The Blessing of Enemies
Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers
II. Attitude Toward People: Love Your Enemies (6:27)
A. Three Exhortations (6:27-28)
1. Do Good
If you were given the choice between a half-hearted friend, or a bitter enemy, which would you choose? Most of us, myself included, would rather have someone who was somewhat a friend than someone who hated us and never missed an opportunity to slight us. But it was the opinion of Diogenes that if we did not have a faithful friend in our lives, the next best thing is a sharp and severe enemy. And it may even be better to have enemies than friends, for our enemies often do us more good than those we consider our friends. In other words, everybody needs a good enemy.
Think about it. When was the last time a friend pointed out one of your errors, one of your faults, one of your weaknesses? Most of the time, a good friend will just overlook and pass over our failures. Not so an enemy! An enemy catches us at every error, and sometimes even seems to spy on us to discover our sins. If you have ever had somebody in your life who just waits and watches for you to stumble so they may laugh and gloat, you know that such a person challenges you to live a holy and upright life. An enemy challenges you to live for God. An enemy forces you to get rid of the sin and hypocrisy in your life because you donít want them to have any ammunition against you. So you get rid of all those bad things in your life because of your enemy. In this way, an enemy is kind of like an enema Ė both get all the bad stuff out of you.
To a wise man, an enemy may be a schoolmaster of virtue. An enemy not only hinders the growth and progress of our vices, but challenges us to enkindle, exercise and exalt our virtues. One man wrote this: "Our patience is improved, by bearing calmly the indignities he strives to load us with; our charity is enflamed by returning good for ill, and by pardoning and forgiving the injuries he does us; our prudence is increased by wisely managing ourselves in our demeanor, so as not to give him opportunity to wound us; our fortitude is strengthened by the manful repelling of scorns, and by giving occasions for the display of an undaunted courage in all our actions; our industry is strengthened and confirmed by watching all his attacks and stratagems; and by our contriving how we may best acquit ourselves in all our contests." Because of our enemies, we gain patience, grace, wisdom, strength and creativity.
In this past Summer Olympics, I remember the commentators interviewing one of the Olympic runners. This runner said that he always prefers to run against his greatest rival, for it is then that he runs the fastest. Similarly, an enemy can make you reach higher, jump further, run faster in your Christian life.
All of this, of course, depends on how we respond. Enemies do not automatically cause us to achieve greater Godliness in our lives. Enemies can have the opposite approach too. In fact, I would say that for most of us, enemies drag us down rather than spur us on. Most of us, when an enemy spreads gossip about us, we spread gossip about them. When an enemy curses us, we curse them right back. When an enemy wishes evil upon our heads, we pray for something bad to happen to them in return. When an enemy slings mud at us, we throw it right back. An enemy can make you bitter or better. For most of us, enemies only make us bitter.
If, however, you want what your enemies do to you and say about you to be used for your good, you must listen to what Jesus has to say in Luke 6:28. If you want your enemies to only make you better, it is up to you to heed and obey what Jesus says in Luke 6:28. Previously we looked at Luke 6:27 where Jesus gives the overarching instruction to love our enemies. We learned who our enemies truly are and what it means to love them. Following this principle or attitude of love, Jesus then gives three exhortations on how to love our enemies. The first one, at the end of verse 27, was to do good to them.
The second exhortation is found in verse 28, and it says bless those who curse you. This is a completely unique statement. It was (and still is) revolutionary and shocking. Like ice cold water when youíre trying to take a hot shower, this statement jolts us into listening to what Jesus is saying. It is so contrary to everything we have ever heard or seen practiced. The idea Christ presents is found nowhere else in all of historical literature. Nor are these words found anywhere in the Old Testament! Before Christ said it, blessing those who curse you was truly unheard of.
In fact, God, in speaking to Abraham and all the Israelites that would come from him, says, "I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you." People struggle with this. How is it possible that God curses those who curse His people when Jesus says we should bless those who curse us? The answer is that we are not God. We do not have all of the necessary information in any one situation in order to make a just judgment. But God does. He is able to justly and rightly pronounce blessings and curses upon people for their obedience or disobedience. But we cannot. This is why God says in Scripture, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay." God did not allow His people to curse those who cursed them, but where vengeance and repayment of a curse was necessary, God could step in and take the appropriate action. And people expected God to always curse and destroy their enemies!
