Jesus urges his disciples to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you”(Luke 6:27). This teaching is not hard to grasp; it is hard to live.
Jesus is teaching us to respond to the hostility of others with goodwill. He is not addressing self-defense in combat situations or home invasions, but ordinary times in life when people hurt and wrong us. We “love” and “do good” and “bless”(asking God to do good) and “pray for” those who harm us, turning the other cheek, offering more than they demand, and giving when they ask (Luke 6:27-31).
So what happens when I pray for my enemies?
I change my view of them. Talking to God about my enemies helps me to think about them with his perspective. They are his children too. He loves them too. When I ask God to bless and help them, it reminds me that there is more to a person than just what they have done to me. They have gifts, joys and sorrows, and scars just like me. When I ask God to do good to them, I see them differently.
I absorb personal injustice as an act of faith. Praying for my enemies means that I will not seek vengeance myself. “To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either”(Luke 6:29). Sometimes I will not get justice. That’s OK! Jesus does not seem concerned with this at all. Paul reminds us that God will avenge the wrongs that must be dealt with (Rom 12:19) and asks a probing question: “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”(1 Cor 6:7). When I learn to absorb unfairness without vengeance, I grow.
I love in a higher way. “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them”(Luke 6:32). Are my relationships truly this mercenary? Am I so weak that I can only love people who are nice to me all the time?
I overcome evil with good. When others harm me, I can try to harm them back. This sets off a cycle of increasing retribution (think Hatfields and McCoys or gang wars). Yet when I pray for my enemies, I resolve that their evil will end with me. I will not allow their evil to cause me to do evil. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”(Rom 12:21).
I get grace practice. Grace is an unearned gift. My enemies don’t deserve my prayers. Those who hurt me don’t deserve my love. Yet when I pray for my enemies, I am trained in the discipline of grace. “It is more blessed to give than to receive”(Acts 20:35).
I become more like God. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”(Luke 6:35-36). God is kind when people are ungrateful. When I am kind to the ungrateful, I am a “(son) of the Most High.”
When others harm and oppose us, we usually think that they are the problem. Yet Jesus is showing us that such occasions are tremendous opportunities for our spiritual development.
Pray for your enemies—and see what happens!