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Sermon 8/28/05 - Pray For Your Enemy
Matthew 5:44

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Pray For Your Enemy

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” (Matthew 5:44)

In the church, we all are supposed to know that the response to bad treatment is – prayer!  We’re supposed to PRAY for the person who maliciously harms us.  But the question is: how do we do it?  WHAT do we pray for in relation to them?  Unfortunately, most do NOT ONLY pray, but also seethe in “righteous” indignation at the hurt received.  We’ve heard about a LOT of failures in that area - many have prayed, but the anger has remained!

We know that forgiveness is a necessary element in our response.  When Jesus was on the cross, He said the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  You might think, “Well, He’s GOD and I’m only a human being – He can forgive, but I can’t!”  And that’s true.  But Scripture teaches that it’s “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit” (Zechariah 4:6) – it isn’t your strength that can forgive.  The Lord can take our helplessness and do what is impossible for you and me alone.

Through Him, we CAN release the anger, the hatred that is felt about the person who did the harm.  Stephen was not God, neither was he an apostle; he was just an ordinary man, but by the Lord in Him, he did something amazing.  As the angry mob was throwing stones at him and Stephen knew he was about to die, he shouted words that should be ours, as well: “Lord, do not charge them with this sin” (Acts 7:60).

To be hit with just one rock is an unpleasant experience, and many stones were thrown.  Stephen’s bones were being broken and his enemies were shouting unforgivable insults.  Emotionally and physically – it hurt!  But he called out to the Lord, and knew God’s forgiveness for his attackers, as the last breath went out of his shattered body.

Today’s Scripture says that we are incredibly to “DO good” to those who hate us.  Jesus supplied specific examples of HOW to “do good” in relation to them.  He said, “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.  And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:39-41).  Incredibly, don’t retaliate.  Instead – help them!

It seems that we are intended to always do “nice” things and pray “nice” prayers for the one who slaps, sues, or otherwise treats us badly.  And that’s the truth, except that “nice” from God’s vantage point, is not necessarily our way of looking at things.  His aim is that our enemy will have a changed life and won’t slap people anymore.  Stephen saw his attackers’ need, and God has many ways to reach sinners like them, and you and me.

One way to reach your enemies is by unexpectedly being kind in return for evil.  But note this is not some kind of “formula” we slavishly follow in all situations.  There are characters out there who will GLADLY slap your other cheek, and then sue for damages if you disappoint them by not fighting back.  And especially note that you accomplish NOTHING by passively responding in your OWN STRENGTH.  Your enemy needs to see the Spirit of God in you.  Your personal gentleness is not the point.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been teaching Psalms on Thursday mornings in a convalescent home, and this is my fourth lengthy excursion through that Book.  Since they are elderly and have lost much in life, I try to be “gentle” in the areas of Psalms where “difficult” words are used.  For instance, we’ve quickly passed by words full of vengeance, like “Happy shall be he who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock” (Psalm 137:9), addressed to Babylon in response to what they did to Israel’s people.

David called for retaliation often, with statements such as this: “Let burning coals fall upon them; let them be cast into the fire, into deep pits, that they rise not up again” (Psalm 140:10).  But David also saw that HE might be the one at fault and uttered words like: “Set a guard, O Lord, over MY mouth; keep watch over the door of MY lips…” (Psalm 141:4), and he was open to correction: “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him reprove me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it” (Psalm 141:5).  We must remember that WE are sinners, too, and we also are in need of God’s forgiveness.

The key to understanding the “negative” expressions of vengeance and retaliatory actions expressed in Psalms, is to recognize that all of the 150 Chapters in the Book of Psalms are, in fact – prayers!  David and the other Psalmists had certain choices in relation to what was done to them.  1) They could go to the person who did them harm and retaliate in kind.  2) They could simply forgive that other person as though nothing had happened.  3) They could respond to evil with kindness as in today’s Scripture, or 4) they could go to God in prayer (also in that Scripture), and that part is needed by you and me.

When someone is your enemy, when they gossip about you or steal what is rightfully yours, the first place you should go is to God!  And that is what Psalms is all about.  Psalm 140 starts out, “Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men…” Psalm 141 begins, “Lord, I cry out to you…” Psalm 142 does much the same – the Psalms are a cry to God!

Instead of yelling at someone (like your spouse or child), or plotting vengeance, or nursing a grudge that gradually eats you alive – Look to God!  Go to HIM for direction in what must be done.  If you are obsessed with getting that other person back and don’t want to think like that, but can’t stop, go to the Lord and ask HIM for help.  “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19) and He is very good at what he does.  Trust Him!  God will bring justice to your life and your enemy’s life, as well!

When David prayed, “In Your mercy cut off my enemies, and destroy all those who afflict my soul” (Psalm 143:12), he was effectively saying: “Stop them, Lord, from doing more harm!”  Remember, the person who harms you and seemingly gets away with it; will do it again, if not to you, then to someone else.  By taking them to the Lord and insisting on justice, you are protecting us all from the type of injustice that was done to you.  Let’s pray:

Father, I bring You the cry of my heart.  Something happened to me that I cannot stand.  I bring that situation and the ones who hurt me – to You.  Not only forgive them for what they did, but forgive me, too – heal my resentful heart.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
First Church On The Net
www.FridayStudy.org
Ron@FridayStudy.org
"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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