A reporter was interviewing a man on his 100th birthday. "What are you most proud of?" the reporter asked.
"Well, " said the man, "I don't have an enemy in the world."
"What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!" said the reporter.
"Yep," added the 100 year old, "outlived every last one of them."
Not many of us are going to live to be 100 years old. Which means not many of us are going to be able to outlive our enemies. So we’re going to have to come up with a Plan B for how we’re going to deal with our enemies.
Of course you know which Plan B I’m going to choose: Jesus’. As difficult as Jesus’ statements are about how we are supposed to relate to our enemies, I think what Jesus teaches is the best plan, short of living 100 years. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the Lord doesn’t allow many of us to live to be 100–to force us to find holier ways to deal with enemies than hoping to outlive them all.
So let’s look at Jesus’ statements about enemies and see where we are led.
First, who is an enemy? The word Jesus used for enemy literally means someone who is hated or is hateful. The word, odious, came up which describes someone who evokes hatred out of others; someone who is highly offensive. But mostly, an enemy is someone who is oppositional and hostile.
So, something that makes an enemy is not only what they do. It’s also our reactive attitude towards that person and what they do. If another person evokes hatred, makes us take offense, or opposes us, we have to ask at least two questions:
First, why do they act like that? What is it about their lives that makes them so cantankerous? What is it about their background that may have created the “odious” person? Why are they an enemy? In order to understand that, it will take some time and patience from us—and especially risk—to get to know that person and their story. Maybe, once we get to know their story, we will understand them a bit better and our reactions to them may change.
And that’s the second question: Why do I react like I do towards this person? Is it really something about them or about me? What is it about us that creates reactive feelings of hatred, and take offense so quickly and easily? Do we need to examine some of that within ourselves so that we can come at our enemy differently?
Verse 44 says, “Let them (meaning our enemies) bring out the best in you, not the worst.” We are the ones who are in charge of our reactions to our enemies. We are the ones who decide what we allow to be evoked from us and what is not. Thus the question we need to ask is, “Am I reacting appropriately to this person whom I have decided is my enemy?” I’ll say more about the answers to this question in just a moment.
Jesus further described an enemy as someone who “persecutes” you. What is interesting about this word that Jesus used is that persecute, here, means, “to make you run away; to drive you away; to put you off.” Normally we think of persecutors as those who are intentionally harassing you and being oppressive. That intentional harassment is demonstrated by the enemy’s pursuit of you to continue that harassment.
But what Jesus is describing is someone who is making your life difficult in order to keep you at arms length, or push you away. That is a lot different than someone being outwardly belligerent and downright hurtful all the time towards you for apparently no reason. What Jesus is describing as enemy activity is an intentional action on their part to keep you in particular away from them. The obvious question, then, is “Why?”
Maybe, as you now think about your own personal enemies, and asking that “why” question, you may already know the answer. I would guess that we all have an inkling about why certain people are trying to keep us at arms length. Why they are trying to stay away from us.
So, let’s get back to the question of our own reactions to our enemies, rather than focus on those enemy’s behavior.
Jesus said that in dealing with an enemy, our responsibility is to, “...work out of your true selves, your God created selves” (vs. 45). The emphasis of Jesus in this whole paragraph is on our reaction, not the enemy’s demeanor or behavior. The person Jesus is asking us to change is not the enemy, but ourselves and our response to the enemy.
Jesus forces us to look at our own identity first, and by so doing, remember who we are:
In forcing us to look at who we really are as believers, as we have to deal with the reality of enemies, Jesus is making us ask another question: Who is setting the agenda of how the relationship with the enemy is going to unfold? The answer is simple: Don’t let the enemy set the agenda for your reactivity to their hateful, push away behavior. That is up to you. Because of who you are: God-created with a God-created identity, not a self-created identity (which ties in with last weeks sermon about giving up your self).
