Will Pray for His Enemies
One of the most difficult things anyone can face is the pain of being the target of attack by others.
Especially if you have acted in good faith.
You have tried to do what is right, in fact you may actually have acted with complete integrity and out of good motives in a situation, but the result is that there is an individual or a group who are simply out to get you.
They lie, they oppose everything you do, they might even be nice to your face but behind the scenes they tear you down or even plot to have you removed.
Usually such situations are about power, who controls the political party, the business, the sporting club, the social group, the family or the church.
And there is genuine pain when you are the target of such attackes, the damage is especially severe when the attacks occur in what should be a safe place such as the family or the church.
We live in a broken fallen world and one of the realities of this brokenness is that people do evil things to others.
The Bible is very real about this reality and it never hides from facing these things.
One example is the life of King David who wrote many of the Psalms.
In the Psalms again and again we find David pouring out his heart to God about the attacks he is under.
Attacks from rivals.
Attacks from those who should have been his champions.
Even attacks from within his own family.
And in the Psalms we read of David repeatedly asking God to deal with these enemies.
To pour out divine judgement on them.
Listen to these words from Psalm 109:8-15
8 Let his years be few; let someone else take his position. 9 May his children become fatherless, and his wife a widow. 10 May his children wander as beggars and be driven from their ruined homes. 11 May creditors seize his entire estate, and strangers take all he has earned. 12 Let no one be kind to him; let no one pity his fatherless children. 13 May all his offspring die. May his family name be blotted out in the next generation. 14 May the Lord never forget the sins of his fathers; may his mother’s sins never be erased from the record. 15 May the Lord always remember these sins, and may his name disappear from human memory.
Now that might sound pretty vengeful and brutal, but let’s be honest I think most of us would feel the same way if we faced the sort of attacks that David did.
In fact let’s be real honest and admit that we have felt this way at times.
I have been told that wanting people to be gone is not that uncommon when someone feels under attack.
Fortunately most of us don’t act on those feelings.
But this raises a problem for us.
We are told in the Scriptures to love and we know we often don’t.
We find it especially hard to love those who do us harm.
We are to love them and even pray for them yet still we face attack.
And that leaves us struggling.
And we can see this expressed in David’s words at the beginning of Psalm 109
1 O God, whom I praise, don’t stand silent and aloof 2 while the wicked slander me and tell lies about me. 3 They surround me with hateful words and fight against me for no reason. 4 I love them, but they try to destroy me with accusations even as I am praying for them!
It is a probelm.
How to love in the midst of attack?
How to righteously resist in the face of evil being done to us.
After all Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:44
44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!
The parallel passage in Luke 6:27-36 even expands on how to do this practically.
And just to make sure that we understood that Jesus actually intended that we live this way the same attitude is seen in Luke 23:34 as we find Jesus hanging on a cross praying for his enemies even as they stand there mocking him
34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” And the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice.
It is a powerful picture, one that is in many ways beyond our comprehension but it is the picture of love, and it is love that enables Jesus to do this.
And when we look back, particulalrly at the Old Testament and passages such as Psalm 109, which incidently is one of the most vengefull of all the Psalms, we need to understand that what King David is expressing in these words is a lament.
A cry from the heart of the pain he feels.
This pain is a reflection of the things that he has suffered, the evil he has endured.
The betrayal in the face of the love and concern he has shown.
And apart form a few notable instances of failure, where David confesses his sins, all of his Psalms can be seen as having a Messianic character.
What was true of David as a man after God’s own heart would be true also of the Messiah.
So much so that Psalm 109 has two direct applications to the life of Jesus.
Psalm 109:8 is quoted by the Apostle Peter in Acts 1:20 when he refers to the judgement upon Judas for betraying Jesus to the religious rulers.
And Jesus himself alludes to it in his High Priestly prayer for his disciples in John 17:12 when he speaks of the one that was lost to him who was headed for destruction as the Scriptures foretold, which is a direct reference to Judas.
Beyond these direct applications we see in the life and especially the crucifiction of Jesus the reality of Psalm 109:4 “I love them, but they try to destroy me with accusations even as I am praying for them!”
So what do we do with such heartfelt pain, such pleas for vengence and judgement in the face of Jesus’ command to love even in our own experience of pain.
I believe there are two truths we need to hold onto if we are to live as Christ would have us live.
Firstly, We need to remember that there is more to the story
King David lived before the revelation of Christ.
He looked forward to a Messianic figure but he didn’t experience his teaching and the power of his love.
His only recourse was to ask God to avenge him.
To ask God to bring judgement on those who brought suffering and pain on David and on the people.
We live in a time when the teaching and power of the love of Christ is available to us.
We can understand that even now there is more to the story.
Now is the time to love in the face of evil.
To pray for those who persecute us.
To respond with love and grace in the face of hatred.
Our refuge, our redemption and our glory is found in Christ.
The time of judgement will come, but until it does our task is one of loving response so that those who oppose Christ have opportunity to be won to him.
We can not use the cries of vengence in the Scriptures and make them our own.
We are not to pray against those who oppose Christ but instead we are to pray for them.
To ask that they be turned from the power of Satan to become agents of God.
We must not repay their evil with evil but with good.
We must not follow their example but reject it and the powers behind them totally.
There is more to the story and that story is Christ’s.
He will return as judge and until then we are to be agents of his grace so that others have opportunity to share that grace. (TNTC Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary (d. Their Present Relevance)
Secondly there is the lived reality of being a Christian
Pastor Martin Niemöller was imprisoned by the Nazi’s for seven and a half years because he would not be silent in the face of their evil.
His ministry during and after this time was courageous and constructive.
He said in one interview “Christianity is not an ethic, nor is it a system of dogmatics, but a living thing. One cannot deal with God in solitude or in remoteness only, but in the struggles of life.” (1000 Illustrations for Preaching and Teaching in the Struggles of Life)
I think he was right.
You and I can only come to the place of living in obedience to Christ and responding to others with love and grace as we actually seek to live it in real life.
Anything else is simply empty talk.
It is only as we surrender our lives to Christ on a daily basis that we see him working to transform us into his image.
It is only as we are transformed into his image that we are able to love those who oppose Christ.
It is only as we love those who oppose Christ that we are able to pray for their transformation from slavery to sin to be agents of God.
Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-48 is a call to action, something that is only true as you seek to live it out.
So let’s be part of the fulfillment of the prophetic words about Christ.
Let’s pray for our enemies.
43 “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.