I am forced to preach under something of a handicap this morning,” said Dr. Martin Luther King on a November day in 1957. His physician had instructed him to stay in bed, but King insisted on speaking.
Paraphrasing the words of Jesus, he declared to the congregation at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama: “You have heard that it has been said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.’ But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (see Matthew 5:43-45).
As an African-American living in the southern United States, which was stained with the sin of racism, Dr. King preached under an even more virulent handicap that gave his words all the more validity. “How do you go about loving your enemies?” he asked. “Begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual . . . When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it.”
As we consider our enemies and the animosity we harbor toward them, we’re wise to remember that we were once enemies of God! (See Romans 5:10.) But now, as we have believed in Him, “our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God” (Romans 5:11). We now have the “task of reconciling people to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:18). That’s why God tells us not to avenge ourselves, but rather leave it to God who says, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back” (Romans 12:19).
The way to defeat our enemies is to show them the astonishing, Spirit-filled love of God.
NLT 365-day reading plan passage for today: Genesis 25:19-34
Read 1 Samuel 24 for the fascinating account of how David handled King Saul’s attempt to hunt down and kill him.
Should your next step in a difficult relationship be an honest apology? What should you do if people react with even more hatred when you try to love them?