Part V of our series on Doing Good
54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Notice that when Stephen is attacked by his enemies, he does not think, “I am being attacked by my enemies. I want to protect myself, but I’m supposed to love my enemies. I think I will bake them a cake–as soon as they stop throwing stones at me.”
Instead, he says, “Where’s the father? Where’s Jesus? Oh, there they are! Everything is going to be OK, because I can trust them.” That’s what we see in Acts 7:57:
59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
Any time we have a conflict with our enemy, the most important person in the room is not us or our enemy. It’s God.
He is really there, actually present, watching over you. You can trust him. He’s doing something. He is, in the words of Jesus in Matthew 5, “sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”—that is, he is taking care of both you and your enemy, even if we don’t exactly see or understand what he is doing.
That’s what Peter says in 1 Peter 4:12-19. Look at the first couple of verses:
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
What Peter is saying here is amazing: when an enemy attacks you, there are indeed two people in the room. But the two people are not you and your enemy. The two people are your enemy and Christ!
Paul explains why in Galatians 2:
20I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
And Paul understood this very, very deeply because he had experienced it personally before he became a Christian. At that point you may remember that he was persecuting Christians. Then Jesus appears to him and says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) Paul came to see that when we are baptized into Christ, it’s no longer just us who is living as us; it’s Christ!
Which means anyone who attacks us is actually attacking Christ, whether they (or we) know it or not.
And so Peter and Paul have some very specific advice about how we are to think about such a situation. First, let’s look at 1 Peter 4:12-19:
14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And,
“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
That last verse is key. Peter says, “If an enemy attacks you, maybe it is because you did something wrong. But maybe not. Maybe the enemy is opposing God and, in the words of Stephen and in the words of Jesus on the cross, the enemy doesn’t know what they are doing. In this case, rejoice because you are blessed! Commit yourself to your faithful creator. He is doing something even if you can’t see it. And continue to do good.”
Paul says the same kind of thing beginning in Romans 12:19:
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
Paul is saying, “When an enemy is attacking you, they are actually attacking Christ, because it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives through you. Since your enemy is attacking Christ, not you (whether they realize it or not), it is not your decision how to respond. Instead, it is God’s decision.
“And God will repay…but if he is not choosing to repay now, you need to respect that. And you need to join him in doing the good to your enemy that he is doing.
What enemies of yours might you need to hand over to God for repayment even as you join him in doing good toward them?