How should we pray for our enemies? Well we often know what we would like to pray for our enemies on a gut reaction level, but really, should we be praying for them in a loving way, or praying for them that they will receive their “just” desserts, perhaps even with a second helping of dessert? We might think of the enemies “out there” such as those who who bomb innocent people who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or rather the right place at the right time but unfortunately while there is some fool doing the wrong thing. Or we might think of personal enemies, people that have hurt us personally, be it former friends, people we wish were former coworkers, or people we wish were former relatives. Are our prayers for the enemy gushing with love and well wishes? Should our hearts go out to them?
In reading Ephesians 2:11-22 we do well to remember that Paul is speaking about two groups of people that were, for the most part, enemies. Paul even reminds the reader of the tension as verse 11 contains the derogatory term “uncircumcision,” a term which goes unnoticed by us today but would have been recognized as a put-down by the original readers.
Indeed there is a long history of hostility between Jew and Gentile. From the Egyptians to the Assyrians, to the Babylonians, to the Persians, to Alexander the Great, to the Romans – there we a constant string of Gentile neighbours happy to attack, occupy, and/or destroy God’s people. Israel was, back in those days, very suspicious of her neighbours. Still is. Then there is the religious hostility. Study the history of the kings of Israel and Judah in the books of Kings and Chronicles and really you are studying the history of apostasy, of God’s people being enticed to worship the things and in the ways of her Gentile neighbours. Therefore in New Testament times many in Israel were keen to keep a distance, and keep the Gentile at a distance for fear that history might repeat itself. The two groups would not normally be seem eating together. The temple itself, was designed to keep foreigners out with signs posted that they would meet their end if they got too close. The big question in the air was not just how we might keep the Gentiles from getting too close, but how can we get them them out of the nation altogether, and indeed, who would be the messiah to make that happen?
With the hostility, and yearning for distance in the air, verse 13 comes as rather a shock: “But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13 NET). This is startling news for the Jew who thought the Messiah’s main role in that time should be to end the Roman domination and occupation, a hope the Gentile perhaps knew. But this is perhaps even more startling to the Gentile, those who are the main recipients of this letter; their standing with God, and therefore with Israel is completely changed. Formerly they were “without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 NET) Now they are “brought near by the blood of Christ.” This is a far cry from having one’s blood shed by the Christ, which is the Greek term for Messiah.
This has great implications regarding the relationship between these two enemies which Paul goes on to explain:
– the two groups in Christ are now one, their hostility being replaced by peace. (Verse 14)
– two religious systems are now gone, and instead are replaced not so much with a new religious system, as with a new humanity (verse 15).
– the two groups are reconciled through the cross. It is interesting to note here that while both Jews and Gentiles share responsibility for the killing of Jesus, that through his death, Jesus was “killing” their hostility (verse 16).
– to both groups is declared the message of peace (verse 17). Normally one would expect one group to be declared winner, the other loser.
– both groups can experience the presence of God through the Holy Spirit (verse 18). Formerly, this experience was reserved for one group through the temple, into which the other group could not go.
– the two groups are no longer two distinct groups, but indeed family (verse 19)
– together the two groups can now point to a shared history (verse 20).
– together the two groups are in fact the very dwelling place of God (verses 21,22)
When we ask, “how should we pray for our enemies?”, the question we should really ask is, “what is God’s will for our enemies?” We might note that while in the Garden of Gethsemane, the final prayer of Jesus was not that the Father would rain down vengeance on those who deserve it, upon those responsible for his death (which would turn out to be both Jew and Gentile). Rather his prayer was that God’s will would be done. His will is to grant all people the opportunity to draw close to Him, and when they draw close to Him, they draw close to us, if indeed we have drawn close too. Let us pray for a closing of the gap, though it may at times call for some time spent in our own Garden of Gethsemane.