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When Your Enemy Falls

How should a Christian respond when an “enemy” falls?

Like any human being, a Christian is not immune to the temptations of gloating, celebrating, or even berating with an “I told you so” or two. Certainly we all will experience a heavenly moment when the wicked who have wronged us face a righteous judge (we will face Him too), but it is also possible that those who’ve wounded us will face consequences here on earth. It could be through prison time, termination of their employment, or public embarrassment. Or the “darker side” of consequences like physical injury, destruction of livelihood, or even death. In all of these, there is a part of our flesh that wants to pummel our enemies into oblivion. We want the arm they took from us, and then we want to take their legs too. For believers, this heart posture must be put in check.

I remember the moment a report came into me via text message. Not just any report, but a juicy report that fed my flesh the kind of a dish it loves; an “enemy combatant” from my past had experienced a painful and embarrassing event that exposed them for the person I already knew them to be. I felt vindicated — even, happy. I thought to myself, “Yes! finally! You got what you deserved!”

But the celebration did not last long. As quickly as my flesh fueled my prideful joy, The Holy Spirit rushed in with conviction and I was struck with a feeling that something was not right in my heart. I knew that I needed to hear from God concerning my reaction. I opened my Bible and Proverbs 24:17 did the talking.

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles”

I had read that proverb many, many times. Only this time, it hit like a ton of bricks. I quickly realized it was not time to throw a party filled with celebratory vindication. It was time to confess my sin (1 John 1:9), and pray.

When navigating these kinds of situations, self-reflection is vital. At least two questions can be helpful.

Am I Following The Model of Jesus?

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught numerous truths that helped to guide His original audience, and us today. At one point, His words cause us to pause and re-think justice when it comes to interpersonal relationships and conflict. He declared,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Jesus consistently taught and modeled self-denial. Any form of seeking revenge or gloating in the pain of others as form of retaliatory justice is not how followers of Jesus are to operate. Such behavior reveals a heart that is seeking “self.” He challenged both His followers and His detractors with this truth. To follow Him means you will be others-focused, and yes, even enemies-focused, in your prayers, reactions, service, and even in your love. The goal is not that you crush them in defeat, but rather, that they might be won over by our witness for the gospel or stand before God without excuse (Romans 10:14-21).

Am I Overlooking My Own Sin?

It’s one thing to desire justice to prevail and law and order to be maintained. That is good for society. However, there is a vein of our culture that demands justice for ourselves, and judgment on others, without ever looking in the mirror of our hearts. We are so quick to point the finger at those who hurt us, but is it possible that their moment of consequence is an opportunity for us to confess sin as well?

When our enemies fall and we desire to celebrate their pain and embarrassment, we are actively denying our own need for the gospel and our own need for grace. The Pharisees were experts at this.

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus warns, “Judge not, that you be judged. For the with the judgment, you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure, you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Jesus spoke these strong words to both His disciples, and the religious leaders who were experts at self-serving forms of justice and elevating their own righteousness. Without fear, Jesus confronted their hypocrisy and taught His disciples that self-denial is the very essence of what it means to follow Him. Self-denial includes looking in the mirror, facing your own sin, and being humbled by the downfall of others because it could have been you too.

It is impossible to say that we love Jesus and not obey His commands (John 14:15). One of those commands is to love our enemies — which is an impossible task to obey without Jesus’ help.

When an enemy falls and you are tempted to gloat, look to the gospel for humble hope. It is in Christ alone that you will find the strength to love your enemy, and to pray for those who persecute you.

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Dale Thackrah is the Senior Executive Pastor at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona. He holds an M.A. from Biola University and is a certified biblical counselor who specializes in conflict resolution and financial stewardship. He lives in Queen Creek, AZ with his wife and two children. 

The True and Better Judas Iscariot

It happens every once and a while. A big-name “sinner” claims he or she has been wrong.

On hearing such a claim, some scoff: “Ha! Impossible!” Conversely, others start preparing the victory parade and inviting all to come celebrate—the sinner has repented!

