Love Our Enemies?

Scripture: Romans 12:18, Luke 23:1-34, Matthew 18:21-22
Lesson: 10
Christ calls His followers to love their enemies.
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This lesson today is a very sensitive subject. I’ll get to that more in a minute. [welcome comments; offer] The Scripture memory verse comes to us from Romans 12:18. Why don't you say it with me? “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” Now, notice how Paul words that, “If it is possible, as far as possible.” Any of you ever met somebody that is just impossible? You want to live peaceably with them, but let's face it, some people are impossible. That's why Paul, he must have met those people, too. And I'm glad he put that in. “As far as possible, live peaceably.” Did Jesus have a few people that, though He tried, it just seemed impossible to get along with them? He had enemies that dogged His tracks and they just could not see eye to eye. But He loved all of His enemies. And Christ is our example.

We begin in our study by taking a closer look what is known as the new covenant. Some people out there, a few rare people, will say that, “I don't have any enemies.” Like the little girl that was praying one day. At the end of the Lord's Prayer, she said, “Lord, I don't have any enemies right now, but I pray someday I'll have some so I can love them.” And so there are some people that don't have any enemies that they can think of. They just have friends. And then there are those who think they have no friends, and only enemies. Most of us fall somewhere between those two extremes. Just for a show of hands, but we've all had varying degrees of enemies. I don't think too many of you are in the witness protection program because there's somebody out there that is seeking your life. There may be, we wouldn't know, would we, if you're among us?

This would be a good place to hide out. But we have people that speak evil of us. We almost all have folks that have hurt us. If I were to say to you, “Can you picture an enemy?” There's a picture that would pop on your mental screen. And it doesn't mean they’re dressed up like a terrorist in commando gear, but this person has caused you a lot of grief, they've been an adversary to your life. It’s hard to love those people that want to destroy you. You can't do it without not only the surrender of self, as we mentioned in this book, but without a new heart. And that's what the new covenant is all about. God gives us a heart like the heart of Jesus that is capable of an unnatural, supernatural love.

Jeremiah 31:31-34, “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though. I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts and I will be their God, and they will be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother saying, Know the Lord, for they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

What is it that makes it easier for us to forgive and love our enemies? When we see how much the Lord has forgiven and loves us. Because the Bible says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were enemies of God He made a provision to reconcile us. So Christ has already set the example of loving enemies and loving us. We are born aliens to God's nature. Jesus loves us in spite of the fact that we were the ones who held the nails and the mallet, in effect. And when He said, “Father, forgive them,” we were the ones who crucified Him. He died for us. And when we see that while we were yet sinners He loved us. It makes it a little easier for us to begin to comprehend, and it doesn't come easy, maybe we could forgive and love our enemies. It is not easy. It is not natural. It's something that may need effort and attention your entire Christian life.

I always thought it was interesting, in the Bible it tells us, we're commanded of course, to love our enemies, and then we're commanded to love our neighbors. And someone reminded me once it's often because our neighbors are our biggest enemies. And what is a neighbor? A nigh brother. Typically you find that the ones who cause the most pain are the ones who are closest to you. It's not the strangers out there that hurl insults at you that cause the heartache. It's the people that are close, in the family are in the church. And again, it's friendly fire that took most of the people in the first Gulf War. It's often friendly fire in the church. It was Joseph's brothers that became his enemies and he had to forgive them. It was David's own son tried to take his life and became his avowed enemy, tried to kill his own father. And then David's own King, Saul. And you can just go down the list and you'll find one example after another where it was often the nigh brother, the neighbor, that became the enemy. So when the Lord says love your neighbor; it's not very hard to love the people that live next-door, especially if they're nice. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Samaritans and Israelites were enemies. It’s teaching loving the enemy in that parable. But it's easier said than done.

