“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him” (Proverbs 24:17-18).
Do we ever find ourselves gloating when someone who has offended us gets their comeuppance. It is too easy for us to think that our enemies get what they deserve when they find themselves in trouble, sick or hurt. Sometimes we even say that God is paying them back for the grief they have caused us. Maybe we feel the warm glow of satisfaction when it is their time to suffer. So are we any better than they are when we have this reaction to their misfortune? If we rejoice over the problems that our enemies face, then we are the ones in need of prayer.
The wrong spirit
It is in the human nature to rejoice when our enemies suffer, but let us not forget, that as Christians, we have the nature of Christ. This spiritual nature is supposed to overcome the fleshly desire to see our persecutors in torment and pain. Rendering evil for evil is foreign to walking in the Spirit. “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (1 Thessalonians 5:15) … “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). Whatever it is that makes us want to see others suffering for what they have done to us, it is not of the Spirit of Christ. The disciples had this same evil inclination when they wanted fire to fall from Heaven to destroy their enemies, but Jesus rebuked them very harshly. “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55-56).
So what is the spirit behind wanting our persecutors to suffer? The Lord Jesus made this very clear when He said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (Matthew 16:23). Therefore the human nature is opposed to the will of God but is often found agreeing with Satan’s desires. God does not react to evildoers in this way, instead “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). As God’s children, rather than Adam’s, we are to prayer for and bless even our most evil enemy. “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29). We can do better than the natural man, for as Solomon says, “If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the LORD shall reward thee” (Proverbs 25:21-22).
The Right Spirit
It is God’s will that we love as He loves by doing good to those who are unworthy of it. Under the Old Covenant if you saw an animal belonging to an enemy in distress or wandering, you would be obliged to assist it. “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him” (Exodus 23:4-5). How much more ought our love be manifest under the New Covenant! This principle goes far beyond common morality.
The Holy Spirit will guide us away from seeking to get even with those who offend us or rejoicing in their calamities. Vengeance (judgment) is reserved for God alone for only He acts in love without partiality. Let us not forget that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” anyway (Romans 3:23). We are only His children through grace. Therefore we are not worthy to carry out vengeance. “For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people” (Hebrews 10:30). Not only is it wrong to try to get even, but it is especially repugnant to God when we rejoice over our enemy’s suffering. The true way must be to love, bless and pray for them no matter what they have done. We have to be different than the world and insist upon loving the unlovable.
Since rejoicing over our enemy’s failures, sufferings and problems is an abomination in the eyes of God, we do well to stop ourselves from doing so when we realise we are engaged in this sin. Let us leave the whole matter to the one who can judge wisely and according to mercy. We have no greater example to follow than the Lord Jesus Christ who “endured such contradiction of sinners against himself” (Hebrew 12:3), and submitted His enemies to His Father’s will, praying as they crucified Him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is the Christlike spirit that should be in us. Who knows if our enemy will turn to the Lord if we retaliate with love instead of hate!