How To Deal With Your Enemies According To The Bible

(according to the Bible)

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The world offers many ways for treating our enemies, but what does the Bible say? In this post, we talk about how to deal with your enemies according to the Bible.

There are loads of both fictional and real stories about enemies who become friends and even enemies who fall in love with each other.

But as heartwarming as these stories tend to be, they are rare compared to the maybe millions of people who have (and keep) their arch enemies, even on their death beds.

The sad truth is that for most of us, our enemies will always be just that — enemies.

Few people are looking to befriend their enemies and even fewer are looking to marry them.

In contrast, for persons who lived centuries before and even in our world today, enemies are considered better off dead.

It’s no secret that some people have sought out to torture, humiliate and get rid of their enemies by any means necessary, and it’s not rare for people to wish their enemies evil, rejoice at their every failure and exaggerate their every flaw.

But don’t be fooled, it’s not just ‘heathens’ who think in this way or do these things. 

For example, check out what David says in Psalms 6:10 (NKJV):

“Let all my enemies be ashamed and greatly troubled; Let them turn back and be ashamed suddenly.”

And the anonymous author of Psalm 137, speaking about the children of his enemies (Babylon):

“Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock.”

Yikes!

Yes, it’s in the Bible… but is that really the way it should be? Does God want us to pray that our enemies are ashamed and greatly troubled? And that their little ones are murdered?

Maybe you’re tempted to think ‘yes’ because of Bible verses like those found in the book of Psalms.

Well, before we find out the answer, let’s understand what an enemy really is.

‘Enemy’ Explained

The word enemy is defined on dictionary.com as “a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another…”

So an enemy isn’t someone who just doesn’t like you. From the definition above, an enemy is hateful and intentional in harmful actions against you.

Another thing to keep in mind is that your enemies don’t have to be familiar, (so you may have enemies that you don’t even know) and for Christians, the feeling should never be mutual (you shouldn’t hate another person even if they hate you).

In addition, you can always expect to have enemies as a Christian. I explain all these key points about enemies in another post, which you can read here.

Related: This Is Why You’ll Always Have Enemies

But for now, all you need to know is what an enemy is. This will help you to identify exactly who we’re dealing with, which is the first step.

What are some common strategies for dealing with enemies?

Alright.

You know what an enemy is, and, since you’re reading this post, I’ll assume you have at least one person you consider your enemy.

How should you deal with them?

Let’s first take a look at some common strategies people use to deal with their enemies.

Despite country or culture, people tend to respond to their enemies in one or more of the following ways:

  • Giving them the cold shoulder/ ignoring them
  • Seeking revenge
  • Confronting them
  • Crying or worrying about it
  • Trying to hurt them with violence or harsh words
  • Celebrating when something bad happens to them
  • Compromising to try to win them over

Now, some of these aren’t all that bad. 

If done right for example, number 3 sounds like a good start to making amends with an enemy.

But, considering our point that the feeling of hatred shouldn’t be mutual, we need to reject a lot of these. So ‘seeking revenge’? That’s a BIG no-no.

But hey!! Doesn’t the Old Testament condone the way the world says to treat our enemies?

Good question.

We’ll address the answer next.

Does the old testament tell us to hate our enemies?

Some people may flip through the Old Testament, compare that with the principles in the New Testament, and come to the conclusion that they do not agree.

It’s like the New Testament clearly encourages God’s people to love and forgive their enemies, while the Old testament does… the opposite?

While it may seem this way at a glance, the truth is that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When we compare God’s commands about enemies in the Old Testament with those in the New Testament, we find that they are the same.

In this post, the writer points out some key verses which show this to be true. 

“If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink.” – Proverbs 25:21

“When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.” – Exodus 23:4-5

“If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him— I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against their life…” – Job 31:29‭-‬30 NIV

These are just some verses from the Old Testament which tell us how to deal with our enemies.

So we see, from Genesis to Revelation, God instructs us to love our enemies. But from the earliest of times, we humans have always wanted to go our own way and do our thing.

So when you come across verses like Psalms 6:10 or 137:9, remember that the Bible is a real book about real people who were not perfect. 

It doesn’t only give an account of good examples, but bad examples that we aren’t supposed to follow.

Think Samson’s anger, Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy and the greed of Judas.

Even people who we still consider to be good examples, sometimes fell short (like we all do).

Think Peter denying Christ, David with Bathsheba, Paul when he persecuted Christians and Moses as he killed the Egyptian.

Our instructions are to do what God wants us to do, rather than to blindly follow the actions of every Biblical character.

Let’s now look at how to deal with your enemies according to the entire Bible. 