Our responsibility, in reaction to our enemy, is to do what we can do. But most important is be who we are going to be. Let our own God-created identity be what we are most concerned about.
Jesus then describes what that God-created identity looks like, if we aren’t sure. Jesus says, “Do what God does: Give your best; make no distinction about who you share your best self with; God gives the sun to warm and the rain to nourish to everyone, regardless. That’s a great description of our God-created identity.
I’m afraid, in dealing with our enemies, we act more out of our self-created identity. What that looks like is we are results oriented. Jesus is saying, be like God: just be who you are, and don’t worry about results. Results is kind of a western culture thing—the pay off, the bottom line, success.
That’s not our concern in dealing with enemies. We aren’t to ask questions like,
—Did we succeed in changing their miserable lives?
—Did we win?
—Were we able to manipulate them to be better people, like us?
—Did we bring them up to our level, since they were the ones down so low?
Instead, we ask,
—Was I true to my God-given identity?
—Was I giving my Godly best, with no ulterior motives?
—Did I behave out of my God-created self?
—Was I warming like the sun? Was I nourishing like the rain?
—And was I giving that warmth and that nourishment, no matter what?
Our enemies may change if we act out of the second set of questions, rather than the first. They may change, and not try so hard to stiff arm us away. And that may happen because of who we are, not what we are trying to do.
But, then again, they may not. Our only concern is to be our God-created self, not our self-created self.
And lastly, Jesus said, in dealing with our enemies, “...respond with the energies of prayer...”. In prayer, who are we communicating with? That’s right, God. In prayer, we’re not communicating with our enemies. We’re communicating with God.
Why is that important? If we are responding only with the energies of our own thinking and feelings, we aren’t getting any other input into what is going on. It isn’t in our nature to challenge ourselves, to challenge who we are as we relate to other people. It is more our human nature to blame, deflect and deny. So, acting out of our own thinking and feelings puts us back into that closed feedback loop where nothing new is allowed in, and nothing about our flawed way of thinking and feeling is allowed to exit.
In prayer, we put ourselves in the presence of God, we immerse ourselves in God, and thereby get in touch with our God-created self. Once that has happened, then we get those great, “Ah-ha” insights that lead us on the right path in our relationships—even if that relationship is with a so-called enemy. All of a sudden, in the energy of prayer, we see clearly, not about the other person, but about ourselves.
But we need to pay attention to that still, small voice that is God’s, and we can only do that when we are in prayer.
My daughter Kristin wrote in her blog this week about three of the best articles she’s read this past month. One was titled, “7 Brutal Lessons Everyone Has To Learn Multiple Times.” One of those 7 lessons was, the “tiny voice” in you always knows which way to go.” In that section of the article, the author wrote about that tiny voice:
We know what it sounds like.
We can recognize when it raises its hand to speak. And yet, so often we struggle to actually follow through and heed its direction.
Because there is a much louder voice that bombards us with big promises and shiny objects and glorified achievements. We let our ego get in the way, when deep down we know what it is we truly want.
The reason why this is such a challenge for people to learn and accept — and why it often times takes a lifetime — is because the ego always promises safety. The ego promises avoidance of hurt, it promises instant gratification, and it promises acceptance.
That’s why dealing with enemies has to be influenced by prayer—being in God’s presence. Even though the author of the article isn’t saying it, that tiny voice has to be God’s Voice. The closed feedback loop of only listening to our self, our ego, doesn’t give us the outside direction we need. We need wisdom and guidance in dealing with people who are trying to be our enemies. We need to hear another’s Voice, because, listening only to our self will validate our enemy making.
So, what’s important here, is that you aren’t giving up having enemies. You aren’t giving up enemies. You are giving up the self you have always used—normally used—in dealing with your enemies. You are changing and adjusting your self, so that you will behave toward EVERYONE ELSE out of your God-created self. You don’t have any enemies, no matter how others act toward you, because that just isn’t you—anymore.