All this week, I’ve been focusing on friends, but what about the people in your life who aren’t your friends? What about those folks you have to spend time with who don’t like you? If you spend any time in the Psalms, you will realize that David talked a lot about people who hated him. He mourned how many enemies he had. And (just being honest), sometimes I wonder if the Psalms are always applicable to me because I don’t really have enemies.
I was looking for this one clip off of my new favorite television show, BBC’s Sherlock, where John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are talking about arch-enemies, but I couldn’t find it. Watson points out that people don’t have arch-enemies in real life. They have friends. They have people they like, people they don’t like, etc. And that’s how I feel about enemies mostly, at least when it comes to flesh and blood humans.
And I’m positive that there are people in my life who don’t like me. There have to be. I just choose not to think about them, because I’m such a people pleaser that if I start focusing on the people who don’t like me, I’m going to lose my mind. And I won’t be very useful to the people who do like me. But as nice as it would be, you can’t avoid people who dislike you forever. And even though it would be great to be the kind of person who everyone likes unconditionally, life doesn’t work that way. And if you’re going to stand for anything that matters, people will dislike you. Eventually, you’ll stumble across someone who is diametrically opposed to everything you believe in, maybe passively, maybe aggressively.
So how do you handle people like that?
Today’s verses are Romans 12:17-21.
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
This is a difficult one to keep to. It’s so much easier to reciprocate when someone hurts you. It’s natural to want to hurt them back. And, of course, sometimes reciprocation is necessary. Sometimes for justice’s sake, people need to pay for what they’ve done. But that’s a legal issue. That’s a law issue. And I’m not a law enforcement officer. I’m not involved in legal matters in any way. And I don’t have the right to dole out punishments to people around me.
So what do I do when someone turns against me? How do I treat them when they purposefully set out to hurt me or hinder me or discourage me? I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have few influences like this. Most everyone I’ve met has always been an encourager, but there have been times when people I thought were friends turned against me. And, yes, my first response is to strike back, to make them feel what I feel. But that’s not how we’re supposed to respond.
We are to respond to the negative influences in our lives with love. If they hurt us, we love them in return. If they hate us, we love them in return. If they seek to destroy us, we love them in return. See the pattern? And I’m not talking about the fake smiles that hide the sneers behind people’s backs. Showing “love” to someone with the only intention of hurting them in the end isn’t love, and that’s not what this verse is talking about. When we’re supposed to respond in love, it means real love. It means the kind of love that only God can help us show.
And it doesn’t matter what they do to us. It says never return evil for evil. Not sometimes it’s okay. Not usually. Never. Never seek revenge. Never take matters into your own hands. That’s not your job. That’s God’s business. It’s our responsibility to live the way we’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.
But it’s not easy, especially when we have so many means at our disposal to hurt each other. That’s why we need God’s help. We need Him to move in our hearts and help us love the unlovable in a real way. One of the gifts the Holy Spirit gives us is love, and not just love for those who believe the way we do but love for everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. That’s the love we need to ask for. That’s the love we need to show the world, because it’s that kind of love that makes us different.
So when you run into someone who doesn’t like you today, remember to show them love. Granted, don’t go out of your way to track them down and shower them with compliments. I mean, you can if you want, but that might make the situation worse. But if you can’t avoid them, if you have to see them, be kind to them when they are cruel. Thank them for their help when they treat you like dirt. Encourage them when they discourage you. It’s not easy, but God will help you do it. And who knows what might happen? You never know how God can work in someone else’s heart. Maybe all it will take is a little love.