“Pray for those who spitefully use you”

by Steven Chan

It is generally accepted in our society for one to love one’s neighbour and hate one’s enemy. Even then many do not even know their neighbour – let alone to love them. But generally one would love one’s neighbour so long as they are people who are nice to us. So, if they are not nice to us, we would leave them alone, and some would even express “dislike”, “hatred” or “disgust” towards them (depending on how hostile we feel towards them) so that it becomes acceptable to “hate” our enemy.

But our Lord Jesus expressly taught us that we should reject the above rule of conduct. He gave us a new rule of conduct in Matt 5:43-46:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

We are to love our enemies – such that “if our enemy is hungry, we are to feed him; if he is thirsty, we are to give him a drink; and so doing we will overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:20-21). But isn’t that easier said than done?  Yet, it is the Lord’s command that we live by this principle of conduct.

Did Jesus follow His own rule of conduct?

The Jews made false accusation against Him; they spat on Him, they placed a crown of thorns on His head; they mocked Him and they finally crucified Him. Yet, after they had nailed Him on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”(Luke 23:34). Yes, He would not ask us to do something that He Himself would not do. He walked the talk.

The first Christian martyr, Stephen, faced the mob of angry Jews who “cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:57-58) – and yet he “was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” (Acts 7:59-60).

Yes, they had all committed grave sins and injustices when they crucified the Lord and stoned Stephen to death. Yet, both Jesus and Stephen “prayed for those who spitefully used them and persecuted them”! Jesus prayed that their sins be forgiven them. Stephen prayed that God may not charge them with this sin. Why would they pray for these persecutors and abusers? Because that’s the love of God for man – desiring the best for us even when we do not deserve it – and we will be His children if we behave like our Father in heaven (Matt 5:45).

In 1 Peter 3:8-12, the apostle Peter urged Christians to conduct themselves in the following manner:-

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For “He who would love life and see good days; let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. 11 Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.  12 For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the LORD is against those who do evil.”

In Jude 9, the Bible gave us an example of how to behave appropriately towards our enemies, even the devil:

“Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

Brethren, we will do well to remember the teaching of our Lord concerning our conduct as His disciples. Some of us are prone to be very “caustic” in our words and actions when we face those who oppose us. Some of us exhibit very “wrathful countenance” when we contend for the faith. But we are exhorted to be gentle towards those who oppose us (2 Tim 2:24-26). In James 1:20, the Bible reminds us of this important fact: “for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

May we strive to exhibit conduct that will bring honor and glory to our Lord in all things.