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When Your Enemy Prospers

When we believe God's grace for ourselves and for our enemy, we really live
When Your Enemy Prospers

by Bruce Larson

God spares Nineveh, and Jonah is angry. He said: God, I knew you'd do that. That's why I didn't go, because I know you're gracious and forgiving, and you forgive sins. I knew it, and you did it. Now let me die.

Think of the one person or family or group of people in the world or the land that you hate the most. Think of your ultimate enemy at this moment in your life.

"Ah," you say, "but I'm a Christian. I don't hate anybody!" God bless you. If you don't hate anybody, I'll give you a second choice. Think of the person you love the least. Some of you say, "I'm a Christian. I love everybody." Okay, that's pretty neat. Number three then: Think of the person you like the least. You've got to answer that one. Or if you can't answer that one, who is the person or group you fear the most?

The point is, I want you to think of the person you know is your enemy, the person who does not mean you well, the person who has no done you well. Think of that person right now—your enemy.

Suppose you had it in your power to help that person or that group of people to prosper enormously, spiritually and materially. If it were in your power, would you do it? Or if without your help they prospered, how would you feel right now if this enemy—this group of people or this person—suddenly flourished spiritually, were healed, were abundantly blessed financially?

Now you understand Jonah's situation. He did bless those people, and they did prosper and respond.

"Love your enemies" is so clear all through the New Testament. We see it here in the Old, but also in the New Testament—in the fulfillment of God's gracious plan for our lives through Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit, the wind and the fire, God in us and with us right now. Over and over again it says "love your enemies"—a clear command.

Never mind liking them. The command is not to like your enemies, because you can't do that. Liking is involuntary. You can't control who you enjoy being with. If you go to a certain dinner party and you're bored or angry or resentful, you can't help that. But love is an act, and Jesus says anybody can love anybody they choose to, because love means you work for that person's well being. You can love your enemies. You can't like your enemies, so forget liking.

But if we love them, we will cause them to prosper through our prayers or maybe through some direct intervention, or maybe, like Jonah, a witness. He simply stands among his enemies, and he says, "Listen, God doesn't like what you're doing. Change!" and they changed. His witness is used by God to bless his enemies. If we are faithful and obedient like Jonah, God will bless our enemies through us.

God blesses our enemies with his grace

What we are dealing with here, friends, is the grace of God. Jonah is confronted in no place more clearly in the Old Testament than right here. The New Testament abounds in it, but in the Old it's as clear as in the New Testament. In "Oh for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," the first line is about the glories of God's grace. I wish I had a thousand tongues to sing my awe and wonder and gratitude for the revealed grace of God.

Think now about your enemies. Think of the prodigal son and the elder brother. Who is the enemy to the elder brother who stays home, works the farm, is dutiful, is moral, is obedient to the father? It's the younger brother, who goes off and squanders in riotous and debauched living his half of the inheritance and then comes home and wants to share in what's left. To the elder brother, the enemy is the younger, prodigal son. Could the elder brother bless him? No. He did not. The tragedy of that story is not that the younger one stayed lost; he comes home. The elder grinds his teeth and is angry; he could not bless his enemy.

Think of that incredible story of the laborers in the vineyard, in which a man goes out and hires a bunch of workers, and each hour of the day as he finds more unemployed, he hires them. At the end he pays them all the same wage, and the ones who worked all day for a fair wage said, "This is not fair that those who came one hour from closing time get the same wage that we get. We don't like your grace. It's terrible. Don't do that."

We see something of what our judgment is. In our Lord's prayer every Sunday (and every day in your private devotions, I hope) we pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

Who is our enemy, our Nineveh, as a nation? I suppose Iran comes as close as anybody. How would we feel about a great spiritual blessing and great financial prosperity in Iran? It would test us, wouldn't it? In the Christian Conciliation Service they say to the two Christian parties, "Is it so important that you get your pound of flesh, that you get your due reward, that you make that person pay what he owes you? Or can you, for your sake as well as his, forgive and move on with living?" That's the grace word as over against the law and the just word.

"But it's his fault!" and "He doesn't deserve . . ." are the attitudes that undermine our understanding of and living with God's grace in terms of our neighbors.

But does it matter? If, as I've done, you've lost money invested with a Christian friend, whether he squandered the money, he was evil, or he stupidly went bankrupt, it doesn't really matter. The money is gone. For me to say, "Well if he had done . . ." or "I think in his heart . . ." or "He was evil or maybe just stupid or maybe not a good business person," is unnecessary. In God's eyes it doesn't matter. He is my enemy; he betrayed my trust. But God says, "Forgive. Forgive." That's a hard word for any of us.

Jean Anouilh, an amazing writer, talks about the final judgment. He says that all the good people are gathered around the gates of heaven, waiting for what has been promised to them as their reward from God. The rumor leaks out that God is going to forgive all the other people that weren't good. Suddenly there's rumbling and anger. People curse God for his stupid way of living, and by so doing, they are lost.

