When someone continually gets the best of you, humiliates you and hangs it over your head every time they see you, what do you want to do to them? The same thing we all want to do: You want to get them like no one has ever been gotten before. You catch yourself having imaginary arguments with them in your rear-view mirror (and winning, of course), you punch the air and pretend it’s their face, you might even fancy revving a chainsaw up and going medieval on them. We indulge all kinds of thoughts of revenge against our enemies, don’t we? But Jesus said in (Matthew 5: 44) to forgive your enemies, pray for them, and to try and love them as much as you can.
There’s a good reason he said that.
When Satan instigates a dispute between you and someone else, the very best outcome he can get – the one that he’s actually HOPING for – is that you show them up and give them every ounce of what’s coming to ’em, three snaps in Z, walking away with your chin up and grinning because you just got real with ’em and left no doubt. Why does the Devil want you to collect every penny of your due like this? Because you just fulfilled the role of the guy in the parable of (Matthew 18: 21-35). His Lord forgave him for a ten thousand talent debt and let him go free, but then this guy went out and demanded that someone who owed him a mere one hundred talents pay him. When his Lord heard about it, he changed his mind and required him to pay the ten thousand talent debt again. It’s the same with us. Guess what’s heading our way after we rip that person a new one? Either a past debt we had forgotten about or a future one that God is no longer going to spare us from accruing. People are particularly hateful and bitter these days (as you may have noticed) because today, more than any other time before, we’re all walking around convinced that the world has done us wrong. We’re all convinced of our own goodness and everyone else’s wickedness…
Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
…but God knows the real score. He knows my score better than I do. He knows your score better than you do. And when we exact our due from those who owe us, God shows us a chunk of our debt we were totally ignorant of, due to our assuredness that we’re the only person in the world who’s ever been done wrong. We shouldn’t be forgiving people just so GOD can go smite them, either. That isn’t forgiveness; that’s merely delegation. You’re still hoping for their destruction if this is what’s in your heart, and we should be hoping for a change in their heart, the same way that someone who forgave us was hoping for one in ours. When (Proverbs 25: 21-22) says you’ll heap coals of fire on your enemy’s head by forgiving them and being kind to them, it’s not talking about destroying them; it’s talking about the change of heart they’ll have when God starts working on them. God’s purification is likened to fire in many places in the Bible.
The biggest reason to forgive someone, however, is because it gives us a chance to honor the debt God forgave US for, and to show him how big of a debt we’ll forgive others for. This is why God said be glad when people persecute you and give you a chance to show forgiveness. If you think about it, this is one of the biggest senses of freedom you can find. When you can actually find cause to smile when someone does you wrong, it’s freedom. And it’s foundational freedom, not just some kind of weak, “daily affirmation” freedom. It isn’t just lying to yourself until you believe it. There are solid principles behind it. When you forgive someone God takes notice of it, and more so, the bigger the wrong is. Don’t believe Satan’s lie that God is not keeping score and that you might as well go ahead and get in your digs on someone who did you wrong. God sees everything that is going on. In (Matthew 12: 36) he says every single idle word is being recorded.
We’ve been forgiven for a lot, and when we fail to forgive others that offend us, we set ourselves up for an encounter with someone who isn’t going to forgive us. This is why Jesus says in (Matthew 7: 2), “For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” It’s why Paul said in (Romans 2: 1), “…for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” It’s why Peter said in (1st Peter 3: 8-9), “Finally, be ye of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing.” The angels know to not judge, and that’s why (2nd Peter 2: 11) says, “Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.”
(Matthew 10: 16)
…be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
I’m bothered by the prayer that calls for the destruction of our enemies. What if I don’t want my enemies to be “uprooted, smashed, destroyed, lowered and subjugated”? Maybe I wish for them understanding and wisdom to realize that they’re doing wrong so that they can repent. Is it a problem that I feel this way? Can I maybe replace this part with my own prayer?
While you ask your question from what some may call a “modern moral standpoint,” this sentiment is actually expressed in the Torah and is part of halachah (Torah law), as can be seen from the following episode in the Talmud:1
There were certain hooligans who resided in the neighborhood of Rabbi Meir, and they caused him much misery and anguish. Once, Rabbi Meir prayed for mercy regarding them, so that they would die.2 His wife Beruriah said to him, “What makes you think that such a prayer is permitted? Is it because the verse states3 ‘Let sinners cease from the earth’? But is it written ‘chotim‘—sinners? Rather it is written ‘chataim‘—that which causes one to sin, namely the evil inclination. Furthermore, the end of the verse continues, ‘…and let the wicked be no more.’ Since the sins will cease, there will be no more wicked men!
“Rather,” she concluded, “pray for them that they should repent, and there will be no more wicked people.”
He did pray for them, and they repented.
As we can see clearly from this episode, one should not pray for others to be punished, rather we should pray that they repent and do teshuvah. Which brings us to your question: How can we then do the exact opposite and pray for the wicked to be punished three times a day in an established prayer?4
Furthermore, if we look at the book of Psalms, only a few chapters after the verse that Beruriah cited to teach us that one should pray for the cessation of sins rather than the punishment of the wicked, we find King David doing the exact opposite!
