If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12: 18-21
I had the opportunity to study this passage recently in Bible study. One of the amazing things I’ve found as I’ve developed a discipline of regularly entering God’s word is how often it is shockingly relevant to my life…and the condition of my heart.
Let’s take this passage for example. It’s so familiar that it’s tempting to gloss over it: “Love your enemy.” Of course. We’re reminded of Jesus’ supreme example in this Holy Week, and it’s far too easy to nod our heads in assent.
Who is “my enemy”? I don’t have any “enemies,” was my first thought. But then, only the iguana can say that with integrity. The question would not depart from me, and slowly, something true and quite uncomfortable percolated to the surface.
God brought to my mind a relationship in my life that had become defined by animosity. An early warning sign of the learning to come was that when that person came to mind, God pointed out not what she had done, but the anger and frustration I had been carrying; I felt the weight of it suddenly like a millstone around my neck.
But…I sputtered for days…how do I love someone who, in my judgment, persists in deceit, selfish motive and hypocrisy? With a heavenly smile and probably a sigh that said, “Here she goes again,” God led me on a journey to uncover some surprising answers…and some new questions.
A few days later a fresh conflict arose between us that presented a perfect example of all the reasons I harbored ill will toward “my enemy.” As I prepared for battle I sought counsel from a wise friend who encouraged me to adopt a mindset of love and listening rather than attack and judgment. (The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. Proverbs 12:15)
So after tamping down the brushfire of my righteous emotions, I listened instead of speaking. And here’s what I heard.
- My judgment had clouded my vision. So certain was I of what I knew to be true, I was no longer seeing new circumstances with an open mind, but with that of a judge who already knew the verdict.
- God is a God of second chances. He is about redeeming all things, bringing life to dry bones, always doing a new thing. And he calls me to join that rhythm and repeat that cycle of restoring and renewing things in my life, including every relationship he’s called me into. It is in that way that we are to model Christ-like love.
But here is the big reveal: What I think most astounded me in this experience is why God calls us to love our enemies. I always assumed it was for their benefit, but what I now see is that it is for mine.
As a follower of Jesus, our Father is constantly leading me toward sanctification, convicting me of sin and growing me in love and wisdom so I can be more like his son, in order to magnify his love in the world and draw others into relationship with him.
Well, as obvious as it is to me now, that is impossible to accomplish while I’m walking around with a heart clouded with anger, frustration and bitterness toward one of his children. As any good Father would say, “No ifs, ands or buts.”
As I consider on this Good Friday how Jesus responded to those who hated and persecuted him, for my sake, I repent of the sinfulness I allowed to take root in my heart. (The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Jeremiah 17:9) And, I’m grateful once again that God loves me enough to bring it into the light and renew my heart .
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.