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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Jeffress » Robert Jeffress - Living With Your Enemy - Part 1

Robert Jeffress - Living With Your Enemy - Part 1

Robert Jeffress - Living With Your Enemy - Part 1
TOPICS: Grace-Powered Living, Enemy

Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". It's relatively easy to love people who love you and treat you with kindness and respect, but the true test is how we respond to those who openly offend us. Is it possible to show them genuine love? Today we're turning to Romans chapter 12 to examine the Apostle Paul's advice on dealing with people we don't get along with. My message is titled, "Living With Your Enemy" on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".

In 1892, the English novelist Israel Zangwill said, "Scratch the Christian and you will find a pagan". You may appear to be a Christian, you may give lip service to all of the right things, but what lurks underneath the surface of that facade? Is it a heart that is truly in tune with God or a heart that has been transformed by this world? You know, the best way to reveal what is really in your heart is how you respond when you are scratched, that is, offended by other people. And that's the message that Paul is going to teach in the passage we're going to look at today. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Romans chapter 12 as we look at what Paul says about living with your enemy. Somebody emailed me this week and said, "Looking at your title, I was wondering is that part of your marriage series"? No, it is not. That's not what we're talking about here.

Let me set the context for the passage. We're in this practical section of Romans, Romans chapter 12 through 16, in which Paul is talking about the practical aspects of righteousness. If you are in a right relationship with God, how should it impact your daily life? And remember in verses 1 and 2, Paul says, "We ought to be not conformed to this world but be transformed". And if your heart has truly been transformed, it will express itself in your love for other people. That's verses 9 to 13. You'll put people before yourself, you will treat people like you would wanna be treated, you will honor other people.

Now, it would've been easy if Paul would've simply stopped at verse 13 and gone on to chapter 13 where Paul talks about how to respond to government. We're going to do that next week, but he doesn't stop with verse 13. He goes on to verse 14 and talks about how to respond to our enemies. You know, it's one thing to honor and to prefer those who love you, that's pretty easy to do, but what about how to respond to those who hate you, who curse you, who persecute you? Well, that's what Paul is going to deal with in verses 14 through 21. Now, we all know from our early days in Sunday school that we're supposed to bless people who curse us.

In fact, in Matthew 5 verses 38 and 39, Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you, do not resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also". Contrast Jesus's words to the words of the late Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who was talking about the difference between Christianity and communism. He said, the difference between Christianity and communism is great. When someone strikes you on the face, you turn the other cheek. If you strike me on the face, I'll hit you so hard, your head will fall off. Now we kinda wince at that man, that's brutal. But that's really the philosophy of our world and our culture as well.

Now, we dress it up, we couch it in cute phrases like, "Don't get mad," what? "Get even". But the philosophy is the same. "Don't let anybody run over you, stand up for your rights. Mark your boundaries, don't let anybody get the best of you". But Paul says, "No, if you're a Christian, you're gonna have a radically different response to wrongdoing". And that's what he talks about in verses 14 to 21. Now, the way I outlined these verses is simply this, in verse 14 we find the exhortation that is the overarching command to bless our enemies. And then in verses 15 to 21, we find the application, exactly how do we pull that off. Let's look at the exhortation. Verse 14, "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse".

Now that word bless is an overused word. It's part of the Christianese dictionary. We talk about blessing all the time without understanding what it means. The word bless comes from a Greek word that we get our English word eulogy from. You know what a eulogy is. Somebody stands up at a funeral service over the casket and says things he really doesn't mean about the deceased, but he's at least speaking well of the dearly departed. That's actually what the word bless means. It means to speak well of someone else. When we bless the name of God, what are we doing? We are saying something good, positive about God. But the word bless means more than just speak well of somebody, it means to do good toward other people. When we talk about God blessing us, we don't mean that God just says nice things about us. He actually does something on our behalf.

In Romans 5, the Bible says, "Though we were enemies of God, God demonstrated his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, he sent Christ to die for us". And that means blessing means to give somebody not what they deserve, but what they need. It means to do good on their behalf. And so when Paul says, "Bless your enemies, bless those who persecute you," he's saying, "Do something good for your enemy and don't curse them". Now, at the outset of this message, I know you've got some objections to this idea. I know I did when I read the passage myself. And so let me just deal with two of these objections, try to get them out of the way at the outset.

Some people will say, "Well, this is just an impractical command to actually do good towards your enemies. I mean, that may work well, it's a sweet Sunday school sentiment, but it doesn't work in the real world". And the reason people feel that way is they will try to apply this passage to situations God never intended them to be applied toward. For example, some people actually use this passage as a defense of pacifism. That is, you know, not going to war for any reason at all. Some people look at verse 17 and says, "Never pay back evil for evil". That means, "If somebody sends bombs to our country, we need to send a bouquet of flowers in return". No, that's not what the Bible is saying. This passage doesn't deal with nations, it's talking about individuals. Other people misapplied this passage as a verse against the death penalty.

