Let me ask you a rather blunt question:
Do you hate your enemies?
Many times we try to get around that question by answering with something like, “Oh I don’t hate him/her but I hate what he/she does.” But do we really mean that? Do we hate only the things they do, or do we actually hate them as a person? I admit I have had some rather strong negative feelings about a few people I’ve known. Let’s just say I haven’t been very fond of them at all.
Something happened to me this week that I didn’t expect. Ever. Not only was it unexpected, but it was something I’ve always assumed was never even remotely possible in this universe. There is a gentleman in our town who has been at odds with me and some of my friends for quite some time. The reasons are irrelevant. We’ve been on opposing sides for several years, and frankly the few discussions we’ve had have been rather heated. To be fair, both sides have been guilty of conduct that I suspect would embarrass a 6th grader. We’ve considered this man to be our sworn enemy, our evil nemesis. He’s been our Lex Luthor, our Professor Moriarty.
Recently one of my friends decided to contact our “nemesis” and in a nonchalant, non-threatening way, offer an olive branch. The offer was initially met with the usual skepticism, but in a short time we had reached an agreement to abandon all hostilities and act like adults.
“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. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
-The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5, verses 43-45.
Wait a second. Hold the mustard. You’re saying that we should love our enemies? That’s crazy talk.
No. I didn’t say that.
Read the rest of the verse. “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
God blesses both the good people and the evil. He is good to those who do good, and to those who He isn’t pleased with.
I’ve read that verse several times as I was growing up, or more accurately, I skimmed over it, never actually comprehending the true meaning. What did Jesus mean? We have to actually love those who are mistreating us? And we have to pray for them too? I don’t think He meant we literally have to love them in the same sense that we are fond of them or have warm and pleasant feelings toward them.
My takeaway from these verses is that we are to do good to them regardless of what they have done to us, to treat them no less respectfully than we treat anyone else. We are not to seek to harm them in any way. Instead we should look for ways to do good to them, just as God blesses both good and bad people. Does He approve of both? No. But He still provides sunshine, rain, and other necessities of life anyway.
And yes, I do think He meant “pray for them”. Pray for their well-being. Pray that the conflict between them and us can be resolved peacefully. Pray for wisdom. Pray that our hearts may be opened so that we are all willing to work toward a peaceful resolution.
I never dreamed that it was even possible to achieve a truce with this person. Both sides have said some very harsh things about the other, and if anyone had suggested we attempt to propose a cease-fire, I would have laughed without ever seriously considering the idea. And yet it has happened. We proposed only one condition: that we all simply shut our mouths and play nice. No apologies, no questions, no tricks, no exceptions. It doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with or approve of each other’s views. It just means we all act like gentlemen, not 3rd graders on the playground, fighting over who called who a name.
Have you ever heard someone say, “Well, I forgive him/her but I won’t forget it.” Forgiveness, by nature, is not forgetting about any wrong done. It’s not some kind of “magical amnesia” which erases the memory of what happened. Forgiveness is a change of heart that involves resolving to no longer hold past wrongs against a person and to give them time to make amends if necessary. If we say we forgive a person, but we remind them of their past mistakes when we are upset at them, we have not truly forgiven them.
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
-The Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 18, vs 21-22
Forgiveness releases the other person from the debt (wrong) they have incurred against you. It says in effect, ‘the past is the past. Our slate is now clean again.” But forgiveness has another benefit. It releases us from the burdens of anger and resentment we carry because we feel we have been wronged. Bitterness and anger, over a long period of time can be destructive to our health. Forgiveness removes this load off our shoulders because we’re no longer keeping a running tab of how many times this person has hurt or mistreated us. We have simply let it go.
It’s not easy to forgive sometimes. But it’s always the right thing to do. And it may be the one thing that resolves a major problem in our lives. 78
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