Summary: Hostility comes from the obsessed, self-absorbed heart, and often offers permission for random acts of violence. Jesus got real with His enemies by naming their madness but trusting His own defense to God.
Stress strengthens. That is a physical fact. It is also a
spiritual truth. Stress strengthens us. When we face
opposition, we grow. When we deal with differences, we
become stronger than we were. Strange as it may seem,
and unpleasant though it may feel, give thanks when you are
opposed! Stress strengthens; enmity empowers; and
hostility helps growth.
My wife is going through a series of physical therapy
treatments. Some while ago she damaged a muscle coming
down a ladder the wrong way. Once she hurt that muscle,
she started to baby it. She tried to rest herself into health.
That’s what we normally tell people, isn’t it? Rest and
recover. But guess what? If you rest a muscle too long, it
gets weaker and weaker, and now she’s taking physical
therapy because, according to her therapist, she’s had things
too easy! Her muscle has not had enough opposition!
That’s how muscles get stronger – with stress. And so her
therapy now involves lifting five pound weights on her leg.
Stress strengthens. Opposition builds us up. That is a
physical fact. And it is also a spiritual truth – stress
strengthens, enmity empowers, and hostility helps us to
But for us to use that truth, we have to learn several things.
First, we have to learn the true nature of hostility – what
really is going on when you face an enemy. And, second, we
have to learn how hostility spreads, how unchecked enmity
splatters all over everyone else around. And, finally, we
have to learn how to respond when we are the objects of
hostility – what to do when we are attacked. All this we can
learn best from Jesus. From this most authentic self who
ever lived – how did He respond when He was attacked? If
we can learn what hostility really is and can discover how it
spreads, we can find out from Jesus how to deal with it. And
we can be greatly strengthened. Because, again, stress
strengthens, enmity empowers, and hostility helps us grow.
Go to dark Gethsemane with me, to that dramatic scene of
the arrest of Jesus. Go with me and watch. You will discern
demonic dynamics dedicated to destruction. But, praise
God, you will also discover divine defusing of devilish
First, the true nature of enmity. Judas. His very name is
synonymous with betrayal. Judas Iscariot, who had walked
the lanes of Galilee with Jesus, and had watched Jesus heal.
Judas, who had sat at the Master’s feet and had listened to
words about loving enemies. Judas, for whatever reasons, is
now bent on destruction. He has one and only one purpose
in his heart this night in Gethsemane, and that is to destroy
Jesus. He will lead the Temple guards to Jesus’ place of
prayer, and he will identify the victim so that there will be no
mistake. Judas on this night has become an example of
focused hatred: determined, implacable, set. Hostility is
opposition that goes beyond mere disagreement. Hostility,
enmity, means the desire to destroy.
Let us make no mistake. As much as we might not like to
admit it, sometimes personal enmity gets so deeply
entrenched that it is focused on only one thing, and that is
the destruction of another person. Sometimes hostility
becomes unreasoning and reckless, even self-destructive.
Remember what happened with Judas shortly after the
betrayal of Jesus? Judas destroyed himself. He took his
own life. When we get totally focused on destroying
someone, that focus, that energy, will turn in on us and will
eventually destroy us. Beware if you find yourself obsessing
on punishing somebody. You are headed in a direction that
will only be self-destructive.
Now I am confident I am not speaking to people who have
murder on their hearts. That would be the last thing I would
expect from anyone in this congregation. And yet I am also
confident that some of us could easily turn into dedicated
enemies. We are going to do someone in if we can. Maybe
we intend to remove someone from his job. Or we are going
to smear someone’s character. Or we are going to tarnish
someone’s reputation. We are going to beat someone down.
Maybe it’s as simple as we have decided we are going to win
a certain argument. We are going to have our own way in
some decision. We are going to defeat somebody, and, like
Judas, we are going to do it in the sweetest way. Kiss, hug,
and smile, saccharine sweetness, but we are going to win! I
learned a long time ago that when some folks smile sweetly
at you and say, “Well, bless your heart”, they really mean,
“Curse your bones”! Look out for the sickly sweet ones!
I know of churches where that is happening. I know of