After all this passage says, "'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord". People would say, "Well, the state never has the right to take somebody's life, only God can do that". But as we'll see next time, the death penalty has always been a part of God's plan. Even before the law, thousands of years before the law, God gave this principle to Noah in Genesis 9:6, he said, "Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood will be shed". Romans 13 as we'll see next time, says, "God has given government the power of the sword". This is not a verse against capital punishment. Some people mistakenly apply this verse dealing with physical abuse. If your mate is physically abusing you or your children, why you just need to stay in that relationship, and instead of returning evil for evil, bless the person who's beating the living daylights out of you. No, no. The Bible never calls for anyone to endure physical pain when they have the ability to remove themself or their loved one from that.

You know how I know that? Because of the sanctity of life. You know, the sanctity of life applies not just to people inside the womb, but to life outside of the womb as well. All life is sacred, God hates violence. You know, this principle is applying specifically in the area of personal offenses. He's describing how Christians are to respond when they are wronged. Secondly, some people say, "Well, this is just an impossible standard to keep. And Paul is speaking idealistically, but it doesn't work to bless those who have persecuted you". Remember, Paul was not writing this as an armchair theologian. He knew firsthand about blessing those who had persecuted him. Remember it was the Jews who were primarily responsible for persecuting Paul. And yet in Romans 10 verse 1, he said, "It is my heart's desire that these Jewish people be saved," that they find Christ.

You know, it was that supernatural response to wrongdoing that was responsible for Paul's own conversion. Did you know that? Paul witnessing somebody's supernatural response to wrongdoing, is exactly what laid the groundwork for his own conversion. If you don't know what I'm talking about, turn over to Acts chapter 7 for just a moment. Acts chapter 7. Remember before Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, Acts chapter 9, remember what happened? He was a persecutor. He was a Jewish zealot who was intent on stamping out this new heresy called Christianity. And it was Paul, also known as Saul. He had both names, he didn't have one name and then another name. One was his Roman name, one was his Jewish name. Saul was his Jewish name, Paul was his Roman name. Remember what happened? Paul, Saul, was responsible for the stoning of the first martyr, Stephen.

Now look at this. In Acts 7 verses 58 to 60, "When they had driven Stephen out of the city, they began stoning him, and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul". This is the first time we meet him. "They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them!' And having said this, Stephen fell asleep," that is, he died. Now think about it. Here is Paul, the zealot Jew persecuting Christians, he's watching the stoning of this victim, Stephen, and he hears Stephen cry out not for Paul's damnation, but for his salvation. That made a profound impact on Paul. In fact, I believe it's what softened his heart so that two chapters later in Acts 9, when he met the Lord Jesus, he was ready to receive the gospel.

Saint Augustine said, "The church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen". Now, let's leave the world of Paul and Stephen and go to your world right now. Let's talk about your enemies. How do you respond to your enemies? Do you bless them or do you persecute them? You say, "Well, I don't have any enemies, I love everybody and everybody loves me". Really? Let's kind of zero in on that for a moment and see if you can't think of somebody to whom this might apply to in your life.

If you're having trouble identifying an enemy and an adversary, here are a couple of questions to ask yourself. Whom do you find yourself criticizing most often? Second question, whom do you tend to think about when your mind is free to wander? Where do your thoughts go to? Number three, whom do you naturally try to avoid? When you see them coming, you go the other way? Question number four, who is it that causes you absolute delight when you hear they've suffered some misfortune? If you've got a person in mind, that's your enemy. It may be an ex-mate who wronged you. It may be a business associate who cheated you. It may be a friend who betrayed you. It may be a fellow church member who offended you. Do you have somebody in mind?

Now, let's look at what Paul says is the application. How do you love those unlovely people in your life? Paul is going to give us five very practical ways to do that. Number one, identify with your enemy. Identify with your enemy. Look at verses 15 and 16, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation". Now, some commentators try to treat each of these as separate commands. I don't believe they are. I think they're all saying the same thing. When you have unlovely and unlovable people in your life, first of all try to empathize with them. Try to identify with them, try to put yourself in their sandals for a moment to understand why they may have mistreated you.

Now, here are three good questions to ask about your enemy. Number one, is he a Christian? You say, "Well, why does that matter"? Well, because if he's not a Christian, he's a slave to sin. He really doesn't have any choice but to act the way he or she does toward you. In fact, all of us would've been slaves to sin had it not been for what Jesus did for us. If he's not a Christian, it has a great deal to do with the way he acts toward you. You know, Jesus understood this principle. He understood that those people who nailed him to the cross weren't believers and that's why he said, "Father, forgive them". Why? "For they know not what they do". A Christian has a whole different perspective than a non-Christian.

