Why We Ought to Pray for Our Enemies (Part 3)

[audio https://www.buzzsprout.com/3192/222394-why-we-ought-to-pray-for-our-enemies-part-3.mp3]

Praying Through the Bible #115

TEXT: Matthew 5:43-48

At the beginning of this week, the world was shocked and appalled by the vicious terror attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that left 5 people dead and 7 others wounded. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Jews and Palestinians, we might begin to imagine how centuries of hatred and animosity between the two people groups have built up to the ongoing conflict that we see happening in Israel today. It is in a similar era of conflict and animosity that Jesus Christ gave His command to love and pray for our enemies.

According to the Jerusalem Post, one of the men who studied at the Jewish synagogue that was attacked said, “This reality isn’t new, but when such an incident happens so close to you, and to people you know, it creates a different feeling. We are a people of faith here… We are not a vengeful people, we are not a culture of blood for blood, we are faithful Jews. Our answer to such events is to strengthen our faith and our religious practice. We are not like our Muslim cousins for whom revenge is something natural and if someone is killed then they need to kill someone else in return. We believe that God guides this world and it is he who will avenge us.” He went on to say, “We believe everything [that] happens is from God. Who can we be angry at?…What happened was not in our control, but we’re continuing to pray, continuing to live, despite the wishes of our enemies.”

This Jewish man’s expression of faith in God is at the root of the Christian’s ability to pray for his or her enemies. As we saw in the first message in this series, when we pray for our enemies, we are setting aside our fleshly, selfish impulses to fight back and to get revenge. Instead, we are following the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Last week, we looked at the fact that God has forewarned us about our enemies, and that is another reason why we should pray for them. 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 of that, our response should not be one of haste and impatience. Instead, 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.”

Other passages of Scripture also offer wisdom on dealing with our enemies. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” This verse is echoed in the New Testament as Paul writes in Romans 12:19-20: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”

Now, putting hot coals of fire on someone’s head does not sound very nice at all. What is the Word of God saying here? According to The Pulpit Commentary, “‘Coals of fire’ is a metaphor for the penetrating pain of remorse and repentance. The unmerited kindness which an enemy receives forces upon him the consciousness of his ill doing, which is accompanied by the sharp pain of regret.” In other words, if you do good to your enemies even after they have done evil to you, your enemies will feel guilt because of what they have done and may even come around to repent and ask for forgiveness. Even if he doesn’t these verses assure us that if we do as Christ says, and love our enemies, God will make sure that we are rewarded appropriately. Either way, we must follow the commands of Jesus. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” So, love your enemies, do good to your enemies, and pray for your enemies.

Today, let us consider that we ought to pray for our enemies because it gives us an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and care for sinners. Jesus Christ completes His admonishment on this topic by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” We, as Christians, are called to imitate God through the life-transforming power of Jesus Christ.

According to Leon Morris, Matthew uses the term “heavenly Father” to emphasize God’s nearness and lovingness. He says, “To set this kind of perfection before His followers means that Jesus saw them as always having something for which to strive. No matter how far along the path of Christian service we are, there is still something to aim for.” Our aim, dear friends, ought to be like our Father in heaven — the Father in Heaven who loved the world so much that He sacrificed His only Son to save it.

When we pray for our enemies, we are demonstrating God’s love and care for them. Whatever injury we suffer from our enemies is minimized when we take a step back and look at the scope of God’s redemptive plan. We should not see our enemies as just our enemies, but rather as sinners in need of salvation. Perhaps, if you stop trying to get even with your enemy and just pray for their salvation, they will accept Christ, repent of their evil ways, and not only get right with God, but get right with you.

You say, ‘Well, what if my enemy is another Christian?’ If someone in the body of Christ has wronged you, pray for them too. Don’t look at them as your enemy; rather, look at them as a child of God who needs just as much grace and mercy as you have received. When we pray for our enemies, we have an opportunity to demonstrate the love of God.

The story is told of a pastor by the name of Peter Miller who lived during the Revolutionary War. This pastor was greatly loved by everyone in the community, but there was one man who lived near the church who hated the church and hated this man of God. It turned out that this hateful man was also a traitor to his country, and, in time, he was arrested, put on trial, and sentenced to die for treason.

When Pastor Miller heard of the trial and the sentence, he set out to Philadelphia to visit General Washington and intercede for the man’s life. After he made his case, Washington told him, “I’m sorry, but I cannot grant your request for your friend.”

Pastor Miller cried, “Friend! That man is the worst enemy I have in the world!”

General Washington was surprised. He said, “Have you walked sixty miles to save the life of an enemy? That, in my judgment, puts the matter in a different light. I will grant him a pardon for your sake.”

The pardon was written out and signed by General Washington, and Pastor Miller took it to the place where the execution was about to be held. He arrived just as the man was being carried to the scaffold. When the man saw the pastor hurrying toward the place, he said to himself, “There’s Peter Miller. He has walked all this way to have his revenge gratified by seeing me hung.”

Scarcely had he spoken the words when Miller pushed his way through the crowd to the condemned man and handed him the pardon that saved his life.

We have to ask ourselves, today, dear friend, how far are we willing to go to demonstrate God’s love to our enemies? Is it too hard a thing to ask to set aside our human, fleshly desires and just pray for them? If we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ, we can do no less.

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