Got an Enemy?
Written by Pastor Jim Law
Do you have an enemy? One who has expressed great hatred toward you? One who intends to bring injury to you? Like the Apostle Paul, do you have an Alexander the coppersmith in your life’s work who is committed to your misery (2 Timothy 4:14)? If you do, maybe you are struggling with what obedience to Christ looks like in the face of such adversity?
Charles H. Spurgeon once gave the following counsel, “Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool! “
At first glance this doesn’t sit well. Spurgeon sounds like a masochist who enjoys arming his enemies in order for them to inflict personal pain. This counsel seems on its head because enemies are those we want removed from our lives. We want them silenced, not mobilized. They disturb our sleep. They disrupt the equilibrium of our days. Surely, because of the pain they bring, God does not want us to have them?
However, we can mistakenly think that enemies are solely the work of the devil, when in reality they come from God’s gracious hand to show us our sin, teach us humility, and drive us to seek the face of God. God uses enemies in a Romans 8:28 fashion for the purpose of conforming us into the image of the One who has many enemies.
Paul’s account of the thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 is a good example. This thorn was not a little thorn found on a rose bush. Paul is describing a wooden stake and the excruciating pain that comes from being impaled by such a sharp instrument.
He described this stake as “a messenger of Satan.” While much speculation has been given on what the thorn was, I think the most compelling explanation is a person in the Corinthian church bent on undermining and destroying Paul’s labor in the church.
Three times he asked for relief, and the request was met with a “No” from heaven. The comfort given to Paul was that God’s grace was sufficient for this agonizing pain, and that God intended to manifest His strength through Paul’s weakness.
Could it be that the most powerful witness God wants to bring forth in our lives is through our response and treatment of an enemy? With that question in mind, the counsel of Scripture seems clear on the treatment of an enemy:
We are to Love and Pray for Them
This is difficult when the words and actions of our critics come like a wrecking ball. It is hard to love when you know the ultimate goal of an adversary is to put you and your family on the street. But that is precisely the calling for the Christ follower. (Matthew 5:44)
This is not a pacifist posture. Loving and praying for an enemy does not exclude rebuke, accountability for reckless and unlawful conduct, or application of church discipline which would include removal. Neither does it exclude distancing yourself from him. (Proverbs 22:24; Prov. 14:7)
The call is to guard your heart and mind from the noxious weeds of bitterness, so that if he is hungry or thirsty you are ready to minister to him. (Romans 12:19-21) This is supernatural living because, honestly, an enemy can very easily lead us to imprecatory prayers where Psalm 139:21,22 flows freely, “I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies,” and Matthew 5:44, which instructs us to love and pray for them…. well, no so much.
Proverbs gives strong words about our attitude toward enemies, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; or the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn His anger away from him.” (Proverbs 24:17)
Sometimes opportunities to do good breakdown because it is no longer possible to have civil conversation with an enemy. Some things are so messy that we may have to conclude that the conflict, as much as we would like to be reconciled, will have to be worked out at the judgment seat. Even so, as much as it depends upon us we will pursue peace and truth and love.
We are to Learn and Receive from Them
A study of King David’s life is amazing on a number of fronts. From the obscurity of a shepherd boy to national prominence through his slaying of Goliath, his life was far from dull. He was a man of great skill, courage and warfare, and yet he was also known as the sweet poet and singer of Israel.
In his ascension to the throne of Israel, David seemed to be a magnet for enemies. Many of the psalms express the excruciating pain inflicted by his foes and a plea for God’s deliverance. The Lord was to David a refuge and the one who prepared a table before him in the presence of his enemies.
In 2 Samuel 16, King David with full authority could have ended the life of a man named Shimei who cursed the King severely. Shimei said to David, “Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow!” (16:7) In hearing this, Abishai said to David, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now, and cut off his head.”
David’s response is remarkable, “If the Lord has told him, ‘Curse David, then who shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’…Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” (16:9-12)
David made strong connection that his adversary was from the Lord, and he found comfort in trusting God with it all. We know later that David gave instruction to Solomon regarding Shimei (1 Kings 2:8,9), but on this day David received the verbal blows of his enemy as from the Lord, and therefore it was for his good as he sought comfort in God alone.
The reality is that when an enemy dies none of Satan dies. Oh, his day is coming for sure, but not yet. We must remember that we wrestle not against flesh and blood. We daily struggle with the triumvirate of this world’s system, the devil, and our personal sin.
The call of God upon our lives is to live radically which includes loving our enemies and doing good to them.