But curiously, this did not always happen. A few of the writers and prophets of the Old Testament noticed something very peculiar about Godís actions toward those people who cursed Him. Though it was Godís prerogative to curse those who cursed Abraham, and curse those who cursed the people of Israel, God Himself behaved somewhat differently toward those who cursed Him. His ways are always higher than our ways. Although He gives us His righteous standards and rules to live by, His standards and principles are much higher still. God at times, seems to be blessing those who curse Him! It was very troubling for some of the Biblical authors to comprehend Ė especially the prophets (cf. Jer. 12). "How could God bless those who curse Him?" they wondered.
What they were seeing, but not fully comprehending, was a side of God not fully revealed until Jesus Christ came on the scene. Here and there in the Old Testament, we see glorious glimpses of grace shining through the dark clouds of the law. In Exodus 33, Moses gets to see the goodness and glory of God pass before him. And God says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." This is no message of equal retaliation tit-for-tat. This is God saying that it is His right to show mercy and compassion on anyone He chooses, be they friend of foe. He can shower blessings on His enemies as well as His closest companions. God can bless those who curse Him if He so chooses. That is grace Ė an almost unknown concept in the Old Testament.
We see another glimpse of this in various places in Scripture. In Job 25:3 and Psalm 145:8-9, we see that God blesses those who are His enemies and sends rain and sunshine on both the wicked and the good. In the parallel passage of Matthew 5:45, this is exactly what Jesus points out. God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Jewish teachers saw rain as one of Godís ultimate acts of blessing. So although this idea of blessing those who curse us is not found among humans anywhere prior to Christís statement here, it is something God does for His enemies. In Luke 6:28, Christ is calling us to imitate God in this fashion. Bless those who curse you.
I received a letter this week from Karen Fitch who was here at out Missionís Conference several years ago. Many of you may remember her. She works in the Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, Africa. She said that in September, there was an uprising led by some of the village leaders which resulted in two deaths. Apparently, there were two policemen in town who were very corrupt. Karen says that one of the policemen frequently focused his harassment on the Christians and the workers at the Bongolo Hospital. These policemen also abused their authority and mistreated the people, which is why some of the village leaders led this uprising. The result of the uprising was that two people were killed. A villager was killed by gunfire, and one of the policemen was beaten to death by the villagers. It was the policeman who frequently harassed the Christians and the hospital staff that barely escaped with his life.
How did he manage to escape? The Christians and staff at the Bongolo Hospital hid and protected him. Karen writes, "God really demonstrated mercy to this man in giving him another chance. He heard the Gospel message again and we pray that he will humble himself before God." Talk about blessing those who curse you! This is a perfect example. Though this policeman harassed them, these Christians blessed him in return Ė not only by protecting him when his life was in danger, but by sharing the Gospel with him as well.
Verse 27 talked about doing good to those who hate us. When someone wants to do you harm, do them good in return. Verse 27 involved our actions toward them. Verse 28 has to do with our words. When they curse you, and gossip about you, and spread vile rumors about you, say good things about them in return. Bless them, pour out praise upon them, tell others what great people they are.
This is not the way the world operations. All you have to is look at the current political arena. Here we are, two days away from elections, and if youíve watched television, or read the newspaper at all, you have seen that the only thing all the candidates seem to do is heap criticism and curses on their opponent. I would like to see a candidate someday that praises and blesses their opponent. Wouldnít that be amazing to see? They probably wouldnít win the election, because that is not the way our world operates. But it is how we as Christians are to operate. We are to bless those who curse us.
A friend of mine in Whitefish introduced me to the Thumper rule. It comes from the movie "Bambi" where the little rabbit Thumper says, "If you canít say nothing nice, donít say anything at all." Thatís good advice, and itís very similar to what Jesus says here. To put it more bluntly, He is saying, "When you talk about your enemies, keep your mouth shut unless youíre going to bless them."
Do you have an enemy? The quickest and greatest way to make them a bigger enemy is to open your mouth and say negative things about them. Try instead, to say something nice about them, or something kind to them. Find something praiseworthy about their character or their behavior. Praise them, encourage them, speak well of them before others.
In The Grace of Giving, Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor named Peter Miller who ministered during the Revolutionary War. In the town he served in, there also lived an evil-minded man named Michael Wittman who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to death by George Washington. Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor. He talked of his good character traits, hard work ethic and upright standing in the community. When Pastor Miller was done praising Michael Wittman, George Washington said, "Despite all the good you have said about him, I cannot grant you the life of your friend."
"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have."
"What?" cried Washington. "You've walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I'll grant his pardon." And he did.
That pastor was the perfect example of what Jesus Christ teaches here. Do you have an enemy who says only bad things and negative things about you? Say good things to them and about them in return. Jesus says, "Bless those who curse you."
