How are we to interact with our enemies?
From the start of Jesus' earthly ministry, he had a knack at making enemies. And his disciples, by virtue of their association with him, weren't too bad at it themselves. As the Lord said, “if the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” and “if they persecuted me, they will persecute you also”. We need not be surprised then that Jesus and New Testament writers like Peter, Paul, James, John, and the writer of Hebrews all have things to say about how Christians should deal with their enemies. Compare their words those of they who advocate for violence or war as an acceptable means of conflict resolution for Christians today.
Jesus in Matthew 5:
1. “do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (39)
2. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also”. (40)
3. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two”. (41)
4. “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you” (42)
5. “ love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (44)
Why? “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. (45)
6. “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have” (46)
7. “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others” (47)
8. “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (48)
(And a slightly different take of the same sermon from Luke...)
Jesus in Luke 6:
1. “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (27)
2. “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (28)
3. “Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either” (29)
4. “Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back” (30)
5. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you” (31)
6. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you” (32)
7. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?” (33)
8. “If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?” (34)
9. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return” (35)
The result? “and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men”. (35)
Conclusion: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (36)
Paul in Romans 12:
1. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse” (14)
2. “Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. (16)
3. “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone”.“Respect what is right in the sight of all men”. (17)
4. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (18)
5. “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God” (19)
6. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink” (20)
7. for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (20)
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. (21)
Taken together, we see that we are to model God our Father, who Himself is kind to the ungrateful and evil, by loving, praying for, feeding, giving water to, living at peace with (so far as it is up to us), blessing, doing good towards, and treating our enemies the way we would want to be treated.
How do we deal with persecution?
Let's consider what the New Testament has to say about Christians and persecution.
Jesus in Matthew 5:
1. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (9)
2. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (10)
3. “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (11)
4. “Rejoice and be glad” (12)
“for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (12)
Jesus in Luke 6:
1. “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man” (22)
2. “Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven”.
“For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets”. (23)
Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:
The situation? “To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless (11)
1. “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure” (12)
2. “when we are slandered, we answer kindly” (13)
The Writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 12:
The example of Jesus is the basis for our response to persecution. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (2)
1. “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (3)
The Old Testament reminder.
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (6)
2. “Endure hardship as discipline” (7)
James in James 1:
1. Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds” (2)
“because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (3)
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (4)
2. “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (12)
Paul in Romans 5:
1. “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (3-4)
Peter in 1 Peter 2:
The example from slaves.
1. “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh” (18)
“For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God”(19)
2. “if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God” (20)
The example from Christ.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (21)
“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth” (22)
“When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (23)
The reign of King Jesus versus the
kingdoms of men.
Notice how the Kingdom of God functions differently that then kingdoms of men in the following verses.
It is only ever heathen governments that God uses to punish evildoers by the sword in the New Testament (Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:13-14). This is consistent with his use of sinful rulers in the Old Testament to punish His people, Israel, with their sins. It is never God's people who wield the sword, as this activity lies outside the perfection of Christ. In other words, God uses human governments in their rebellion to punish the rebellious, but calls Christians to an entirely different standard, as we've already seen some above.
See how the following verses on how Christians fight or don't fight in God's Kingdom.
Jesus in John 18:
1. "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (36)
Paul in Ephesians 6:
1. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (11)
2. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (12)
3. “having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” (15)
Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:
1. “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does” (3)
2. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (4)
What is one way we fight?
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (5)
Paul Romans 8:
1. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (35)
2. As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (36)
3. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (37-39)
Notice that the reason we are conquerers in Christ: because nothing, including trouble, hardship, persecution, danger, the sword or death, can separate us from God's love.
Zechariah in Zechariah 9:
Notice how the message Jesus preached on earth (i.e., the Gospel) entails non-violence. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (9)
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; And the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; And His dominion will be from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth (10)
There are many more verses that could be amassed, but I think this is suitable to prove the thesis that Christians are not called to fight their enemies with the sword, but to love their enemies, endure persecution, and fight with the spiritual weapons of God.
Share your thoughts in the comments below!