Forgiveness and Freedom – 5. The Final Step: Blessing Your Enemies
Luke 6: 27 - 36
“Love your enemies.” This may be the most difficult thing Jesus ever said. Even when we hear it in church, it is extremely difficult to believe that Jesus really means what he says. But in case we have any doubts about this, consider the way this command is explained: Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you.
But even if that is not enough, Jesus gives us some examples so we can’t worm our way out of the truth. We can ignore what he says if we want to, but we can’t deny that he said it. If someone strikes you, turn the other cheek. If they take your shirt, give them your jacket too. If a beggar comes to you, give him something. If someone steals your money, do not demand it back.
Then we have Luke’s version of the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. But if that’s not enough, Jesus anticipates our major objection: “I love people who love me.” But that doesn’t win any points with the Lord. Even sinners are nice to nice people.
Then like any good preacher, Jesus repeats his main point - “Love your enemies.” Do good even to people who you know will treat you rudely in return. Be willing for others to take advantage of you. Don’t go around thinking that you deserve something in return. That’s not why you forgive others and that’s not why you love your enemies. After all, you may forgive someone who was a jerk and they may still be a jerk after you forgive them. You may love your enemies and they may still be your enemies tomorrow morning.
1. Why Live Like This?
These are truly radical sayings by Jesus. Compared to what most of us have heard, the words of Jesus are (literally) out-of-this-world. That is, they come from another place altogether. If we take these words seriously (as we should), we will often find ourselves at odds with the conventional wisdom most people take for granted. Why, then, should we live this way? What’s in it for us? Jesus gives us 2 answers to those questions:
A. You will receive a great reward. I think he primarily means a great reward in heaven. But there are also great rewards even in this life when we love our enemies. Perhaps the greatest reward is that by loving our enemies, we are set free from bitterness and anger. Love and hate cannot coexist in the same place at the same time. If we love our enemies, we will not hate them. It’s really as simple as that.
B. You will demonstrate that you are a true child of God. God specialises in being kind to the unkind and showing mercy to mean people. He specialises in showering grace upon sinners and he loves to turn enemies into friends. When we love our enemies, we’re showing forth the character of God to the world and proving that we are part of God’s family. There ought to be a family resemblance that even the unsaved can spot.
That’s why the text ends with these words: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Did you get that? “Your Father.” If we say that God is our Father, then we have an obligation to show forth his character to the world. What better way to do it than by the way we treat our enemies?
2. Who Are My Enemies?
In the broadest sense, an enemy is anyone who turns against me. Dictionary defines an enemy as “one who feels hatred toward, intends injury to, or opposes the interests of another.” It’s important as we think about what Jesus said that we not restrict the term. My personal enemies tend to be much closer to home. In fact, home is the first place to look for your enemies. Jesus himself said, “A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Matthew 10: 36). 3 very close relationships that go sour: father and his son, mother and her daughter, mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law.
We can easily include other close relationships, including parent-child, husband-wife, and on out to grandparents, uncles, aunts, and then to various distant relatives. The enemies we are told to love usually are not people in Iraq or North Korea. Most of us will never visit those 2 countries. But we do have to go home every day to face people who may or may not be glad to see us. Every week we work with people who may dislike us. We may even come to church and see people we would rather not see. So let’s just think on those 3 categories: home, work, church. That’s where many of our enemies will be found.
Christians can hurt each other deeply and repeatedly. Sometimes we do it deliberately. Our feet are made of clay because we are sinners too. In a fallen world the people we thought we could trust will often let us down. Sometimes the people we love the most will turn against us. Sometimes it will happen over and over again and we will discover that our loved ones have become our enemies.
Let me be more specific: Your children could be your enemies. Your husband could be your enemy. Your wife could be your enemy. Your parents could be your enemies.
Certainly your ex-wife or your ex-husband could be your enemy. It isn’t just people “out there"— somewhere, nameless, faceless, anonymous evil people who are our enemies. Sooner or later people we love will hurt us deeply and at that point, and for at least that moment, they have become our enemies. If we are honest enough to admit it, we have become their enemies too.
That’s why the words of Jesus are so difficult to obey. We are being instructed to love people very close to us who have hurt us deeply. We are to love those who despitefully use us and abuse us and victimise us again and again. It’s not easy to do this in any case but it is much harder to love when we feel deeply and repeatedly violated and our trust has been destroyed.
Yet the command remains: “Love your enemies.” We cannot escape it. This is the final step in forgiveness. We have not totally forgiven until we can bless those who have hurt us so deeply. To say it another way, we cannot be set free until we set them free to be blessed by the Lord.