How to deal with your enemies according to the Bible

Here are 5 Biblical strategies for dealing with your enemies:

1. Forgive your enemies

The first thing you need to do about your enemies is to forgive them. It doesn’t matter if you have to do it every day, every hour, or every minute.

I know this will be hard at first. 

Very hard. 

It’s not easy to forgive people who have purposely and intentionally hurt you, farless do it again and again. At one point you’ll just want to say ‘enough is enough!’ 

Surely there’s a limit on the number of times you can forgive the same person for doing you wrong.

Well actually…..there is.

Here’s what the Bible says about how many times we need to forgive others: 

Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how many times will my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered him, “I say to you, not up to seven times, but seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21‭-‬22 (AMP)

So, the limit is seventy times seven and if my math is correct, that’s 490 times.

But let’s be honest…who’s really going to keep a record of how many times they’ve forgiven someone?

(Not you I hope! 👀)

I believe that the limit in this passage doesn’t need to be taken literally. Rather, the point of the verse is that we should forgive our enemies continually.

(God has definitely forgiven me more than 490 times… what about you?) 

If you’re still not convinced, there are 2 good reasons you should forgive your enemies.

1. Forgiving your enemy is for your benefit

You don’t ever have to verbally let your enemy know you forgive them, and that’s because forgiveness is for you.

It’s something that you do internally, choosing to let go of anger, bitterness and hatred towards the other person.

This gives you peace. It brings you healing. It helps you to move on with your life.

When we choose not to forgive, the other person may never know or even care. But meanwhile, our bodies are being destroyed.

In the research paper entitled “Forgiveness: How it Manifests in our Health, Well-being, and  Longevity Longevity”, the author states that unforgiveness has a variety of negative health effects including “increased  anxiety, depression, elevated blood pressure, vascular resistance, decreased immune response, and worse outcomes in coronary artery disease.”

In other words, when we don’t forgive [our enemies], we allow them to hurt us even more.

No thank you!

The author also mentions a quote that I think we should all keep in mind:

To lick your wounds, to smack you lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the  prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. 
The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself.  
The skeleton at the feast is you.

(Buechner, 1993, p. 2)

Yikes!

2. Unforgiveness negatively affects your relationship with God

The Bible makes it very clear what happens when we don’t forgive.

In Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV), Jesus says:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Simply, if we want our own sins to be forgiven, we need to be willing to extend that forgiveness to others.

Like I said before, forgiving your enemy will be hard, but pray to God to help you do it.

You’ll be better off that way.

2. Pray for your enemies

It’s common belief that people who make it their duty to make other people miserable are very miserable themselves.

I think this belief is definitely true.

This quote puts it nicely:

“People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” – Dan Pearce

With this quote in mind, you can safely assume that your enemies must be deeply troubled, really insecure, and very unhappy — despite how they may make it seem. Without a doubt, these kinds of people need the most prayer. 

Jesus tells us exactly what to do in Matthew 5:44:

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

Not sure what to pray for? 

Try praying consistently that God will help your enemies overcome the trials that they are going through and that they can invite Jesus into their hearts. Here are 3 Bible verses that explain why this method will work:

God hears our prayers

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. – 1 John 5:14 NIV

God can do anything

“I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? – Jeremiah 32:27 NIV

God can turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26 AMP

With these verses in mind, we can feel confident that our enemies will one day be changed.

3. Treat your enemies with kindness

Another way to deal with your enemies according to the Bible, is to help them.

How do I know?

Well, Jesus tells us to do good to those who hate us in Luke 6:27‭-‬28:

“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.”

Now, I know this one probably seems so unattractive.

No one wants to look pathetic or silly trying to help someone who obviously hates them.

Here’s what you can do instead:

How to treat your enemies with kindness

Your goal shouldn’t be to go out of your way looking for the slightest opportunity to help your enemy with whatever little thing they need.

Dog bringing coffee to and from a sloth typing on a computer. | how to deal with your enemies according to the Bible
You don’t need to be like the dog in this gif by SLOTHILDA

Instead, just don’t harden your heart towards your enemy. In other words, be observant and then be kind.

If you see that they need help with something, or something of theirs is in danger, don’t let your relationship hinder you from acting kindly. 

Earlier, we saw some verses from the Old Testament that fit this perfectly:

“If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat; and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink.” – Proverbs 25:21

“When you come upon your enemy’s ox or donkey going astray, you shall bring it back. When you see the donkey of one who hates you lying under its burden and you would hold back from setting it free, you must help to set it free.” – Exodus 23:4-5

So, is your enemy’s house on fire? Call the fire department (and see if you can help!). Is their car about to be towed? Let them know! Are they about to fall? Don’t be afraid to reach out a hand to help them.

Basically, you should do what you would naturally want to do for a close friend or loved one.