Each side makes a valid point. Yes, we should be cautious before simply believing everything we hear. And only God can bring change that bears lasting fruit. We should be ready to celebrate the return of a prodigal heart, believe the best about others, and guard our hearts from needless cynicism.

But how do we know the difference between mere remorse and full-blown repentance?

To this question, the Bible speaks—loudly. And in the end, it causes us to ask one more.

Compelling Story

There once lived a man who was a horrific sinner. He was an expert swindler. Money was his god. His religion was gain.

There was another man, a different man. He was the religious sort, playing the role of treasurer for a non-profit, if you will. He looked trustworthy, though he loved money too—for spiritual reasons, of course. He followed Jesus. He had witnessed mighty works and compassionate deeds. And one day this man, Judas, saw true repentance firsthand.

As he followed Jesus through Jericho, they suddenly stopped because Jesus saw a man sitting up in a sycamore tree. Jesus called the man to come down and host him for a meal.

The man descended the tree and, as he drew closer, the crowd gasped. It was the horrific sinner himself! Here was the swindler, the scammer, the greed monger. Zacchaeus. Just his name made the blood boil. If only Jesus had known how many old ladies had lost their last dollar to this man’s tricks (Luke 19:5–7).

The crowd pressed in, peering through the doorway and the windows in hopes of seeing Jesus put Zacchaeus in his place. Perhaps some even thought Zacchaeus set up the whole encounter himself, to polish his image in the public eye. That’s it! This was nothing more than a publicity stunt to manufacture grace after pilfering the community with salacious greed. Here it comes, they think. Let him have it, Jesus!

But instead of Jesus, it was the swindler who spoke:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8–10)

The onlookers could hardly believe their ears. From greedy fraud to godly follower? From exploiting the poor to paying them back?

It was more than they could take. Some probably erupted into tears of joy because they had been wounded for years by Zacchaeus’s gimmicks. His penitent action was a healing balm to their anxious souls. Others embraced those around them in relief that the falsehood was finished. One less wolf to threaten the sheep. Still others, though, refused to accept this as true repentance.

As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months and years, Zacchaeus made good on his promises and continued in his newfound faith. His repentance was real, his eternal peace secure.

Lesson in the Aftermath

Back at the table that day, I imagine Judas looking on somewhat indifferently. He doesn’t seem to know that he would become the “son of perdition” (John 17:12) and that Satan would enter him during history’s most heinous betrayal (Luke 22:3; John 13:2).

But I can also see Judas looking on somewhat nervously—perhaps even annoyed with conviction. I can imagine him clutching the money bag just a little bit tighter, pondering whether anyone could tell that his own actions were no different from Zacchaeus’s—though he was much better at hiding them.

In his Gospel account, the apostle John shows his readers what was in Judas’s heart. During Mary’s beautiful display of worship, she had used expensive perfume and her own hair to wash the feet of Jesus (John 12:3). Judas, protesting that such an act was a waste of money, showed his true colors. John points out that Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

Later, overridden with guilt after betraying Jesus unto death, Judas was remorseful but not repentant. He tried to undo what he had done by throwing the dirty money back at the feet of his shady business partners (Matt. 27:4–5). It was blood money, dripping pure and red from the righteous Lamb himself. Even still, that same blood could’ve covered his sin—if he would truly have repented and turned to Christ. Surely, Judas remembered what repentance looked like. Repentance is self-exposure, the heart laid bare, the mind determined to head in a new direction! Surely he knew that all it would take to make things right was running to Christ in confession. Instead, he hid in the shadow of shame. Indeed, Judas’s effort was nothing more than a feeble attempt to hang fruit on a dead tree. But only genuine repentance produces genuine fruit (Matt. 3:8). After all he had seen firsthand, Judas undoubtedly knew that mere remorse couldn’t account for his sin against God.

Through the lives of both Zacchaeus and Judas, the Bible speaks with unwavering clarity. Zacchaeus was truly repentant, showing faith through his confession and open accountability. Judas was merely remorseful, remaining in the shadows of guilt because he’d betrayed the Son of God.

Judas knew remorse would not do. Why, Judas, did you not repent?

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This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition on October 17th, 2019.