Text: Matthew 5:38-47
In Duncan Hamilton’s biography For the Glory, we learn that Scotsman Eric Liddell’s greatest challenge came, not when his convictions about racing on Sunday during the 1924 Olympics were tested, but when he served as a missionary in China amid the Japanese occupation of the 1930s and early 1940s.
After Liddell was assigned to work at the rural mission outpost in Siaochang, China, he frequently came across dead bodies or met men, women, and children who were starved or injured—evidence of the imperial Japanese troops’ brutality. He himself was never injured by the Japanese, but the occupiers relentlessly hassled Liddell and the other missionaries in the course of their work.
Eventually Liddell sent his wife and three daughters away from China to keep them safe. As for himself, he was determined to stay in China, where he felt as strongly as ever that God had called him to work. He would never see his family again.
Then in March 1943 he was ordered by the Japanese officials to report to an internment camp called Weihsien. There, in a space about the size of three football fields that he shared with more than a thousand other internees, he spent the last two years of his life. The man who had once delighted in running free across fields and along the seashore now was confined and restricted.
It was a miserable existence. The internees had too little to eat. Their clothes turned to tatters on their bodies. They had inadequate medical services. And they never knew when guards would slap or strike them.
If ever someone had good reasons to hate another, Liddell had cause for hating the Japanese soldiers. Yet did he let hatred and anger burn in his heart? Did he plot revenge? No. In fact, he began to pray for the very ones who made his life so hard.
Soon Liddell was urging his fellow internees to do what he was already doing. He said, “I’ve begun to pray for the guards and it’s changed my whole attitude toward them. When we hate them we are self-centered.”
Liddell was literally fulfilling the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
TREAT YOUR ENEMIES LIKE YOUR NEIGHBORS
From a human perspective, loving your enemies is an unnatural choice. It makes perfect sense to us that we should hate our enemies. But if God does good to both the righteous and the wicked, we should too.
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)
Who are your enemies? Pray for their well-being. Pray also for God to give you the supernatural ability to love them as he does.
CHANGE THE RELATIONSHIP WITH FORGIVENESS
The injustices we suffer in life are real and serious, not to be taken lightly. Yet Jesus told a story that puts them in perspective (Matthew 18:21-35).
It started with a question posed by the disciple Peter, who wanted to know how many times he should forgive someone who offended him. When Eric Liddell preached on this passage, he pointed out that Peter and the other disciples had their whole perspective mixed up. It wasn’t about putting limits on forgiveness, even generous limits; it was about being utterly permeated by the spirit of forgiveness, as God is.
In the story, a servant (representing ordinary sinners like you and me) owes an immense debt to his master—far more than he could pay back in a single lifetime. The master (representing God) forgives that debt. Yet instead of emulating the master’s mercy, the servant goes out and tries to shake down another servant who owes him a much smaller amount. He hasn’t learned the lesson of forgiveness.
The debts that others owe us are molehills compared to the mountain of debt we owe to God because of our sin. And if God has forgiven us in Christ, who are we to withhold forgiveness from others?
As Colossians 3:13 says, “As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (esv).
If offenses committed against you by others are rankling in your soul, begin to set yourself free from the hatred and to start over in your relationship with these others by forgiving them. You won’t be able to love your enemies until you have forgiven them.
Jesus forgave those who put him on the cross (Luke 23:34). Eric Liddell forgave his enemies. We can forgive our enemies too.
SAY NO TO REVENGE AND YES TO MERCY
When we have been unjustly treated, we naturally bristle with indignation. We want to get back at those who have hurt us. But once we have forgiven them, we can give up our schemes of retaliation.
As God tells us, we are to leave vengeance in his hands.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19, esv)
If we aren’t supposed to right the wrongs ourselves, what are we supposed to do? The next lines in Romans tell us:
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21, esv)
We’re supposed to actively do good to our enemies, meeting their needs. This is the triumph of good over evil.
What can you do to serve and help your enemies?
When someone treats us unjustly, we are to love them and not hate them, forgive them and not seek revenge, and do good to them instead of try to punish them. In this way, we will be like our Father who is in heaven.