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Love Your Enemies

When I was in a concentration camp during World War II, we had to stand every day for two or three hours for roll call, often in the icy-cold wind. Once a woman guard used these hours to demonstrate her cruelty. I could hardly bear to see and hear what happened in front of me.

Suddenly a skylark started to sing high in the sky. We all looked up, and when I looked to the sky and listened to its song, I looked still higher and thought of Psalm 103:11: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him” (RSV).

Instantly I saw that this love of God was a greater reality than the cruelty I experienced myself and saw around me. “Oh the love of God, how deep and great, far deeper than man’s deepest hate.”

In His mercy, God sent that skylark every day for three weeks, just at the time of roll call, to give us an opportunity to turn away our eyes from the cruelty of men to the ocean of His love.

God’s love is both a protection and a weapon. It guards us against impatience, against bitterness, against gloating. It is also a very strong weapon in the battle to win souls, for it never gives in.

It looks for a way of being constructive, it is glad when truth prevails. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope: It can outlast anything. It is, in fact, the one thing that stands when all else has fallen (see 1 Cor. 13).

How do we get that strong love? The Holy Spirit is the one who gives it to us (see Rom. 5:5).

We must look to Him particularly when we are faced with the challenge of loving our enemies. Jesus commanded His disciples, “‘Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you’” (Matt. 5:44, NKJV).

But this is impossible unless God Himself gives us the love that He demands from us.

In Africa I visited the cell of a young man who was sentenced to death. His hands were chained, and his dark skin had many red wounds, caused by lashes.

The cell was absolutely empty; only a plank on the floor, and high up in the wall a very little window. The prisoner looked very healthy and strong. The tragedy that this man had to die overwhelmed me.

I sat down beside him and prayed for a word from the Lord. I asked, “Have you ever heard of the cross of Jesus Christ, where He carried the sins of the whole world—also your sins?”

He nodded.

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ, that He will be your Saviour too?”

“Yes, I love Him, but I have not always been faithful. Politics has taken up my time and attention completely, but now I have brought all my sins to Jesus. He has forgiven me. If I should live any longer, then I will serve Him with all my life.”

“Have you forgiven the people who have brought you here, who will have your death on their conscience?”

“No, I hate them.”

“I can understand that. I will tell you one of my experiences.

“During the war in Holland, I helped to save Jewish people because Hitler wanted to kill them. One day a man came to me who told me that his wife also helped the Jews and that now she had been arrested.

‘She is in the police station and probably she will be put to death. Now there is a policeman who is willing to let her escape if we pay him 600 guilders, but I have no money.’

‘I can help you,’ I said. ‘Come back in an hour.’

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