cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love
can do that." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
"I hate you!"
"You dirty imposter!"
The mentally disturbed young woman I was guarding cursed me every time
I gave her a cup of water. Id deliberately smile and say "thank you!"
Finally she stopped vilifying me. The next day she cursed me again for several hours, then
abruptly switched and acted as if wed been best friends for years.
It was a small victory, but I appreciated it.
For most of us, few "neighbors" are bitter enemies. But it
can happen, and leave hard-to-overcome scars.
One weekend my cousin disappeared.
Patty had been student-teaching in Grand Marais, Michigan, a small town
on the south shore of Lake Superior without rail or bus service. Pat had no car, so when
she visited her mother in Sault Ste. Marie, she hitched rides back and forth. That
weekend, on the return trip, friends left her at a junction 25 miles from Grand Marais.
But she never arrived.
Three days of intense search turned up one lead. An ex-convict on
parole for armed robbery had been seen in a bar near where Pats friends had dropped
her. That was a parole violation, so authorities searched for him. They found him eighty
miles away, in Marquette, with blood in his car. He insisted hed hit a deer and
driven off with it.
The police persisted in questioning him. Finally he confessed.
Hed picked Pat up, and attempted to molest her. She tried to defend herself with a
large wrench from the car floor. He grabbed it away and killed her with it. He led
officers to where hed buried her in the woods.
When my relatives and I met at Pats funeral, we felt NO love!
Fierce anger? Yes! Burning hatred? Definitely! We all agreed the police should let us
give justice - by lynching him! They wouldnt. But his trial returned him to prison
Even in daily life, resentment, jealousy, misunderstanding, lies, or
envy can easily slip between friends, neighbors, church members, or our families.
"The son despises his father; the daughter defies her mother; the
bride curses her mother-in-law. Yes, a mans enemies will be found in his own
home" (Mic. 7:6, also Matt. 10:36).
The Psalmist knew enmity: "my enemies persecute with vigor
and continue to hate me though I have done nothing against them to deserve it. They
repay me evil for good." (Ps. 38:19-20; also see Ps. 7:3-5; 28:3; 35:11-28; 50:12-20;
59:1-4; 62:3-4; 69:4; 109:1-5).
So did Jeremiah: "My enemies, whom I have never harmed, chased me
as though I were a bird. They threw me in a well and capped it with a rock. The water
flowed above my head. But I called upon your name, O Lord, from deep within the well, and
you heard me! ... Yes, you came at my despairing cry and told me not to fear. ... You have
heard the vile names they have called me ... O Lord, repay them well for all the evil they
have done." (Lam. 3:52-64.)
We all meet people who make us appreciate Isaiahs words: "We
despised him and rejected him ... We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when
he went by. He was despised, and we didnt care" (Isa. 53:3).
One pastors wife immediately loved our children, but just as
instantly disliked my wife and me. She showed it with cutting comments every Sunday. We
never learned why. We tried to love her and slowly win her over, but she never let us out
of whatever pigeonhole shed first put us in.
Anne Jackson said "the most painful experience of my life happened ... at a church
... Even years later ... I have to be careful not to let bitterness creep back in" (Mad
Church Disease, 2009, p. 166).
Is it natural to love our enemies? No. Even animals instinctively
defend themselves, waiting the time when "The wolf and lamb shall feed
together" (Isa. 65:25).
We once watched a coyote stalk a small herd of 6-8 pronghorn antelope.
He wove silently through the sagebrush, crouched down, trying to get near enough to
attack. The herd knew he was there. When he got too close, one of the male antelope
lowered his head, pointed his horns at the coyote, charged him, and drove him back. The
pronghorns resumed grazing, the coyote approached again, and once more a male chased him
away. We watched the cycle several times; then drove on, hoping the coyote found his
Loving enemies is hard! Yet the Bible teaches us to love them.
What were some of the Bibles earliest examples of "loving our enemies?"
"Now Joseph will pay us back for all the evil we did to him,"
"But Joseph told them, Dont be afraid of me. Am I God,
to judge and punish you? ... God turned into good what you meant for evil ... so that I
could save the lives of many people ... And he spoke very kindly to them, reassuring
them" (Gen. 50:15-21).