The final judgment is: Can you and I forgive those who have no reason to be forgiven? That's what this Book of Jonah is all about, and what the gospel is all about.

Who are your enemies as you were thinking about your enemies? I have no trouble thinking about my enemies, but if you have trouble, I hope you thought of somebody. Maybe it's your parents, who failed you because maybe they died on you when you were born; you never had a mom or dad. Or maybe they were abusive—sexually, verbally, emotionally. Maybe they were withholders. Maybe they lied to you and said you were the darling of the universe, and spoiled you—indulged you—for real life.

Maybe it's an ungrateful and rebellious child, a child in whom you poured everything you had—love and caring and money and help—and that child now has done the unspeakable and turned on you or betrayed you.

Maybe it's a spouse, who withholds his or her love from you, knowing how desperately you need that one to hold you and cherish you and care for you when you least deserve it. But he or she doesn't. Maybe your enemy is your spouse who cheats on you. Maybe your enemy is your spouse who left you for somebody else.

Maybe your enemy is a friend whom you trusted and who betrayed you, told about you, gossiped about you. Maybe your enemies are political enemies. You believe strongly in certain causes, dealing with life, death, abortion, war, whatever, and the people who oppose your view, your logical view, your godly view, become your enemies. Maybe your enemies are theological, ecclesiastic enemies: people in the church who do not call truth what you and I call truth. So we say these people are polluting, diluting the church, and they become our enemies.

Maybe your enemies are international enemies. You feel strongly about equality; maybe South Africa is the abomination in your sight because of their rigid apartheid and unbending ways. Maybe it's Soviet Russia. Maybe your enemy is either the Contras or the Sandinistas, depending on your politics.

The amazing thing is that our enemies vary. Do you know that in 1982, for example, Iraq, in its bloody war with the Iran, was selling tanks to Iran so Iran could fight them with those same tanks? Iraq captured about 150 Iranian tanks—American, C tanks that we supplied earlier to Iran. But Iraq has a Soviet arsenal and couldn't use the tanks. They needed money desperately. Since Iran couldn't buy any more arms from us, Iraq sold the tanks back to Iran, because they needed cash to continue the war! Maybe that's biblical: you bless your enemies! I don't know. It's seems strange to me.

Who would the enemy be for the survivalist? There are hundreds of thousands of them (we know, because they buy survivalist goods) who have hidden in places, in caves and bomb shelters, in tight little cabins with guns and arms. Hundreds of thousands of people are preparing for nuclear war or a great world depression. They've spent their life and their savings getting ready.

Suppose it never comes. Won't they look foolish? Their enemy then might be the peacemakers, whose existence might signify that the survivalists wasted their lives. It's interesting to think who your enemy might be.

I was saddened recently, as you were, to read in a feature story in the newspaper that our casualties in Vietnam were 58,000 dead, but there have been 75,000 V' suicides since the war—more than our casualty list. Who is the enemy? Is it us—our attitude? I don't know, but there is some enemy out there, stalking our beloved Vietnam veterans.

Maybe the enemy for you are the people who make illogical demands on your time—interrupters. If you have a busy job or busy life, people who knock on your door or call you and make demands are the enemy—those who don't know how busy you are.
There's a wonderful story that took place years ago in Philadelphia—W. C. Fields's least favorite city. An old couple come into a hotel at 11:00 on a rainy night and asked for a room. If you were that night clerk, you could say, "Are you crazy! It's raining outside, 11:00 at night; you have no reservation. Why are you bothering me? I can't help you. We're filled up."

Instead, the night clerk said, "We don't have any good rooms; they're all gone. But I'll tell you what: I have a room here. It's not much, but I'll have Mary, the night housekeeper, clean it up and put some flowers in there. Wait here a few moments. I'm sure you'll be comfortable for the night. I hate to send you out in this rainy night."

Mary came back and said, "The room is clean."

Then the clerk said, "Now you two can go upstairs, and I'll have some hot tea sent up for you." That's one way to handle your enemy if they make unreasonable interruptions.

The strange thing is that a year and a half later, when the great Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York was built and finished, John Jacob Astor, who was the man who with his wife came to the hotel that night, said, "I want that night clerk to manage my hotel." You never know when your enemy might bless you if it's an interrupter.

The blessing of our enemies should cause us to rejoice

Let me give you a test for spiritual maturity. How do you feel about your Nineveh, that person you have a hard time praying for, blessing, or being a blessing for? Do you rejoice in that person's blessing? If you do, you have come a long way in the grace of Jesus Christ. You are extraordinary.

