Praying for Enemies

Brothers Sell Joseph into Slavery

Brothers Sell Joseph into Slavery, Konstantin Flavitsky

“We assault others when we act against what is good for them, even with their consent.” Dallas Willard

Who is an enemy?

Using Willard’s insight we have a basic way to understand the difference between a friend and an enemy. As Christians (like most people), we don’t usually like to think of anybody as an enemy. The word “enemy” is charged with emotion and connotation that we would rather avoid. In fact, it just isn’t popular today to have enemies, because that would involve us in some type of judgment, and judgment is, oh, so Neanderthal.

But the fact is that those who act against our good could not be rightly considered anything but an enemy. Sure, those who mistakenly cause us ill can, and should, be easily forgiven. After all, it wasn’t their intention to do us harm. But those who are actively doing something that is against our good, whether that’s their ultimate aim or not, are still acting contrary to our well-being. They oppose our interests, possibly only as a by product, but nonetheless, their actions are hostile to us – the basic dictionary definition of enemy.

I’m not talking about healthy competition or people looking out for their own reasonable interests, that’s normal and not really considered hostile. I mean when someone, perhaps in pursuit of something they want, must act against our good in order to get their desire. Traditionally, that behavior would be considered reckless, cowardice, or simply, selfish. When one takes that posture, they are an enemy. Naturally, those whose aim is to work actively against our good share in this classification and those who work for our good are, at least in the general sense, our friends.

Thou shalt not have enemies?

The Bible doesn’t exhort us to not have enemies, that would be ridiculous, and only plausible in a some kind of (modern?) mindset where all judgment is wrong (except, of course, judgment toward those who judge). To not see anyone as an enemy would be to act in a way that “…denies the vileness of evil and baptizes the most horrible tragedies as the will of God (Richard Foster).” But the rub for Christians is that we are to have a completely different perspective on enemies than unbelievers. Even if we have an enemy, we are never to act against their good. We are to love our enemies.

The Christian Way

The New Testament consistently teaches us that this radical way of love is what Christ brought to the world. We are to return kindness for hate, generosity for abuse and a cup of cold water for a thirsty enemy. We may have enemies, but we should never act like they act. We should define who is an enemy, but we should never declare to them that they are an enemy, for that would mirror their aggression. Rather, we should will their best and return good for evil.

So, how do we pray for enemies? Firstly, we pray for them like we would pray for our loved ones; that they would be taken care of, find blessing and be able to experience true fulfillment. But we should also pray that they would stop being an enemy, for that is inherently bad for them. Their highest good requires that they become a force of good in other people’s lives, for that is how we are made. Evil, participated in, is never a healthy thing. If we truly want to act for their good, we must hope and pray for them to stop their hostility.

Sin has consequences

All evil produces natural consequences destructive to the evildoer. The selfish person alienates themselves from others, the greedy person impoverishes others, the violent person terrifies others and the lustful person disgusts others. Your sin will find you out. Evil not only impacts our relationships, it impacts our psyche and even our bodies. This is how God reaches a person lost in sin. He allows the natural consequences to have their way in hopes it will draw the errant one back to reality.

Prayer for our enemies should include a petition that the natural consequences of sin fully bloom in an enemy’s life so that they may discover contrition and repentance and turn back to love. In truth, we can love our enemies more than they love themselves by hoping for a turn in their life toward goodness, which is the real source of happiness. This is what Paul was saying when he exhorted the Corinthians to turn over an enemy to Satan that his flesh would be destroyed in order that his spirit would be saved (1 Cor. 5:4-5).


One would hope that we could live our lives without having even one enemy. Sadly, until the Kingdom comes, that is probably impossible. In the meantime, we can embody the way of love, hoping and praying that as many as possible, will find their home in the goodness of God.