You've probably heard the story about the man back in the days of Louis Pasteur before he had discovered a cure for rabies. Someone was bit by a dog and they later discovered the dog was rapid. And the doctor told us man who had been bitten, “This is bad news. It appears the dog had rabies.” And he asked the doctor for a pen and a piece of paper, and he furiously began to write. And the doctor said, “You probably have several more days to complete your will. You don't need to write so fast.” He said, “I'm not writing my will. I'm writing the names of all the people I'm going to bite before I die.” And we laugh, but you know there have been a few cases of people who are arrested because they had AIDS and they knew it and they wanted to take as many with them as they could. And they had to treat it like attempted murder in the way they prosecuted. This vindictiveness, this anger, this vengeance. There was one man who was being arrested and he was trying to bite the police and spit on them. And they later discovered that he knew he had AIDS and he was trying to spread it. Just out of anger and vindictiveness.

Now all the way from the very beginning, God has made it clear that we are to learn to love those who may not love us. Why? Why does the Bible command us to love our enemies? So we can look bizarre to the world? The love of Jesus is a redemptive love. And the way that you win your adversary is by loving them. If you live by the principle of an eye for an eye. Now by the way, governments must operate that way. Governments operate under the principle of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Governments cannot turn the other cheek. That is a civil law, not a social law. The social law is Jesus said in your interpersonal relationships, turn the other cheek, go the second mile. But a government can't do that. Can you picture that? Someone murders, and the government says, “Well we're just going to let it go this time, turn the other cheek.” Someone knocks out someone's eye and they're just going to forget about it. Governments have to operate with a sense of justice, blind justice, not an emotional justice. Because that's the only way a culture can survive. But Jesus said in our interpersonal relationships we can choose to suffer abuse for the sake of weaning people. When you retaliate with the evil you only drive people a way. “Angry words stir up angry words, but a soft answer turns away wrath.”

I had a conference not long ago with somebody I knew was very angry. I could see when I sat down to talk to them, their veins were standing out, their teeth were clenched. I don't think they meant to be that way. And all of it really was a misunderstanding. But they were really upset, hands clenched, very tense and stiff, and you could just sense it. And I thought, “Well, I'd better do all I can to defuse this.” And so I said, “Let's pray.” You ever pray with somebody? It's hard to pray with an enemy. And that right away begins to soothe things. And I could just see, as we talked I did my best to be sweet and Christ-like. The tension began to defuse until finally by the end of the visit there was a genuine smile as we parted. You can tell a forced smile, can't you? But if I had come back defensively and said, “Well this misunderstanding’s your fault too you know.” Which would have been true. That's not the issue. If you want to win somebody then don't take all of your advantages, don't make all your claims. That's what meekness is. That's how you when people. How long did Jesus know that Judas was stealing from his checking account? From the first time. But how did Jesus treat Judas? Until the very end He called Him friend. He was hoping to overcome the evil with good.

[call for volunteers] Exodus 23:4-5, “If thou meet thine enemies ox of his ass going astray thou shalt surely bring it back to him home again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under the burden and thou wouldst forbear him to help him thou shalt surely help with him.” You notice your neighbor is on their way to work. It's a cold winter day so they take their car and they park it in front of their house and put it in gear to warm it up. They run back inside and you notice that it's starting to go down the street. Somehow it slipped out of park and into drive and it’s slowly going down the street because the emergency brake is still partly on. You might look out the window and snicker and say, “Serves them right.” You're hoping to see them come out and chase this car down the street. But what's the Christian thing to do? Run out there and chase down his car, and watch him call the police because you tried to steal it. You say, “I noticed your car was going…” because what will that do? Your enemy will see you trying to save his car, and he'll say, “I've got to thank him.” And it starts to soften the relationship when you do something like that. This principle goes all the way back, that you're not to treat your enemy like an enemy, but you're to be kind and just with people.

