…and Keep Your Enemies Closer

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I am reminded of a story about an Irish boxer who exchanged his gloves for a Bible and became an evangelical preacher. He traveled the American west, hosting tent revivals and preaching repentance and forgiveness. But one day, as he was setting up his tent for a service, the preacher ran afoul of a couple of thugs who didn’t like the look of him. And after hurling a few insults and epithets at him, the Irishman turned to look at them. One of the assailants sucker punched him right in the jaw. Remembering the gospel, the ex-boxer simply turned his head and offered the guy his other cheek, which was also summarily struck. At that point, the preacher rolled up his sleeves and cracked his knuckles. “Well,” he said, “the Lord gave me no further instructions.”

“Turn the other cheek,” Jesus says. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

That’s easier said than done, of course, but Jesus isn’t afraid to walk the walk on this. He’s an embattled man with enemies everywhere. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the Romans, his hometown neighbors, demonic entities, and some of his closest friends threaten him with insults, treachery, and sometimes even physical violence. But Jesus never returns those threats in kind. If Jesus were to take an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, he’d be wearing a necklace made of other people’s teeth.

I find it interesting, then, that Jesus offers no commandment against making enemies in the first place. For a man who preaches loves and peace, that would seem like an obvious thing to say. “Truly I tell you,” he might have said, “make no enemies, but only friends.” Jesus doesn’t say that. And he doesn’t say that because he knows that it’s impossible. You see, Jesus recognizes a fundamental truth about human nature; namely, that we cannot control how other people think, feel, or respond to a given situation. We can only change how we respond. Unless you’re living in total seclusion, there’s going to be some bad blood in life. There will always be people who disagree with you, who work against you, who treat you badly. There’s going to be a lousy boss who blames you for his mistakes, or a coworker angling to sabotage you, or an unfaithful spouse, or a jilted lover who hates your guts, or a friend that betrays you. And we’re not always innocent, either; sometimes we are those people. Sometimes, we’re the enemy.

Sometimes, two people just can’t be friends. You can’t control another person’s behavior or feelings. But you do have some command of your own perspective, and it boils down to this – when you look at someone who stands against you, do you see a villain or a child of God who somehow got it wrong?

When you find yourself in the presence of enemies, stung by hurtful words or threatened by harmful beliefs, you have to stay true to yourself and your values. Don’t give in to hate. Try to see things from another point of view. And even if you can’t be friends, remember that you’re probably not as different as you think.

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(Excerpt from And Keep Your Enemies Closer, Feb. 2017)

4 Comment(s)
  • Bob Stout Posted October 3, 2017 6:12 pm

    I can’t think you enough for reaching out to us as our pastor, offering the clarity of thoughtful reflection that has helped me for one, to sort through the chaos of this most horrible event. Your observation about the distance between the shooter and the target graphically and accurately assessed the nature of the shooting as being far less mpersonal than other mass shootings. His victims must have appeared as ants or perhaps even less than ants, just shooting targets.. I fear for the future and “copy-cat” efforts. And yes, we do need to come closer and recapture a sense of empathy and compassion, two qualities that have been eroded away by the force of the waves of social media, distant and impersonal/instant one-way communication with significant delay in response if not even no response at all. SAD!

  • Diane Adams Posted October 4, 2017 6:16 am

    Pastor Seth,

    Thank you so much for your words of comfort at this sad, frightening time. Your words, both spoken and written, have touched me many times in the past. I, too, am thankful for my church family, where we can be uplifted and comforted.


  • Siobhan Wagner Posted October 4, 2017 11:59 am

    Pastor Seth ~

    This is such a sad time in all of our lives. There are people out there that hugged and kissed a loved one for the last time on Sunday evening, not knowing it was the last time. We should love everyone like it’s our last day here on earth. Unfortunately we don’t do that on a daily basis. We get too caught up in life until someone evil shows their “face” to the world and we again hug and kiss our loved ones. I have always wondered is there evil in the world or is it mental illness?

    How do we know if someone is truly evil or mentally ill. This is one of the things that scares me the most. Everyone automatically thinks, Oh, he was mentally ill, but was he? This is the one thing that I question in life, is evil among us. It truly scares me to think there is evil but we see it in the news everyday not just Sunday evening.

    Like you said, it’s like a window to hell opened and it is staying open……but why? Are we being tested by one side and pushed by the other?

  • Leland Livingston Posted January 27, 2018 8:49 am

    I like that view of the glass–thank you.

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