But maybe youíre thinking, "This is impossible. I cannot bless those who curse me." I understand. It is very difficult. Which is why, I am certain, Christ included the next exhortation at the end of verse 28. Do you find it hard to love your enemies, to do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you? If so, start with this third and final exhortation to pray. .
Jesus says pray for those who spitefully use you. I donít know about you, but my temptation, when I pray for my enemies, is to pray for their destruction, to pray for their demise, to pray that bad things happen to them, and that God judges them.
Itís like an old Irish prayer I found a few weeks ago that goes like this: "May those that love us, love us. And those that don't love us, may God turn their hearts. And if He doesn't turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we'll know them by their limping." Thought humorous, this is not how we are supposed to pray. When Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, he hardly has in mind the sort of prayer for vengeance characteristic of some prayers in the Old Testament (2 Chron. 24:22; Jer. 15:15).
Certainly, God wants us to be honest in our prayers, and if we are angry at someone, we can pray about that, and tell God why we are angry. But according to Jesus, we should not attempt to pray down judgment and the wrath of God upon our enemies. Instead we should pray blessing and love upon them. They may be judged. God may punish them. But it is not what we should be praying for. As always, Jesus never asks us to do something He doesnít do Himself. One of the most amazing prayers in Scripture is uttered by Jesus for His enemies.
After our Lord had been whipped, mocked, beaten, scorned and crowned with thorns he prayed for the crowds and soldiers who had done this. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Jesus was the only innocent person in all creation. He did not deserve the treatment he was receiving, yet he continued to pray for those who persecuted him and who spitefully used Him.
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, followed his example. After giving testimony before the Sanhedrin that Jesus was the Messiah, Stephen was sentenced to be stoned to death. As the stones rained on his body, he looked up to heaven and prayed, "'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!' And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!'" (Acts 7: 60). Jesus was willing to die so that others might live, and Stephen followed his glorious example.
We have another example of this in the Old Testament. King David acted this way several times in his life. One of Davidís greatest times of crisis was near the middle of his reign. This crisis is found in 2 Samuel 16. We could call it a mid-life crisis, because verse 1 speaks of David being just over the hill. Davidís son, Absalom, has committed treason and has crowned himself the new King of Israel. Rather than fight, David chooses to flee. As he leaves Jerusalem, a man named Shimei came out and began cursing David continuously. He says to David in verse 7, "Come out! Come out! You bloodthristy man, you rogue. The Lord has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom you son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!"
Upon hearing these curses shouted toward David, one of Davidís companions asks David if he can go over and cut Shimeiís head off. But the king said, "Let him alone and let him curse; for so the Lord has ordered him." Have you ever realized what David realizes here? When someone curses you, it may be that God is trying to correct you of some sin or wrongdoing in your own life? If that is so, who are we to go and cut someoneís head off for cursing us? Instead of cursing them in return, we should bless them and pray for them, for it may be God correcting us through them! So bless them, pray for them.
This is what David does for Shimei in 2 Samuel 19. David had regained his throne, and Shimei was brought before him as a prisoner. Again, one of Davidís companions wanted to put Shimei to death, but David chooses to let him live. Though Shimei deserved death, David blessed him with life. This is part of the reason David was called a man after Godís own heart. Of course, later, Shimei is killed under the reign of King Solomon, but in that instance, Shimei brings it on his own head, and Solomon is justified in sentencing him to death.
Like Jesus and the martyr Stephen, and King David, we should pray for our enemies. We should pray for God to save them. We should pray for God to bless them. Such prayer is powerful. If you have an enemy you know you should love, you know you should do good things for, you know you should bless, but you just can't, the best thing to do is to pray. But maybe you are wondering what to pray. Let me give two suggestions. Pray first for yourself. Pray that your heart would change into God's heart. Pray that you would see people through God's eyes. That you would develop love them with God's love. Pray that God would perform a miracle in your own heart so you can love the unlovable.
Pray that you would see them the way God sees them. You know, most of the time people are bitter and hateful toward us, it is because they have great hurt and pain in their own life they are trying to overcome. Henry Longfellow once wrote, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each manís life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." God knows this secret history of all people, the hurt and pain they have gone though which makes them lash out at others. Pray that God would give you His eyes to see them as He does.
"There stands a person who is responding out of anxiety, who may not have the peace of God that you haveÖwho may not know the forgiveness of sins, who does not have the hope of eternal lifeÖJesus died for that person every bit as much as he died for you." Can you see them that way? You can through prayer, so pray first for yourself.