Question number two about your enemy, has he experienced some hurt in his life? Has he experienced some hurt in his life that might explain why he or she did what they did to you? You know, I grew up in a home with two loving and supportive Christian parents. I mean, the closest my father ever came to abusing me was making me take accordion lessons. And honestly, I asked him if I could take accordion lessons, which may be more disturbing to some of you that I would even ask, but, I mean, for the most part they really did support me. But you know, not everybody has that privilege of growing up in that kind of home, and it marks them. You know, there's a saying in counseling we use all the time, "Hurt people hurt people, and great offenses reveal great needs". Ask yourself, has your enemy experienced something in his or her life that might be the catalyst for what they've done to you?

And question number three, does your enemy have a legitimate complaint against you? Now, our first response is, "Oh, no, no, no, not at all". Proverbs 21:2 reminds us that our ability for self-justification is endless. Solomon says, "Every man's way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts". Try to see things from your enemy's perspective. Our friend Gary Chapman tells a story in his book "The Other Side of Love" about a factory worker who was told by her supervisor that she had to work on New Year's Day, and she was absolutely furious about having to work on New Year's. She said, "Why did you assign me to New Year's Day"? And the supervisor said, "Well, your friend over there actually volunteered you for New Year's Day. Your friend said that you don't like football and you'd be happy to work on New Year's Day".

Well, this worker was furious. She went over to her friend and gave her a piece of her mind she couldn't afford to lose. And after the eruption subsided, the friend never said a word, let it all spew forth, and finally when that eruption had subsided, her friend said to her, "You know, if I were in your shoes and I thought what the supervisor said is what actually happened, I would be just as angry as you are. But do you mind if I tell you what actually happened"? Now, that was a wise response to anger.

In Proverbs 15:1, Solomon says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger". To use the terminology of the 1970's, we need to try to understand where our enemy is coming from. We need to understand their perspective if we're going to bless them instead of cursing them. Step number two, Paul says, "Refuse to retaliate". When you're mistreated, refuse to retaliate. Look at verse 17, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men". Will you underline that word "Never" in your bible? Never, never, never pay back evil for evil. Now, that goes against our natural grain, doesn't it? Man, if somebody insults us even in fun, what is our first thought? "Man, I've gotta have a quick comeback to this".

This week a religious leader here in America wrote an open letter to me criticizing me for something I had said on television earlier this week, and I actually read it in a publication, it's an open letter to me. And so driving home Friday night up the tollway I was thinking about that letter, and, man, I came up with the best one-liner to send back to him. I mean, it was absolutely perfect. In one sentence, I could've cut him to shreds, and I got so excited thinking about, man, emailing that and sending it to the press and everything. And then I remembered what I was preaching on this Sunday. I thought, "I can't send that and stand up with a clear conscience and preach that".

So I'm gonna wait till tomorrow to do it and it'll be just fine but... no, I'm not gonna do it. But that's the natural response we all have. If somebody takes a swing at us, what do we do? We swing back. Paul says, "Don't do it". You know why we're not to do that? Two reasons. Paul says, first of all, retaliation is not right. It's not right. Look at the second sentence. "Respect what is right in the sight of all men". You've heard the saying before, "We are a nation of," what? "Laws not of men". We don't allow for vigilantism in our culture. If somebody harms your family, you can defend yourself, but you can't go seek vengeance. You don't go after them with a shotgun and take justice into your own hands. It's just not right to do that. It was true in Paul's day.

You know, Rome was a nation of laws. They did not allow for retaliation. You had to turn it over to the government. And what Paul is saying is, "Look, if pagans in Rome understand this principle, shouldn't Christians understand it as well"? Don't retaliate. Retaliation is not right. And secondly, retaliation is not smart. It can backfire on you very, very quickly. I'm probably dating myself by saying this, but you remember the old comedy show on TV, "Amos 'n' Andy"?

I remember watching that as a little kid, and I remember one episode Amos was asking his friend, Andy, "What is it you're wearing around your neck? You've got that little bottle around your neck, what is it"? And Andy said, "Oh, that's a bottle of nitroglycerin". Amos said, "Nitroglycerin? Why would you wear a bottle of nitroglycerin around your neck"? And Andy said, "Well, I've got this friend who every time he talks to me, he pokes me in the chest, and it just drives me crazy. So I decided to put this nitroglycerin around my neck because the next time he pokes me, he'll get his finger blown off".

Well, that's not all that's gonna get blown off. But it's the same way with retaliation. Retaliation has a way of blowing up in our own face when we try to engage in it. Job said it this way in Job 18 verse 4, "You who tear yourself to pieces in your anger". You tear yourself up when you exercise anger. I often think of Gandhi's statement that the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth can't sustain itself forever because eventually everybody ends up blind and toothless. And that's why Jesus offered a better solution. Go back to Matthew 5 verses 38 and 39, he said, "You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person, but whoever slaps you on the right cheek, turn the other to him also". Now, Jesus was speaking in hyperbole here. He wasn't saying, "Don't defend yourself".
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