bring him or her a coffee or tea. It may be as simple as a daily smile and “hello,” expressing appreciation, or praising something good he or she has done. Even something small, when done as unto the Lord, can have a big impact. It may change that person’s outlook for the day, and eventually change his or her opinion of us, and perhaps of the Gospel too.
- Keep an eternal perspective. Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.” All of the material objects in the world will be left behind after this life is over, but the people we interact with do not have to be left behind. We will be reunited with them in Heaven, if they choose to yield their lives to God. God places people in our lives for His divine purpose. These are precious souls whom He loves, and we have the opportunity to encourage them toward the Heavenly goal. Think of the joy of seeing them in Heaven someday! Every soul we meet has that potential.
Sitting on my bed that day many years ago, as I thought about the man who put my life at risk for his own gain, I began to pray. I let go of the hurt and anger, releasing it to the Lord. I prayed for him then, and to this day, whenever I notice the small scar on my neck, it is a reminder to pray for the person who hurt me, that God will somehow reach his heart. What a thrill it would be to meet him in Heaven!
We certainly need the Lord’s help to love, pray for, forgive, and bless those in our lives who appear to be undeserving of such actions. It is a high calling to show Jesus’ love to others through forgiveness and mercy, and every day of our walk with the Lord is an opportunity to step higher in our calling. May we live in such a way that those around us see the light of Christ in everything we do.