Turning Enemies Into Friends

I read an interesting comment in a devotional reading this morning that got me thinking about the topic it presented. My paraphrase of that comment is this:

Don’t try to get certain people to like you. Trying to change the mind of an enemy is fruitless.

This goes back to a quote I read decades ago attributed to Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States. In an article published on April 3, 1996 titled, ‘Lincoln’ Seeks to Set the Fact Straight,” in the Los Angeles Times, written by F. Kathleen Foley, the opening paragraph to that article reads:

When an old woman rebuked him for his conciliatory attitude toward the South, which she felt should be “destroyed” after the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln replied, “Madam, do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” (Quote source here.)

In another example, Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general, strategist, philosopher, and writer, who is credited with writing, The Art of War,” an influential work of military strategy that has affected both Western and East Asian philosophy and military thinking, has often been quoted as saying, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

In an abstract to an essay titled, Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and the Importance of Knowing Yourself and the Enemy,”(Accession Number ADA440962) by Paula A. DeSutter, published January 1, 1994, on the Defense Technical Information Center’s website (full text available in PDF at this link), the abstract states:

Sun Tzu said “Know the enemy and know yourself in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril. This deceptively simple instruction, properly applied, is at the essence both of making a sound decision to go to war and of strategic and tactical planning once that decision has been made. Clausewitz [Carl von Clausewitz–a Prussian general and military theorist] further developed this instruction. The purpose of this essay is to apply Sun Tzu’s instruction, drawing on similar principles as articulated by Clausewitz, to determine what, in the modern era, knowing oneself and one’s enemy requires at the national strategy, national military, and operational levels. The author will then demonstrate that in Vietnam and Somalia, the United States let itself get into situations where it knew neither itself nor the enemy, while in Desert Storm, the United States succeeded because it knew both. Finally, the essay will assess at which level knowledge of oneself and ones enemy is most important. (Quote source here.)

The information in the paragraph above goes deeper into the subject than I intend to go in this blog post, but it does show the importance even on a national level of the need to not only know yourself, but to “know your enemy,” too. But how does one learn to “know their enemy,” as enemies can often hide themselves in the cloak of friendship, or as a conciliatory coworker who is secretly out to get our job. The possibilities are endless as to where they can hide without us even knowing about them and/or their existence.

Perhaps we have been lead to believe that an enemy should be obvious to us, such as someone actively opposing us in some way. However, going back to Sun Tzu, clearly that is not always the case. Opposition can be well hidden from us until it is too late, like losing a job when we thought we were doing everything right. Wars are not played out only on the battlefields of opposing nations. They infiltrate our daily lives. And this can happen in any type of relationship or social setting, and not just in the work place.

At the time of this writing we are about two and half weeks away from Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Jesus was nearing the end of his three-year ministry which ends with his crucifixion and his resurrection three days later. Did Jesus have enemies? Absolutely! He had them throughout his three-year ministry, and many of them were Pharisees who were constantly trying to get him killed. They finally succeeded when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Shortly before his death, Jesus talks compassionately to his disciples in John 15 (NIV), and here is part of what he said to them (vv. 9-25):

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

Nothing has changed for the followers of Jesus Christ from when he was crucified and resurrected back in the 1st Century up through today. It is clearly stated by Jesus himself that if the world hates us, it is because the world hated him first. So yes, if we claim to be followers (believers) in Jesus Christ, we have enemies whether we actually see them or know who they are, or not–they are still there. The evidence is found throughout the New Testament and in the life of Jesus’ disciples, and in the life of Paul and all of the followers of Jesus down through the ages to today.

However, our focus as Christians regarding our enemies is not to fear them (or spend a lot of time focusing on them) or to unrealistically believe that they don’t exist–e.g., regarding those who do oppose Christianity here in America but they do it subversively. I remember being raised to believe that persecution happens in other countries, but it could never happen here in America because America is a Christian nation and we have religious freedom and the Constitution on our side. However, America today is quite different from the America I was raised in as a child and teenager back in the 1950’s and 60’s. Even the Christian heydays (in the music industry and publishing and society-at-large) of the 1980’s and 90’s has long since passed, and we are becoming an increasing secular society.

