Feature

Love Your Enemies . . .

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At the end of the summer my granddaughter Leah was looking forward to returning to a preschool program at a local church. She would see her friends Lily and Isabella again. “They love me,” Leah said. “I love them.”

Loving Lily and Isabella is the easy part, I told her. I mentiioned that I would be preaching at a chapel service in a few days on loving your enemy. That’s the hard part.

“Enemies? What does Leah know about enemies?” my daughter, Abby, asked. “Everybody loves her.“

Her parents love her. She has two sets of grandparents who cut her even more slack than her parents and love everything she does. She has uncles and aunts who love her. Her teacher adores her. Strangers at the supermarket say kind things to her. She is three years old and winsome. What’s not to love?

Then I realized. Within the next few years she will learn how to ride a two-wheeler, how to swim and how to spell. She will also learn the world is not as lovely as it seems to her today. She will learn that, for whatever reason, people will not always like her. Perhaps she will have enemies or, at the very least, people who simply dislike her. There are more people to meet than Lily and Isabella.

Some of the most important teaching in Scripture is about loving our enemies. “If your enemy is hungry, give him food,” we read in Proverbs 25:21. When Stephen was being stoned to death, his final words spoke forgiveness to those who identified him as their enemy. Instead of cursing them, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

When Jesus was on the cross, He said of His tormentors, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

In March 1944, three months before the Allied invasion of Normandy, Rev. Howard Johnson, the curate of St. John’s Church in Washington, D.C., was assigned to arrange a service marking the anniversary of the inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt. In addition to psalms, Bible lessons and hymns, Johnson added the “Prayer for Our Enemies,” written at the beginning World War II by Rev. William Temple, then archbishop of Canterbury.

Several clergymen suggested that Johnson omit the prayer. In her book, The Roosevelt I Know, Frances Perkins, the U.S. secretary of Labor, wrote about potential problems if word got out that the nation’s top leaders were praying for America’s bitter enemies. Perkins wrote, “It would be misunderstood throughout the country; the publicity would be terrible, since the Christian injunction to pray for our enemies was scarcely understood, even by Christians in the country.”

When Roosevelt was given the proposed order of service for his approval, he wrote in the margin next to Temple’s prayer: “Very good—I like it.” The prayer was said that day and was repeated at Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration in 1945. That day, the president asked God for help in the battle against “the rulers of the darkness of the world.” Still, he would pray for them.

During my final 27 years in the newspaper business, I wrote opinion columns on topics of my own choosing, and many of them offended at least some readers. I developed a thick skin reading letters and e-mails and listening to their messages on my answering machine. My favorite contacts were with readers who had planned on leaving a message until I picked up the phone. I tried my best to put out their ire. The most extreme phone message came from a woman: “The next time I read your name in the newspaper I want it to be in the obituaries.”

I did not take it personally and never brought it up when later speaking to the woman. Like Clark Kent in his business suit, I considered myself a mild-mannered reporter. I can honestly say I have no enemies—though some people do rub me the wrong way—and I would like to think I am an enemy to no one.

However, we are confronted with the fact that once we were enemies of God; all Christians were. No one was reconciled to God, apart from the grace that came from the death of His Son on the cross. Before our acceptance of the gift of salvation, Paul writes in Romans 5:10, “We were God’s enemies.’’

The sweetest believers I know were once God’s enemies, and the consequence of being an enemy of God is far greater than having an enemy during a time of war, an enemy in our neighborhood or one at work. Or even in grade school.

Once we accept what Jesus did for us by His death and have peace with God, we are no longer His enemies. As Paul writes in Romans 5:11: “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

Sadly, my granddaughter will learn some day there are enemies in the world. But the more important lesson for any child or adult to understand is that we were all enemies of God until that time when we accepted what Jesus did for us on the cross.

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