Know your enemies

Jesus commanded his followers to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Yet the book of Psalms contains many examples of hating enemies, wishing bad things to happen to them, and calling upon God to judge and punish those enemies. Is there a contradiction between the teachings of Jesus and the Psalms?

Viewed in their historic context, the “imprecatory Psalms” at first seem to relate to human enemies. David, the author of many of those Psalms, had many human enemies in his lifetime, including the Philistines, King Saul, and David’s son Absalom. When we read in I & II Samuel about the David’s career, though, he does not seem to glower with hatred against his enemies. Although he exchanged trash talk with Goliath before striking him down with a stone and cutting off his head, on other occasions David was gentle with those who chose to be his enemies. Twice he spared Saul’s life when Saul was vulnerable while pursuing David. He begged his soldiers to be gentle with his rebellious son, Absalom. Before he became king, David even lived among the Philistines and offered to fight with them against Israel. David’s attitude toward those enemies seems more consistent with the teachings of Jesus than with his own poetry.

David seems to have known already what the Apostle Paul would later put into words: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). By tradition, Christians identify our true enemies as an unholy threesome opposed to the will of God: the devil, the world, and our flesh. The devil is Satan, a rebellious angel who tried to take control of the universe away from God and who tempts people to sin, then accuses them of their guilt. The world is the sin that surrounds us during these lifetimes, the many sources of temptation that confront us daily and try to disrupt our Christian walk. The flesh is the sinful nature still within us, ready to cooperate with the devil and with the world by choosing sin over righteousness.

Our problems come from these three enemies. Since they work together, we cannot always say which of them is the source of any particular problem. I know Christians who blame all their troubles on demonic forces. I know others who blame all their troubles on the bad influence of the world. I know still others who blame themselves for every bad thing that happens to them. Most of the time, though, we cannot know the source of our problems. We know only that God has permitted his enemies to bother us, and that he will also never abandon us to their attacks.

Christians need to remember that our enemies have already been defeated. Jesus battled them on the cross and prevailed against them. The devil, the world, and even our sinful natures were beaten when Jesus bore the weight of sin and evil on the cross. When He announced, “It is finished,” one of the things that was finished was the power that our enemies have over us.

Even when we do not feel like winners, we remain more than conquerors through Jesus—more than conquerors because we share a victory we did not fight to achieve. Our enemies are still trying to harm us—not that they care much about us, but because they oppose the God who loves us. During this lifetime we live on a battlefield. We can rejoice with David, though, knowing that our enemies have lost. They are judged and condemned, and God has guaranteed their loss and our victory.

For those other enemies—the members of the other political party, the advocates of social changes of which we cannot approve, the bullies and insensitive neighbors who steal our peace and comfort—we are still expected to pray. We are expected to love them and even to forgive them. Even Muslim terrorists remain missionary opportunities. Our proper prayer for them is that God will show them the error of their ways and lead them to genuine repentance and to faith in Jesus Christ. We rejoice, not in earthly victories over flesh and blood, but in the eternal victory Christ won over the devil, the world, and our flesh. J.


7 thoughts on “Know your enemies

  1. I join with the appreciation and commendation of other prior comments. I only ‘add’ this – the answer to your question (“Is there a contradiction between the teachings of Jesus and the Psalms?”) depends upon one’s perspective. Do we view our enemies through the flesh or guided by the Spirit? The SAME Spirit in Jesus is the Holy Spirit of God that reveals His will and provides the ability to love when we choose to allow Him His way rather than ours. When we acknowledge and put full faith and trust in God’s admonition “Vengeance is Mine, says the LORD” a comforting assurance that God is eternally in full control displaces hatred, while we realize that but for the Grace of God, we too would be numbered among the enemies of God. With THAT in mind, we delight in praying for our enemies!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very well done Salvageable and quite timely as I am going through a bit of a struggle with a good friend who is being really difficult to love right now. He is not an enemy and his behavior is not as egregious as the types you outline above, but I do find myself wondering where the line is between treating others as Jesus would and becoming a doormat.

    A bit off topic of me, sorry. Excellent post and quite inspiring!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That line you mention can be hard to find. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to create a distance between you and the difficult person to take away his/her temptation to make trouble. Loving and forgiving from a distance is still Christ-like. J.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. FANTASTIC! The devil, the world and our own sinful flesh continue to wage their war against us. Thanks be to God that He has *already* defeated the unholy trio! Despite outward appearances to the contrary, His promises are true and we may cling to them in all circumstances, knowing that we will ultimately be safely delivered from this body of death.

    May I share this?

    Liked by 1 person

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