You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5
This week let’s talk about the power of words in relationships. We know that the greatest commandment is to love the LORD our God with all our heart, soul and resources. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.
But what if your ‘neighbor’ is your ‘enemy’? When we read in Matthew 5: ‘Love your enemies,’ the Lord assumes we will have some!
I’m using the word ‘enemy’ loosely; for example, a neighbor who is consistently annoying, a co-worker who appears to be jealous of you, someone who’s just a plain nuisance in your life. It could even be a family member who is difficult to get along with. Take the case of an argument between a husband and wife. Temporarily you may consider your spouse the ‘enemy’. How we respond verbally in such situations is critical to the long term health of the marriage. In other words, anyone who rubs you the wrong way and tries your patience can be temporarily viewed as your ‘enemy’.
Controlling our tongues with people like these is quite a test. It is also great practice for tongue control in other areas of our lives.
Consider David. In I Samuel 18:14 we read that David succeeded in all he did for the Lord was with him. This verse follows soon after the young David had killed Goliath, an event in his life which created a relationship with him and King Saul. We could say that killing Goliath was great for Israel but it also caused untold problems for David in the days afterward. The anointing on David threatened Saul and when the maidens of Israel sang “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands,” Saul’s jealousy took over. In the ensuing years, King Saul spent more energy, time and resources hunting David down to kill him, than he did fighting the enemies of Israel.
Over the next twenty years, David had to learn the wisdom of self-discipline in his words. It was one of the most important lessons in his preparation to become king.
David knew Saul hated him; it was apparent. And in those years while he waited to ascend the throne of Israel, he learned the godly skills needed when someone is out to get you. It would serve him well as king later.
David had two opportunities to kill the king who was pursuing him relentlessly. Both times he turned down the opportunity because David understood that his future was in the Lord’s hands and so was Saul’s. Therefore, in his integrity he said: “The Lord Himself will strike him; or 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.” I Sam 26:10-11
Having an ‘enemy’ is not the worst thing in the world to happen to us. Actually it’s good for us. Our ‘enemy’ is in fact a gift, an opportunity for you and I to learn the kind of wisdom and forgiveness that only God can teach us; and an opportunity to do as the Lord taught us: “Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Matthew 11:29
How we behave towards our ‘enemy’, especially with our words, is important to the development of godly character within us, AND it is equally important with relation to the example we set before others.
When we are put in a position to need to respond to an uncomfortable or confrontational situation, the Spirit of the Lord is well able – and willing – to give us the exact words we need IF we will let Him be in control of our tongues. In fact Proverbs 16:1 says in part, ‘…from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.’
A few years ago I was reading through a few of the psalms one morning and I was startled when I got to Psalm 65. Directly translated from the Hebrew, verse 1 says this: “To You, silence is praise; and I will praise You in Zion.” Metsudah Translation Immediately, I felt the Holy Spirit quicken the first part of that verse to me in the very context we are discussing this week.
Interestingly, the very same day, I read Proverbs 15 which begins with this verse: “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
There are two ways to respond when dealing with an ‘enemy’.
There are times, to be sure, when silence is the best response to a criticism or rebuke that is given harshly and unkindly to us. Every impulse of our natural man is to ‘let them have it’ in no uncertain terms but we’ve just seen that the Scriptures give us two options: 1) to either keep silent as in Psalm 65:1 and by choosing to remain silent rather than lash out in anger, that silence becomes praise to the Lord who was ‘silent before His accusers’ or 2) if answering, to do so with a ‘gentle answer’ to avoid escalating the situation.
Doing either one of these as led by the Holy Spirit in each specific occasion gives evidence of integrity and maturity in the things of God.
Proverbs 29:11 A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back.
Proverbs 12:18 There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
May the Lord help us to listen to His voice when we find ourselves dealing with an ‘enemy’ and may we take to heart the wisdom of King Solomon: ‘the tongue of the wise brings healing.’