Moses taught the Israelites to love their enemies.
"If you come upon an enemys ox or donkey that has strayed
away, you must take it back to its owner. If you see your enemy trying to get his donkey
onto its feet beneath a heavy load, you must not go on by but must help him" (Ex.
As the Israelites prepared to enter the Promised Land, Moses instructed
them to offer their enemies peace:
"As you approach a city to fight against it, first offer it a
truce. If it accepts the truce ... then all its people shall become your servants. But if
it refuses and wont make peace with you, you must besiege it" (Deut. 20:10-12;
Early in his reign, King Saul refused to punish his enemies:
"Then the people exclaimed to Samuel, Where are those men
who said that Saul shouldnt be our king? Bring them here and we will kill
"But Saul replied, No one will be executed today; for today
the Lord has rescued Israel!" (1 Sam. 10:27, 11:12-13.)
Where else does the Old Testament teach us to "love our enemies?"
"Do not rejoice when your enemy meets trouble. Let there be no
gladness when he falls for the Lord may be displeased with you and stop punishing
him!" (Prov. 24:17-18.)
"Dont testify spitefully against an innocent neighbor...
Dont say, Now I can pay him back for all his meanness to me!"
(Prov. 24:28-29; also read Prov. 25:21-22; Job 31:29-30; Jer. 15:11.)
Jeremiahs teachings were reminiscent of Jesus.
"Let him turn the other cheek to those who strike him
and accept their awful insults" (Lam. 3:30; also see Isa. 50:6; Matt. 5:39;
In the Bible, who forgave his enemies most often?
After Jesus? David. Four stories portray him sparing enemies
While trying to kill David, King Saul unknowingly entered a cave
where his quarry was hiding. Instead of attacking, David silently cut off a piece of
As Saul left, David shouted to him, "The Lord placed you at my
mercy ... but I spared you ... Doesnt this convince you that I am not trying to harm
you ... even though you have been hunting for my life?
"Saul called back, Is it really you, my son David? He
began crying, and said to David, You are a better man than I am, for you have repaid
me good for evil" (1 Sam. 24:9-13; 24:16-17).
In 1 Sam. 26:1-25, Saul again tried to kill David. While
Sauls guards were asleep, David went into his camp with two men, took Sauls
spear and water jug, then taunted Sauls guard from a safe distance.
"Saul ... said, Is that you, my son David?
"And David replied, Yes, sir, it is. Why are you chasing me?
What have I done? What is my crime?
"Then Saul confessed, I have done wrong. Come back home, my
son, and Ill no longer try to harm you; for you saved my life today."
In I Sam. 25:9-35 David vowed revenge.on Nabal. But Nabals
wife Abigail appealed to David to make peace.
"David replied ... Bless you for keeping me from murdering the
man and carrying out vengeance with my own hands ... "David accepted her gifts and
told her ... he would not kill her husband."
Though Saul had been Davids enemy, David executed one man for
claiming to have killed him (2 Sam. 1:1-16). Later he executed the men who killed
Sauls son Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 4:5-12). Then "David began wondering if any of
Sauls family was still living, for he wanted to be kind to them." He
returned Sauls land to Sauls crippled grandson, Mephibosheth, brought him to
live in Davids own palace, and protected him (2 Sam. 9:1-13; 4:4; 16:1-4;
19:24-30; and 21:7).
But two other accounts that first look as if David forgave an enemy
dont end that way.
In 2 Sam. 16:5-13 Shimei cursed David. In 2 Sam. 19:15-23
Shimei apologized and pled for his life. David ordered him spared both times.
However, David neither forgave nor forgot. On his deathbed, David asked
his son Solomon, who wasnt bound by Davids promise, to see that Shimei was
executed (1 Kings 2:8-9). Solomon did so (1 Kings 2:36-46).
Who loved an enemy army?
Elisha didnt hide when the king of Syria tried to capture
him. He prayed that God would let his frightened servant see Gods protecting army. "And
the Lord opened that young mans eyes, so that he could see horses of fire and
chariots of fire everywhere upon the mountain!" (2 Kings 6:17.)
