5 Steps Toward Making Friends Out Of Enemies

5 Steps Toward Making Friends Out Of Enemies June 8, 2015

Group of friends enjoying a beer at pub in London

2000 years ago a group of folks in the first century had the opportunity to sit at the base of a hill and hear Jesus’s most famous sermon– one that’s become known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” In this particular sermon, Jesus offers many critiques on the old way of doing things and issues his followers a new standard that must be met in order to be rightfully called the children of God: the love of enemies.

Over the course of time I’ve obviously written a lot on this topic, particularly in regards to Christian nonviolence. However, enemy love goes beyond the simple unwillingness to harm our enemies; the call to love those who despise us is an imperative which requires loving action on our part. Enemy love is not easy, but for those who claim to follow Jesus this is the ultimate hallmark that we belong to him.

This morning I am back in the office after a weekend in Chicago at the Justice Conference. While there were a host of topics covered, and many fantastic speakers, what I am walking away with more than anything is a lesson on enemy love.  This was a result of two interactions– one the night before the conference, and one unexpected interaction the evening the conference ended.

Many of you have seen the “Irish Atheist” at times in the comment section here, and know our story. He showed up on the blog two years ago and declared we were enemies, yet the evening before the Justice Conference began, we finally met in person for beers– because today we’re good friends.

Similarly, the evening the Justice Conference ended, I went to an after party at the hotel across the street. A few minutes after arriving I realized one of my current enemies was in the room– someone who has publicly and consistently made strong (and I feel unfair) criticisms of both myself and many of my friends. When I saw them my first instinct was to pretend our eyes didn’t meet, but then remembered a moment earlier in the day when someone came up to me and said, “Hey– aren’t you that guy from the internet who is always talking about peace?”

Ugh. The choice between discomfort and hypocrisy presented itself to me. While I don’t always get the choice between those options right, that night I did– so I walked over, said hello, and extended the opportunity to have some non-hostile dialogue between each other. Though we both had early morning flights to catch, we stood in the hallway continuing our sometimes tense but fruitful conversation until late in the evening. We certainly didn’t resolve all of our differences, but we both agreed that direct dialogue with each other was probably good, and that we would continue having some off-the-record discussions. My hope is enough dialogue will occur that we’ll be able to mutually see we’re both sincere Jesus lovers, and simply disagree on some of our theology and political opinions.

These two interactions– one with a former enemy and one with a current enemy– got me thinking about some practical steps towards living out Jesus’s command to actively love our enemies beyond the discussion of nonviolence. So, here are 5 practical things you can do to work towards not just passively loving your enemies, but to actively seek peace with them:

1. Be the first person to refuse to shoot back.

It is impossible to dialogue with an enemy– let alone actively love them– while there are still bullets zipping through the air. In many cases both sides are waiting for the other side to stop shooting, and as Jesus followers, we ought be the first people to refuse to shoot back or lob another heap of flames onto their side of the fence. This refusal to shoot back is exactly what Jesus is describing when he says, “do not ἀντιστῆναι” in Matthew 5:38, a term that is often hard to translate into English.

2. Be the first person to apologize.

Our insistence on being right instead of being loving is something that complicates all of our relationships at times, most especially with enemies. One of the best ways I have found to disarm an enemy is to surprise them by being the first one to approach with sincere humility in asking forgiveness for your part in the conflict. Even if you don’t yet believe you’ve done anything wrong, the simple humility of saying “I’m sorry if any of my actions have harmed you or contributed to this situation” can go a long way in opening dialogue.

3. Be the first person to shut up and listen.

I’m convinced that half of the reasons why people become enemies are misunderstandings of events, misinterpretation of each other’s motives, or in the case of ideological enemies, a limited or misunderstanding of what they actually believe. Just as enemy love requires one person to refuse to shoot back (perhaps getting shot a few more times in the process) it also requires that one person be the first to shut up and humbly listen to the other.

4. Be the first person to forgive.

In order to move past the state of enemies, there must be forgiveness for all shots fired on all sides– and like the other things I’ve listed, someone has to go first. Forgiveness, (in a biblical sense it means to “send away”), is simply the moment where we release our anger, bitterness, and desire to retaliate. We release these feelings primarily to free ourselves from the burdens they bring, but we also forgive to open the door to the possibility of being more than just enemies.

