Praying Through the Bible #115
TEXT: Matthew 5:43-48
At the beginning of this week, the world was shocked and appalled by the vicious terror attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that left 5 people dead and 7 others wounded. If we put ourselves in the shoes of the Jews and Palestinians, we might begin to imagine how centuries of hatred and animosity between the two people groups have built up to the ongoing conflict that we see happening in Israel today. It is in a similar era of conflict and animosity that Jesus Christ gave His command to love and pray for our enemies.
According to the Jerusalem Post, one of the men who studied at the Jewish synagogue that was attacked said, “This reality isn’t new, but when such an incident happens so close to you, and to people you know, it creates a different feeling. We are a people of faith here… We are not a vengeful people, we are not a culture of blood for blood, we are faithful Jews. Our answer to such events is to strengthen our faith and our religious practice. We are not like our Muslim cousins for whom revenge is something natural and if someone is killed then they need to kill someone else in return. We believe that God guides this world and it is he who will avenge us.” He went on to say, “We believe everything [that] happens is from God. Who can we be angry at?…What happened was not in our control, but we’re continuing to pray, continuing to live, despite the wishes of our enemies.”
This Jewish man’s expression of faith in God is at the root of the Christian’s ability to pray for his or her enemies. As we saw in the first message in this series, when we pray for our enemies, we are setting aside our fleshly, selfish impulses to fight back and to get revenge. Instead, we are following the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Last week, we looked at the fact that God has forewarned us about our enemies, and that is another reason why we should pray for them. When we are hated and persecuted by those who oppose us because we are followers of Jesus Christ, we ought not to be surprised. Jesus told us that such things would happen. Because of that, our response should not be one of haste and impatience. Instead, our prayers for those who persecute us ought to be patterned after Jesus’ prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Other passages of Scripture also offer wisdom on dealing with our enemies. Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee.” This verse is echoed in the New Testament as Paul writes in Romans 12:19-20: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.”
Now, putting hot coals of fire on someone’s head does not sound very nice at all. What is the Word of God saying here? According to The Pulpit Commentary, “‘Coals of fire’ is a metaphor for the penetrating pain of remorse and repentance. The unmerited kindness which an enemy receives forces upon him the consciousness of his ill doing, which is accompanied by the sharp pain of regret.” In other words, if you do good to your enemies even after they have done evil to you, your enemies will feel guilt because of what they have done and may even come around to repent and ask for forgiveness. Even if he doesn’t these verses assure us that if we do as Christ says, and love our enemies, God will make sure that we are rewarded appropriately. Either way, we must follow the commands of Jesus. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”