Loving and Forgiving in the Shadow of our Enemies
By Jim Allen
A person wrote to Got Questions asking about the need to love those who would intend to harm us. This question was not easily answered because twists and turns on the road of life challenge every believer to look deep within for the right response. So, bear with me as we travel this path together.
We can love our enemies because Jesus prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). Jesus' view of love and forgiveness is difficult for us to understand. How is it possible to forgive an enemy whose hand smites repeatedly? And how is it possible to love them when they don't ask for forgiveness?
Even in His agony, Jesus' concern was for the forgiveness of those who counted themselves among His enemies. He asked the Father to forgive the thieves on the cross who jeered and made fun of Him, one of whom went on to accept His love and mercy (Luke 23:32-33, 39-43). He asked the Father to forgive the Roman soldiers who had mocked Him, spit on Him, beat Him, yanked out His beard, whipped Him, put a crown of thorns on His head, and nailed Him cruelly to the cross.
Still they personally held no ill will toward Him. They were simply following orders. This was how they normally treated condemned men, and they believed that He truly deserved it. They didn't know that they were killing the Son of God (1 Corinthians 2:8).
Stephen, the first Christian martyr, continued Jesus' example (Acts 7:60). If they could forgive those who persecuted them, then surely we can forgive those who make themselves our enemies. The beauty of the Bible is that it reveals God's forgiveness, available to us through Christ and exemplified in Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross (John 3:16–17). When we come to Christ in faith and repentance as a result of His drawing us to Himself (John 6:44), He says of us, "Father, forgive them," and He does!
To turn the cheek from hate to love and unforgiveness to pardon are divine virtues some believers possess. If you remember the Charleston church shooting in 2015 then you might know about the forgiveness from family members having lost loved ones.
During the court hearing required to release Dylann Roof on bail, family members and survivors attended and were given an opportunity to address Roof. Their aggrieved hearts were on display for a nation to see and hear. With tears of anguish came words of mercy and forgiveness. Words like these from broken hearts are seldom heard anymore. Words like these carry a touch of the divine, evidence of Jesus' indwelling presence to choose kind-heartedness and forgiveness over payback.
A forgiving spirit is a powerful force, a display of love, a thing of beauty. Who can know and understand it? Who can possess the gift of forgiveness in a world like this? "A little girl was asked what forgiveness is...She gave an answer that was beautiful and profound: 'It is the fragrance that flowers give when they are crushed.'" (Source)
Jesus was crushed for our iniquity and His sacrifice became a sweet fragrance of freedom from the power of sin. How do we love our enemies when they want to destroy us? With you and me it's impossible. But with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).
However, this does not offload the responsibility to defend ourselves. We can and should defend ourselves. The Bible does not tell us to roll over and let someone walk on us. Lessons from the Old Testament teach there are times to stand and fight! There are times when believers must arm themselves against the real enemy, the one that lurks about unseen. We are not to love and forgive this enemy (Ephesians 6:12).
The Apostle Paul wrote about this enemy in Ephesians 6. He said our battles are not against flesh and blood (men) but against principalities and powers in high places. The apostle talks about the importance of taking a stand to fend off the fiery darts of this enemy, but never in our strength. We engage in this battle by putting on the full armor of God who is Christ in us (Philippians 4:13; Ephesians 6:14-18).
Of all our foes in the world, Islamic terrorist are front and center. They are death cults guided by dark minds led by the enemy of the soul. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and other leaders like him follow portions of the Quran that call for jihad, a holy war against infidels (Quran 3:56; 8:12). These assassins have swept across portions of the Mideast, Northern Africa and elsewhere killing all who refuse the ways of Islam. How could anyone love and forgive an enemy like this?
If you were in the grasp of murderous thugs with no escape and they were planning your end, any forgiveness from you or me would not be immediately forthcoming. Would any of us have the command to excuse an enemy like this? If not, then what is it about those who do? What do they have we do not? What is this godly virtue called forgiveness? How do we obtain it?
Jesus and Stephen were able to forgive their captors (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60). They knew the enemy was unyielding and would do them harm. They knew their assassins were men unaware that an invisible power commanded their mockery and physical assault with no sense of wrongdoing.
Jesus had the power to forgive because love and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin. Love is always an outward gaze that seeks to bless others (Romans 12:14). Forgiveness is a blessing flowing from a heart of love. Jesus did not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but chose to forgive (1 Peter 3:9). Martin Luther King Jr. learned this lesson early in his life and wrote, "He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love." (Source)
In closing, the discerning little girl knew what Jesus already knew, and so too did those who forgave Roof. They knew forgiveness is the sweet fragrance that flowers give when crushed. No matter the wrongdoing, forgiveness is an expression of love that flows when we turn to the sweet presence of the One abiding within (1 John 4:12).
Forgiveness flows from love, a sweet fragrance of a surrendered soul.
Image Credit: 15299; untitled; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Hardships | Jesus-Christ | Sin-Evil
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