Enemies. We all have them, and we all struggle with how to handle them. Everyone likes to think, “Hey, I’m an absolutely delightful person to be around!”, but the fact of the matter is, you will have enemies. No matter how kind, soft-spoken, gentle, or peaceable you strive to be, there will be those who, for some crazy reason, feel they absolutely have to be at war with you. Honestly, these people can drive you nuts! You go to them and try to make peace, only to make matters worse. You examine and re-examine the reasoning for their anger. You mentally dissect all conversations and interactions, trying to make sense of a war you never wanted. How do you come to peace with an enemy? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have God’s word to shed light on our common struggle.
Examine yourself thoroughly and honestly for any fault on your part, and if you find fault, humbly apologize and strive to make restitution.
Let’s be honest, most of us (if not all) struggle with foot-in-mouth disease. Words slip out and oops, they were stronger, sharper, and less kind than we intended. Sometimes we can even say something that we think is completely benign, only to discover the person we were speaking with took great offense. James 3:5 notes, “…the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!” Oh the fires of hurt feelings that have been set ablaze by the tongue! When we give ourselves a spiritual check-up, the tongue is a great place to start.
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Ok, you’ve done your spiritual check-up and honestly cannot find any fault on your part, what do you do now?
Here’s where it gets uncomfortable. You need to gently, lovingly, sincerely speak with them one-on-one and try to come to peace together. How many wars have ignited over a lack of communication? Oh your heart will be pounding, your palms will be sweaty, nobody likes these conversations! But if you can come together and find peace, it’s so worth it! You both may have been making things bigger in your head than they actually are. We women are kind of famous for this! In the times when I’ve had to do this, I have found that praying for wisdom, quick ears, and a slow tongue (James 1:19) really helps put my heart and nerves at ease and gets me in a right frame of mind. You just might be surprised to come out of your talk hugging and praying together!
So what do you do when you discover you have a true enemy?
I’m talking about someone who has no desire for peace, who takes delight in being cruel to you, and has gone so far as to start an all out war against you. These people exist. You can’t stop them because they don’t want to be stopped. What can you do?
I’ve been in this situation before, and the first thing you need to do is pray, pray, pray! There’s something that happens when you humbly pray for an enemy–they become human. Sometimes the actions of an enemy can become so hurtful, the pain is all we can see when we are around them, or even think of them. Prayer helps put enemies back in human form, which can lead to compassion for their frailties. Perhaps your enemy has some anger issues, or perhaps they never learned how to deal with their emotions on an adult level because they were traumatized or abused as a child. These things don’t excuse their sinful behavior, but that’s not your problem. Feeding the fires of your anger and possible festering hatred toward an enemy absolutely is your problem. Finding ways to feel compassion for an enemy through prayer can help quench your anger and stop hatred before it can start. You cannot control the way others treat you, but you can absolutely, 100% control the way you treat others, even those who hate you. I have found that prayer, while not ridding me of an enemy, takes the fire of anger out of me, the one I’m ultimately responsible for.
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Once you have gone to God in prayer, sometimes you need to speak with a friend. Now before I go further, I want to emphasize that there is a fine line between seeking the counsel of a friend, and outright gossip and slander. Do not allow yourself to fall into the sin of gossip, “Be angry, and yet do not sin”. (Ephesians 4:26) With that said, sometimes it’s good to seek the counsel of a friend, but choose that friend wisely. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) A wise Christian friend can help you see things from a different perspective, and possibly help you find a solution.
And what happens if there’s no solution? Perhaps you are experiencing a “turn the other cheek” moment.
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also…” Luke 6:27-29a
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat in Bible classes–wonderful, wise Bible classes–that centered around, “…if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24) These classes prick my heart, as they should, and once again begins the litany of “Oh boy, did I handle this old situation right?” I want to set your conscience clear! If you have truly, sincerely, prayerfully considered a situation where someone is upset with you, or is truly being an enemy, and if you have striven to resolve the conflict to no avail, you are in a “turn the other cheek” situation, and once you have turned the other cheek, LET. IT. GO!!!! Free your conscience!!! Romans 12:18 states, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Note that it says, “…so far as it depends on you…” There’s not a thing you can do about an enemy who has no desire to repent of hurting you, so turn your cheek and walk away! Continue to pray for your enemy? Absolutely! But continue to beat yourself up mentally for a conflict you have no control over? This can only lead to churning up old hurts and old anger, and as Christians, we are to strive toward the path of light. As Christians, we have too much work to do to allow an enemy to take up valuable mental space in our heads.
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Part of dealing with an enemy is to be “…shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves”. This was Jesus’ advice to His apostles in Matthew 10:16, knowing that they would meet enemies of their own. Jesus also added, “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake…You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved” (V.17-18, 22). Jesus knew that His followers would be hated for no other reason than for being faithful Christians. There are people in our very congregations who cling to worldly lusts, and when confronted with Biblical truth in a sermon or Bible class, they will turn like rabid wolves, seeking to devour any and all who dare prick their conscience. They can become angered by something as simple as someone simply living a life of purity and refusing to condone sinful behavior. When this happens, remember that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Be gentle with this brother or sister, you never know when your gentle answer may soften their heart and make them receptive to change. However you interact, be sure that you keep your anger in check and sin not!
As we strive to walk our Christian path, it’s important to remember Jesus lived a perfect life, yet he had enemies. He did nothing wrong, yet was hated. Sometimes living a wholesome, Christ-centered life is going to create enemies for you. When this happens just remember that you are not alone; in fact, you are actually in great company! Just keep your eye on your eternal goal and continue to be a light to the rest of the world, just as Jesus is our Light!