Is it Possible to Forgive Our Enemies?

One evening in 2015, an unassuming young man walked into a church. The regular attendees of the church’s weekly Bible study warmly welcomed him and proceeded with the meeting for an hour. Suddenly, that young man stood up, took out a gun, and shot everyone in the room. He shot each person multiple times, uttered racist remarks, and walked out. Nine people died that night, including the senior pastor.

This was not the dramatic opening scene to an action-thriller movie. This was real life. The church was the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, USA. The nine murdered were regular church members—and African Americans. The young man was 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a white man who later admitted that he had committed the heinous acts in an attempt to ignite a race war.

What words can describe the horrors of such an atrocity? Who can comprehend the anguish and outrage the victims’ families and friends felt? Surely they must have desired justice, or even vengeance.

But instead, the families of the victims responded in an extraordinary way. Though they were in tears and struggled for words, they chose to extend grace. In their formal statements to Roof at a court proceeding, the grieving relatives stood up one by one, declaring that they forgave Roof and that they were praying for his soul.


Imagine that. Imagine someone hostile or just not particularly fond of you, destroying people who are dear to you. How would you react? Would you, like the Charleston believers, choose not to retaliate but offer your enemy forgiveness instead?

By our own strength, most probably not. But what the Charleston believers had, and so do all of us, was faith; faith in a God who not only died for His enemies but forgave them as well. As Christians, we know the command Jesus gave in Matthew 5:44 well enough: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It sounds so simple and straightforward, yet it’s almost impossible to obey in reality.

Reading about the Charleston news caused me to reflect on my own experience. Five years ago, a friend of mine was stabbed to death by her perpetrator after an attempted sexual assault. Although we were not related by blood, she was like a sister to me. Losing her was like losing an important piece of my world. I felt a gut-wrenching loss.

Her killer was caught in the act and charged with 26 years in prison. When I received news of the sentence, I didn’t respond as the Charleston believers did. “It’s not enough,” a mutual friend expressed, echoing my own thoughts. We were still so angry. I struggled to forgive.

It took me months to hear and understand God’s call to forgive. Through the biblical account of King David, God softened my heart.

Here’s a quick recap. Before he was king, David spent some eight years running from Saul, Israel’s first king, who was hell-bent on destroying him. It was a time of constant unrest, fear, and suffering. Yet, even when David had the opportunity to kill Saul, he did not. He knew that Saul was still God’s anointed. And when Saul finally died, he even mourned for his enemy (See 2 Samuel 1:11-12).

Ultimately, it was out of obedience to God that David chose not to exact revenge on Saul. And I believe that like David, the relatives of the Charleston victims did the same, because they recognized that God had authority over Roof, as much as He did over them. Roof’s life was in God’s hands, not theirs. Because of that, they were able to surrender in obedience to God and forgive their enemy.

In the same way, I had to acknowledge that my friend’s killer was in God’s hands, not mine. I had to acknowledge God’s authority over him. So, as absurd as it felt to me then, I verbally forgave and prayed for my friend’s killer. It didn’t take away the grief, but the act of forgiveness released me from whatever illusion of rights I had over him—rights I believed I deserved because he caused me pain, because he was an enemy in my eyes.

Forgiveness, I believe, is the first step we need to take to love our enemies.

It is a step of trust in the almighty God who is sovereign. And whether we like it or not, we were once God’s enemies. But God chose to provide a way of forgiveness for us, so that “while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son . . .” (Romans 5:10). Having received God’s forgiveness, let’s extend that forgiveness to others—even our enemies.

Is there someone you need to forgive today?

ODJ: Go the Extra Mile

March 23, 2016 

READ: Matthew 5:38-48 

If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles (v.41).

Three boys hatched a plan to earn enough money to buy their own brand-new bicycles. Their strategy was to call around their neighborhood, offering to do yard work or run an errand in exchange for a small amount of cash.

KROSS, the company that manufactures the bikes the boys had their eye on, got wind of their plan. Their hardworking initiative so impressed KROSS that they surprised each boy with a free bike! Those in the world of customer service call this “going the extra mile.”

“Going the extra mile” is a popular phrase that stems from the teachings of Jesus: “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles” (Matthew 5:41).

Jesus’ statement is often understood as a call to go beyond what’s expected. But originally there was much more to it. It was a challenge to show love instead of taking personal vengeance.