Romans 12: “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. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Proverbs 25:21-22, “If your enemy be hungry give him bread to eat and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For you shall heap coals of fire upon his head and the Lord shall reward you.” So the reason we want to be nice to our enemies is obviously so we can heap coals of fire on their head. Isn't that the idea? I can just see some of you snicker as you say, “I'm going to do something nice for someone today.” Because you're thinking that it's going to; what did it mean heap coals of fire on their head? It's dealing with their conscience will bother them, that they are retaliating with evil. That's the coals of fire. You're not saying that you're going to make them suffer more in the long run by being nice to them today. Any of you ever had somebody, you've been talking about them, you've been unkind to them and then they do something nice for you and your conscience smites you? You think, “They were so nice and I was so mean.” That's the coals of fire heaped on your head. Try to prove them wrong, and Paul puts it this way, “You do not overcome evil by evil, but you overcome evil with good.” If somebody is your enemy, Jesus makes it really tough. He tells us that we are to love them and pray for them. Let me give you a more specific example of when this happened. It says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he's thirsty, give him drink.”

How many of you remember a bizarre and interesting story in the Bible, it's in II Kings 6, where basically, the king of Syria kept trying to attack the king of Israel with an ambush. And every time the Syrian king tried to set up this ambush and attack the king of Israel, somehow his secret plans were to folders to the king of Israel, and he always knew where he was. He always knew where the ambush was. And the king of Syria, exasperated, he calls his counselors together, and he says, “How come the king of Israel all is what my plans are? One of you must be a traitor.” And one of the servants of the king of Syria said, “Not so, my lord, but Elisha the prophet is Israel's secret weapon. He knows the words that you speak in your bedchamber because he's a prophet. He knows where you're going and he always warns the king.” He said, “Ah ha.

Then the answer is let’s capture Elisha.” So at night he sends this army to surround the little town of Dothan. It's a little farming town with wells. They've got sheep and stuff. And when the servant of Elisha gets up in the morning and goes to wash the sleep out of his eyes he looks around and he sees glittering in the morning sun the armor of this vast army that’s completely surrounded this little town of Dothan. And he hears the snorting of the horses. He runs back in and he wakes up Elisha. He says, “Alas, master what shall we do?” And Elisha goes out and he looks at the army that was sent by Syria to capture him. He knows what's going on. But he's not worried about the army. He's worried about his servant’s lack of faith. And he says to the Lord, “Open the eyes of this young man.” And his eyes are opened and this is where that famous phrase comes from, chariots of fire.

His eyes are opened and he sees surrounding the army that is surrounding Dothan and Elisha is another army that God has of chariots and horses of fire. And suddenly the young apprentice for Elisha realizes, “I have nothing to worry about. We've got a bigger army than they have.” Then Elisha prays and after he prays he goes up to the captain, he just walks right up to the captain who's leading the army of Syria and he said, “I'm going to take you to the one you're really looking for.” And he says, “Lord, smite this army with blindness.” The whole army goes blind. Now the horses aren't blind. So, Elisha hooks his finger in the harness of the lead horse and he begins to walk towards Samaria, the capital of Israel, which isn't that far from Dothan. And here you've got this old prophet and his apprentice that are leading a blind army. Wouldn't that have been a picture?

Now the men who are guarding the gates of Samaria, the capital of Israel, they see this army approaching and they say to the king, everyone's up on the wall watching from the distance because it doesn't look like the army's galloping, they're not arrayed in formation for battle, single file they're all marching up the road. Finally they roll up a piece of scroll and they look through it and they say, “That looks like Elisha the prophet that's leading the army.” Then they get to the gates of the city and Elisha says, “Open the gates.” And the king says, “You’d better obey him.” I mean, he's captured an army. They bring this whole army within the courtyard. It's the capital of the kingdom; it's a fairly good-sized courtyard. Now all the soldiers of Israel are up on the walls with their spears ready to hurl and their bows, arrows ready to fly and the king of Israel says to Elisha the prophet, “Shall I smite them? Shall I smite them?” And he says, “Lord, now open the eyes of the army of Syria.” And all of a sudden their eyes are opened and they are surrounded by their enemy.

