Epiphany 7a

Preached: February 23, 2014

Love Your Enemy
1 Samuel 26:7-25

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word of God through which the Holy Spirit works in us the mind of Christ is 1 Samuel 26.

So David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him. Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won't strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Don't destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let's go.”

So David took the spear and water jug near Saul's head, and they left. No one saw or knew about it, nor did anyone wake up. They were all sleeping, because the Lord had put them into a deep sleep.

Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the hill some distance away; there was a wide space between them. He called out to the army and to Abner son of Ner, “Aren't you going to answer me, Abner?”

Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?”

David said, “You're a man, aren't you? And who is like you in Israel? Why didn't you guard your lord the king? … Where are the king's spear and water jug that were near his head?”

Saul recognized David's voice and said, “Is that your voice, David my son?”

David replied, “Yes it is, my lord the king.” And he added, “Why is my lord pursuing his servant? What have I done, and what wrong am I guilty of? … Now do not let my blood fall to the ground far from the presence of the Lord. The king of Israel has come out to look for a flea—as one hunts a partridge in the mountains.”

Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Come back, David my son. Because you considered my life precious today, I will not try to harm you again. Surely I have acted like a fool and have erred greatly.”

“Here is the king's spear,” David answered. “Let one of your young men come over and get it. As surely as I valued your life today, so may the Lord value my life and deliver me from all trouble.” (1 Samuel 26:7-25 selected verses NIV84).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Devotion and betrayal. Jealousy and bloodshed. Escape and life on the run. The life of David is so much more than killing a giant and becoming king. Those years in between were troubled years.

At first life went well. After the Lord gave young David victory over Goliath, that nine-foot Philistine champion from Gath, King Saul took David into his service. David became closest of friends with Saul’s oldest son, Jonathan. He successfully accomplished whatever King Saul gave him to do, rising to a high rank in the army. He was devoted to serving his king.

But Saul saw David as a threat. His jealousy grew. One day while David was in the house with the king, Saul hurled his spear at him trying to pin him against the wall. David eluded him twice. Yet he continued to serve the king as leader of a thousand men in dangerous campaigns for Israel. Saul was hoping David would die in those campaigns and save him the trouble of killing him.

As part of this more subtle attempt to rid himself of David, Saul gave him his daughter to marry, hoping to use her to entrap him. But instead she helped David escape. When his own son, Jonathan, questioned Saul’s anger against David, Saul raged against Jonathan and hurled his spear at him.

Now David had to leave all behind: his dear friend Jonathan, his wife, his father’s family. He lived as a fugitive. At first he tried to hid outside the nation of Israel in the city of Gath, the home town of Goliath. That’s how desperate David was to escape from the hands of Saul. When that didn’t work, he was left fleeing from place to place, living in the wild with a band of men that had gathered around him.

Do you see why David had every reason to hate Saul? Yet from David’s example we learn what it means to love your enemy. That’s the theme today. And as we look at David, we’ll see that revenge usurps God’s place but love trusts the Lord.

A. Revenge usurps God’s place

“But I have a right to get even after what they did to me.” We’ve all felt that kind of anger. We’ve tried to rationalize or excuse it. And even if we stopped ourselves from taking action, our evil desire by itself condemns us.

Now there is such a thing as righteous, god-pleasing anger. Maybe a good example is the anger parents feel toward their child when he endangers himself. This anger flows from love for the child. It takes actions that may be painful but are done in love to prevent an even greater harm.

But how different is the anger that wants to get back at someone! Desires to get even and thoughts of revenge are never righteous anger. Rather they usurp God’s place.

“But they have it coming.” That’s one excuse we use to try to justify revenge. But if anyone had it coming, Saul certainly did. I haven’t even told you the worst of what he did.

When David first was on the run, he stopped at the town of Nob and asked the priest who was serving at the Tabernacle there for food. The priest thought David was on a mission for the king since David had always been loyal. When Saul found out about this, he did not except the excuse that they didn’t know David was on the run. Rather he ordered the massacre of the entire town including 85 priests and the women, children, infants, and animals. Some would say Abishai’s desire to pin Saul to the ground with a spear was too kind for him. “They have it coming,” is no excuse for revenge. It usurps God’s place.

“If I don’t teach them a lesson, then who will?” That’s another excuse that creeps into our minds. Sometimes it comes dressed up so nicely, it almost sounds as if we have their best interest at heart. But first ask yourself: Is it your place to teach them a lesson? Has God given you that role and responsibility? Are you a parent discipling your child, a teacher correcting your student, an employer training and employee, a police officer or judge enforcing the law? If not, then you need to leave it in the hands of those whom God has placed in authority. We may need to report it to them. But if they don’t do their job and there’s no one else to report it to, leave it God’s hands.

