Man with his head in his hands

Must I Love My Enemies?

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Envisage this scenario: You’re a Christian and your next-door neighbour is keeping you awake playing oppressively loud music in the middle of the night every night despite your repeated attempts to ask him to let you sleep. You also hear him being abusive towards his son, and witness him dealing with every life circumstance with aggression and bullying.

He’s been in prison several times for causing bodily harm to others, and you know he is currently engaged in criminal activity that has not been brought into the light. You and others are suffering a great deal as a result of this man’s behaviour, and you feel that something needs to change, and quickly.

You know you need to pray for this guy, but what kind of prayer should you pray?

You reach for your Bible in the hope you can find some inspiration, and decide there must be something in the Psalms to give you direction. You turn to Psalm 10, and read the following passage, where David is crying out to God for justice against his enemies:

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue.
Pronounce them guilty, O God!
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
For they have rebelled against You.
(Psalm 5:9-10 NKJV)

That seems to fit your emotions perfectly! You are tempted to get down on your knees and pray this prayer to God, asking for your neighbour to be pronounced guilty and receive punishment for his cruel behaviour.

But there is something holding you back. It doesn’t feel quite right to pray in that way, because you know Jesus said something important about loving your enemies. So you reach for your Bible once more and turn to the book of Matthew:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbour’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44)

All of a sudden you’re conflicted. You need to pray over this situation with the guy next door, but do you pray for him to be arrested and face the justice of the legal system, or do you pray for God to change the guy’s heart and forgive him – for mercy rather than justice?

My instinct tells me that Jesus is the ultimate authority, and so if we find ourselves in such a situation we should pray for a transformation of our neighbour’s heart, and for God’s grace and mercy in his life, rather than for him to be found guilty in the way that King David desired for his enemies and as expressed in the Psalms. After all, we have all done wicked things, and wouldn’t we want God’s mercy for our own transgressions?

Have you ever faced such a conflict in your prayer life? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

26 comments

  1. – An insightful piece of writing, and it propels me into the heart of the matter.
    I’m there alongside you, and asking myself the same questions in challenging situations.
    Thanks for shedding fresh light…

  2. Steven, While it has become a bit cliche, it is nonetheless the case that we are to “hate the sin, but not the sinner.” It is not easy, and I too have really wanted to call out to God about correcting injustice. But then I reflect on two thoughts. First, am I innocent? If I call for justice is that what I really want? I have to admit, when it comes to me I desire mercy instead. The second is Habakkuk, he called for God to set things right, and look at God’s response. Wow, be careful for what you ask for.

  3. I was just moaning about this kind of thing this morning, except in my case the irritant is actually living in the same house as me -_- . Anyway, I find your blog interesting I’m doing research in the area of theomusicology for my PhD, I thought your Alien Love song was a really interesting way to go about explaining things, gave me some ideas!

  4. Very well said, Steven. You’re definitely not alone in these conflicting feelings and situation. I experience them often. Your conclusion to the matter is the correct one.

    1. Thanks, David! The situation I described is hypothetical, although you will know I have been having some troubles with a neighbour, so that influenced my desire to write this post. God bless you and I hope all is well 🙂

  5. Dear Steven, I totally sympathize with your predicament! I think that many people limit “love” to specific benign actions. Should not be so. Love often pulls out a sword against destructive behavior. When I was a parole officer I had to arrest many men & woman that I grew to know pretty well, I visited their homes and knew their families. Many times there was so much drama when cuffing them – outcries of despair, tears & anger. But it was the right thing. Jail was often the wall between them and destruction – of themselves or others. The Lord often did a work in jail, even granting true repentance. Relief to families (and neighbors!) brought order as well.
    I truly cared about my parolees, prayed for them and often invited them to church. Love is found in our motives. Just being benign is not always loving. Out of love God holds us accountable and “scourges” those He loves. That’s the actual word used in Hebrews 12:6. It may not seem “loving” but our actions are judged by our motives.
    Sorry if this is too long! But sometimes love means “stopping the madness” that someone might be confronted with their chaos and repent.

    Praying for you, may the Lord lead you to the right loving actions!

    1. Hi Lisa!

      Really glad that you commented, as I thought of you and your experience as a parole officer as I was writing. I thought you’d have an interesting perspective 🙂

      I appreciate the prayers but please know that the scenario I described is hypothetical – I have been having problems with a neighbour but they are not as serious.

      God bless you and I appreciate your insights!

  6. I will speak to you as someone who has been there many times I might add and am still in situations at times that are not good for me. I could tell you stories…..I pray……I am not going to say that I have not put my own life in jeopardy by confronting some individuals depending on the situation & thought back that it could have turned out really bad for me even as a woman. I was always polite when I stated my case to offending neighbors or whoever. Mostly I ignore people that hurt or bother me when I think how Christ suffered much worse on the cross asking God to forgive those responsible because they didn’t know any better, couldn’t do any better or they would have. That neighbor sounds like my dad, who was an actual gangster himself, he personally had a terrible life himself of abuse and neglect. My entire family was basically thugs and I never fit in with them either. I used pray to God as a child to deliver me from these horrible people and that I must have been mixed up in the hospital. I was blessed to have to live with a widowed Christian Aunt from birth to about 5. I got to stay with her most weekends til 7 when she passed at a fairly young age of cancer. I’m the “goody-2-shoes” and the “narc” of my family as others have called me, even my own mother. My siblings have robbed me at times, one of my own addicted brothers tried to brutally murder another brother of mine years ago but thankfully he lived. Most people like your neighbor, are not like this because they want to be like this. They don’t know or TRUST any other way. Pray for that man and especially his poor son that might be the same way later. I have tried to bring some of my own family to Christ but I see that they have such pride and trust issues, they scoff at the thought of a God even when I tell them “don’t blame God for the crimes of mankind that don’t follow His commandments.”
    I will say from living with horrible people in my own family, even though I suffered body mind and spirit, it did make me more understanding of other horrible people in the world with mental illness, drug addiction and impulsive aggressive tendencies. I would just pray for him and just be pleasant when I saw him. I don’t trust people like this because I learned if you can’t trust your own family, you really can’t trust anyone but God.
    Also, have you tried any type of noise canceling headsets? I use them to listen to my own music or whatever so I don’t disturb anyone in my apt.
    Good luck and God bless. It could be worse, you could be him.