They wanted to capture Israel. II Kings 6:21, “Now when the king of Israel saw them he said to Elisha, My father, shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?” They’re all ready to just say, “Ready, aim, fire,” and they were going to just hail weapons down on this army that’s right in their midst. And Elisha says, “Would you kill those that you’ve taken captive with your sword and your bow?” They’re captives now, why would you kill them? “Set food and water before them that they may eat and drink and go to their master. So he prepared a great feast for them.” It’s hard to feed an army. “And after they ate and drank he sent them away.” Now, can you imagine being in the army of Syria and opening your eyes, you see you’re surrounded and then you hear, “Instead of being killed we’re going to feed you and send you home.” Would you be reluctant to come and attack that army again? I mean that would be something. They’ve been nice to you. “Set food and water for them that they might go to their master. He prepared a great feast for them. After that they ate and drank. He sent them away. They went to their master.” Listen to this, “So the bands of the Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.” Well, I guess not. How did they overcome? They overcame evil with good. He could have killed them all and then he would never have had to worry about them again. But they took a risk to let them live. Some of those men might have become believers in the God of Israel because of that. Isn't that right?

Matthew 5:38-48, “You have heard it said by them of old, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you,” not just tolerate your enemy, not just be nice to your enemy, but “love your enemy.” That's hard. I've got a few people that I can think of on my mental screen that would fit that category. It's hard to love them, but then I have to tell myself the Lord loves them as much as He loves me. That's hard to believe, too. I mean, who could be more lovable than me? You know, during the Civil War, it's interesting, but the people fighting on the south were convinced that God was on their side. They had scriptures that they used for slavery. And the people on the north were sure God was on their side, and they had scripture. And they were both so sure that God was on their side it made it very hard for them to love the ones that they were killing. And Lincoln, of course, was famous for saying, “I'm not so concerned whether or not God is on my side as whether I'm on his side.” So He's saying love your enemies. “But I say to you love your enemies, bless those who curse you, too good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” That's hard. I'm just telling you.

I've done it, but it's tough to pray for those, to ask God to bless those who are taking advantage of you, who are speaking evil of you, who are trying to destroy you. It's hard to try to bless people who are trying to destroy you. And why does Jesus say to do this? “That you might be the sons of your Father in heaven. For He makes the sun rise on the evil and the good.” Doesn't God give blessings to both sinners and saints? He gives the sunshine and the rain and the blessings of life to those who love Him and those that hate Him. The people that curse God and deny He even exists get the strength to curse God from God. He blesses his enemies. “For if you just love those that love you what reward have you? Everybody does that. “Do not even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet your brethren over what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do that? Therefore, if you would be perfect do just as your Father in heaven does, for He is perfect.”

Whenever you hear the statement “Be you therefore perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” If you read that statement by yourself does it cause anybody feelings of inadequacy? “Be ye therefore perfect, even as God is perfect.” When Christ makes that statement in the Gospel of Luke he says it a little differently. He says, “Be ye therefore merciful even as your Father in heaven is merciful.” What kind of perfection especially is God looking for? Perfect mercy, perfect love. He says be ye therefore perfect in the context of loving those who don't love you. If you can achieve that, I think that's probably one of the highest tests of Christian perfection. To be nice to, to speak well of those that are trying to destroy you. That's when you become like Christ. That's tough.

Loving your enemies, feeding those. One of the first things we did when we went into Afghanistan, and let's face it, there were bombs falling on that country and then we went into Iraq, and there were bombs falling on that country. And at the same time that bombs were falling parachutes filled with pallets of food and medicine were falling too. Because we were trying, it seems like a mixed-signal, doesn’t' it? You're dropping bombs on one group and food on another. It's like a parent spanking you and saying, “I really love you,” while they're doing it. We were saying, we don't approve of what the Taliban are doing, but we're not against the people. It's hard to send that mixed message, isn't it? There is story the Bible. II Chronicles 28:13-15, the children of Israel, the northern kingdom of Jews, got into a battle with the southern kingdom.

