Enemies. Most of us have them – people who have wronged us, taken advantage of us, or hurt us deeply. Our natural human instinct tells us to fight back, get even, or hold on to bitterness. However, as Christians, we are called to a higher standard in how we respond to those who persecute us. The Bible gives us clear guidance on how to deal with our enemies in a godly manner.
When someone has hurt us, it is understandable that we may feel angry, betrayed, and vengeful. However, harboring unforgiveness in our hearts is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick. Unforgiveness eats away at us on the inside and can manifest in stress, anxiety, and physical ailments. God calls us to forgive others as He has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). This does not mean trusting those who have hurt us or placing ourselves in a position to be harmed again. But we can release the situation and the person over to God, asking Him to deal with them justly, while we guard our own hearts from bitterness.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to follow Jesus’ example, even when it is extremely difficult. On the cross, as Jesus was being crucified, He prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). This should be our mindset as well – to pray for and forgive our enemies, leaving judgment and vengeance to the Lord. God promises to fight for us when we place our trust in Him (Deuteronomy 32:35). Rather than obsessing over how to get even, we can hand the situation over to God and allow Him to redeem it for our good and His glory.
- Harbor forgiveness, not bitterness
- Pray for your enemies
- Trust God to deal justly with those who have harmed you
- Follow Jesus’ example of forgiving others
- Allow God to fight your battles
Understanding the Origin of Your Enemy’s Attacks
When someone treats us as their enemy, it is helpful to understand where their animosity and hurtful actions originate. Often, hurt people hurt people. Many individuals carry pain and wounds from their past that cause them to lash out at others. The rejection, abuse, or trauma they have experienced fuels their anger and drives them to attack. Their actions may have little to do with us personally.
As 1 Peter 5:8 explains, there is a spiritual component as well. Our real enemy is Satan, who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. The devil uses people and circumstances to provoke us to anger, resentment, and violence. These are the enemy’s tools to wreak havoc. But when we recognize the true source of animosity is evil spiritual forces, not flesh and blood humans, it allows us to respond differently (Ephesians 6:12). We can stand firm in our faith against the enemy’s schemes without dehumanizing those he uses for his evil purposes. God’s power and protection are greater than any spiritual forces coming against us.
Responding with Love and Forgiveness
Though it can seem impossible in our own strength, God calls us to go beyond lack of retaliation and actually respond to our enemies with love and forgiveness. This does not mean enabling abuse or harmful behavior. But even when avoiding contact with someone, we can cultivate love and forgiveness in our hearts by praying for them. As Romans 12:14 says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.”
We can ask God to soften our own hearts and give us His love for those who have hurt us. Praying for their repentance and redemption is an act of genuine Christian love. Stephen demonstrated this kind of forgiveness when he prayed for the forgiveness of those stoning him in Acts 7:60. We can even pray that God will use our suffering at the hands of enemies to advance His purposes and draw people to Himself. When our hearts are filled with God’s love, it drives out pain, anger, and bitterness. We can leave justice and vengeance to the Lord, knowing He sees all and will make all things right in the end.
Ways to Bless Your Enemies
Tangibly blessing and doing good to those who persecute us is perhaps the most radical command Jesus gave. As Romans 12:20 says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink.” This could mean providing financial assistance, sending a gift, or meeting a practical need they have. We overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Of course, healthy boundaries are vital, and we should not enable harmful behavior or allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. But looking for ways to promote their welfare demonstrates God’s scandalous grace.
Here are some examples of how we can tangibly bless and do good to our enemies:
- Speak words of life and affirmation into their lives, rather than cursing them
- Refrain from gossiping or damaging their reputation; speak well of them
- Help meet a tangible need they or their family has
- Send a small gift or card of encouragement
- Perform an act of service or help with a project they are working on
- Share a meal together
- Greet them warmly and treat them with kindness
- Invite them to church or a Christian event
When we take these types of actions, it shows we value our enemies as human beings, created and loved by God. We can point them to the gospel through our Christlike response. As Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Establishing Healthy Boundaries
While we seek to bless our enemies and cultivate forgiveness, establishing proper emotional and physical boundaries is also essential. Though we are called to high standards of love and grace, we must use wisdom to avoid enabling abuse or repeatedly making ourselves vulnerable to harm.
If interactions with a person consistently lead to pain and mistreatment, creating healthy physical distance is appropriate. We can still maintain an attitude of love while limiting contact. Forgiving someone does not obligate us to stay in a toxic relationship. Letting go of retaliation does not mean allowing people to continually hurt you without consequence. As Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” When others are committed to hostility, peace may not be possible.
Setting clear boundaries and separating from those who refuse to stop harming you is not a lack of forgiveness. It simply acknowledges the reality that forgiveness alone may not change a person’s behavior or heart. Their free will choices may continue to make relationship impossible. As long as distance does not breed festering resentment in our hearts, protecting ourselves can be a godly act of stewardship. We can still pray for our enemies and hope restoration comes.
Overcoming Evil with Good
The Bible calls Christians to a supernatural response to persecution and wrongdoing. Rather than avenging ourselves or perpetuating cycles of violence, we are exhorted to overcome evil with good. This principle is laid out in Romans 12:17-21:
“Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. Therefore ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
This passage provides clear, yet incredibly difficult instructions on dealing with enemies. Rather than vengeance, we repay evil with good. Rather than desiring their harm, we bless them. In so doing, we “heap burning coals on their head,” meaning our surprising grace may lead to their conviction and repentance. We do not excuse their actions, but we trusts God’s promise to ultimately repay all wrongs justly. Our part is simply to walk in radical, counterintuitive love. Scripture says love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Our compassion reflects the heart of Jesus, the model for overcoming evil with good.
Maintaining Spiritual Warfare through Prayer
In the struggle against our enemies, both flesh and blood and spiritual forces, prayer is our most powerful weapon. Through prayer, we can spiritually warfare on behalf of ourselves and those who seek to harm us. Rather than obsessing over how to get revenge, we give our hurts to God and intercede for our enemies’ redemption. We align our hearts with heaven, gain God’s perspective, and receive divine strength to walk in supernatural love.
Psalm 35 provides an excellent model for how to pray regarding enemies and persecution. King David prays:
“Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, ‘I am your salvation.’ May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.” (Psalm 35:1-4)
We can pray deliverance for ourselves and for God to fight spiritual battles on our behalf. But we also petition the Lord to deal with our enemies justly and potentially lead them to repentance. As we stay connected to God through prayer, He infuses us with grace to follow Jesus’ example, even when it goes against our natural inclinations.
Dealing with enemies is one of the greatest challenges the Bible calls Christians to. Yet responding supernaturally with love and forgiveness is also one of the most powerful testimonies we can offer to the reality of God’s Kingdom. When we let go of bitterness and vengeance, trust God with justice, set healthy boundaries, bless those who persecute us, and overcome evil with good, we reflect the very heart of Jesus. This witness brings glory to God. And who knows – our Christlike response may even lead to the repentance and redemption of some enemies, as God melts their hearts through surprising grace.
By walking in this supernatural love and forgiveness, you can experience victory and peace instead of defeat – no matter what your enemies may do. May the Spirit of God empower you to reflect His heart and respond as Jesus did: with mercy, grace, wisdom and sacrificial love.