Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
By Chris WittsWednesday 1 Dec 2021Morning Devotions with Chris WittsDevotionsReading Time: 4 minutes
A minister was in his church one Sunday morning giving a sermon based on Jesus’ command to love your enemies. Now, he says, I’ll bet that many of us feel as if we have enemies in our lives, he says to the congregation. So raise your hands, he says, if you have many enemies.
And quite a few people raise their hands. Now raise your hands if you have only a few enemies. And about half as many people raise their hands. Now raise your hands if you have only one or two enemies. And even fewer people raised their hands. See, says the priest, most of us feel like we have enemies. Now raise your hands if you have no enemies at all.
And the priest looks around, and looks around, and finally, way in the back, a very, very old man raises his hand. He stands up and says, I have no enemies whatsoever! Delighted, the priest invites the man to the front of the church:
- What a blessing! the priest says. How old are you?
- I’m 98 years old, and I have no enemies.
- What a wonderful Christian life you lead! the priest says. And tell us all how it is that you have no enemies.
- Simple, he says. They’ve all died!
It’s hard to like everyone. Like the woman who told her friend, I ran into an old high-school classmate yesterday. I couldn’t believe it. She looked terrific. Not one wrinkle, and hadn’t put on any weight. So I ran into her again.
But really—it’s no laughing matter.
I think this is an issue worth talking about for a moment. I call it the ‘impossible commandment’. Jesus said in Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy’. But I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.
Most of us, sadly, go through life with—for better or worse, and no matter how hard we try—a few people we may feel are our ‘enemies’. Or, more broadly, people seem to hate us. There are people whom we’ve offended and to whom we’ve apologised, but who refuse to accept our apologies. There are people at work who we’ve angered, who are jealous of us or who have set themselves against us.
There are people in our families who hold a grudge against us for some mysterious reason that we can never comprehend. And there are people who seem to dislike us or wish us ill for no good reason. It’s a sad part of human life. And it’s a hard part of life. And sometimes, when we hear Jesus telling us to love our enemies, it seems to make things even harder. What are we supposed to do? I can’t always have control over how someone dislikes me or even hates me!
Release from resentment and bitterness
The radical love of God is shown through Jesus who loved his enemies, and allowed them to kill him on a cruel cross. In Jesus we see a God who would rather be destroyed at the hands of sinners, than to destroy sinners. In Jesus, we see a God who would rather be hung by heretics than to hand heretics.
Jesus is saying to us that in loving our enemies, we are released from the terrible burden of hatred, resentment and bitterness. It’s about you being bigger than them—showing love and benevolence instead of hatred. No matter what their actions we never allow bitterness against them to invade our hearts, but will treat them with goodwill.
And you should spend time praying for them—why? Because when you pray for them, God often opens your heart to seeing people the way that God sees them, rather than the way you see them. And you can often have pity for people who may be filled with anger toward you. If your enemy behaves like a jerk toward you, there’s no reason you have to act like a jerk toward him.
Sadly, some people may simply dislike you. So it’s useless to try to ‘get’ them to like you, much less to love you. It’s useless to try to change them. You can be open to reconciliation, but you have no control over whether someone will reconcile with you. Part of this process is embracing your own powerlessness. Letting go is paramount.
So what Jesus is telling us is hard, but it’s not impossible. And it’s necessary, too, because ultimately he is inviting us not only to forgiveness and charity but to something else: freedom and happiness.