Negative feelings, prejudices, harsh experiences, previous conflict, tarnished expectations … these and more lend themselves to a desire not to engage compassion toward real or perceived adversaries. During World War II, a German pilot by the name of Franz Stigler had an opportunity to destroy American soldiers. They were the enemy. His target, a B-17 bomber, served to destroy German cities. Certainly, the duties of war called upon all sides to rain destruction. However, instead of delivering a death blow to the Americans, Stigler chose love. He saw the B-17 was heavily damaged and most of its crew were wounded or dead. They were defenseless. Stigler chose to preserve their lives and escorted them to safety.
To behave kindly during moments where we can retaliate, exact revenge, or gain power over others is something we don’t frequently see. It often appears to be reserved for youth sporting events where children stop to help an opponent up off the ground rather than focusing on the ball. Many cultures would encourage “going in for the kill” and exploiting another’s weakness rather than demonstrating kindness. Yet, this is exactly the behavior Christ encourages in Luke 6:27-36, summarized by the words “Love your enemies.” The motive is not personal gain, the maintenance of a relationship, or the exchange of kindness. The motive rests within righteousness itself. God created us to do good works (Eph. 2:10). We should not primarily do them due to fear of punishment or promise of reward. The motive of acting kindly should be the belief that the commands of God are right and therefore they are the right thing to do (Gen. 15:6, Deut. 6:25). Do right, because it is right.
Every day, we have opportunities to let moments of possible conflict pass. Yet the temptation to forget thoughtfulness, be short, snap back and say something mean, or behave in a harsh, unkind manner seems to overcome many. Romans 12:17-21 warns of being overcome by the evil of treating others poorly. Paul encourages us to find ways to do that which is honorable in the sight of others. How are we able to shut the door on creating a negative situation and instead open the door to positivity (Phil. 4:8)? The Romans text presents imagery of aiding a person looking for coals for his fire (once a common practice). The idea of doing something compassionate is akin to filling a basket which he carried upon his head, a basket full of coals for his fire. Who knows if the proper act of goodness will stop there, be appreciated minimally, or blossom into something much more? The reality is good can overcome evil in the spur of the moment or even over time, but it has to be utilized to have a chance.
Referencing Luke 6:27-36 again, Jesus proclaims, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” Why? Intuitively, we do not want to feel pain, hurt feelings, shame, loneliness, hunger, want, a lack of hope, and similar feelings. Certainly others feel the same way. It is actually some of these feelings held by those who do evil which actually drive them to do evil. They have been treated poorly, so they think that is the only way to react to obtain their desires. Sadly, it is not. Yet if we are demonstrating how a person should behave, how Christ would behave, what could the impact be? Perhaps we would bring a soul to Christ just by being a loving example (1 Pet. 3:1-2). Perhaps seeing a Christian transformed (Rom. 12:2), experiencing freedom in Christ (Rom. 8:1), and fulfilling their purpose of goodness in purity would be the catalyst in an enemy’s life.
There are people in this world who oppose us, treat us poorly, or hold beliefs with which we strongly disagree. Some of these folks are our spiritual brothers and sisters. What have they done to us? What are they doing now? Do we dislike them? Why? Remember Jonah’s reaction to the Ninevites. He did not want to help them! When he did, he wasn’t happy about it! Why? He said to God, “For I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2). Do we not want others to experience the same forgiveness and kindness of God that we have received (Rom. 3:23)? How hard is it to say or do something nice? Is it that no one else understands how awful the person is that we have to engage? Jesus said, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you” (Matt. 7:2). This is really the other side of “doing to others what I want done to me.” It is “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”
God has put up with mankind’s sinfulness from the beginning (Gen. 3). He got to the point that He regretted creating mankind (Gen. 6). Yet, there is so much Bible afterward and even more sin: rejection of God and His provision, killing of His prophets, profaning the things of God, and crucifixion of Jesus. However, God not only knew man would do this, but He still extended His kind forgiveness to everyone (Acts 2:21). Consider the many times we have acted in opposition to God’s commands. We have been the adversary. We have been the enemy. Yet, He still calls us to Him (Rev. 3:20).
The kindness of Franz Stigler was not forgotten by the Americans. Fifty years after the event, Charles Brown, the American pilot, contacted and was able to meet his enemy. He thanked him for his kindness. Stigler told Brown that he loved him. What was the motivation that day in 1943? What caused one enemy to show another kindness? Hand on the trigger, ready to fire, Stigler believed it was contrary to the love God wanted him to show, and instead directed his enemy toward salvation.