Pray second for them. This is actually what Jesus tells us to do as His disciples. To pray for those who spitefully use you. Pray that God would bless them. You can pray that they would see the errors of their ways and that they would repent of their sin. Thatís a blessing too. Turning from sin and turning toward God is one of the greatest blessings any person can experience. If they are unsaved, pray that God would save them. If repentance from sin is a great blessing, this one is the greatest of all. If they are not a Christian, pray that God would work overtime in their lives to bring them into His kingdom through faith in Christ.
Howard Hendricks tells the story of a group of Christian college students he was omce mentoring. Many of them, it seemed, had someone in their life who was a thorn in the flesh. These enemies always seemed to take every opportunity to cause damage to the reputation of these students. Hendricks told the group to compile a list of names, and that they were going to pray for these people. At first, these Christian college students balked at praying for their enemies, but over time, their prayers became more fervent. Hendricks says that eventually, every single person on that list became a Christian.
Prayer is the key to coming to a point where we can love, and do good for, and bless our enemies. There is no way you or I will ever be able to do good to those who hate us, and bless those who curse us unless God gets involved. Unless God changes the other people, and most importantly, changes our own hearts, we will never be able to do what Christ commands here. Loving our enemies and blessing those who spitefully use us is a supernatural work. We need supernatural assistance if we are going to follow Christ down this path. And in order to get this supernatural work, we need to pray for those who spitefully use us.
When we pray that God would help us love them, and see them with His eyes, and give us opportunities to do good to them and bless them, we will discover that an enemy can be our best friend. As we bless them and pray for them, they bless us Ė even if they remain our enemies. As you love those who hate you, you come to understand the heart of God for a lost and rebellious world.
An enemy can be a manís best friend. But it all depends on how we respond to their cursing words and bitter actions toward us. Rather than curse them, bless them. Rather than retaliate, pray for them. When we bless our enemies and pray for them, they become a blessing to us as well. Thatís why I titled todayís message, "The Blessing of Enemies." Much good may come from responding to our enemies the way Christ instructs here. As we do good for them, and bless them and pray for them, they are the workmen that fit and square us for God's building. They are the rods that beat off the dust, and the scouring pads that scrub off the rust from our souls. Enemies are the fires that purge, and the waters that cleanse the dross from our hearts.
Years ago, when I was in Bible college studying to be a pastor, Wendy and I served tables at a Mexican Restaurant. There was another server there named Jesus (pronounced in the Spanish fashion). But he liked to introduce himself with the English pronunciation Ė Jesus. Jesus (Spanish) knew Wendy and I were Christians, that we were followers of Jesus, and he frequently like to ridicule us or challenge us in our beliefs and practices. It was even more humorous for him because of his name. That year, we were scheduled to work on Halloween, and the managers of the restaurant requested that everybody dress up in some costume to serve tables in. I remember going in to serve tables that day, and the first thing I encountered was Jesus (Spanish pronunciation), dressed up in a costume of Ė can you guess? Ė Satan. He would go up and introduce himself to his tables by saying, "Hello, my name is Jesus (English pronunciation) and Iíll be your server today. He thought it was real funny, and he knew that it made Wendy and I quite upset. And I do think that it was blasphemous and evil. I donít remember quite how Wendy and I responded to him that day, but it was just one event out of many in which it became clear that he was our enemy. In those days I didnít do much praying for him, or blessing him. I donít know where he is now, or what he is doing, but one thing I do now every time I remember him. I pray for him. I pray that Jesus (Spanish) would find Jesus (English).
This is what Jesus wants us to do for our enemies. God has loved us, blessed us, forgiven us, even while we were yet sinners and His enemies. Now He wants us to do the same for our enemies, and in so doing, show them the love of God. I read the story recently of how King Louis XII of France treated his enemies after he ascended to the throne. Before coming to power, he had been cast into prison and kept in chains. Later when he did become king, he was urged to seek revenge but he refused. Instead, he prepared a scroll on which he listed all who had perpetrated crimes against him. Behind every man's name he placed a cross in red ink. When the guilty heard about this, they feared for their lives and fled. Then the king explained, "The cross which I drew beside each name was not a sign of punishment, but a pledge of forgiveness extended for the sake of the crucified Savior, who upon His cross forgave His enemies and prayed for them."
We are to bless and pray for our enemies, and as we do, they become a blessing to us as well because God works in and through us to make us more like Christ. Are you blessing your enemies and praying for them? If you do, they will become a blessing to you as well.