Jonah—this man of God—did not pass the test. Jonah begins this book as a nerd. He rises to greatness and goes back full circle to being a nerd again. That's my story, too. I have moments of greatness. (It's kind of hard to believe, but I do.) Then I come full circle back to being a nerd again, and I flunk the test of believing in grace. So the sad thing is, Jonah has become like Nineveh. The scary thing about having enemies is that when you fight them and don't wish them well, you become like the very person you fight. Jonah has become like an unlovely alien empire.

See your enemy through God's eyes. God says to Jonah, "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?" (Jonah 4:11). That almost sounds contemporary, doesn't it? They don't know their nose from their elbow. God is saying: Listen, if these people knew more or were more or were more healed or had more or something, they wouldn't have done these dumb things. So can't you, along with me, pity your enemy?

If your parents had been more, they could have blessed you more. If your friend, your spouse, your boss, had been more, they could have blessed you more. But they were crippled. They were hurting. God is saying, "Listen, they don't know their right hand from their left. Out of their own pain, their ignorance, whatever, they're evil. They have hurt you, but now can't you, with me, pity them? Can't you pity them?"

When we believe God's grace for ourselves and for our enemy, we really live

The real question is, do you want to live? There's a very moving story about Sid Caesar, who was the highest paid entertainer in America when he was in his twenties. Then barbiturates and alcohol got him, and he was off the boards and television screen for a long time. His faithful wife stuck with him, but he says in his own story (a book that was a best seller) that the question came to him alone: Sid, do you want to live or do you want to die? And he said, Iwant to live! And that meant changing his ways.

Spiritually, God is saying, "Do you want to live or do you want to die? Do you want to live? Then begin to believe grace for yourself and grace for your enemy."

Clarence Darrow, one of the great criminal lawyers, wrote to his fellow lawyers in an article entitled "Attorney for the Defense," and said, "If you want your client to be judged guilty, then fill the jury with Norwegians or northern Europeans. If you want them to be acquitted, fill it with southern Europeans. Beware of Lutherans, especially Scandinavian Lutherans; they are almost sure to convict. If you have a Scandinavian Lutheran jury, plead your client guilty."

Well, that's me. My parents were Lutherans and Scandinavians. That's me! He has observed that for some reason people who come from my ancestors' part of the world believe more in law than grace. So I've got to work extra hard. Now you people whose roots are in southern part of Europe have more going for you.

But the point is, understand this is not an easy thing. God is saying, "Do you want to live or do you want to die? Then believe in grace. Believe in grace. You don't have to like your enemies."

We love our enemy by helping them to prosper

There's a wonderful story about Mr. Johnson, the founder of Ebony Magazine. Every year a big advertising firm in Chicago would invite Mr. Johnson to their offices for tea, always for Brotherhood Week. One day they're there for tea in a big ad exec's office. As they're leaving, the ad exec puts his arm around Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson unwound his arm and stepped back two steps and said, "You know, you don't have to love us. Just give us your business."

God is saying. You don't even have to like people, but give them your business. Give them your prayer. Give them your witness. Help your enemy prosper for your own sake."

If I die and never preach another sermon anywhere, hear this: Don't turn down the grace of God, which we see fulfilled in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, and his Holy Spirit. Don't turn down the grace of God or deny it to another. That sums up everything about the Word of God.

The gospel ought to be Jonah 5. Jonah ends with 4, obviously, but 5 could be God saying, "Jonah, now you are Nineveh, and I want to forgive you. Go back and forgive your enemies."

You see, God still loves Jonah the jerk. God is still talking to him. As he forgave Nineveh, he forgave Jonah and said: Jonah, don't you understand? Try to get it. Love your enemies.

Can you be a Jonah and say, "I flunked the test again." God says: Yes, you did. You will pay twice for that. I won't do it to you, but try again, Jonah, a second chance.

Let me close with a story from Native American lore. An Indian brave found an eagle's egg. Since he couldn't find the nest to put it back, he did the thing: He put the eagle's egg in a nest with prairie chicken eggs. So the eagle was hatched and began to live with the prairie chickens. All it saw were chickens, so it clucked and scratched and pecked around and was a chicken for years. And then one day it saw a glorious sight in the sky, a great bald eagle soaring up there. He said, "What is that?"

The chicken said, "That is the eagle, the king of birds. But forget it. That's not for you; you are a chicken." And he lived the rest of his life clucking, pecking, and scratching, and not flying.

Listen, friends: by the grace of God, you and I are called to be eagles to soar. That means loving your enemy. That's the law and the gospel.

Bruce Larson is of Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. His books include My Creator, My Friend (Nelson, 1986).

(c) Bruce Larson

Preaching Today Tape # 78


A resource of Christianity Today International

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Sermon Outline:


I. God blesses our enemies with his grace

II. The blessing of our enemies should cause us to rejoice

III. When we believe God's grace for ourselves and for our enemy, we really live

IV. We love our enemy by helping them to prosper