On 8 January 1956, five missionaries were killed by Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador. The five men had been attempting to establish contact with the virtually unknown, hostile tribe in order to present them with the gospel.
After the death of their husbands, the widows not only continued to pray for the Aucas, but most of them stayed in Ecuador with their young children to work as missionaries among the tribes. The result was that within three years most of the Aucas had been reached for Christ, and the Auca men who had killed the missionaries were playing with the slain men’s children.
A tragic story with a happy ending. But why did those widows continue to love and pray for the Indians who had killed their husbands? If those who murder your family members aren’t enemies, then the word enemy has no meaning.
Listen to Jesus:
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back… But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-30, 35-36)
We are to strive to be like Jesus, who forgive those who killed him. We should love our enemies because God loves those who are ungrateful and wicked – which is what we were before we were saved.
The world would call us ‘doormats’ and suggest that following Jesus’ command means people can steal from us and we will simply forget it. That’s not what Jesus is saying. He is talking about abstaining from retaliation and revenge. He is talking about the kind of love that is strong, not weak. The love that is an act of will. That is concerned for the well-being of others. That does them good and not harm. We love our children, but still discipline them for their own good. Breaking the law requires justice, but not hate.
Paul made it clearer:
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my 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 12:14-21)
Even a friend or family member can be an enemy when they ridicule you or lead you into doing wrong. The thing to do is to resist them without failing to love them. You have to stop yourself feeling resentment, because it is only a barb within your own heart. If you let it out in revenge, then you become as bad as your enemy.
It is easy to look down on people who do wrong. It is then only a small step to look on them as outside God’s provision. We feel no responsibility to love them or reach out to them. Everyone deserves the same consideration, regardless of their status.
We think of enemies as being those who do great wrong to us, but sometimes the smallest hurts can cut deep. Paul urges us to live at peace with everyone. That includes our families, our work colleagues, our fellow church members. You can’t control how others behave, but you are responsible for how you react.
The world’s philosophy leads men to expect retaliation when they do wrong to someone. To receive kindness, to see love when it is uncalled for, can melt the hardest heart.