Christians and Their Enemies

Hubby and I are reading through the Bible again to the accompaniment of the devotional, For the Love of God, Volume Two: A daily companion for discovery the treasures of God’s Word by D. A. Carson. We started out in volume one shortly before our first son Ethan was born. He's 3 now.

One recent devotion that really got the wheels turning in my head reflected on Psalm 25 (posted below for your convenience).

Psalm 25
25:1To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. 3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

6 Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

11 For your name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. 12 Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. 13 His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. 14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. 15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. 18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.

19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. 20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. 21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.

In the beginning of this devotion Carson writes:
One of the striking features of the Psalms, especially psalms of David, is the theme of enemies. This makes some Christians nervous. Does not the Lord Jesus tell us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-47)? Yet here David prays that God will not let his enemies triumph over him (Ps. 25, especially v. 1), calls them "treacherous" (25:3), and complains that they have increased and fiercely hate him (25:19). It is inadequate to ascribe the two stances to differences between the new covenant and the old.

Being a Christian is not about being all sweet and fluffy and nice. Jesus may have started out in this world as a cute little baby but he grew up to be a man that took on the devil himself and won. Jesus wasn't shy about what he believed and he wasn't shy about what he had come to say. His style and his message rubbed a lot of people the wrong way but he never compromised so that people would like him. Either you accepted him as he was or you didn't.

The contention that Christians shouldn't have/make enemies certainly is a common one these days because God calls us to love our enemies. Carson reminds us that loving our enemies assumes we make some to begin with.
(1) Even Jesus' teaching that his followers love their enemies presupposes that they have enemies. Jesus' requirement that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental notion that we all become so "nice" that we never have enemies.

One could argue that if Christians don't have any enemies then they must be doing something wrong. After all Jesus, the man Christians are supposed to emulate, had enemies a plenty. They plotted and carried out his death they hated him so much. The apostles had enemies and they too died at their enemies’ hands.

About the seeming tension between loving your enemies and seeking to triumph over them Carson writes:
(2) New Testament believers may have enemies who must at some level be opposed….The Lord Jesus himself – the same Jesus who, while dying on the cross, cries, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34) – can elsewhere denounce his enemies in spectacularly colorful language (Matt. 23). It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, unless we are to accuse the apostles and Jesus of hypocritical inconsistency, the demand that we love our enemies must not be reduced to the sentimental twaddle that merely smooths enemies out of existence.

(3) A very good case can be made for the view that the primary concern of Matthew 5:43-47 is to overthrow personal retaliation, to eschew the vendetta, to overcome the evil we receive by the good we perform, to absorb the hatred of an opponent and return love. But none of this denies for a moment that the other person is an enemy.

I often wish I could lay the smack down the way Jesus did but a little voice always pops into my head to sternly remind me, "You are NOT Jesus!" I may strive to be like him but I am not him. Jesus spoke out of love and a desire to see mankind redeemed. Me, I just want to cut people into quivering bits of gelatin so they will go away and leave me alone. Jesus could see into the hearts of those to whom he spoke and chose his words accordingly. I don't have any where near that kind of insight. I can't always know what's in someone's heart. I have to guess and sometimes I guess wrong. Many a time I can't even tell what's in my own heart. I have to keep this in mind when I respond to those whom the gospel would make my enemies. There's a difference between making an enemy because of the gospel and making an enemy because you're just being a jerk. People often confuse the two.

This part made me think of President Bush and the war on terrorism.
Moreover, those in leadership may, out of love, feel obligated to protect the flock by chasing out a wolf in sheep's clothing, by exposing the charlatan, by denouncing the wicked – without succumbing to personal venom.

Since Mr. Bush is a self-professed Christian I'm pretty sure he's aware of the command to love his enemies. Whatever that may look like for him personally as the President of the United States it does not include turning the other cheek when enemies attack. It cannot. To do so would require that he ignore his God given responsibilities to protect the people he was chosen to lead. There are people out there whose life's blood it is to see this nation in flaming ruins. Whether they are destined to succeed or not we cannot stand by and do nothing based on a poor understanding of what it means to love our enemies. Terrorists will not go away if we just try to be a little bit nicer and more understanding and apologize for all of the wrong things we have done (which in their minds seem to be everything). Individual Christians may have the luxury of turning the other cheek in the face of the enemy but a nation's leaders must press for their destruction.
(4) One measure of whether one's response is the hatred of vengeance or something more principled that cherishes God's holiness and leaves room for forbearance and love, is the set of associated commitments. In David's case, these include trust (25:2-3, 4-5, 7b, 16, 21), repentance and faith (25:7, 11, 18), and covenantal fidelity (25:10).

We shouldn't engage our enemies just to show them that we are in charge but to show them that God is in charge. I imagine that that approach would look a bit different from what we see in our everyday lives.


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