At the beginning of this post is a picture with a quote from Charles Wesley that states, “Be friends of everyone. Be enemies of no one.” I Googled to find information on that specific quote but found nothing, so I asked the question on ChatGPT, and I was provided with following brief information regarding that quote [Note: the two sentences in purple font inside the brackets came from a different source noted at the end of that quote]:

Charles Wesley was born in England in 1707 and was the youngest of 18 children. He was educated at Oxford University, where he and his older brother, John Wesley (born in 1703), started the Methodist movement. [Note: “At Oxford, John joined his brother, Charles, and a group of earnest students who were dedicated to frequent attendance at Holy Communion, serious study of the Bible, and regular visitations to the filthy Oxford prisons. The members of this group, which Wesley came to lead, were known as Methodists because of their ‘methodical’ devotion and study.” Quote source and history of Methodism are available at this link.] Charles Wesley was known for his prolific hymn writing and is credited with writing over 6,500 hymns, many of which are still sung in churches today.

Wesley’s theology emphasized the importance of a personal relationship with God and a life of holiness and love. He believed that Christians should strive to love and serve others, even those who were different from them or who disagreed with them. He was a strong advocate for social justice and spoke out against slavery and other forms of oppression.

The quoteBe friends of everyone. Be enemies of no one” is often cited as a reflection of Wesley’s belief in the importance of friendship and unity. It is a call to love others and to seek peace and harmony in all relationships. The quote has been embraced by many people as a guiding principle for building positive relationships and promoting understanding and respect. (Quote source ChatGPT.)

If you notice, the focus of the quote is not on our enemies or who they might be. The focus is on us, and that we should not automatically perceive anyone that we come into contact with as our enemies. That does not mean we are naïve about others, but that we treat them as friends or at least with kindness even if we are just passing by them on the street.

This follows the same type of reasoning as Sun Tzu’s quote, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” I did ask ChatCPT about Sun Tzu’s quote, and I received the following answer:

The quote “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” is attributed to the ancient Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu, who is best known for his book “The Art of War.” The quote suggests that it is important to be aware of and closely monitor one’s enemies in order to anticipate their actions and respond effectively.

In the context of warfare, Sun Tzu’s quote suggests that it is wise to keep one’s enemies under close surveillance and to gain knowledge of their strengths, weaknesses, and intentions. By doing so, one can be better prepared to defend against attacks and to take advantage of any opportunities that may arise.

However, the quote is not limited to military contexts and can also be applied more broadly to personal and professional relationships. It suggests that it is important to be aware of potential threats or challenges, even from those who may appear to be allies or friends. By keeping a close eye on one’s enemies, one can anticipate their actions and respond effectively to any potential threats or challenges.

Overall, the quote “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” suggests that it is important to be vigilant and strategic in all relationships, whether they are personal or professional, in order to stay ahead of potential threats and to achieve one’s goals. (Quote source ChatGPT.)

Jesus was very clear on how we as his followers should treat our enemies. I received the following information from ChatGPT:

Jesus taught his followers to love and pray for their enemies, and to treat them with kindness and forgiveness. In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

In Luke 6:27-28, Jesus says, “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.”

Jesus also taught his followers to not seek revenge, but to turn the other cheek and to forgive others. In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

Furthermore, in Matthew 6:14-15, 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.”

Jesus’ teachings about loving and forgiving our enemies are challenging, but they offer a path to healing and reconciliation in relationships. Rather than seeking revenge or holding grudges, Jesus encouraged his followers to seek peace and forgiveness, even with those who have wronged them. (Quote source ChatGPT.)

It is my hope that this information is helpful. How to deal with our enemies in the right way is often very hard to incorporate into our lives and our actions, and no doubt we slip and fall over it more then we’d like to admit. However, the truth in any circumstance is this–we don’t have all the details behind what is going on or even why things have happened to us that have had an adverse effect on us. There are two verses that always come to my mind when I encounter tough situations that I have no clue how to resolve, and I’ll end this post with those two verses. They are found in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NKJV): Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him…

And He . . .

Shall direct . . .

Your paths . . . .

YouTube Video: “Love God Love People” by Danny Gokey:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here