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Can Enemies and Challenges Actually Benefit Us?

| Pastor
31 Mar
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Perhaps when you read the title of this article, it puzzled you, but you read it correctly. There are many benefits of having an enemy. I know that’s counter-intuitive, and kind of messes with our brains a little bit. When most of us think of enemies, we don’t want them. Our perspective of an enemy is someone or something that causes us grief, heartache, pain, turmoil, trouble and stress. And, if the truth be told, most of us try to avoid having enemies. From a Christian point of view, we try to make peace with our enemies. But I’m here to tell you that in order to be everything that God wants you to be, you actually need an enemy! I will go as far as to say that our enemies are just as essential as our friends.

Let’s find out if the Scripture supports this counter-intuitive point of view. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:10-11: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus unequivocally tells us that, as His followers, we will be blessed when we are persecuted, insulted, falsely accused and spoken evil of. Well, the only way that can happen is if we have an enemy, and so therefore, our ticket to the blessed life is an enemy!

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roommates women friends fighting serious conversation

How Does Jesus Respond to Enemies – and Friends?

Further affirming the benefits of an enemy is the interesting way Jesus views His friends and His enemies. You might remember the famous conversation where Jesus says to His disciple and friend, Peter, that he was a rock that He would use to build the church. The conversation seems to be going remarkably well. But then Jesus tells Peter that He is going to die and Pete says, “Never Lord, this won’t happen to You!” Jesus then says something interesting to His friend. “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus tells His friend that at that moment, Peter was His enemy because he was steering Jesus away from His mission. What an interesting way to view a friend!

But equally as interesting is what Jesus says to His enemy, Judas. Judas has betrayed Jesus and leads the authorities to come and seize Jesus. In order to identify who Jesus is, he gives Jesus a phony, hypocritical, backstabbing kiss on the cheek, to which Jesus responds: “Do what you came for, friend” (Matthew 26:50). Whazup, Jesus?! He calls His friend His enemy, and His enemy, His friend!

Why would Jesus make such statements? Very simply, Peter was unknowingly obstructing the path to Jesus’ destiny, the cross. Judas was unknowingly pushing Jesus further down the path toward that destiny. And so, Peter was an enemy and Judas was a friend. In that one little nugget, Jesus is revealing to us that there are benefits to having an enemy; God will use even your enemy to push you into your destiny. It might not be what your enemy had in mind concerning you, but it’s what your Heavenly Father will do for you if you will see your enemy as a gift. He will take what the enemy meant for evil and turn it around for your good.

The benefit of our enemy pushing us into our destiny is a consistent theme of Scripture. Goliath was a gift that pushed David to the throne. Pharaoh was a gift that pushed Moses to be Israel’s deliverer. Haman was a gift that pushed Esther to go before the king and save Israel. Potiphar’s wife was a gift that pushed Joseph to prison so he could wind up in the palace. Judas was a gift that pushed Jesus to the cross. You and I need an enemy to be and to fulfill everything that God has designed us to be! I believe Jesus knew that our enemies were our tickets to the blessed life.

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A Case Study: Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah gives us a great Biblical example of the many benefits of an enemy. Nehemiah was the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes of Persia. It was his job to “taste test” any drink set before the king. If it was poisoned, Nehemiah would drink it first and die, protecting the king’s life. In short, Nehemiah’s life was considered to be disposable.

While serving King Artaxerxes in that position, Nehemiah received word that the walls of his hometown city, Jerusalem, were in ruin and the gates had been burned to the ground. The citizens of Jerusalem, his family and friends, were unprotected from their many enemies. When Nehemiah heard this, he began to weep for his people, and God instructed him to go on a divine assignment, to rally the people to rebuild the walls of the city. Through a series of divinely orchestrated events, Nehemiah received permission from King Artaxerxes to leave Persia and fulfill his divine assignment.

Your Enemy Is Evidence You Are in the Will of God

Clearly, Nehemiah was in the will of God, Who miraculously opened the way for Nehemiah’s mission back to Jerusalem. But even so, enemies appeared to oppose and ridicule him: Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, Tobiah, an Ammonite, and a motley crew of others arose to mock, threaten and stop Nehemiah’s work (Nehemiah 4:1-3). They were sent by the devil to kill, steal and destroy the blessing of a restored Jerusalem. But Sanballat was the evidence that Nehemiah was right smack in the middle of God’s will. There’s just no way around it. . . anytime we are doing what God wants us to do, there will be opposition!

