I’ve hardly had any real enemies during my lifetime. I’ve certainly had people that I didn’t like and people that didn’t like me, but I’ve rarely had anyone that I could truly call an enemy. A few years ago that all changed, as one such man entered my life and literally turned everything upside down. I had to quickly make a decision on how I was going to do good to the man that hated me. Here are two practical ways that I did good to him while he was still my enemy.
Prayed for my enemy! We know that Jesus commanded it (Matthew 5:44), and yet taking this first step can be very difficult. In fact, when I was dealing with the enemy I described above, I hadn’t even thought of doing this basic thing. A dear friend of mine encouraged me to do this and modeled how to do this while praying for his own enemy. I know that the regular practice of praying for my enemy softened my own heart and helped to keep me from the bitterness that tried to take root.
I realized that when I prayed for him I was doing more than making myself feel good, I was acknowledging the fact that God had the power to change a life, even the life of my enemy. Essentially, I was asking God to extend his goodness, grace and mercy to the person that I would least like that goodness extended to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way, “Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.” (The Cost of Discipleship).
Praying for our enemies is not only the first step in doing good to our enemies, but quite possibly the most important.
I didn’t say bad things about my enemy. This was one of the most difficult things that I practiced because my own pride tried to demand that I retaliate with every bad thing that was said about me. If I had responded with hate to the hate I received, I would have caused a lot of hurt and heartache for my enemy (and I believe for myself as well). By not responding, not only had I broken the cycle of anger, but I had actually participated in the “doing of good” to my enemy.
Gossip has always been a problem, but in an age of Facebook, instant messaging and Google searches, it’s much easier to curse your enemies and have your words do a lot more damage than you might have first imagined. Conversely, when you bless those who curse you, you are not only blessing your enemy, but you are also obtaining a blessing from God yourself (1 Peter 3:9-12).
To do these two practical things is not always as easy as it sounds. First, we must recognize that God is present in each and every encounter that we have with our enemies. Therefore, it isn’t necessary to respond or act (in our own power) with every accusation that we receive, but it is necessary to commit ourselves to our faithful Creator and continue to do good.