And Elisha didnt even ask that angelic army for help!
"As the Syrian army advanced upon them, Elisha prayed,
Lord, please make them blind. And he did.
"Elisha...told them, Youve come the wrong way! ...
Follow me and I will take you to the man youre looking for. And he led them to
"As soon as they arrived Elisha prayed, Lord, now open their
eyes ... And the Lord did, and they discovered that they were in Samaria, the capital city
"When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted ... Oh, sir,
shall I kill them?
"Of course not! Elisha told him. Do we kill
prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again.
"So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home.
And after that the Syrian raiders stayed away from the land of Israel" (2 Kings
What did Jesus teach about loving those who hate us?
"Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the
happiness of those who curse you; implore Gods blessing on those who hurt you.
"If someone slaps you on one cheek, let him slap the other too!
... Do you think you deserve credit for merely loving those who love you? Even the godless
do that! And if you do good only to those who do you good is that so wonderful?
Even sinners do that much! ... "Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And
dont be concerned about the fact that they wont repay. Then your reward from
heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as sons of God" (Luke
6:27-35; also Matt. 5:23-26; 5:43-48).
Who else in the New Testament told us to love our enemies?
Peter echoed Jesus teaching:
"Dont repay evil for evil. Dont snap back at those
who say unkind things about you. Instead, pray for Gods help for them, for we are to
be kind to others, and God will bless us for it" (1 Pet. 3:9).
So did Paul (Rom. 12:14; 12:17-21; 2 Cor. 12:20; 1 Thess.5: 15).
What are some New Testament examples of loving our enemies?
"Father, forgive these people," Jesus said, "for they
dont know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr, forgave his persecutors.
"Then they ... dragged him
out of the city to stone him. ... And as the murderous stones came hurtling at him, Stephen ...
fell to his knees, shouting, Lord, dont charge them with this sin! and
with that, he died" (Acts 7:57-60).
Ananias prayed for his mortal enemy, Paul, before he knew Paul had
been converted. God told Ananias "Paul is my chosen instrument to take my message
to the nations and before kings. And I will show him how much he must suffer for me"
Paul did indeed suffer.
"To this very hour we have gone hungry and thirsty,
without even enough clothes to keep us warm. We have been kicked around without homes of
our own. We have worked wearily with our hands to earn our living. We have blessed those
who cursed us. We have been patient with those who injured us. We have replied quietly
when evil things have been said about us. Yet right up to the present moment we are like
dirt underfoot, like garbage" (1 Cor. 4:11-13).
Paul urged the church to forgive a man hed told them to
"The man ... who caused all the trouble ... has been punished
enough by your united disapproval. Now it is time to forgive him and comfort him.
Otherwise he may become so bitter and discouraged that he wont be able to recover.
Please show him now that you still do love him very much" (2 Cor. 2:5-8).
Who are, and arent, our enemies?
Another countrys army may
fight ours, but that doesnt mean its civilians are our enemies.
"The armies from Israel also captured 200,000 Judean women and
children and tremendous amounts of booty...
"But Oded, a prophet ... went out to meet the returning army.
"Look! he exclaimed. The Lord ...was angry with
Judah and let you capture them, but you have butchered them without mercy, and all heaven
is disturbed. And now are you going to make slaves of these people? What about your own
sins against the Lord your God? Listen to me and return these relatives of yours to their
homes, for now the fierce anger of the Lord is upon you.
"Some of the top leaders of Ephraim also added ... You must
not bring the captives here! ... If you do, the Lord will be angry, and this
sin will be added to our many others. We are in enough trouble with God as it is.
"So the army officers turned over the captives and booty to the
political leaders .... [who] distributed ... clothing to the women and children who needed
it and gave them shoes, food, and wine, and put those who were sick and old on donkeys,
and took them back to their families in Jericho, the City of Palm Trees" (2 Chron.
How can we actually love our enemies?