    1. Hey Po’ Girl! Thanks so much for your comment. You have been through some really challenges. Wow.

      Actually, things aren’t that bad with my neighbour. The post was hypothetical, although it’s not a million miles away from what I believe could happen with my neighbour.

      I appreciate your advice to be nice to him and pray for him – I’ve learned from experience (of other people) that that’s the best thing to do. Fortunately, my flat is self-contained, there is just a small communal area downstairs with a washing machine and dryer. We sometimes see each other on the streets and I just try to be loving and encouraging to him.

      There’s an expression you’ve probably heard – “Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a hard battle”. I try to keep that in mind. I asked him (kindly) to turn his music down at least four times, but there’s really no point. I either have to put up with it or move out.

      Good idea about the headphones. Fortunately he only plays music during the day, normally in the afternoon / early evening. So while it is really loud, and an inconvenience, at least I still get a good night’s sleep.

      Bless you my friend and know that you are in my prayers!

  7. Thought provoking post. I recall a lecture by Elenor Stump on guilt and forgiveness. She said that love is firstly wanting was is good for someone. If someone for example is involved in immoral behaviour it is not good for that person. Sin enslaves and destroys us. The loving thing then is for the person to be removed from the situation where he harms others and himself through his actions. The loving thing then could be for the person to be arrested.

    1. Hi Tsholo. Yes, I understand the perspective you present. I think it’s true that sometimes people need to be protected from harming themselves and others. I do think that there is often a demonic aspect to the behaviour of people such as the hypothetical man I described in my post. So we should pray for deliverance and healing.

  8. Definitely some things to think about. 🙂 When I read hypothetical I was like, thank goodness, cause I know you haven’t shared your situation with your neighbor becoming like this, and what a blessing to not have to deal with such things.

    I know someone who was a social worker and the stories shared about people needing help is tremendous. I think we need to have the right heart for the person we are praying. You’re right it is crucial we analyze ourselves and our intentions of what we desire from our request. I think if such a situation happened, it is okay to get authorities involved when it comes to other people getting hurt and abused. We should pray for the person to be reached, and we should pray that person gets support, sometimes when authorities get involved it is a wakeup call.

    As well as making sure we aren’t bystanders either if we are aware of someone else getting hurt, but we do nothing about it. Saying that as well, I am aware of the sad fact not all abusers get help, want help, and not of victims get the help they need either. It really is conflicting. I think like you said, we need to make sure our heart is right. We aren’t calling on the person because we’re annoyed, and we want our peace back, so to say. We should be concerned. Great post on things to think about 🙂

    1. Hey, T.R. Yes I think you’re absolutely right – it’s about desiring what’s best for that person. Sometimes we have to take practical action, but this should always be accompanied by prayer. I do think that often demonic forces are at play in such behaviour. I’ve seen so many people having demons cast out of them and then their character totally changes. So I suppose it’s spiritual warfare in a way.

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts 🙂

      1. I completely agree, yes spiritual warfare definitely is at work. We should always pray about our actions, definitely 🙂 we want to make sure our heart is in the right place, and that God is ahead of us.

  9. Steven, Sometimes justice is mercy. Sometimes, in order for us to change our evil and sinful ways, God must exercise divine discipline, like a loving father would do with a wayward child. Sometimes loving people means tough love, speaking the truth in love, and doing what will help them toward change. Is it loving your neighbors if you know this man is hurting all of them, if you say nothing? Or, do nothing? And, what about the child? Maybe you could do something to rescue him from an abusive father. And, what did Jesus do for us? He gave up his reputation and his very life so we could go free from our sin. This is the ultimate in love and in mercy, not to ignore people’s sin, but to confront them, and to help that person toward freedom from their sin. This is why we share the gospel message of salvation with people, and we talk to them about their sin, and we call them to repentance, because we love them, and we want to see them go free. Do you want to see your neighbor go free from his sin? Maybe the best thing for him would be to go before the authorities to answer for what he is doing. Maybe that is what it will take for him to shake him out of his behavior and to turn him around.

    Heb. 12:5-11: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;
    6 For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines,
    And He scourges every son whom He receives.”

    7 “It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

  10. I agree with this post, Steven. While I’ve never dealt with this before, I think it’s important to remember that we should love our enemies; despite the human part of us wanting them to face justice.

    I like when you said, “… if we find ourselves in such a situation we should pray for a transformation of our neighbour’s heart, and for God’s grace and mercy in his life, rather than for him to be found guilty in the way that King David desired for his enemies and as expressed in the Psalms. After all, we have all done wicked things, and wouldn’t we want God’s mercy for our own transgressions?”

    I agree, we all have done things that we are not proud of and God has forgiven us and continues to love us, so why shouldn’t we do the same for our enemies.

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