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Loving your enemies...

“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. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:43-48

How can we love our enemies? The easiest way might be to not have any enemies.

A pastor was once preaching on this very passage about Jesus’s command to love your enemies. 

“Now,” he said, “I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives,”. “So raise your hands,” he says, “if you have many enemies.” And quite a few people raise their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies.” And about half as many people raise their hands. “Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies.”  And even fewer people raised their hands.  “See,” said the pastor, “most of us feel like we have enemies.” 

“Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.” And the pastor looked around, and looked around, and finally, way in the back of the church, a very, very old man raises his hand.  He stood up and said, “I have no enemies whatsoever!” Delighted, the pastor invites the man to the front of the church. “What a blessing!” the pastor said. “How old are you? 

“I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.” The pastor says, “What a wonderful Christian life you lead! And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.”

“All those idiots have died!”

Perfection is not a matter of not having enemies, it’s actually quite the opposite. A oneness with Jesus Christ is revealed, it appears, when we have entered into a state of mind where we have love and compassion for our enemies.  That’s what God has shown us—-that’s what Jesus said—-that’s our destiny—-to love those that hate us.  So this morning answer this question: Do you love your enemies?   And let me shock you by saying this: I hope you have enemies. If you don’t, I wonder what your first love is.  No sane person goes about looking for enemies, but no one sold out to Jesus Christ can avoid making enemies in this fallen world.

To see past their issues and realize that enemies are actually a blessing is one step in learning to love them.  God has allowed them into our lives for a good purpose. We have to start with this fact: the presence of an enemy in our lives, and the life of our nation,  is not an anomaly but a constant throughout history; enemies and rivals will never disappear on earth. The defeat or death of one enemy is likely to give rise to another, perhaps even more cruel and dangerous. Do we teach that to our children?  They will have people in their lives, all their lives, that hope and plot for their failure and defeat.  Social interactions inevitably generate friction and rivalries; Regardless of how hard we try to live in harmony and love with others, enemies are an inescapable and enduring reality of our lives and our nation if we remain Godly.

But for the record, there is no place in the Bible where we are ever told to “hate” our enemies. Jesus was not referencing the Old Testament text when He said, “,….you have heard to hate your enemies” but rather the common remarks and attitude of the day in regard to friends and enemies.  If you listen to the words from the Pharisee, Sadducees and scribe in Jesus’ day, you can quickly pick up a hatred they had towards their enemies.  They hated Jesus.

It’s also instructive to note that Jesus never told us that we’re avoid having enemies or that having enemies is a bad thing.  As Chesterton once said, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” It’s a fact of life that we have enemies and there is actually some good that comes from having enemies. 

Who are your enemies?  FDR once quipped, “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”   I like that.  If you have enemies it’s because you are doing the right thing— good for you!  So stop trying to understand them why your enemies don’t like you——you might find that you like them even less!!!

Today the USA again is in a great rivalry with some enemies around the globe. The end of the WWII, and recently the cold war, did not mean that we would never again have enemies or rivalry. Some nations want to destroy us still.  The enemies are back—-and the primary name of our new enemy is China. And we have other enemies as well in Russia,  Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and, soon, Afghanistan.

But existence of enemies should not cause us despair.   A nation without enemies is  a nation with no character.  It becomes a Switzerland—-a place with no enemies and no allies either.  As a nation, and as men and women, tt’s not about going around trying to stir up trouble. But as long as you're honest and you articulate what you believe to be true, somebody somewhere will become your enemy whether you like it or not.  That’s why we have enemies around the world—-and praise God for it! 

But as we learned in WWII after defeating Japan and Germany, your worst enemy could be your best friend …and as we are seeing today, your best friend can become your worst enemy.  This is life, and it happens in the personal arena as well.  

Let me suggest this morning that there are advantages to having enemies. As Rosevelt said, it enemies tells more about your character than your friends. And as Churchill quipped, it shows that your standing up against the a bully or of something that is wrong and you’re willing to do something about it.

Enemies also helps us an individuals and a nation in at least two ways:

  1. The existence of enemies is an incentive for living a good life and for  good governance.

The first benefit is that the mere recognition that we have enemies alters how we behave. The acknowledge, for example, that Satan is a prowling animal looking to devour us, causes us to live a bit more carefully.  Once we acknowledge that we have enemies—-and we do as a nation and as a Christian community, we face the need to roll up our sleeves and modify our outlook for the future, how we prepare for it, and how we conduct ourselves.

So as a nation, or as a man or woman, how does having an enemy benefit us in this preparation?Our enemies become like a mirror to us, or a critic who points out the foibles and weaknesses we may possess. The enemy is constantly watching us, seeking our weak spots in order to undermine our safety, well-being, or reputation. The sage Plutarch notes, “Your enemy, wide awake, is constantly lying in wait to take advantage of your actions, and seeking to gain some hold on you, keeping up a constant patrol about your life.” An enemy, he continues, “plays the detective on your actions and digs his way into your plans and searches them through and through.”

The presence of an enemy that is relentlessly watching us, seeking to damage us through our own faults, is an incentive to improve our lives—-or our nation.  So let me say our loud, “thank God for China and Russia. I personally thank God for the people in this community that now count me as their enemy.  In my private life, there is a motivation to hide sins from my enemies more than from my friends. It is a peculiar mark of vice that we feel more ashamed of our faults before our enemies than before our friends.   We want to consider our enemies as morally inferior and thus we worry that they may find something for which we can be reproached.

  1. Enemies spur us to be think and plan—-because we know that there are some that want to see us fail.

The second benefit of having enemies, politically speaking, means you want to support and elect more effective political leaders, establish more efficient political regimes, and in general try to improve our personal capabilities and skills. 

Without enemies, as a nation or as an individual, one lets oneself go, so to speak and gets weak and flabby,  We tend to become become careless in our behavior because there is limited risk for trouble, for a mistaken decision or even for a poorly thought out choices in life.   After the Romans defeated the Carthaginians and Achaeans, it was  argued that Rome was in greater danger now than before the victory: Plutarch said, “Now is our position really dangerous, since we have left for ourselves none to make us either afraid or ashamed.”

The danger of having no enemy is that it becomes more essential to think prudently.

Loving my enemy is something I am required to do as a Christian—-plain and simple. We are not pray that they simply die, or that we avoid having enemies by being cowards or that we surrender our sense of right and wrong. We’re to live a Godly life—-and that will produce enemies.

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes and enemies. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. “ (Bonhoeffer)

What did Martin Luther say about that mindset?  “O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been saved”. 

What is our reward for loving our enemies?  We acquire the mind of Christ. There’s no greater prize in life.

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