Praying for Our Enemies
Bible Reading: Acts 7:54-60; Matthew 5:44-48
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
Seemingly, we all know that special someone in our life who likes to cause us trouble. Whether it be a co-worker, classmate, family member, or a neighbor, at some point in our lives we will interact with somebody who opposes our faith and seeks to do us harm, going out of their way to make things difficult. I’ve experienced such things both in the workplace and in ministry. How do we deal with such folks? In the world’s way of thinking the best way to respond to ill treatment is to respond in kind, yet God calls us to love even our enemies and to pray for them.
When it comes to praying for our enemies, Stephen provides for us a great and inspiring example. Stephen was a man who was full of the Spirit (Acts 6:3). Being filled with the Spirit, he was also full of “wisdom,” “faith,” and “grace and power” (Acts 6:3, 5, 8). By the Spirit he was doing “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). He was a man much used by God!
Stephen stood out amongst the brethren and was no doubt deeply loved by them (Acts 6:5), yet there were others who did not like him at all. A group of Hellenistic Jews “rose up and disputed with Stephen.” “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking” (Acts 6:10). So, they instigated others to make scandalous reports about him. They stirred up “the people and the elders and the scribes” (Acts 6:12). They “seized him and brought him before the council” (Acts 6:12). False witnesses were brought forth and accused him. The high priest asked, “Are these things so” (Acts 7:1)? Most of the rest of chapter seven is Stephen’s response, in which he recounted Israel’s past and applied its historical apostasy directly to his listeners.
With Spirit-imparted boldness, he indicated they were responsible for the death “of the Righteous One” (Acts 7:52). At that point in Stephen’s defense his audience became “enraged and they ground their teeth at him” (Acts 7:54). He was privileged, by the Spirit, to be granted a vision of “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55-56). His report of what he saw only intensified their anger. In a state of rage they screamed, covered their ears, and mobbed him (Acts 7:57). They dragged him out of the city and stoned him (Acts 7:58). As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). As he was dying, he spoke to the One who had died to forgive his own sins, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
They killed the messenger, but not the message. Saul was there and “approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). Yet Saul, that great persecutor of the church, would later be saved and befriend Stephen’s Savior. On the day of Stephen’s death there arose “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem. As a result, they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). The church was scattered, but those “who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). That great persecution, initiated through Stephen’s martyrdom, only worked to expand the outreach of the church. They silenced Stephen, but not the Spirit. And Stephen’s legacy—as a bold faithful witness to the truth—lives on to this day.
Jesus prayed for God’s forgiveness for those who crucified Him. Stephen likewise prayed for those who stoned him. They both prayed amidst their suffering, and not for themselves but for the ones who were causing their harm. How much more shall we then pray for those who trouble us, that God might work to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21). Put that difficult-to-get-along-with person on your prayer list and pray for them, and then wait to see what God might do!
“Do Not be Overcome by Evil but Overcome Evil with Good” (Romans 12:21).
RESCUE THE PERISHING
Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful,
Jesus will save.
Though they are slighting Him,
Still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe. [Refrain]
Down in the human heart,
Crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more. [Refrain]
Rescue the perishing,
Duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died. [Refrain]