5. Be the first person to refuse to be enemies anymore.

Living at peace with an enemy (and perhaps even converting them to a friend) isn’t always possible. This is why Paul states in Romans, “as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Ultimate peace takes two former enemies working in tandem, but there are some aspects of the pursuit of peace that do depend on our own selves.  At a minimum, we can reject the invitation to participate in mutual combat with enemies (the seed of shalom)– at most, we can become open to making friends out of them (the fulfillment of shalom).

When Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies he was going far beyond a passive unwillingness to kill them– he was issuing a command to actively do good towards them, and to pursue peace. It’s not easy, it is certainly uncomfortable, but comfort and ease are both things we let go of in order to follow the one who went to the cross.

But to do this however, someone needs to be the first.

Be the first in your situation. The first to stop shooting, the first to apologize, the first to listen, the first to forgive, and the first to refuse to live as enemies any longer.

Do it long enough, and you might actually make a few new friends out of the people you least expected.

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  • chichiplus

    Great advice. Hard to achieve, but worth the effort.

  • Excellent! “Hatred is never reduced by hatred; only by refusing to hate is hatred reduced. This is eternally true.”

  • When reading the Gospel accounts, I always take note about how wastefully Jesus loved others. Those who most would think didn’t deserve it like sinners, foreigners and even the oppressive Romans. I was reading the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman just the other day in Mark 7. The encounter initially started out rather hostile, as Christ called her a dog. Yet, without any expectation of her changing her paganistic ways, becoming Jewish (because Christianity didn’t exist back in those days) etc, etc, Jesus gave the woman what she asked for, saving her daughter from something diabolical without any conditions whatsoever. In fact, he was one of the first (if not the first) to remark how faithful the Canaanite woman was. All she did was respond to gossip about a healer being in the area at the time and appealed to his humanity (read: humane-ness). Sometimes — it is very easy to forget just how much Christ loved and who he showed that love too.

  • liberalinlove

    Being kind includes loving our enemies which are often our neighbors
    as ourselves.

  • This really is excellent. And most of these five steps require a large slice of humble pie in order to enact them.

    One thing though (and here’s me firing the first bullet, and I’m going to state a strongly held opinion – sorry!) You said, “… and issues his followers a new standard that must be met in order to be rightfully called the children of God…” .

    No. Being children of God is not conditional on our behaviour. My sonship is secure, and so is yours, irrespective of your behaviour. Once again, you need to be careful not to shake the faith of those who perhaps do not feel the same security that we do.

    But still, an excellent blog post. So many people could do with reading this; in fact I will share it on my blog too, it’s that good. Thanks for posting it.

  • CroneEver

    “The only way to stop is to stop.” Incredibly frustrating (especially when I have another zinger in my arsenal!) but incredibly true… Thank you.

  • Kristyn P

    This is really good stuff, Ben. It’s so
    easy to get caught up in a constant state of being pissed off at someone. For me, it’s just as much over something general (an opposing ideology/scriptural interpretation) as it is specific (a maligned action). I appreciate your article and its timeliness.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    Love of enemies? How did they become enemies? I think there is a connection bt that & understanding ‘forgive them father they know not what they do.’ I have studied abuse & trauma that sets in motion repeat patterns that go down the corridors of time infecting & influencing human behavior for generations. I needed to in order to heal fr my own childhood trauma and the layering of abuse and addictions that follow one w unhealed emotional injury living in the midst of a community, nation & world that’s boobytrapped w hidden wickedness & srongholds in all the institutional high places. What has helped me most is the connection I have w the holy spirit and the guidance from inspiration to be motivated to keep seeking the truth; for me breaking this hidious cycle takes a supernatural intervention. I know this is foolishness to the worldly wise!

  • M.A.N.

    Easy for me to applaud and agree with this, harder for me to actually go out and do it.

  • Jeanne Fox

    Loving your enemy isn’t always a good idea: “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” is often correct, but those who love Hitler are less likely to fight him than those who hate him. – Dennis Prager.

  • Yup.

  • otrotierra

    Who is Dennis Prager?

  • Jeanne Fox

    He’s a Jewish radio host.

  • Yes!

