I don't know how it started, but Bobby C. and I were "enemies" for six years - from the second grade to the eighth grade. We never struck a blow, but we did stand waving our fists at each other a lot on the school playground. I didn't know how to take his taunting, his ugly words.
My father told me not to let him make me do the wrong thing - don't let him "get your goat." I didn't know where that saying came from, but it may have kept me from getting my nose bloodied and also kept myself out of the Principal's office.
Dealing with an enemy may not be an everyday thing for most of us, but when we must, the Bible gives us some help.
Having an Enemy is Not Bad
Jesus had enemies, and when we pick the wrong kind of friends, we can become the "enemy of God," James 4:4. Jesus prepared His disciples for their work, telling them they would face opposition, and that those who hated Him would likely hate His "friends", John 15:18-25.
Gene Fowler has written,
"Everyone needs an enemy or two to keep him free from rust in the movable parts of his mind."
Our enemies can be the means by which our own character as well as our reputation is elevated in the eyes of our neighbor. We need to be like Abraham who was called "the Friend of God," James 2:23.
Can We Love Our Enemies?
We know the answer is yes, but doing so is rarely easy. It seems more natural to hate our enemies than to love them. Hating is easy, but note what Jesus taught in Luke 6:35 on this very subject:
"Love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Highest."
It may be hard for us to "like" our enemy, but we must "love" them, must put their interests high on our priority list. That is what that word "love" means, and if Jesus could love us, we can love our enemies.
His disciples had more enemies than friends, but their task then - and ours today - is to bring those enemies to Christ, and we cannot do so while acting as though they are unworthy of our friendship and love.
How Do We Do That?
As usual, saying it is easier than doing it, but that changes nothing. If God demands it of us, we can find a way to get it done.
- First we must remember that even our enemies possess a soul which will occupy either heaven or hell for eternity. That should remind us that this is important, both to them and also to us. If we love their soul, we will do what we can.
- Second, we should study again what they and we must do to prepare our souls for eternity. We cannot fulfill their responsibilities, but we can do ours. Once we have their welfare uppermost in our mind, the rest will be much easier.
- Third, we must find out what made them our enemy. Is it something they have done or not done? Or is it our fault? Either way, we must be willing to make the first move.
- Fourth, in principle, what Jesus taught on a similar subject is very appropriate. Matthew 5:23 and 18:15 tell us that both the person who was wronged and the person who did the wrong have obligations to fulfill in order to resolve the issue.
- Fifth, we must make the first move. Both parties have a responsibility in restoring peace, but a Christian must get it started, regardless of who was originally to blame. If there is enmity between us, we must do our part - and more - to eliminate it, Romans 12:18.
Throughout this effort we must keep in mind that a soul is at risk... and it might be ours that suffers if we fail to make a genuine effort.
If we are able to put things back together, we must then be determined that we will not be the cause of any future problem. Again, we must love our enemies, because Jesus said so.
The playground behavior of my youth was pretty typical of boys back then. In high school our little "foolishness" disappeared. We grew out of it. But instead of our adult "foolishness" disappearing with the passing of time, it usually gets more childish. All the more reason for us to take care of it before it becomes a fire out of control. This time it is Satan who is trying to "get your goat", and we must "resist" him so he will "flee" from us, James 4:7.
Our souls are at risk, and we must not forget it. Remember, Jesus said, "love your enemies."