Forgiving Your Enemies or Just Avoiding Them?

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28, TNIV)

All of us have heard those words of Jesus before, but there’s a subtle point that’s often overlooked–“DO good to those who hate you.” To do good to someone means to continue to interact with them. Often, as Christians, we surround ourselves with the like-minded to avoid the company of those who can’t stand us.

And, that absence might make us thing we’ve licked the “love your enemies” thing. Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Holocaust survivor, wrote and preached often of forgiveness. Here, she tells the story of her first actual encounter with one of her Nazi captors after the war:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggles to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

Corrie thought that she had forgiven her enemies until she actually met one who she couldn’t bring herself to forgive. The only way she could overcome was to surrender her hate to Jesus. It’s a humbling lesson for all of us when we consider all those who’ve wronged us in our lives.

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