Last month my wife slipped, hit her head on the bathtub and cut a gash in back of her head. When it appeared breakfast was burning I got up to see what she was doing. Seeing her head in a pool of blood (I never saw so much blood, having never been in combat), I immediately called 911, almost forgetting to tell them our address.
At the emergency room she was conscious enough to answer the usual questions put to a person with a head injury.
She knew what day it was, the year and her name. Then the doctor asked her: “Who did you vote for last November?” She paused and then brought the house down with her answer: “…Not Bush.”
She got good care and tests showed no brain damage. The good nurses and doctors put her back together with five staples (since removed) and let me take her home.
Her openness and honesty confused another doctor a little over a year ago. She was recovering in the hospital from an operation and the doctor’s visit came as CNN was announcing the capture of Saddam Hussein over in Iraq.
She commented that she felt sorry for Saddam. The doctor was speechless for a moment but recovered and ask her, “Why in the world would you say that?”
This faithful church-going doctor, like so many of us, forgot the words of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
This is one of the most ignored scriptures in all the Holy Bible and few are the preachers who go there. That is unfortunate. The same challenge is expressed in Luke 6:27-28: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who mistreat you.”
Jesus not only taught that but put it into practice when he was hanging from the cross, dying for our sins. He prayed for his tormenters: “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34)
And sometime later, Stephen, a follower, prayed, as he was being stoned to death: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60)
This message of how to treat our enemies is not something Christians of all the ages have had much experience with. This tremendous Christian virtue has received little consideration since Christianity became a legal religion some 1,900 years ago.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians at Rome wrote: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD.” (Romans 12:20)
This verse confirms the often noted proverb that we should return evil with good.
Jesus went even further when he explained that ONLY loving those who love us counts for very little. You don’t make points with God by loving those who love you. That is expected. As the physician Luke reminds Christians: “If you love those who love you, what is that to you. For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 23:32)
For the words of Jesus to be taken seriously and our faith to deepen we must not pick and choose which words of His will be followed. It is my growing conviction that most of us American Christians have not yet even begun to reach the spiritual depth God expects. Until we can pray for and forgive our enemies we have a long way to go. May God help us to at least get on the same track and going in the right direction.
Britt Towery, 30 years a missionary to the Chinese, 16 years as a pastor and a dozen years teaching in Baptist universities, is the author of eight books.