David Wilkerson was reminded of that during a rally for New York City
gang members at St. Nicholas Arena:
"Nothing I said seemed real to these kids ... all I could sense
was the growing restlessness of the crowd. I had reached the point in the sermon where I
quoted Jesus command to love one another. Suddenly someone jumped up in the second
row. He stood on his chair and shouted:
"Hold on, Preacher! Hold on! You say you want me to love them
[xxx]? One of them cut me with a razor. Ill love them all right with a lead
"And another boy, this one from the Hell Burners section,
jumped up and ripped open his shirt.
"I got a bullet hole here, Preacher. One of them [xxx] gangs did
it. And you say were supposed to love them? Man, youre not real."
"It didnt sound real, not in that room so charged with
hatred. It didnt sound humanly possible. "It isnt anything we can achieve
through our own efforts," I admitted. "This is Gods love Im talking
about. We simply have to ask Him to give us His kind of love. We cannot work it up by
ourselves." (Wilkerson, The Cross and the Switchblade, New York, Pillar Books,
c1962, p. 78.)
Eighty of those gang members found that love that night.
Let the Holy Spirits love overflow.
Its hard for us to even love God, let alone our enemies. But
when Gods Holy Spirit enters, so does abundant love!
One night, while Yale University student Robert Morris was leading
prayers at the Yale Christian Fellowship, he came to the line "We praise you, we
adore you." Then he stopped short. In front of the entire group, he admitted
"No, I dont. I dont know what it means to adore God."
Soon afterwards, Morris was one of many at Yale who found the
overflowing love of the Holy Spirit. And that experience which, for him, included
"praying in tongues" proved the key to genuinely loving God.
"For me," he said, "the gift of tongues turned out to be
the gift of praise ... I felt rising in me the love, the awe, the adoration pure and
uncontingent, that I had not been able to achieve in thought-out prayer ... praise which
seems to flow out of unknown depths in a nonemotional but fully self-filling way."
(John Sherrill, They Speak With Other Tongues, Chosen Books, 2004, p. 105-107.)
The morning after my own experience with the Holy Spirit,
I overflowed with love, joy, and peace. And one lady who had been an "enemy" for
years was conspicuous among the people I now loved. Not because shed changed, or was
more trustworthy, but simply because the Holy Spirit had touched me.
"But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce
this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23).
The Holy Spirit helps us love our enemies, sustains us in difficult
situations, and can take unique forms.
At the end of one camping trip to North Carolina, our tent trailer
refused to fold down. After struggling vainly to get it to cooperate, I towed it, still
upright, to a local RV repairmans home. We headed back to Orlando without it, facing
an extra 1200-mile round trip later to pick it up.
I wasnt happy. Not at all! But as I drove away from that rural
shop, frustrated, muttering, and grumbling, my wife Yvonne suddenly burst out laughing - a
free, unrestrained, joyful laugh. I asked her what was so funny. She said, "That
wasnt me! It was as if the Holy Spirit suddenly wanted to laugh through me!"
Through that surprising overflow of his Spirit, God seemed to tell me
"Relax. Its OK."
Ever since, Gods used that same gift of Spirit-filled laughter to
give us love and patience with others; to assure us hes in control of circumstances;
and even to guide our choices.
More Scriptures: Eph. 5:18; 2 Tim. 1:7; James 3:17-18.
Loving God makes peace with many enemies.
"When a man is trying to please God, God makes even his
worst enemies to be at peace with him" (Prov. 16:7; compare 2 Cor. 13:11).
God loved us when we were his enemies.
"We every one of us have strayed away like sheep!
We, who left Gods paths to follow our own. Yet God laid on him the guilt and sins of
every one of us!" (Isa. 53:6.)
Do we give love when our enemies expect hate?
"The godly pray for those who long to kill them" (Prov.
"Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"
Do we work at it?
"Try to live in peace even if you must run after it to
catch and hold it!" (1 Pet. 3:11; also read: Ps. 34:14; Matt. 5:9; 5:25-26;
Mark 9:50; Heb. 12:14; 2 Pet. 3:14.)
Not every enemy will become a friend. Not all situations will yield to
love. When they dont, were to still love, forgive, and pray. God only
requires us to do our best.
"If you want to make peace, you dont talk to your friends.
You talk to your enemies." Moshe Dayan.