Actually the northern kingdom were not technically Jews. They were Hebrews. The word Jew comes from Judah, which was the southern kingdom. So you've got the divided kingdom of Israel. The northern kingdom went to war with the southern kingdom. Judah against the other 10 tribes. Judah, Benjamin and Levi against the other 10 tribes. Judah was soundly defeated. They took thousands of captives to Israel. And they humiliated them, they stripped them, they beat them, they chained them up and they were going to sell them as slaves. [end side one] … and as the soldiers were leading back all of these captives that spoke the same language.

Civil war is what it was. They claimed to worship the same God, spoke the same language. They used to be part of the same nation. It was very pathetic. And here they’ve got their countrymen and they’ve beaten them and they’ve chained them and they’ve stripped them and humiliated them. And they’re marching them back up into Israel. And as this happens the elders of the land saw what the soldiers were doing. Ii Chronicles 28:13, “And they said to the, You will not bring the captives here for we’ve already offended the Lord,” by the way you’ve treated them. “You intend to add to our sins and our guilt for our guilt is great and there is fierce wrath against Israel.”

In other words, the Lord is very angry at us for what we’ve done to our brothers. “So the armed men left the captives and the spoil before the leaders of all the assembly.” They walked away from the captives and all the spoil of war. “Then the men who were designated by name,” the leaders of Israel, “they rose up and they took the captives and from the spoil they clothed all who were naked among them. They dressed them, they gave them sandals, they gave them food and drink. They anointed them,” those who were wounded they wrapped them up and anointed them. “They left all the feeble ones to ride on donkeys. So they brought them to their brethren at Jericho, the city of palm trees and they returned to Samaria.” Now that is really unusual. I mean, here they had just conquered them in a war fair and square. But the people of Israel said, “It’s one thing to conquer.

It’s another thing to try to humiliate them like this and destroy them.” The leaders of Israel, these wise men who knew the Lord, they said, “We’re not doing the right thing,” and they took the spoil of the war. They took the captives and they broke their chains, they put clothes on them, they anointed their wounds. The ones who were too weak to walk, they put them on animals and they brought all these captives back to; Switzerland for them was Jericho, sort of an international city. And they could say, “Look, from here you’re people can come and pick you up.” They were technically their enemies, but they said, “This is no way to treat anybody.” And it just changed the whole thing. And I believe that a curse would have fallen on Israel if they had not done that. But they overcame evil with what? You overcome evil with good. That’s such a good principle. You don’t fight evil with evil. When you want to quit smoking get a box of toothpicks. You overcome evil with good. Really that principle goes into just about every area of life you can apply it.

Proverbs 24:17-18. And we’re talking about kindness to your enemy and the attitude you should have. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles. Let the Lord see it and it displease Him and he turn away His wrath from him.” Think about that now. Don’t be happy when you see something bad happen to your enemy. Though you may not admit it, and it doesn’t look very gracious, you’ve probably all had that feeling when something bad happens to someone who’s really giving you a hard time. Inside you’re going, “Yes!”

I remember one time years ago, I want to emphasize many years ago, I was buying I think one of the first new cars I bought. It wasn’t much, but it was a new car and I was in Amarillo, Texas. Visited a few different car dealers, and I got in and I was tired and I had this loan approved from the bank. And this car dealer who was pretty slick, he started showing me a car. I was tired and he was high pressure, the next thing I knew he had talked me; he had roped me and he brought in a few other salesmen and they all sort of gang up on you. They had roped me into buying a car, and as soon as I drove away I thought, “I didn't even want this car. Why did I do this?”