  • RonnyTX

    5. Be the first person to refuse to be enemies anymore.

    Living at peace with an enemy (and perhaps even converting them to a friend) isn’t always possible. This is why Paul states in Romans, “as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Ultimate peace takes two former enemies working in tandem, but there are some aspects of the pursuit of peace that do depend on our own selves. At a minimum, we can reject the invitation to participate in mutual combat with enemies (the seed of shalom)– at most, we can become open to making friends out of them (the fulfillment of shalom).

    Ronny to Benjamin:
    This one got me to thinking. How about,if we simply refused to be an enemy of the other person,to begin with? How about,if we did that with all persons? Just thinking, because in my time online,I’ve had a few people really get mad at me at times. Some few,who were very hateful,sarcastic,etc. And overtime,I found myself responding somewhat the same way. Now that made me uncomfortable,when I realized I was doing that. It also made me determined to stop being/acting that way. I found it can be done. Just refuse to return hate for hate or sarcasm for sarcasm,etc.And over the past 5 years,I’ve been helped even more,since I realized that I would be spending eternity,with all people. When I realized God/Jesus Christ really did love all persons,just that much. So it set me to thinking. Why not do my best,to get along with all persons,in the here and now? And that is working for me. And when someone doesn’t return that in kind? Well, I just consider the truth,that they don’t know any better yet;but in time they will,for God/Jesus Christ,will make such so! :-)

  • Brandon Roberts

    benjamin i don’t know what world you live in but in the real world you can’t always make friends out of enemies sometimes you have to use violence. like if someone broke into your house and was going to kill your family and they won’t listen to reason and it’s either the intruder or your family than i’m pretty sure you’d do whatever neccesary to save your family

  • This blog post might help in the realm of forgiveness: http://www.flyinginthespirit.cuttys.net/2015/05/31/some-thoughts-on-forgiveness/

  • RonnyTX

    That’s true and that’s for sure! (ha) But one thing that helps,is to keep in mind that any enemy of ours,that is a person that Jesus Christ loved so much,he went to the cross for them and took all of their sins upon himself.

  • Ugh look at you Ben. Making me feel all these feelings all over place. And thanks for not including the fact that the beer almost only happened for one of us – because I’m still a little embarrassed about all that (the owner and GM both gave me so much crap when I saw them later).

  • So, I’m going to call on my own personal interactions with Ben to point out that yes, he is aware of the whole ‘what if someone broke into my house’ hypothetical. He’s come to terms with his theology and with himself on such a situation, and people bringing it up over and over again aren’t going to inspire a new revelation. Even I wasn’t, despite being completely fantastic company.

  • RonnyTX

    Louis,if you’d simply been brought up in the church I was,then you wouldn’t seek for truth;but instead,you would simply have to listen,remember and you would always know the truth. Or so I was wrongly taught,in the church I grew up in. (ha) Ah my,just thinking about how much abuse sometimes comes in,by and through the local church! If I think on it much,I’ll get mad. And I have to keep in mind,that so much there is done out of ignorance.

  • Charles Toy

    Some folks are good at talking the talk. Walking the walk, not so much.

  • RonnyTX

    Real good article Tony. :-)

    With me,I didn’t even know I had been wronged/hurt. Yet it went on for 28 years. That from 12yo to 40yo. By then,the ones who had taught me so wrong about myself,they were all dead. So I could forgive them;but of course I couldn’t confront them or talk to them about such. And when I found out the truth of the whole matter,I just got mad and then bitter. Very mad,at some people. And it was awhile before it hit me that,that anger and bitterness,it just hurt me and did me or no one else,any good. Even to this day,I can get a knot in my stomach,when thinking too long on such.

  • Thanks, Ronny :) Your experience was more or less my experience too, except that those who hurt me are still around but live a long way away. And they won’t remember anyway. So it’s best simply for me to forgive and move on…but that article was written after wrestling with that and other issues. Being free of the burden of unforgiveness is really something, isn’t it? :)

  • Yes! Surrounded since childhood w good intentioned ppl myself! I think the best scripture that came into my mind today is ‘we see thru a glass darkly’. Maybe the miracle is to see anything at all in this dark life cuz the ppl I was brot up w didn’t see what I saw & while the trauma happening to me twisted my personality, influenced my behavior & narrowed my choices it also liberated me from their ‘good intentions’. After many years of working to be free of an inner stigma (self hatred) I am grateful for the transformation possible only from cutting myself off from family, friends, community that poisons w toxic shame. It took some doing but now I stand w the help, everyday, of the holy spirit who shows me new things I never thot possible! I think of h.s. as a person outside the dark glass living in the full light & in the presents of the loving god who thot it good to make me & set me going in this world. I think he sill thinks it’s a good thing!