Maybe there are things you wouldn’t do for even a friend or loved one. If that’s the case, then do the thing you would want someone to do for you.

In this well-known verse, Jesus says exactly that:

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31 NIV

For those who are still not moved to help their enemy, here’s another thing the Bible says:

On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” – Romans 12:20 NIV

Of course, this isn’t literal!

From my understanding, it means that your enemy will be so shocked and confused by your kindness, that they will feel really guilty and sorry for all they have done to you. 

If you like the sound of that, try helping your enemy the next time they need it.

4. Understand your enemy’s trials

One of the ways people tend to deal with their enemies is to rejoice when something bad happens to them.

That was number 6 on our list (see here) and it is very common.

So people think: My enemy is in trouble? God is good! They’re seriously ill? Ha! They’re having sleeping problems? Well, there really is no rest for the wicked!

Okay… maybe some of these are a little extreme.

For a lot of people, rejoicing at their enemy’s misfortune looks more subtle.

It’s that little smile they have when they’ve heard bad news concerning their foe. Or that smug look they get when they see their enemy struggle. Sometimes it’s not visible to others, but an inner feeling of satisfaction from watching their enemy get into trouble.

I think we’ve all done this, at least once.

Maybe as a child… maybe at an older age. 

Regardless, this kind of reaction isn’t because we’re just mean, insensitive people (hopefully). Rather, many of us tend to react that way because we honestly think our enemies deserve it. 

We feel like their misfortune is divine justice for all they have done to us and so, we rejoice.

But justice isn’t ours to determine and it’s not up to us to decide what our enemies deserve or not. That’s God’s job and we should leave it to Him.

Here’s what’s said in the book of Romans:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? – Romans 2:1‭-‬4 (NIV)

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt?

For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: “ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. – Romans 14:10‭-‬12 (NIV)

Remember we have all fallen short of the glory of God.

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… ” -Romans 3:23 NIV

Would it be fair for someone to say that you deserve your current trials for your sins of the past? I think not.

The Bible says you are forgiven and there is no condemnation for you!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. – Romans 8:1‭-‬2 NIV

And, since we have been forgiven, we ought to forgive others (which we already spoke about) and to be kind and compassionate to one another.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32 NIV

Therefore, sympathize and show compassion to your enemies

Of course, compassion doesn’t translate to rejoicing at the bad things that happen to your enemy, however subtle.

In fact, the Bible clearly says that God disapproves of this behavior.

Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them. -Proverbs 24:17‭-‬18 (NIV)

Again, in the book of Job, we find more evidence why rejoicing over your enemy’s trouble is wrong. In chapter 31, Job is trying to understand what he could have done to deserve the suffering he is going through. 

He lists many possible shortcomings that may have caused his suffering if he was actually guilty of them (which, of course, he is not).

Right between worshipping the sun and moon and letting his family go hungry (both we know to be wrong), he says:

“If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune or gloated over the trouble that came to him— 

I have not allowed my mouth to sin by invoking a curse against their life—”
-Job 31:29‭-‬30 (NIV)

Here, we see clearly that Job recognized that it was sinful to rejoice at his enemies’ misfortune or to wish evil upon them.

It’s no wonder God considered Job blameless and upright!

Instead of rejoicing at our enemies’ misfortune, we can sympathize with them, pray for them, and even offer an encouraging word or helping hand.

5. Love your enemy

Luke 6:35-36 is the famous verse where Jesus said “Love your enemies.”

In fact, we’ve already discovered that this theme can be found all throughout the Bible. We are told to love our enemies genuinely — just like Jesus did. In exchange we are promised a great reward.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. “- Luke 6:35‭ (NIV)

But, what does it mean to love our enemies?

Well, loving our enemies encompasses all four methods listed above, and more.

1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 says it perfectly:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4‭-‬7 (NIV)

Another thing 1 Corinthians says about love is that it never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).

I talk about that more in this post, but it simply means that when we apply true Biblical love to any situation, it can never have a bad outcome.

Related: (Christian) love isn’t what you think it is

Love is the powerful secret ingredient that changes even enemies into friends. With that in mind, I want to leave you with this quote by Abraham Lincoln:  

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

Of course, friendship doesn’t come first and it doesn’t come easy. 

Forgiveness must take place, bitterness must subside, and relationships must be repaired. For this reason, friendship may take years. 

In fact, it may never come. 

But if it counts for anything, I pray we can all destroy our enemies this way– by becoming friends with them.

Conclusion

There are many ways people deal with their enemies, ranging from rejoicing at their misfortune to compromising in order to please them.

But what should a Christian do? And what does the Bible say?

In this post, we discuss how to deal with your enemies according to the Bible.

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