I felt like I had been psychologically duped. I stewed all night long. I felt so bad. I thought, “Oh man, that’s not what I want.” Somebody had told me that there was a law in the state that if you bring something back within 24 hours; that you've got like 24 or 48 hours to consider that because there had been pressure tactics before they enacted this law. They had something called a buyer's regret. They don't have that in every state, but they did there. And I heard that and they said, “No, it's a law. Absolutely, you can take it back. He has to cancel your check.” I said, “That's it. I don't want this car. Why did I do this?” I drove back the next morning, and I said, “Look, I've been up all night. I didn't really want this car. It doesn't fit my needs. I really feel like you pressured me. Here, I don't want the car.” And they said, “You bought it, it's yours.” And I went back and forth. And I said, “Look, this is the law, and you guys really put the pressure on.” And he just went livid. And he started cussing at me and giving me a hard time and just dragging his feet.

Here I am a new Christian, and I'm trying to be Christian about the whole thing. He said some really ugly things that I can't repeat. And I'm starting to get mad inside. I said, “Lord, I'm just going to let you take care of this. I'll wait here.” And I just kept waiting. I said, “I want my check back.” I think I traded in a car, too. I said, “I want my car back. It's right there. I want it. You've got the keys. And I'm out of here.” I said, “You’ve got your car. We're done.” Finally he came and he threw down my keys and took the check. And he went out to back up the new car and get it out of the way and he ran into another car. After I've got my keys and the canceled check back. And I'm thinking inside, “Yes!” And I thought, “Oh no, Lord, I'm sorry.” All had those thoughts before. And it was like, I thought, “I didn't do it. It's like the Lord did it.”

But you don't want to ever rejoice. It's very bad form. You know, they talk about these football players when they do their victory dance. It's not just a victory dance, it's somewhat designed to humiliate the other team. We went overseas, and we heard the kids taunting each other. I thought it's the same way they taunt them here. Same words, exactly, “Na, na, na, na, na, naa.” I was amazed; it's a universal language. A day after 9/11, no, it was the day of 9/11. Some of you remember hearing the story about some Islamic cabdriver, near Central Park, who got out of his cab and he knew who was behind it and he was dancing around his cab and praising Allah in the streets. And how do you think that set with people in New York? They deported him. Some of you remember that story? They deported him. They should've put them in prison, but they just deported him. Don't rejoice when your enemy falls. It’s not a very nice thing to do.

Now Luke says almost the same thing. Luke 6:27-36, “But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those that hate you, bless those who curse you.” Do you know how revolutionary this teaching was for those who heard it? When Christ spoke these words, whom did the Jewish people look upon as their enemy? The Romans that occupied the land. They were the police on every corner. You have to keep in mind that the Romans would be moving their soldiers up and down the land of Israel and they pressed the farmers and the people into carrying their gear for them. And they'd grab you out of the field and say, “Here, we want you to carry this for a mile.” And that's when Jesus said, “If someone asked you to go a mile,” do what? “go two miles.” That's the way they understood that and they hated the Romans. That's why they loved Barabbas. They thought that he was a zealot was going to help them overthrow the Romans. That's why they were frustrated with Jesus. He was teaching loving your enemies. They wanted a messiah that would overthrow their enemies. And so when Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” let me translate that for you, “love the Romans, love the Caesar, love Pilate.” Can you see why that was so hard for them to take? Of course, I'm glad He said, “Just love your enemies,” because it applies to all of us through the ages, doesn't it?

I remember reading a story one time where during the Revolutionary War, there was a famous minister named Peter Miller who walked 60 miles to ask George Washington to have mercy on somebody who was being tried and was going to be hung as a traitor. He had been found to be a traitor and had sided with the British. And when Pastor Miller went before Washington he said, “I'd like to plead on behalf of this man. I've walked 65 miles.” And Washington said, “I'm really sorry that you've come all this way, but I can't pardon your friend.” Miller said, “Friend?” He said, “This man is my worst enemy.” And Washington said, “Your enemy? Well that puts everything in a new light. If you've walked 65 miles to plead on behalf of your enemy I don’t know how I can deny it.” And I don’t know if he imprisoned him instead of hanging him or forgave him, but he spared his life. You overcome evil with good. Also makes you wonder if that person changed sides because of that mercy that was shown him.