Back in Jesus’ day, Roman soldiers could lawfully force able-bodied civilians to carry their gear (which could weigh upwards of 100 pounds) for one mile. It was unfair, inconvenient, and often backbreaking. Jesus encouraged His followers to respond in a new and unexpected way, one that would reflect the generous love of God’s kingdom instead of unlawful resistance (v.39) or revenge.

Carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile might seem outrageous, but that’s often what it takes to turn the tables lovingly on our enemies. It’s a powerful and hopeful way to respond, one that reflects the new life of God’s coming kingdom. And it’s one of countless ways to emulate the gracious love of our “Father in heaven” (vv.45,48). Today, perhaps God will use your extra-mile efforts to help others see what His outrageous love is all about.

—Jeff Olson

365-day-plan: 1 Samuel 9:1-21

Check out how the apostle Paul’s teaching on revenge mirrors Jesus’ instruction by reading Romans 12:17-21. 
Is someone treating you unfairly? What is one way you could lovingly respond that’s so outrageously different that the offenders will see Jesus? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)

ODB: When Not to Rejoice

December 3, 2015 

READ: Ezekiel 25:1-7; Matthew 5:43-48 

Do not gloat when your enemy falls. —Proverbs 24:17


The Akan people of Ghana have a proverb: “The lizard is not as mad with the boys who threw stones at it as with the boys who stood by and rejoiced over its fate!” Rejoicing at someone’s downfall is like participating in the cause of that downfall or even wishing more evil on the person.

That was the attitude of the Ammonites who maliciously rejoiced when the temple in Jerusalem “was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile” (Ezek. 25:3). For spitefully celebrating Israel’s misfortunes, the Ammonites experienced God’s displeasure, which resulted in grim consequences (vv. 4-7).

How do we react when disaster befalls our neighbor or when our neighbor gets into trouble? If she is a nice and friendly neighbor, then, of course, we will sympathize with her and go to her aid. But what if he is an unfriendly, trouble-making neighbor? Our natural tendency may be to ignore him or even secretly rejoice at his downfall.

Proverbs warns us: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice” (24:17). Instead, Jesus tells us that we show His love in action when we “love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]” (Matt. 5:44). By so doing, we imitate the perfect love of our Lord (5:48).

— Lawrence Darmani

Lord, open my eyes and my heart to be honest about my attitude toward those who are unkind or unfair to me. Fill my heart with Your love, Lord, and help me pray for them.

Love your neighbor as yourself.  

ODJ: dangerous friends

August 30, 2015 

READ: Matthew 22:1-14 

Friend, . . . how is it that you are here without wedding clothes? (v.12).

One of our sons has endured bullies on his school bus. Two weeks ago, he walked into the kitchen after school and with a quivering lip said, “I don’t want to ride the bus anymore.” It’s been hard for him to learn how to protect himself while also staying open to forgiveness (if the bullies show repentance) and the possibility of extending friendship to them.

In a parable, Jesus presents God as One who extends friendship even to those who are against Him. “The Kingdom of Heaven,” He said, “can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son” (Matthew 22:2). Jesus then said that none of the invitees came! So the king had his servants hit the streets to invite all who would come, from the riffraff to the town’s elite.

The story takes a strange turn, however. The king spots a guest who wasn’t dressed for the occasion. It’s likely that the guest had refused the clothes the king made available to all in attendance. “Friend,” the king said, “how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?” (v.12).

This word for friend (literally “companion”) is intriguing because it’s used only two other times in Scripture—for the vineyard workers who bore ill will against the vineyard owner who represented God (20:13) and for Judas who betrayed Jesus to His murderers (26:50). These ‘friends’ are ones who genuine friendship was extended to, but who didn’t reciprocate. Instead, evil was done against the ones extending friendship. Those are dangerous friends to have!

The scandal of God’s friendship is how it extends even to those who will reject Him. Jesus, the friend of sinners, lived this out and taught us to love everyone—even our enemies (5:44, 11:19).

—Winn Collier

365-day-plan: John 12:20-36

Read Matthew 5:43-48 and consider what it means to love as Jesus loves. 
How do you normally respond to those who bully you or treat you unkindly? What can you apply from Jesus’ words and example to love your enemies? 

(Check out Our Daily Journey website!)