Praying Through the Bible #114
TEXT: Matthew 5:43-48
Allow me to begin by sharing with you a quote by Matthew Henry on this important text: He said,”The Jewish teachers by ‘neighbour’ understood only those who were of their own country, nation, and religion, whom they were pleased to look upon as their friends. The Lord Jesus teaches that we must do all the real kindness we can to all, especially to their souls. We must pray for them. While many will render good for good, we must render good for evil; and this will speak a nobler principle than most men act by. Others salute their brethren, and embrace those of their own party, and way, and opinion, but we must not so confine our respect. It is the duty of Christians to desire, and aim at, and press towards perfection in grace and holiness. And therein we must study to conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father. Surely more is to be expected from the followers of Christ than from others; surely more will be found in them than in others. Let us beg of God to enable us to prove ourselves his children.”
When I was visiting England once, I went into the church where John and Charles Wesley’s father preached. I picked up as a souvenir a bookmarker that contained a quote from John Wesley. It goes like this:
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
We have already established that the way Jesus Christ commands us to act toward our enemies is radically different from what we are naturally predisposed to doing. Instead of hating our enemies and holding grudges against them, we are commanded to love them, do good to them, and even pray for them.
Last week, we saw that we ought to pray for our enemies is because by doing so, we honor God’s will above our desires. Jesus Christ points out the common human perspective when he says to his listeners, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy…” However, He challenges us to live our lives differently when He says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies…” When we pray for our enemies, we are setting aside our fleshly, selfish desires and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance. As the children of God, we are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit; and when we are, we will pray for our enemies.
Today, we are going to look at why we ought to pray for our enemies because we have been forewarned about them. In this particular passage, Jesus is not speaking exclusively to people who are committed followers of Him. He is talking to His disciples as well as to the crowds who are following Him because of the miracles that He has worked. However, Jesus Christ did warn us in other passages that we as Christians will have enemies because of our faith. And, here, He tells us how we should respond: “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
When we are hated and persecuted by those who oppose us because we are followers of Jesus Christ, we ought not to be surprised. Jesus told us that such things would happen. Because he forewarned us, our response should not be one of haste and impatience. We should not react in a natural, fleshly manner — with angry words, trying to defend ourselves, or trying to harm the person who has harmed us. But, rather, we should respond with the spiritual and seemingly unnatural response of praying for our enemies.
Now, some of you might be thinking, ‘Of course, I’ll pray for my enemies. I’ll pray that something bad happens to them. I’ll pray that God would pay them back for what they have done for me.’ A recent LifeWay survey found that 14% of Americans have prayed for God to take revenge on someone who they were hurt by and 9% of people prayed for ‘bad things to happen to a bad person.’
When Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, He is not talking about that kind of praying. Once again, we must be reminded that we are to be representatives of our Father in Heaven who “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” God bestows blessings even on those who do not acknowledge or obey Him. Our prayers for those who persecute us ought to be patterned after Jesus’ prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
One of the most prominent figures of the Serbian Orthodox Church is a man named Saint Nikolas of Ochrid. He was born in 1881, and as a young man, he nearly died of dysentery. During his bout with this illness, he dedicated his life to God, and decided that he would serve Him if he survived. He became an influential theological writer and a highly gifted orator. One of his most famous writings is a prayer known as”Lord, Bless My Enemies.” Listen to his surprising, but biblical, perspective on his enemies:
“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.
“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself. They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself. They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance… Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out. Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.
“Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Bless them and multiply them; and make them even more bitterly against me, so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return.
“Bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son [saved person] blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Amen.”
Ladies and gentlemen, because we have been forewarned about our enemies, we ought to be able to practice self-control in our response to them. Like Saint Nikolas of Ochrid, we ought to see them as a means by which we are drawn closer to God, and we ought to pray for them as Jesus has commanded us to.