Among the most difficult and challenging verses of the Bible are those that deal with the care and concern that is required for one’s enemies. Here are a few scriptures that give the general feeling of how the Bible would have us treat our enemies:
Exodus 23:4: “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again.
1 Samuel 28:16: “Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy?”
1 Kings 21:20: “So Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” And he answered, “I have found you, because you have sold yourself to do evil in the sight of the Lord.”
Esther 7:4: “For we have been sold, my people and I, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. Had we been sold as male and female slaves, I would have held my tongue, although the enemy could never compensate for the king’s loss.”
Job 13:24: “Why do You hide Your face, And regard me as Your enemy?”
Psalm 7:3-5: “O Lord my God, if I have done this: If there is iniquity in my hands, if I have repaid evil to him who was at peace with me, or have plundered my enemy without cause, let the enemy pursue me and overtake me; yes, let him trample my life to the earth, and lay my honor in the dust.”
Psalm 13:2: “How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”
Psalm 55:3: “Because of the voice of the enemy, because of the oppression of the wicked; for they bring down trouble upon me, and in wrath they hate me.”
Proverbs 24:17: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.”
Proverbs 25:21: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”
Jeremiah 15:11: “The Lord said: “Surely it will be well with your remnant; Surely I will cause the enemy to intercede with you In the time of adversity and in the time of affliction.”
Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
Galatians 4:16: “Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”
2 Thessalonians 3:15: “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”
It is not my intention to give a lengthy commentary at this time to any (much less all) of these passages, as any one of them could be the subject of a post, and I might find reason to write about these passages at more length later. What I am more interested in is the flavor of the overview of what the Bible has to say about enemies. From the beginning of the Bible to the end, there is constant admonishment to be kind to enemies, to seek their good, to be kind to them and generous to them, even if they bring trouble in our lives. Believers who long for God’s presence and involvement feel his absence as a kind of abandonment and as a hostile act. These moments are not unknown in our own lives, so we ought to expect to see them in scripture, and so we do.
What is it that makes someone an enemy in the first place? Throughout my life, I have had a rather straightforward rubric for enemies–those who did me harm. If someone sought to attack me, speak badly about me, ridicule me, exclude me, or seek my harm, they were my enemy. Throughout my life, I have known plenty of people who fit those definitions for a variety of reasons, some of whom were as sensitive as I am, some of whom attacked in a preemptive way because they were concerned that I was a threat, and others because I was quite a vulnerable child and quite easy to target once upon a time. The Bible itself looks at enemies in the context of oppressors, those who bring trouble, and the like. At times, Paul himself wonders if as an honest truth-teller he will be counted as an enemy of the church in Galatia, which is a fair question in some contexts. There are really two elements that go into what makes an enemy, how someone behaves, and what we think or feel about someone. Often there may be a disconnect between the two–we may dislike people who have no hostile designs whatsoever, or we may be minding our own business when someone causes trouble out of the blue. Either way, being an enemy to someone is not always a reciprocal matter.
There are many ways in which having enemies can be an area of character improvement, even if (like many such aspects of life that refine our character), they are often unwelcome. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what sort of conduct makes someone an enemy. Sometimes mere carelessness or heedlessness can be enough to create serious enemies, rather than actual malice aforethought. Nevertheless, it is harder to win over an enemy than it is to take a strong castle, and that ought to encourage us to behave in such a way that we do not go around making enemies carelessly in the first place, as that is something that is sure to bring upon us a great deal of unwanted trouble. Yet if we have been foolish or unwary enough to make enemies, there still remains something to do, and that is to seek their best interests and to show concern for them even despite their hostility. In doing so, we become like God our Father and Jesus Christ, who loved us when we were still enemies of His, before we were reconciled to him. The least we can do is show the same sort of love for others, even if they fail to see it. For if we must be in the presence of our enemies, the least we can do is be gracious about it, and to use whatever circumstances we find ourselves in as an opportunity to practice virtue, no matter how much we want to crawl under a rock and hide from our troubles.