When Jesus says, “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV), who is He talking about? How do we live this out? How do we guide our children in praying for and loving the enemy?

This is something that we should be diligently teaching our children. We should not be waiting for an issue to arise but actively be teaching them to pray for those in their life that aren’t particularly kind or loving.

Love your enemies

Who is Our Enemy?

The apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 that our real enemy is not of this world: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (NIV) Peter tells us that our enemy, the devil is looking to destroy us. (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)

Next, the Bible defines anyone who is not a believer as an enemy of God. Romans 5:10 NIV tells us that we were all enemies of God but that once we are saved, we are reconciled through Jesus. And, James 4:4 says, “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” (NIV)

With this is mind, when Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies, He is not asking us to pray for the devil, but for those who do not know God. However, this perspective is helpful so that we realize people who are hurting or mistreating us are not the real enemy. They are being deceived by Satan and our prayers can help bring them to the understanding of their sin.

How do we Teach our Children to Treat the Enemy?

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:17-21 NIV

The Bible is clear that we are not to repay evil for evil. If some one hurts us, our default position in the flesh is to hurt them back. However, Jesus was clear that we are to “turn the other cheek.” (Matthew 5:38-40 NIV)

How do we teach our children this practically?

First, we explain to them that even if it seems contrary to our feelings, as followers of Christ, our job is obedience to His word. This means that we are to be peacemakers, full of forgiveness, and loving to overcome evil with good.

Second, we remind them that God is the avenger. He will repay evil. He is the only One who is qualified to administer to real justice and punishment. We must trust that He is working to thwart evil and see good win.

Finally, we show them how to overcome evil with good. We instruct them and help them to pray for the enemy. We don’t let them talk poorly about them or dwell on the bad. We find ways for them to minister to the enemy. Jesus said give them water or food-maybe in our context this is the same or maybe they need kind words, recognition on their birthday, or an encouraging note.

Unfortunately, this may never change their heart. It was people who arrested, abused, and nailed Jesus to a cross. At the end of the day though, you will bring glory to God with your obedience and this is our goal.

How do we Pray for the Enemy?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48 NIV

First, we need to realize that we are commanded to pray for those who are unkind and unloving to us. Second, we should realize that when we do this, we are imitating our perfect God. Third, in this obedience, there is reward. (Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9 NIV)

I wanted to include some sample prayers that might help us teach our kids to pray for the enemy.

Lord, please convict ___________________ of their sin. Show them that they need Jesus as their Savior.

Dear God, please bless ___________________. Help them to realize that it’s your love and goodness that provides for them.

Jesus, help me to show love to___________________. As I forgive and turn the other cheek, please let them see your love.

Heavenly Father, please bring peace between ___________________ and me. Help us to not be enemies but friends.

God, help me to forgive ___________________. I don’t want bitterness in my heart against them. I want to forgive like you have forgiven me.

Scriptures on Loving the Enemy

We have already looked at two large portions of scripture, Matthew 5 and Romans 12 that speak on the topic of praying for and loving the enemy. I would encourage you to walk through these with your child, especially if they are currently facing hurt. Here are some other supplemental verses to meditate on our memorize:

  • Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 NIV
  • Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them. Proverbs 24:17-18 NIV
  • If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. Proverbs 25:21 NIV
  • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
  • Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10 NIV

Final Thoughts

It is really hard as a parent to watch our children get mistreated. A few things make it so sticky for us: if it’s some one close to us (family member or child of a close friend), if it’s at school or a program where we have no say or control, and if our children are suffering emotional hurt.

This is a real exercise in us trusting in a perfect, loving God who we must by faith, believe loves our children more than we do. It’s also a time for us to grow our own faith beside our children. As we instruct them how to love and pray for the enemy, we will learn ourselves.

Last, it is never ok for your child to be bullied to physical, emotional, or mental harm. God’s word tells us how to react as a matter of protecting our own hearts and minds. But, we are responsible for our children’s protection. So, while we must pray and love, we also must be ready to remove people and situations that might cause them harm. We also have the right to advocate on their behalf to a school system or court system if the situation is serious, as long as our behavior and intentions are in line with God’s word.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on bullying or childhood psychology. The purpose of this post is to help you instruct your child in the Biblical model of loving and praying for the enemy. If you need professional help, please visit your pastor, a Christian counselor, or government official.