We find King David praying that “when he is judged, let him emerge guilty, and let his prayer be accounted as a sin. May his days be few, and may someone else take his office of dignity. May his sons be orphans and his wife a widow. May his sons wander, and should ask and search from their ruins. May a creditor search out all he has, and may strangers despoil his labor. May he have none who extends kindness, and may no one be gracious to his orphans…”5 Hardly a manifestation of the above cited dictum, based on King David’s own words, to pray for the cessation of sins but not sinners!
Back to the prayer we are discussing, which is one of the nineteen blessings of the most central Jewish prayer, the Amidah. Originally, the Amidah contained only eighteen blessings. In the generation that witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans, the Jews were further plagued by members of various sects who took delight in informing on the rabbis to the Roman authorities, and in devising various ways of enticing the unsuspecting Jews to abandon the path of their forefathers. It is against this backdrop that the Talmud relates6:
Shimon the cotton merchant arranged the eighteen blessings of the Amidah before Raban Gamliel in Yavneh.7 Raban Gamliel said to the sages: “Is there anyone who knows how to formulate a blessing against the heretics and the wicked?” Shmuel Hakatan (“the small”) arose and formulated it.
A little knowledge of the author of this prayer will help us to understand it better. As we know, every word in our prayer is exact, each word reflecting a deeper meaning and intent. It was for this reason that Raban Gamliel, who was the leader of the Jewish community at the time, sought a unique individual that was suited for the formulation of this unique blessing.
Examining Shmuel Hakatan’s other sayings (there aren’t that many), we find a character that appears in striking contrast to the Shmuel Hakatan who composed a prayer against the heretics. In Ethics of the Fathers we read:
Shmuel Hakatan would say: “When your enemy falls, do not rejoice; when he stumbles, let your heart not be gladdened. Lest G‑d see, and it will be displeasing in His eyes, and He will turn His wrath from him to you.”8
Shmuel Hakatan is simply quoting the Book of Proverbs,9 yet the Mishnah cites this in his name. Why? Because this was a statement that typified him; something that would be continually not just on his lips but reflected in his actions. Never mind not praying for the punishment of the wicked, Shmuel Hakatan is of the opinion that even when they are already punished we should not rejoice. Hardly the one you would expect to rise to the occasion of formulating a prayer for the wicked to be punished!
All this leads us to the conclusion that there must be different types of sinners. For some we are permitted to pray that they be punished, while for others we are not.
Again we quote the Ethics:
One who causes the community to be meritorious, no sin will come by his hand. One who causes the community to sin is not given the opportunity to repent.10
Commentaries11 explain that this means to say that Heaven does not help such an individual repent. The doors of repentance are never locked, but for some people, they may require a lot of pounding before they open.
This is the sort of person to whom the blessing against the heretics in the Amidah refers. Yes, we would all prefer to pray that this person repent rather than be punished. Furthermore, even if we could not pray for him to repent for whatever reason, we could just leave him alone and out of our prayers altogether—as long as his actions are not affecting anyone else. Here is an instance, however, where we are simply left no choice. We are told that Heaven does not help him to repent, so of what use is it to pray for him? Yet neither do we have the option to leave him be while he causes others to sin, informing upon us to the authorities and endangering the entire nation physically and spiritually.
Imagine a patient who has a limb with a malignant infection that is slowly spreading throughout the body, so that his only hope for survival is to have the limb amputated. Any doctor who out of misplaced mercy for his patient decides not to amputate, not only is he not helping his patient, he may very well be condemning him to death. While no sane person with even an ounce of compassion wishes to see someone else suffer, let alone lose their limb, when faced with an existential threat we are many times left with no other choice.
Now that we know this, we can better understand the wording of the blessing. We say, “…and may You swiftly uproot, break, crush, and subdue the reign of wickedness speedily in our days.” The order of the words is puzzling. If the reign of wickedness is uprooted, broken and crushed, how can it now be subdued? What is left to subdue?
The answer is that this wording follows a teaching of the Zohar, that there are four general forms of evil forces in the world. Three are completely lost to evil, while the fourth one, known as klipat nogah, is a composite of both good and bad. It turns out that in the blessing against the heretics, while we pray for the total eradication of unsalvageable evil, we also pray that whatever good there is mixed up in there should indeed be saved. As the Rebbe writes regarding this part of the blessing of the heretics:
…pause slightly between the words crush and subdue, in consonance with the intent that uproot, break and crush refer to the three forms of evil that must be completely eradicated. Subdue refers to kelipat nogah that needs only to be subdued and can be purified.12
May we merit the day when all evil ceases to exist with the coming of the ultimate Redemption.
Why Should We Pray – To whom do we pray?
