In Paul’s extended teaching on election, Romans 9-11, Paul stops to lament that the Jews, his people by ethnicity, were blind to the finished work of Christ. In the midst of this, Paul writes, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake” (Rom. 11:28, emphasis mine).
In context, Paul says that the Jews had become the enemies of God for the sake of the Gentiles. That is, folks like me and probably you so that salvation would be extended toward us.
That we would come to repentance—knowing the one true God and glorifying Him.
On an infinitely smaller scale, I wonder sometimes if some of the men and women who we care about are enemies of God specifically so that we might learn humility and wisdom. In my case, that I might learn to be godly and repent of my sins of arrogance and pride?
Here’s what I mean:
At times, I’ve been known to not dealt with criticism so well (although in the last several years, I hope I’ve improved). Interestingly, I don’t mind when people criticize my work or its quality. Where I get a bit hot under the collar is when people question the thinking behind my work. Whenever this happens, it tends to feel like it’s an attack on my character.
And as my wife can attest, I really dislike it when people question my character.
This is perhaps because I’m secretly afraid that people will learn that I’m actually a bit of a nitwit.
Anyway, because of this, my natural reaction is to turn any criticism back at the critic, not unlike Homer when Marge developed a gambling problem.
But that’s not acceptable conduct for a Christian. It’s not acceptable for one who is called to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
By definition, this command requires something I do not have on my own:
It takes an enormous amount of humility to not retaliate against an enemy (real or perceived). Because in order to do this, you have to set aside your ego, because (at least in my case) that’s the thing that gets hurt most frequently. It takes wisdom to know how to respond in a way that is reflective of God’s character to persecution (again, real or perceived).
And it takes both to realize when you’re simply a bit off your gourd—because, frankly, that happens to all of us once in a while.
At the end of the day, enemies of God, whether real or imagined, are a gift from God to us.
An earlier version of this post was published in September 2009.