Ephesians 4:26. Now I talked about loving your enemy and loving your brother and it’s often your neighbor is your nigh brother. “Be angry and do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. Nor give place to the devil.” “Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” What is Paul saying we’re doing when we stew with anger? We’re giving place to the devil. Isn’t that right? Is it the Spirit of God that makes you stomp around and brood because you’re bitter? Or are we giving place to the devil? “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” That means to keep short accounts with God. If you’ve got somebody and they’ve bothered you. You know sometimes, I’ve told Karen, and let’s face it, not that our spouses are our enemies, but we do have anger issues. And you’re not supposed to let the sun go down on your wrath. Especially with people you love. Because it just starts to get protracted and it gets worse. And every night before we go to bed, Karen and I pray together. We agreed to do that in case there ever were disagreements. We don’t ever argue. We just have disagreements. Like you, right?

Someone was asking an old rancher, he and his wife had been married 50 or 60 years, and they said, “Do what do you attribute your long years of marital bliss?” And he said, “Well we agreed very early on, not to let the sun go down on our wrath. We don't go to sleep until we've settled our disagreements.” And then the farmer added, “There have been weeks where we haven't slept.” You've got to keep that in mind. But it's hard to be angry with someone you’re praying with. It's hard to be angry at somebody you're praying for. It's hard to be angry at someone who's praying for you. And you know, if it's sincere. Patronizing prayers, don't go very far.

With that in mind, when Jesus was crucified; think about this, it says, Luke 23:34. These are the people that Jesus came to save, His friends. “Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do. And they divided His garments and cast lots.” Here are the people who are about to kill you; they’re going to execute you. They’ve stripped you; they’re dividing your clothing. You’ve come to your own people and they’re rejecting you. To pray for them, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” First of all, it’s easier to forgive people if they don’t know what they’re doing.

Some people, let’s face it, are angry with you or they’ve picked you as their enemy because there’s something they don’t understand. Is it easier to forgive those people? They don’t have the facts. And sometimes we’re mad at people because we don’t know where they’re coming from and they don’t know where we’re coming from. It’s a question of understanding. It’s easier to forgive people like that. It’s a little harder when they know. And you know, you can’t help but wonder, when Jesus prayed that prayer, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do,” was that prayer directed to everybody or was He praying for the people in the nation that said, “Crucify Him,” that didn’t know what they were doing, the Roman soldiers that were crucifying Him? They didn’t know what they were doing. They were just following orders.

There were some people that knew what they were doing. There were some people that were enemies of Christ’s that they knew what they were up to. And He loved them. I mean, even when Jesus rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees there were tears in His voice. But they knew what they were doing. Think about it. They wanted to not only kill Christ because of His miracles; they wanted to kill Lazarus because he was living evidence that Jesus had resurrected somebody. They knew what they were doing. And even after Christ rose from the dead they paid the soldiers to say He didn’t really rise. They knew what they were doing. Did Jesus still love them? You know, I think that the Lord loves everybody. And I would like to think, I’d like to hope that a few of those people. You know, if you read in the book of Acts, I believe it tells us in chapter 5 that many of the priests and the scribes came to believe. And I sort of hope that some of those that maybe had even been instrumental in the crucifixion of Jesus came around. You remember when Gamaliel said, “Be careful what you do to these men because you may find yourself to fight against God.” And some of them may have thought, “You know, they’re doing the same miracles as Jesus. Maybe what He said was true.” A few of them may have come around. Which would mean that they overcame evil with good.

