Loving Your Enemies

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Loving Your Enemies

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As a young woman placed her hand on the casket, she asked the mourners to forgive the man who had murdered her husband, Greg Oswald. The murderer, Robert Wissman, sadly took his own life at the scene of the crime. Far from seeking revenge, Mrs. Oswald set an example for everyone in that crowded church in Goshen, Indiana, when she spoke of forgiveness.

To have outward concern for those who would do us wrong doesn't come naturally. It's natural to want to get back at those who hurt you. It only seems natural to hate the person who murdered your husband. But we are called to do something far greater than what comes naturally. We are commanded not only to forgive those who mistreat us, but we are instructed to love them as well.

Learning difficult lessons

Conversion is a process, and as we learn to "put on Christ" as the apostle Paul instructed, we will begin to learn the lesson of learning to love our enemies. This lesson seems so daunting we may not feel we can deal with it. I felt much the same way while attending speech class in college. I kept putting off Speech 101 from one semester to another until I was finally forced to take it in order to complete my required courses.

For the first 17 years of my Christian experience I concentrated very little on loving my enemies and focused more on other areas of Christian living. However, during the last 13 years, I have learned valuable lessons in this area.

Commanded to love

In Matthew 5:44 Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies. Why? Because we are to become like our Father, who causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. The apostle Paul in his letter to the brethren in Rome said to "bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Romans 12:14). We are not to repay evil for evil. On the contrary, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head" (Romans 12:20; Proverbs 25:21-22).

How can we love someone, especially when we are fighting feelings of anger and resentment towards those who have injured us? A sincere love of our enemies is impossible without our Father's help. We must seek His inspiration and guidance in order to keep our focus on learning the lesson of loving our enemies.

My mother's example

My mother, Becky Harper, applied the scripture of feeding your enemies as a means to achieve the spirit of true forgiveness towards those who hurt her deeply. My mom was the best cook for miles around. Every dish was created from "scratch" with love. One day she baked a batch of chewy brownies for someone who had repeatedly hurt her. I asked her why she would do that when she still had hard feelings. She replied, "I want to forgive him for what he's done, and it helps me to forgive people when I do something nice for them."

I've learned from her example of physical service--be it making chicken soup, mowing a lawn or planting flowers as a surprise for a difficult neighbor. Doing these simple yet profound things helps me to get my attitude in line with God's will for those who aren't my favorite people.

God loves His enemies

And Jesus' perfect example is always before us. He gave His life for humanity while we were yet enemies of God: "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). He was degraded, tortured, scorned, judged and killed because He loved the people of the world, the very people who murdered Him (John 3:16). At this Passover season, when we are to take inventory of ourselves, how about focusing on how well we have followed Christ's example of loving our enemies during this past year?

The Bible is clear, we are to do several things for our enemies. The tasks are simple, but far from easy. We are instructed to pray for and bless those we don't like. We are to do good to them rather than repay evil for evil. We are to turn the other cheek and not seek revenge. We are to give them food and drink.

My personal journey of forgiveness

I began my personal journey in learning to love my enemies 13 years ago. After my mother's death I carried a terrible bitterness towards a couple who had wronged me. I asked God to help me love them and find a way to break the walls of anger and hatred that had built up in my heart. My mother died of cancer during the Feast of Tabernacles in 1988. We had lived next door to her during the final years of her life. Just before she passed away we sold our home. We were supposed to move out of the house the day of my mother's funeral, but due to the stress we were under I made arrangements with the buyers to move the remainder of our belongings from the house a few days after the funeral. The grief of losing my mother was compounded when we discovered the buyers had ransacked our belongings. They had kept what they wanted and put the rest in the shed.

My son and daughter inherited my mom's house, which meant I would see those who had hurt me so deeply prospering with our things. I asked God to help me love them, but it was not easy. One day while visiting my son, I went to their mailbox to retrieve the mail. I had forgotten our neighbor's mailbox was next to theirs. Even that irritated me.

Blessed relief

On that particular day I happened to glance over and noticed a heart drawn in pencil on their mailbox. Inside the heart, was written in childish scrawl, 'Mom and Dad, I love you, Mikey.' Somehow the fact that these people had a little son, who loved them, melted the icy hatred I held in my heart. For the first time I saw their humanity. I had asked God for a way to love them, and the answer came in a very unusual way. It was a relief not to have to carry that anger and the hatred it engendered any longer.

Learning from a stranger

Later, while at the Feast of Tabernacles, I learned more about forgiveness from a woman who was a complete stranger. During our brief encounter, she began exhorting me to love my enemies. She was intent on explaining to me how crucial it is for the Christian to do so. She spoke from experience. Her husband had left her for another woman 10 years earlier. Not only that, he lived across the street from his former wife. To add insult to injury, he refused to pay child support. She was understandably hurt and outraged. In time, she learned to love this man who had become her enemy. She prays that her former husband and his new family will be blessed. As a result, she is seeing God's blessing in her own life in both physical and spiritual ways. Her face beams with joy, as she praises God for teaching her this hard, but beautiful, lesson.

That is not to say we shouldn't seek legal recourse for assistance in receiving justice. However, we need to remember it is not up to us to personally seek vengeance for those who have mistreated us. That is God's job. And He is a God both of mercy and justice.

God does bless and reward us when we love our enemies. It's not natural, but it is a required course of study for Christians. Advanced Loving Your Enemies is a hard course, but the rewards are well worth the effort.