There is only one ethnic group that is held in complete prejudice in the Bible, and that is the Canaanites. The Canaanites were cursed from their father on (Genesis 9:25), and it is the one group that Scripture says is to be completely judged (Deuteronomy 20:17-18). Nothing should be given to them, for they shouldn’t even exist (Deuteronomy 7:1-2). But a Canaanite woman was asking Jesus for the promise of God to God’s children. Jesus refused at first, but when he saw that she had complete devotion to Yahweh, even to the extent of being insulted, he changed his mind and made her a child of God by giving her what belonged to children. He loved her fully, even though she was an enemy, because of her faith.
Luke 23:33-34; 39-43
Jesus was crucified and killed. And even through the agony and shame of what he was experiencing, he cried out to God on behalf of his enemies—asking that God would not immediately destroy them for their actions against him. Even so, there were two men on crosses who had cursed Jesus (Matthew 27:44). But one of them realized his evil and stopped the other from cursing Jesus and confessed his sin. For this, Jesus said that he would enter paradise after his death. Even in the agony of his cross, Jesus was concerned for his enemies and offered them forgiveness.
Our “enemies” here is defined as those who have done evil to us, who hate us in action as well as in attitude. In turn, we are to do good to them. We are to pray for them who curse us, and do good to those who do evil to us. We do this, first, because this is how God treats his enemies—with care and compassion instead of hatred, giving them what they need. And second, we do it because it shows that our righteousness isn’t only for show, but it goes against our natural instincts.
The man asking Jesus the questions was attempting to show that he did not need to love everyone, only particular persons. The Samaritan proved to be the true neighbor, and even as he showed compassion and love, then he too should be shown love and compassion, even though he was considered a heretic by his “neighbors”. Thus, Jesus shows, we are to love those who are our religious enemies.
Saul hated Christians and wanted them all to go to jail. He was in the process of succeeding in this when Jesus met him on the road and turned his life upside-down. Jesus accused Saul of persecuting Him—which was true—but he still loved Saul enough to convert him rather than destroy him. Ananais feared Saul, for he knew his reputation, but he loved Saul enough to obey his Lord and lay hands on him for healing and to baptize him. The apostles in Jerusalem feared Saul, but Barnabas made sure that Saul was fully accepted by all of those in the church. Fear can drive people away, but former enemies who repent must be forgiven by the church.
Paul summarizes the whole teaching. We are not to do anything that harms those who harm us. We are not to harm or destroy them. Rather, he says we are to do good. We are to feed those who do evil to us and give them something to drink. In this way, they might feel guilty for their evil actions and possibly repent. But even if they don’t, we prove our righteousness by doing good.
Although they killed her husband, Elizabeth Elliot still worked and taught the Acua Indians in Ecuador. She gave the gospel of Jesus, while living the gospel of loving her enemies. She surrendered a large portion of her life, without a husband, to those who took her husband from her. All for the love of them through the love of Jesus.
Dirk Willems was a preacher for the gospel and he went to a town in Germany where his gospel of baptism and love for all was not accepted. He was found there by the magistrates of the town, and a man was hired to capture him and to bring him to trial, where he would be sentenced to death. Dirk fled from his persecutor, upon a river which had frozen over that winter. Dirk passed over safely, but his pursuer fell through the ice, and because he did not know how to swim, proceeded to drown. Dirk saw his plight and ran back to his persecutor and pulled him out of the river, until he was safe. The mayor of the town saw this and so yelled at his hired policeman to capture Dirk. The man was in a perdiciment, for he did not want to persecute the one who had saved his life, but because of his promise he captured Dirk anyway. Dirk was tried and sentenced to death by burning in 1569.
Living It Out
Do no harm to your enemies—whether personal, societal or national.
Jesus lived out and taught “love your enemies,” no matter what kind of “enemy” that person is. We are to love particular members of enemy nations, we are to love enemies against us personally, and we are to love those who do evil against our society—even as Jesus did all three. Let us not try to exclude anyone by playing the guessing game of “Who is really my enemy?”
Give your enemies what they need
If the person who bugs you needs food—give it to them. If the person you hate needs clothing—give it to them. If the person who has slandered you needs the gospel—give it to them.
Listen to your enemies’ perspective
One of the things we all need is a listening ear—someone who will hear and understand our perspective. Many times we have an enemy because they are prevented from being heard. Allow your enemy to express themselves, even if you disagree. You can always disagree with them after they have been heard.
Pray for your enemies
Pray for God’s blessing on your enemies. If your enemy is in sin, pray to God that he would grant them the grace of repentance. If your enemy is ignorant, pray that God would teach them his Truth. If your enemy is poor, pray that God would provide his needs.
Give opportunity for your enemies to repent
Don’t write your enemies off, no matter what harm they have done to you, no matter how bad they seem. If they come to you humbly, then give them an opportunity to say that they have repented and that they want to reconcile. But if they come to persecute you, flee.
Forgive your enemies if they repent
If your enemy is trying to repent and reconcile, then make peace with them. Accept them as your friend, and try to have them join a community of followers of Jesus.
Note: Jesus didn't show us or give us an example of allowing our enemies to abuse us unless they have authority over us, or unless God tells you to. Fleeing is acceptable. But, no matter what, we must not harm them in return.