“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it isn’t proud. It does not dishonor others, it isn’t self-seeking, it isn’t easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” – Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth –
I have not met a person who did not experience anger and/or resentment when another person harmed him in some way. For many years, I believed that expressing love to an enemy (or the more polite term; adversary) was a sign of weakness. I could not have been more ignorant or wrong.
While extremely difficult to employ, the right manner in which we treat enemies was proclaimed long ago in the Roman Province of Judea.
Speaking to a large crowd, Jesus Christ said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Jesus backed his word with action. He was betrayed and persecuted. Yet, time and again, he chose forgiveness and understanding over vengeance and retribution. This is best illustrated when Roman soldiers nailed him to the cross. Instead of cursing the men, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Hating our enemies also clouds our judgment. The ancient Chinese military general, Sun Tzu, taught that anger, hate, and demonizing our enemies always results in a strategic trap that leads to defeat. He correctly pointed out that a mind focused on hate significantly weakens a man’s ability to achieve victory.
While loving (or at least not hating) our enemies, is one of the most difficult things that we can accomplish in life, there are three effective ways to strive toward this mindset.
- Show Respect
As difficult as it is, we must strive to learn to think of our enemies with compassion and not contempt.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t seek justice if someone harms us or our loved ones. It simply means that we can’t let bitterness and hatred grow in our hearts. Responding to evil with more evil does not solve the problem. It makes the problem grow exponentially.
When we show respect to our enemies, we allow ourselves to become more like the Holy Spirit. This separates us from those enveloped by evil, hatred, and darkness that consume their hearts.
This also means that we don’t necessarily have to stay in contact with people who have wronged us. The act of respect can often be expressed by saying nothing at all.
Can we truly forgive an enemy? Yes. But, this is probably the most difficult task of all. I have much work to do in this area.
Yet, forgiveness is not an act that necessarily benefits our enemy. It is somewhat selfish. Forgiveness frees us from the hate and anger that seeks to enslave us on a daily basis.
We have also harmed others, whether intentional or not, during our lives. In the Gospel, Matthew wrote, “If you forgive others the wrongs they’ve done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you’ve done.”
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to invite the person to dine at your table. It simply means moving on from the past. What happened in the past cannot be changed. Either you can hate what happened in the past and not change a thing, or you can accept it and move forward.
Hate expresses itself in weakness. Acceptance expresses itself in strength.
- Pray For Our Enemies
When I first read this, I was shocked. Pray for enemies? Who would ever do such a thing?
I was significantly humbled when I learned that the answer was Jesus Christ.
When I am in doubt or troubled by difficult decisions, I will pray. I am quite stubborn thanks to those genetics handed down by Mom and my grandmother Charlotte Worley. But, when I follow God’s direction, circumstances seem to work themselves out.
We can always pray for our enemies because praying is an act of mercy and grace. Praying is loving, as our Heavenly Father loves. Even the most stubborn of us can always look to God for guidance.
While it may seem counterintuitive, there are many teachings from Jesus that touch on loving all of God’s children; not just our friends and acquaintances. My sister, Saralyn Hamilton, once pointed out to look at these teachings when forgiveness seemed too difficult to manage.
Loving our enemies might be the most difficult task that we are summoned to do. The failure rate is enormous. However, failure often leads to success if a man can pick himself up and refuse to surrender to his weaknesses.