Before we can answer, “why should we pray,” we must know to whom we pray. There is only one supreme Creator and sovereign God. There is only one way to Him and that is through His only- Son, Jesus Christ. God, our Heavenly Father, is the only one we can be assured of who hears and answers our prayers. He is the God of amazing love, mercy, and forgiveness.
- By Him, all things are possible. Jesus says in Mark 10:27, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.”
- Daniel 9:18 tells us: “We do not ask because we deserve help, but because you are so merciful.” (Mercy means showing favor, compassion, and kindness.)
- God’s ultimate demonstration of love is forgiveness of the sins each of us have committed. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it” (John 3:16-17).
He is the only God who has done this, and is the only God able to do so. But His enemy, Satan, has sent many false gods to deceive mankind. Do not be deceived nor allow anything or anyone to take priority over the only true and living God.
Why Should We Pray – For what do we pray?
Prayer is the key to the heart of God. Prayer is the only way to a real and personal relationship with God.
- Pray acknowledging He is God, and that you accept His gracious gift, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Savior (Genesis 17:1, Romans 6:16-18).
- Pray confessing our sins and accepting His forgiveness (Romans 3:23-26).
- Pray that His will be done in our lives, that His Holy Spirit guide us, and that we be filled with the fullness of all God has for us.
- Pray for (spiritual) understanding and wisdom (Proverbs 2:6-8, Proverbs 3:5).
- Pray with thanksgiving for all the ways He blesses us (Philippians 4:6). Pray when we are ill, lonely, going through trials or interceding for others (James 5:14-16, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
- Pray to worship Him (Psalm 95:6-7).
There is nothing we can’t pray about. There are abundant references to prayer in the Bible. The Bible tells us to “
pray without ceasing
” and “
in everything give thanks to the Lord
.” When we choose to have a positive attitude, we realize we have received many blessings for which to give God praise.
We find intimacy with God through communicating with Him in prayer. We go to Him in faith, knowing that He hears and answers all our prayers (1 John 5:14). Be confident that God knows and wants what is best for us; so ask that His will be done in all we seek from Him. Then, thank Him for it, even though it hasn’t happened yet.
Why Should We Pray – How do we pray?
Jesus gave his disciples, what we call, “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6) as a model.
In addition, Hebrews 4:14-16 tells us we can pray boldly — “That is why we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.”
Above all, pray with sincerity, honor, and humbleness before the Almighty God. “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results” (James 5:16).
Learn More About Prayer!
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
– We have all
and deserve God’s judgment.
, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him.
, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He
for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was
rose from the dead
according to the
. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your
, declaring, “
Jesus is Lord
,” you will be saved from
and spend eternity with God in heaven.
What is your response?
Yes, today I am deciding to follow JesusYes, I am already a follower of JesusI still have questions
Praying Through the Bible #114
TEXT: Matthew 5:43-48
Allow me to begin by sharing with you a quote by Matthew Henry on this important text: He said,”The Jewish teachers by ‘neighbor’ understood only those who were of their own country, nation, and religion, whom they were pleased to look upon as their friends. The Lord Jesus teaches that we must do all the real kindness we can to all, especially to their souls. We must pray for them. While many will render good for good, we must render good for evil; and this will speak a nobler principle than most men act by. Others salute their brethren, and embrace those of their own party, and way, and opinion, but we must not so confine our respect. It is the duty of Christians to desire, and aim at, and press towards perfection in grace and holiness. And therein we must study to conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father. Surely more is to be expected from the followers of Christ than from others; surely more will be found in them than in others. Let us beg of God to enable us to prove ourselves his children.”
When I was visiting England once, I went into the church where John and Charles Wesley’s father preached. I picked up as a souvenir a bookmarker that contained a quote from John Wesley. It goes like this:
Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.
We have already established that the way Jesus Christ commands us to act toward our enemies is radically different from what we are naturally predisposed to doing. Instead of hating our enemies and holding grudges against them, we are commanded to love them, do good to them, and even pray for them.
Last week, we saw that we ought to pray for our enemies is because by doing so, we honor God’s will above our desires. Jesus Christ points out the common human perspective when he says to his listeners, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy…” However, He challenges us to live our lives differently when He says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies…” When we pray for our enemies, we are setting aside our fleshly, selfish desires and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance. As the children of God, we are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit; and when we are, we will pray for our enemies.
Today, we are going to look at why we ought to pray for our enemies because we have been forewarned about them. In this particular passage, Jesus is not speaking exclusively to people who are committed followers of Him. He is talking to His disciples as well as to the crowds who are following Him because of the miracles that He has worked. However, Jesus Christ did warn us in other passages that we as Christians will have enemies because of our faith. And, here, He tells us how we should respond: “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”
When we are hated and persecuted by those who oppose us because we are followers of Jesus Christ, we ought not to be surprised. Jesus told us that such things would happen. Because he forewarned us, our response should not be one of haste and impatience. We should not react in a natural, fleshly manner — with angry words, trying to defend ourselves, or trying to harm the person who has harmed us. But, rather, we should respond with the spiritual and seemingly unnatural response of praying for our enemies.