Summary: This sermon aims to help Christian teenagers (and adults) consider how they might respond to people who apparently take a disliking to them.
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO ... about enemies?
I wonder if you have ever had, or even have now, someone who just doesn’t seem to like you and who would apparently do anything to get at you? We probably don’t want to have enemies, but they’re there anyway, so what do we do about them? Well, first, ask yourself, "What would Jesus do?"
If you do ask that question, you might find the answer a little shocking, because the Bible shows us that Jesus would love them! But what does it mean to love your enemies? Our Bible passage today tells us that...
it means doing good to those who hate you
it means blessing those who curse you
it means praying for those who ill-treat you
DOING GOOD TO THOSE WHO HATE US.
When someone is mean to us – perhaps by hitting us, or threatening us, or making fun of us – often the first thing that comes into our heads is to get even with them, by hitting them back, or by playing a trick that will make them look stupid, too. We want to get revenge, we want to get back at them in the same way as they first hurt us.
Yet Jesus didn’t say to his disciples, "Get even with those who hate you," because he knew that it isn’t for us to take revenge on those who wish us harm – we have to leave that in God’s hands and trust him to deal with the situation appropriately. If we respond by paying back blow for blow, threat for threat, evil for evil, we may well end up doing two things:
first, we may reinforce the other person’s idea that violence or meanness is a legitimate way of relating to others;
second, we may make the problem between us and the other person even worse than it was and things could get totally out of control.
On the other hand, if we respond to evil with good, if we repay their meanness with kindness, we show the other person that there is an alternative way of behaving, and we may even prompt them to be sorry about what they have done – just listen to what Proverbs 25:21 says: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. You will make him burn with shame, and the Lord will reward you."
Let me tell you a true story*: John was in Year 5 at school and the boy that sat behind him in class took a dislike to him and started poking him really hard in the back, so that it hurt. This went on day after day, until John finally told his parents about what was happening: "One of these days I’m going to get him in the playground and poke him back very hard," he said. His parents were ready to go down to school and sort out this boy, Bob, themselves; but then their younger son remembered that they had read in the Bible, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him..." So they came up with the idea that John would take a small bags of jelly beans to school and, when Bob again poked him in the back, John would respond only by turning around and putting the bag of jelly beans on Bob’s desk. So that’s what John did, and Bob was so taken aback by it that he did not poke him again all day; and, not long afterwards, the two boys became the best of friends.
So, love your enemies: do good to those who hate you.
But, according to Jesus, loving our enemies also means ...
BLESSING THOSE WHO CURSE YOU.
Did you know that one of the most powerful things in the world is ... the tongue. In Proverbs, again, it tells us that "kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit" – when used for good, the tongue is the most wonderful instrument; yet, when used for evil, the tongue is among the deadliest weapons in the world!
Sometimes it seems that our enemies are expert in the wrong use of the tongue: maybe they openly criticise us in front of others; or, perhaps, they tell stories about us behind our back – in fact, it might be that they make gossiping into a kind of martial art!
Again, the temptation will be to treat them as badly as they treat you – by putting them down in public, or by spreading malicious rumours about them – but that is not the answer. Jesus is quite clear about what we should do in that sort of situation: we must bless those who curse us; we must have good thoughts for those who wish us harm; we must respond to bitterness with kindness. I know from my own experience that, if I respond angrily to someone who has said something nasty to me, the whole situation quickly spirals into a full-blown argument; and, if I speak badly of someone who has spread gossip about me, things can easily get out of hand. BUT, if I do what Jesus commands, there is every chance that the whole explosive situation will be defused.