So be encouraged – encountering opposition is a sign you are on the right track. Make this change to your mindset today: when an enemy arises in your life, begin to give God glory for that sign. Instead of complaining to family and friends about the person or situation, say, “Thank you, Lord, for confirming to me that I’m on the right track, and the devil is trying to stop my progress!”

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Enemies Push Us to Pray

Notice that Nehemiah’s response to the appearance of enemy opposition was to reach out to God in prayer. Listen to the cry of his heart: “Hear us, our God, for we are despised” (Nehemiah 4:4). In the same way, have you ever noticed how much more you may tend to pray when an enemy shows up in your life, and how little you may pray, relatively speaking, when everything is going along okay? It’s amazing how our relationship with God can strengthen and our devotional time can get back on track after an enemy shows up! And if we believe in the power of prayer – that prayer works, saves, empowers, fills us with Godly wisdom, lifts depression and worry, puts up a hedge of protection around us, and invites the power of God into our situation – if we truly believe, then isn’t the appearance of an enemy a good thing, especially when that enemy pushes us back into prayer! Selah!

Nehemiah admits the truth of this principle: “But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9). We prayed . . . because of them. We are blessed when we pray, and we pray because of our enemies!

Enemies Push Us to Rely on God

The pain caused by experiencing adversity is quite often the catalyst of real and lasting change in our lives: a health crisis causes us to change our diet and take up exercise, bankruptcy causes us to be wise and frugal shoppers, unemployment causes us to upgrade our professional skills.

But even more than the good changes we may make by ourselves, pain also deepens our dependence on God. When we hurt, we run instinctively to God because we want to stop hurting. We go with a heart more willing than normal to do whatever He asks of us, because we trust that he can make the pain go away. And so the pain caused by the enemy becomes an instrument that softens our independent spirits, and causes us to rely on God as we should.

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roommates women friends fighting serious conversation

Enemies Push Us to Become Our Best

Haven’t we all benefited in life by focusing and setting our minds to really do something. We know the difference that makes. Setting our minds to do something causes us to train harder, work longer, refuse to take no for an answer, be persistent, and keep on going.

Under Nehemiah’s leadership in the face of enemy opposition, the people of Jerusalem joined together and set their minds on accomplishing God’s plan of rebuilding the city walls. “So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Nehemiah 4:6). When we decide to do something that God has laid out for us, and then put our minds to doing it, we become an unstoppable force. Setting our minds to do something brings out the best in us! Very often, having an enemy helps us to make this mental change to focus and become our best; indeed, Paul said, adversity can make us glorious! “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17) The word “glory” literally means “to reflect or to look like.” Another way of saying it would be to have an “image change.”

What is that image that God transforms us into? It is the image of His Son, Jesus Christ! And how does that image get stronger and stronger? God uses the affliction that the enemy throws our way to walk us through the challenge, strengthen our faith and grow us into the image of Christ.

The Bible likens it to processing precious metal in the refiner’s fire. It takes time, patience, and an extremely hot fire to refine silver and gold. The impurities are painstakingly removed by repeating the refining process, each time making the metal more and more pure. Ultimately, the way that a silversmith or goldsmith knows it’s time to take the precious metal out of the fires of purification is when they can see their image reflected in the surface of the liquefied metal. The enemy may mean for affliction to take you out, but God will use that affliction to transform you, so that He will be able to see His image reflected in you.

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Eventually, the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and Nehemiah was promoted to governor over the region. But after all that success and the hard-won victory of Nehemiah, why didn’t the enemy go away? Because even after the walls were rebuilt, God wasn’t done with Nehemiah yet; He had another level of glory for Nehemiah to experience, and so Nehemiah needed another enemy!

My prayer is that embracing this view of your enemies will strengthen you and empower you to become all that God has destined you to be.

Photo credit: Unsplash/Ian Stauffer

Frank Santora headshotFrank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Finding Christ in Crisis: Lessons We Learned From Covid. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit www.franksantora.cc. Photo by Michele Roman.

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