Key Scriptures: Genesis 37, 39, Luke 6:27-36, Psalm 109:2-5, Romans 12:14, Proverbs 24:17, Romans 12:20, Matthew 5:38-48, Exodus 14:14, Psalms 37:1-5, Luke 23:34, Proverbs 25:21-22, Psalm 23:4, 1 Peter 3:9, Romans 12:19, Proverbs 20:22, Leviticus 19:18, Ephesians 4:32, John 13:34, 1 Peter 2:23
Guiding Question: How does God want us to treat our enemies?
Optional Introductory Activity: Read students Aesop’s Fable Two Enemies at Sea. Depending upon your source, the moral for this fable is “Ultimate satisfaction is seeing your enemy perish before you.” Share the moral with students again. Ask them why they believe the man was more worried about the timing of the possible death of his enemy than his own death or trying to do something that might save them both. Have them come up with a list of things that the other man could have done that might make the man hate his enemy so badly. Most likely, they will come up with fairly serious incidents. We may assume enemies are born from disagreements over important things, but some of the bloodiest family feuds in history began over cows, a hog, political opinions, property lines and other seemingly minor differences.
Ask students if they are aware of peers who consider themselves enemies. Without sharing names or revealing details, what are some of the reasons the two people or groups of people think of themselves as enemies. Make a list of the various reasons students give to use later during the activity.
Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) Read or tell the stories about Joseph and his brothers found in Genesis 37 and Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39. Would it be fair to say Joseph might have considered his brothers and Potiphar’s wife his enemies at this point in his life? What are some reasons he could have given for classifying the as his enemies? Joseph had a lot of really bad things happen in his life because of what his brothers and later Potiphar’s wife did to him. He didn’t deserve them, but he was powerless to stop those bad things from happening. Is there any indication in these stories that Joseph was filled with hatred, plotted revenge or vowed to avenge what they did to him as soon as he was able to do so? Why not?
Read Genesis 45:4-11. We don’t know if Joseph ever saw Potiphar’s wife again, but we do know what happened when he was reunited with his brothers years later. What was Joseph’s response when his brothers were concerned that he might retaliate for what they had done to him? Why do you think Joseph was able to view the negative things that had happened to him in this positive light? Is there any indication he had a grudge against his brothers or planned to take revenge on them? Why was Joseph able to forgive them for the way they had treated him?
Jesus had every right to be upset with those involved with his crucifixion. It happened because the people who arranged it hated Jesus so much they were willing to lie to ensure he suffered one of the most painful deaths possible. Yet what did Jesus say on the cross right before he died? Read Luke 23:34. Why do you think Jesus was able to pray this prayer when he could have just as easily struck all of those involved dead? What emotions would most people have felt in his place? This prayer gives us a hint that Jesus was experiencing which emotions instead? Why was Jesus able to feel love and forgiveness instead of anger and hatred for those who were clearly his enemies?
The dictionary defines an enemy as someone who actively opposes or is hostile to someone. It may begin with a feeling, but enemies often try to hurt one another in some way. Many people feel justified in trying to get revenge on someone who has hurt them. The idea of an “eye for an eye” and a “tooth for a tooth” is just as popular today as it was during Bible times. In fact, one could argue “cancel culture” (feel free to change this term to a similar concept popular in your area) is an extension of this idea of getting revenge or making people suffer in some way because they have hurt you. Read Psalm 109:2-5. How does David describe an enemy?
While God will eventually pronounce justice for those who make themselves enemies of others and never repent, it seems God has a very different idea for the way He wants us to treat our enemies until then. Read the following scriptures and put together the complete prescription God has given His people for dealing with their enemies.
- Romans 12:14 bless those who persecute you
- Proverbs 24:17 do not rejoice when an enemy falls
- Romans 12:20, Proverbs 25:21-22 feed a hungry enemy, give water to a thirsty enemy, kindness will feel to them like burning coals
- Matthew 5:38-48 love your enemies, etc. loving only those who love us is easy – God calls his people to a higher standard
- Exodus 14:14 the Lord will fight for you, be silent
- Psalm 37:1-5 don’t fret because of evildoers
- Psalm 23:4 don’t fear evildoers
- 1 Peter 3:9 don’t repay evil for evil, instead bless
- Romans 12:19 don’t avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, vengeance is mine says the Lord
- Proverbs 20:22 don’t say I will repay evil, wait for the Lord and He will deliver you
- Leviticus 19:18 don’t take vengeance or bear a grudge, love your neighbor as yourself
- Ephesians 4:32 forgive one another
- John 13:34 love one another as I have loved you
- 1 Peter 2:23 when he was reviled, he didn’t revile, when he suffered, he didn’t threaten
We know from the New Testament and historical writings that the Apostles and early Christians followed the example of Jesus. They often went through periods of intense persecution and many died horrible deaths. There is no indication that these early Christians ever tried to retaliate. In fact, it is said many non-believers were astounded by how peacefully the early Christians lived – many calm in the face of horrible deaths.
At some point though, many Christians began to model the world when they believed they were treated badly instead of Jesus. In fact, that is why some people to this day think badly of Christians – because of some of the often ugly and violent choices they made in retaliation to people they viewed as enemies. Christians may not be quite as violent today, but some still struggle with doing what Jesus would do when they are harmed by an enemy. What are some things we can do to more closely model the scriptures we read today and the example of Jesus? What things that are commonly done to enemies today should we avoid doing ourselves?
Skills Activity: Review the main points in the lesson, ending with the last few questions of the lesson. Have students work in small groups to write and film skits for peers that depict a typical “enemy” scenario in their worlds. Have them film the situation being handled as it might normally and then film an alternate solution showing how the scriptures indicate God would want us to handle the situation. Remind students that although they are depicting ugly behaviors, they should avoid using curse words and other inappropriate language even in this fictitious depiction.
You may want to have a movie night when family and friends are invited to see their films.
Application Challenge: Thinking back over the Bible lesson, can you name someone in your life who treats you as an enemy? How have you responded to the things they have done? After the lesson, do you think these responses were the ones God would have wanted you to have? If not, what are some different choices you can make the next time someone acts like an enemy?