What does Jesus say at the end of the Lord’s Prayer? “If we do not forgive other men their trespasses neither will our Father in heaven forgive us.” Acts 7:60, “And he kneeled down and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this he fell asleep.” One of the last things, or the last thing that Stephen does before he dies is very much like the last thing that Jesus does. Think about this. This is interesting. Jesus preaches 3 ½ years, then just before He dies He says, “Father forgive them.” Then the apostles preached 3 1/2 years, and just before Steven dies he says, “Father forgive them.” Now, who was a witness to the execution of Stephen that had his life changed? His name was Saul, later changed to Paul, and he becomes an apostle. What do you think, did Stephen's prayer for his enemies do something in the heart of Paul? Could he ever forget that? And because Stephen did not fight evil with evil, because he fought evil with good; how much of the New Testament is written by Paul? Think about how the world has changed because Stephen chose to live by that principle. Countless millions of people have been influenced by that prayer of Stephen, through Paul, if nothing else. And so I think we underestimate the potency of showing love for those who may hate us.

Matthew 18:21, Peter comes to Jesus and says, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Maybe seven times?” And Jesus said, “I don't say unto you, seven times, but 70 times seven.” Luke 17:3, “Take heed to yourself, if your brother sins against you rebuked him. And if he repents forgive him. And if you sins against you seven times,” notice that, “in a day and seven times in that day he returns saying, I repent, you should forgive him.” Any of you had anyone do that seven times in one day? If you're a parent, you probably have. Not too many of us have had adults treat us that way. That would get pretty tedious, tiresome. Proverbs 24:16, “For a just man falls seven times and rises up again, but the wicked shall fall into mischief.” So even a just man may fall seven times, and really sincerely repent. Isn't that what that's saying?

Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus honored as the first at the resurrection, He obviously forgave. And she was the first to proclaim the Lord had risen. The Bible says in Luke 8, Mary Magdalene, “out, of whom Jesus cast seven devils.” And the first time I read that I thought that meant that the same way Jesus cast thousands of demons out of this demoniac at one time, He waved His hand and seven devils came out of Mary. But that's not how it happened. You read in that inspired commentary Desire of Ages and it says seven times Mary heard His voice. She had fallen back into those old patterns. And then He’d forgive her. She fell, He'd forgive her, seven times. Did it pay off? That repeated forgiveness paid off. And I think all of us have known, it may be with a spouse or a child, or somebody we work with, they're wearing us out with their bad behavior, and they keep saying, “I’m sorry.” Maybe they've got a problem with drinking. It's typical of people with abusive behaviors, they're sorry and they fall and say, “Give me another chance.” And you think, “You're wasting my time. You keep falling.” But don't we know examples of people who had that kind of life and they finally stopped falling? They finally do get the victory. Is it possible? That's what it's so important that we don't get tired. How many of you have had to pray more than seven times about the same sin? Don't show me your hands. But if I did ask you to you'd all raise your hands, right? So a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again.

In the commentary on the Lord's Prayer, “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Why is it important for us to be forgiving with others? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Do you want the Lord to be patient with you? If the Lord is willing to forgive us while we are His enemies then we should be willing to forgive others. And it does not come easy. I want to go back to where I started. Why do we do this? Why is it important to love our enemies? I think one of the greatest proofs that a person is converted is not that they can cast out devils or preach like an angel. What did Paul say, is the greatest proof? He said you might have all knowledge; you might have faith that you can move mountains, but what did Paul say? It's nothing if you don't have what? I Corinthians 13, without love, it's nothing. The greatest evidence of a transformed heart is not that you speak in tongues, it's not that you can give your money or that you are doing charitable deeds, boy when someone starts loving their enemy that is exhibit a where the rubber meets the road for Christianity. When you can do good to those that curse you and bless those that persecute you, I think that's probably the hardest test. Can we do that with God's help? Without Him we can't do anything. But with that new heart and through the power of the Spirit of Christ all things are possible.

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