When I was in 10th grade, I met a girl named Rachel at youth group, and we quickly became friends. Her vivacious personality and sense of humor complemented my quiet, reserved demeanor. Our friendship started fast, but a few months later, it fizzled in epic fashion.
All of a sudden, Rachel no longer wanted to spend time together, and when we did meet, she would flaunt her relationships with other friends. Not only weren’t we friends anymore, but we became adversaries. And no matter how much I tried to turn things around, I kept getting wounded. I had an enemy.
I thought I left that kind of drama behind in high school, but that friendship pattern has repeated throughout my life. In fact, it makes me a little less trusting when starting new friendships and a little more sensitive to rejection. Sometimes, feeling like someone is my enemy may be all in my head. But other times, the evidence says otherwise.
The Bible talks a lot about enemies. King David discusses them at length in the Psalms. Psalm 109:2-5 says: “For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.”
Oh, how I have related to David’s words. As much as my people-pleasing soul wishes everyone liked me, I know this is not always the case. Feeling disliked or excluded may seem like a first world problem. After all, David had real enemies, like a crazy demon-possessed king hunting him and warring nations out to kill him.
But I have enemies too; they just look different. As a woman living in the 21st century, my enemies oppose subtly. Their warfare is psychological, not physical. Yet, I don’t think all of these passages about enemies would be included in the Bible if it wasn’t a real problem for us. Most of us can probably think of at least one person opposing us or not looking out for our best interests. These “enemies” may be coworkers, family members or even former friends.
Frenemy in the Camp
The most common type of enemy I’ve encountered is a “frenemy,” like my teenage friend from high school. The dictionary describes a frenemy as “a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.” This kind of enemy can make you feel terrible about yourself while acting like nothing is wrong.
Few of us may have an all-out nemesis, but we all experience opposition. Our enemies may be motivated by a sense of competition, wanting to get ahead — or even hatred.
Even Jesus, the perfect Savior, had enemies. In John 15:18-19 he said to His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Believers can expect hatred from those who don’t know Christ. And Jesus’ command to love your enemies very clearly applies to these circumstances.
But what about dissention within the body of Christ? Christians aren’t meant to be enemies; unity is the goal. But that doesn’t mean we can’t become adversarial. This happens when we choose to compete with each other instead of work together or when we fail to mend disagreements.
But 1 Peter 1:22 tells us there is a higher standard when it comes to fellow believers: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”
As I’ve looked to Scripture to discover what it has to say about my enemies, I see a consistent theology of faithful love. In Luke 6:27-29, Jesus says: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.”
We are called to generously love our enemies. The believers of Jesus’ time faced serious foes — those who wanted to silence them and take their lives for following Christ. Today, Christians in many countries around the world still encounter enemies that make my adversaries look like pals. But regardless of the degree of conflict, Scripture is clear: you must love them and do good to them.
Loving My Enemy
As I’ve considered how to love my enemies, I’ve found three practical ways in Scripture.
Pray for them. In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus presented a scandalous idea for responding to enemies when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Not long ago, I was struggling with someone who treated me rudely, so I began praying for her every day. I asked God to help her through struggles she may be experiencing and that He would bless her life. As I did this, I found my own heart changing. I was no longer focused on the ways she’d wounded me; I felt compassion toward her and the hard things going on in her life. My shift in mindset made our interactions less strained because I genuinely cared.
Do what is right. Feeling mistreated by someone can bring out the worst in me. I want to stoop to their level and put them in their place. But I am called to be godly no matter how others treat me. And the Bible speaks of a benefit for when I do this. “When a man’s ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Proverbs 16:7). For me, this means choosing to include when I feel excluded. It means showing kindness when I don’t feel kindness in return. It means asking God to bear the fruit of His Spirit in me — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control — so that He can use me, even in the lives of my enemies. And as I obey Him, I give my enemies less ammunition against me.
Love sacrificially. When I feel hurt by someone, often my first thoughts are to retaliate or withdraw. But Scripture talks of a different way: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink” (Proverbs 25:21). We are called to serve and care for our enemies. Instead of giving them what they deserve, we are to go out of our way to show them kindness.
Following Christ’s Example
I recently heard a story about a man from the Congo named Samuel* whose entire family — parents, wife and children — was massacred by Hutu militia in 2007. He walked four days to reach a refugee camp, where he eventually planted a church to spread the gospel in that place. Two years later, he was walking through camp and recognized a new arrival as the militia commander who had killed his family.
Samuel introduced himself and invited the man to his house for a meal. Then he invited him to stay at his house for the night. The man stayed in his house for three years. Through Samuel’s life, the man saw the gospel and experienced the reality of forgiveness. And after three years, he became a Christian.
Today Samuel and his former enemy serve Jesus together as pastors of the church Samuel planted. Samuel says, “By God’s grace, I welcomed him to my house. Follow Jesus. Be peacemakers. Walk with your enemies, pray for them, and follow Jesus!”
That’s what it really comes down to — following Jesus. Treating my enemies the way He instructs me to won’t be easy, but it will be right. And as I love and pray for those who oppose me, I will be living like Jesus and might even turn some enemies into friends.
*Samuel is not his real name
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.