David realized this. It wasn’t his place to teach Saul a lesson by getting back at him. There was no earthly authority that could justly do it, since as king, Saul was at the top of the pyramid. So David left it in the Lord’s hands. “As surely as the Lord lives … the Lord himself will strike him; either his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish” (1 Samuel 26:10 NIV84). David took to heart the words the Lord had spoken in Deuteronomy: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” (Deuteronomy 32:35 NIV84). Revenge usurps God’s place.

That day of reckoning did come for Saul. He was mortally wounded in battle against the Philistines on Mt. Gilboa and committed suicide before they could capture him. And when David heard the news he grieved. “How the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19 NIV84), he lamented. You see, a heart free of revenge, a heart that loves our enemies, does not take pleasure in their suffering or loss, no schadenfreude.

How guilty we are! Another harms us and we want to get even. Words of anger flow out of our mouth. We gossip. We complain about them to others. Even if we keep our words in check, our hearts feel the desire to get even or maliciously rejoice when they suffer. We might even imagine that God is too slow in carrying out justice. How guilty we are!

And how merciful our God is! We would have all been in hell long ago, if God treated you or me as we deserve. But instead he gave us his Son. While you were still his enemy, Jesus died for you. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10 NIV84). God’s Son, Jesus Christ, our brother, is the only sacrifice that pays for your sins and mine and the sins of the whole world. “God loved the world so that he gave His only Son the lost to save” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 391:1). What love!

His love is faithful and constant, for he is the Lord. “He will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13 NIV84). How often we have failed to love our enemies! How often we let desires of revenge linger in our hearts! But the Father’s love stands faithfully watching, longing for you, ready to welcome you back with his open arms. Don’t turn away from his love. Fall into his arms confessing, “I have sinned against heaven and against you.” His love embraces you with his word and sacraments. What love as he whispers to you: “Dear child, you are forgiven!”

His love for us draws us to love him. He is faithful, so our love trusts him.

B. Love trusts the Lord

At the end of the text after David made it clear that he had spared Saul’s life, Saul promised not to harm David. But David knew he could not trust that promise. Several other times Saul had promised to treat David well, but sooner or later he went back on his word and again tried to put an end to David.

Although we hope and pray for our enemies to be changed and become children of God, that hope is not what we build our love on. The strength to love our enemies does not come from hoping that some day they will be better. Rather love for our enemies comes from trusting the Lord. Love relies on his promises. For the Lord is faithful. He keeps his promises.

The Lord had promised David that he would be the next king of Israel. The prophet Samuel had anointed him while he was still a youth living in his father’s house in Bethlehem before Goliath or anything else had happened. David trusted the Lord to keep his promise. Even though it seemed so far away or even impossible that he, the fugitive, would one day be king, he trusted the Lord. For the Lord is faithful. He keeps his promises.

Ponder his promises to you, dear friends. He brings his promises to you through his word, through Baptism, and through his Supper. Through these his promises empower our love. Love trusts the Lord.

Jesus has conquered death. He paraded through hell in victory. No enemy is greater than Jesus, not even the archenemy, Satan. And Jesus gives you the victory. That’s his promise: 1 Corinthians 15:57. In the Lord’s Supper we taste that victory. Love trusts the Lord.

Jesus is at God’s right hand reigning over all things. He promises that he rules over all for the good of his people, the Church, including you and me. He is the Head over everything for his body, the Church, Ephesians 1:22. So even when life seems to go from bad to worse, we trust that he is in control. He will watch over you, his baptized child, reborn through the water and word. Love trusts the Lord.

Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. He promises that we who remain faithful will be with him forever, 1 Thessalonians 4:17. His word will not fail or pass away. What joy awaits us no matter how dark the present! Love trusts the Lord.

Love that trusts the Lord loves our enemies. We have no need for revenge, since we trust our Lord to take care of it until he returns to judge all. We have no need to get even in order to keep others from taking advantage of us; rather, we trust our Lord to protect us since he reigns over all. We have no need to live in terror of our enemies, since our Lord has already given us the victory. Any earthly lose dims in comparison to the glory he has won for us. Even death has become the doorway to heaven for you who believe in Jesus.

Love your enemies with that love that trusts the Lord. He is faithful. He keeps his promises. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313