3. Seven Suggestions
So the question then becomes both personal and practical. How do we love our enemies?
A. Greet them. Greet your enemies. This is a simple step we often overlook. One part of loving our enemies is to greet them graciously when we see them. Sometimes (often, perhaps) instead of turning the other cheek, we turn our whole body away so we won’t have to say hello to someone who has hurt us. Some of us are good at looking the other way, ducking into a room, crossing the street, or even using Caller ID to keep from greeting those who have hurt us. But if we only greet our friends, what benefit is that? Do not even sinners greet each other? One part of loving your enemies is to greet them instead of avoiding them.
B. Disarm them. That’s what you do when you turn the other cheek or go the second mile. You disarm them by doing the very thing they least expect.
C. Do Good to Them. It’s fascinating that both times in this passage when Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” he follows it immediately by saying, “Do good to them,” so that we won’t miss the point. Doing good to your enemies means seeing beyond your pain and their meanness to their humanity. It means seeing them as people made in the image of God and understanding that there is something twisted inside that causes them to do what they do. “Doing good” means that you do what will promote their healing despite the way they have treated you. The idea is, you make the first move. You send the e-mail. You pick up the phone. You make the contact. You bridge the gap. You set up the appointment. This week I spoke with a businessman who is greatly gifted in sharing Christ with others. 4 keys to being used by God to help others: Show up, hang loose, trust God, stay alert. Those keys will work for you if you want to help those who have hurt you.
D. Refuse to speak evil of them. That’s what Jesus meant when he said, “Bless those who curse you.” It means you refuse to think evil thoughts and you refuse to speak evil words against those who have wronged you. Proverbs has a great deal to say about the power of words. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18: 21). Every time we open our mouth, life or death comes out. I am increasingly impressed with this thought: Forgiveness in many cases is not possible because we will not stop talking. As long as we talk over and over again about how others have hurt us, we will never find the strength to forgive. At some point, we have to stop talking and start forgiving.
E. Thank God for them. If you believe in the sovereignty of God, you must believe that your enemy is sent to you by God’s design and with God’s approval. Your enemy could not torment you apart from God’s permission. Behind your enemy stands the hand of God. God would never permit it if he did not intend to bring something good out of it.
F. Pray for them. When Martin Niemoller, a German pastor, was arrested by the Nazis in World War 2, he prayed daily from his prison cell for his captors. Other prisoners asked why he prayed for those who were his enemies. “Do you know anyone who needs your prayers more than your enemies?” he replied. But what if you hate the person you are praying for? Tell that to the Lord. He won’t be surprised. Then say something like this, “Lord, I hate this person, but you already know that. I ask you to love this person through me because I can’t do it in my own power. I ask you for a love I don’t have and can’t begin to produce.” God will not turn you away when you come with an honest heart, admitting you need his love to flow through you.
G. Ask God to bless them. Here’s a simple way to do that. When faced with someone who has mistreated you, ask God to do for them what you want God to do for you. Seek the blessing for them that you want God to do for you. Think of it this way: The greater the hurt, the greater the potential blessing that will come when we totally forgive and by God’s grace, bless those who curse us.
Let me give one final word: Your enemy is a gift from God to you. Though you don’t know it and often can’t see it, the person who has hurt you so deeply is a gift from God to you. To say that is not to excuse evil or to condone mistreatment. It is to say exactly what Joseph meant when he said to his brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50: 20). Our enemies humble us, they keep us on our knees, they reveal our weakness, and they expose our total need for God. Just as David needed King Saul to pursue him, to persecute him and repeatedly attempt to kill him, we need the enemies God sends to us. If we didn’t need them, he wouldn’t send them. Therefore, we thank God who knows best, and we love our enemies the best way we can. Often God raises up an enemy to see if we really want to be like Jesus. He will keep our enemies alive and well as long as we need them.
In the cross of Christ, the love of God has broken through into human history. Now we know what love looks like in a world filled with hatred, distrust, bitterness, pain, mistreatment and abuse. “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down.” It is a message from God that love is the only way. It’s the only way to heaven and it’s the only way to live on the earth. If we believe in Jesus at all, we must say to our enemies, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.”When Jesus walks with us, we will find the strength to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who despitefully use us.
“Let the past be past at last.” That’s the beauty of forgiveness. When we learn to forgive and be forgiven, the past can be past at last.
Forgiveness always helps us because it sets us free from fear and guilt and it sets us free from anger and bitterness so that we can get on with life. It is a transforming gift from God. May God who has forgiven us in Christ now teach us to walk in forgiving love toward each other. Let the past be past at last. Amen.