  • This is all very wise. (Wish I’d known about the Justice Conference as it was in commuting distance of where I live. Would have been cool to meet you and others as well as to hear what people are saying about Justice. Oh well, God knows what he’s doing as these things go.)

    This is a wise post, but does this mean we don’t get to have boundaries?

  • No– boundaries are good and necessary. As I said in the piece, sometimes reconciliation is not possible (say, as with an abuser) and in those cases we use boundaries to keep ourselves safe and healthy.

  • hi charles! I agree; I think if one is in denial that there is anything wrong esp
    If the relatoonship one has w others is based on assumptions, privilege, obligation, projection there is danger of injury on so many levels!
    One’s standing, actually, in relations w jesus via the holy spirit in the world is the way I know to keep my side of the street clean so to speak.
    When I feel free of distortion in my thot life it is because I have turned all important issues, like forgiving enemies, over to god so I don’t have to burn w resentment.
    I’m an alkie and resentment can cause relapses.

  • BT

    What is hard for me is after 30 years of trying to be the first to apologize, etc is that I’m tired. How to keep doing that without feeling like the one who has to keep doing it seems to be quite the trick.

    Only answer I have found is to maintain a close set of non-toxic friends. Having a safe spot to escape to seems to help.

  • Noah

    Haha, this is like the opposite of an online story!

  • Noah

    Really? You care less about people you love, than people you don’t?

    (also, this author is non-fighting)

  • gimpi1

    Oh man, I needed this today. I’m fighting a massive system failure from a power-hit we took Friday night, and I’m dealing with tech-support that isn’t supportive, cloud-servers that I can’t reach and internet-providers that don’t provide. I’ve been so mad that it was making me sick. It’s amazing how you can fill yourself with hate for anonymous people who you see as making your life harder…

    These people aren’t trying to hurt me or my company… they’re actually trying to help, just not as fast or as completely as I would like. That’s not hateful, that’s human.

    I can listen. I can (try not to) get mad. I can (try to) forgive the fact that people are sometimes forgetful or miss details. I can (try) not shout or snipe. I can darn well be the one who doesn’t start the tech-demands war. I can try to be better than my bad temper wants to make me.

    Thanks, I needed to read this.

  • Thank you for taking the time to reply. I’ve said before and will say again you have made a community where I feel safe and welcomed. I feel like your posts offer guidance and soul building.

    I too believe in enemy love, but sometimes being in relationship with some people is too hard, too toxic on this side of the Kingdom being fully realized. We had a relative we stopped speaking to for five years. I had developed a practice of blessing her when I thought ill of her in order to save my sanity. I wondered what God was doing and then imagined that we would sit with each other by the river that Jesus makes when he steps on the Mount of Olives, that if we didn’t reconcile on this side, we could reconcile when the Kingdom comes. But we did reconcile before she died. It was as great a miracle as healing leprosy or raising the dead.

    Someone said that he works to avoid trouble before it happens and I think that is wise too. I think people sometimes try to manipulate us into having a conflict with them, when it’s really not our problem. I remember having this beautiful dog that I showed and this other breeder made it into a big competition. The thing was, I didn’t want to play that game, so I didn’t.

    If the Kingdom is here now, then we might as well behave like it and learn to get along.

  • Guy Norred

    I believe this is the second time your words have been a timely reminder to ask God’s blessings on someone. Thank you.

  • You’re welcome. I need the reminder too when things go awry with people. It is hard work but it is a tiny, hidden way a person can practice enemy love.

  • kitty

    I heard a Jesuit priest lovingly refer to this as “Gods’ Foolish Love.” This man has been in missionary fields in India for over 60 years…demonstrating foolish love…ie: a level of love most people would consider us foolish to lavish on another! This is what we’re called to do…engage in foolish love.

  • Obscurely

    As a bachelor minister would love to know more about someone who presents herself as a sage-quoting female theologian — right up my alley, by the way, since I don’t know any :) — translation: where have you been all my life? :D