Jesus’ Attitude Toward His Enemies

By Mike Willis

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect(Matt. 5:43-48).

A person’s conduct toward his enemies frequently reveals a dark side of his character. Some men stoop to lying, misrepresentation, mud-slinging, and other vicious activities commonly characterized as “character assassination” to destroy their enemies. On some occasions hatred for one’s enemies actually results in murder, as reading the daily newspaper commonly demonstrates. What was Jesus’ conduct toward his enemies? We read above what he preached, but how did he live?

1. Jesus held no grudges. He taught his disciples to forgive as often as a person repented and asked his forgiveness, even until 7 times 70 (Matt. 18:21-35). He emphasized that one’s own forgiveness is contingent on whether or not he is willing to forgive his brother. He did not allow his disciples to nourish grudges, resulting in bitterness of spirit, hatred, and spite. But more than mere teaching, Jesus demonstrated that he held no grudges when he prayed to the Father saying, “Forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). His conduct manifested the proper attitude one should hold toward his enemies. Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross, even for those who crucified him, demonstrates the active good will that love mandates.

2. Jesus bore injury without malice. Peter described Jesus’ attitude toward his enemies when he wrote, “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21-23). Jesus did not walk around with a chip on his shoulder because of wrongs previously suffered. He never hated anyone, nor did he cruelly mistreat his enemies. He lived what he taught when he said that love “thinketh no evil” (i.e., does not keep an account, a running ledger of wrongs suffered, 1 Cor. 13:5).

3. Jesus was kind to his enemies. The spirit of the world is to be kind to one’s friends and do whatever evil one can to his enemies. Plato described Cyrus saying, “No one did more good to his friends and more harm to his enemies” (cited in Boles’ Outlines 57). There is no evidence that Jesus was ever unkind to his enemies.

As a matter of fact, one of the things that created enemies for him was the kindness he showed those to whom the religious world was generally unkind. The Pharisees condemned Jesus for eating with the publicans and well-known sinners of the world (see Luke 15:1-2). They were appalled that he would be kind to such people. Their criticism itself is a compliment to Jesus’ character. He did not reflect a holier-than-thou attitude toward those whose lives were consumed with sin. Like the Great Physician that he was, he stooped to heal the sick and broken-hearted, rather than contemptuously looking down on them.

He treated the Samaritan woman with kindness (John 4). The Samaritans were considered “dogs” by the Jews. Jesus’ kindness to this woman startled her. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9). Jesus was no enemy to the Samaritan woman.

4. Jesus was forgiving. I know that is true, for he has forgiven me. Paul was truly amazed at the grace of God manifested in Christ. He wrote, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).

Jesus’ attitude toward his enemies was shown when he prayed for those who crucified him to be forgiven of their sins. It is shown in his coming to this earth and dying on the cross for us  sinners who were alienated from God.

5. Jesus forbade revenge. In the same vein as Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, Paul wrote, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). When men set out on a mission to retaliate for injuries (or imagined injuries) suffered, they are guilty of vindictiveness. Such actions proceed from a malevolent spirit. The spirit of malice is itself a work of the flesh (Rom. 1:29; Eph. 4:31).

The modern movies extol revenge in many of the Rambo type of movies. Gang wars are the result of a spirit of vengeance. Many inner city youths die in gang wars for the purpose of avenging oneself of his enemies. We may pour millions of dollars into the inner city problems but unless the spirit is cleansed of its sinful vengeance, the problems will not disappear.

Sometimes local churches are the battlefields of wounded pride. One man is committed to opposing anything promoted by another man with whom he has become crossed, regardless of how good an idea might be proposed by the man. This is just one way of “getting even.” It is a spirit born of the Devil and not of Christ.


Let us learn from the example of Jesus what our conduct toward our enemies should be. Let us not gloss over sin by excusing our hatred and bitterness of spirit because of some offense or supposed offense against us. Let us pray for our enemies and not nurture a grudge, hold spite, or excuse hatred.

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 4, p. 2
February 17, 1994