KNOW YOUR ENEMY
Being hurt by the church is not something that happens once in a while. We often find people who have been deeply wounded by the family of God, leaving them worn and exhausted. We continually see leaders who are in conflict within the body of believers, robbed of the joy that Jesus promised. When we examine our own bruised souls, it can make us want to leave the church and even want to relegate from the priority list our God who seems to have allowed it all.
Sadly, we have come to accept that being hurt by the church is inevitable. So we either stay away and let our hearts become cold, or we put on our Sunday best and hope the problems will just go away. The pain gets buried, until it gets bumped again.
Can we break this cycle that happens over and over, in heart after heart, in church after church? We are continually amazed at the simplicity of God’s Word and the direct instructions He shares with us. The Father’s heart toward us, His children, is so open and loving. He instructs us in the way we should live, in the midst of the messiness.
The steps God gives us are simple, though not necessarily easy. They are steps that can help us move from being reactive in conflict to becoming proactive in guarding our hearts and our churches. And, as steps always do, they will take us to higher ground where we can live above strife and confusion.
Love is the framework upon which these steps are built. Love is also the handrail that helps us move along from one step to another. God says our trademark will be love: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Without love, these steps lead towards self-righteousness, which is hollow and void of the power of the Holy Spirit.
We don’t like to focus on the devil. We don’t want to give him any glory. Yet, in failing to heed the warning of Scripture that the devil actually “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8), we find ourselves consumed — devoured! We get devoured by all kinds of irritations we find in one another and in the church. We don’t like how a new program/department is run or its leader’s personality. We complain about the particular worship style of the church, or about people who are not as spiritually mature as we are. We even complain about the chairs, the temperature, and the sermon.
Being negative robs us of our joy and steals our effectiveness as a body of believers. And we are so often oblivious to what is really going on in the spiritual realm. Ephesians 6:12 says: “We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers….”
When in conflict with another believer, we need to ask ourselves the question, “Am I wrestling against flesh and blood?” The answer in these situations is usually “yes.” And the solution is so simple we usually miss it. As Christians, our opponent is in the spiritual realm. Satan’s mandate is to “kill, steal and destroy” (John 10:10). Instead of recognizing that, we put on the gloves and begin to engage in battles with one another, leaving scratches and scars, bruises and bleeding. It can sometimes take years to heal, and always leaves a mark. The trademark of love becomes faint; onlookers can hardly see it. And if they can’t see it they are less likely to be attracted to it!
Scripture tells us to “be alert,” and to “resist the enemy” (1 Peter 5:8, 9), to be on guard and to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). So when irritation strikes, recognize your opponent. Know that he has schemes and plans in place that will at best steal from you, and at worst destroy God’s people and their effectiveness, and hence disrupt our plans and mandate of making disciples of all nations.
Any pervasive, downward spiral needs to be called what it is. Be alert to the red flags. Our human nature wants to defend and justify ourselves. God knows our heart and its tendency to do what it likes. That is why He calls us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44) and to do good to those who spitefully use us (Luke 6:27). Only the “God strength” in our lives — invited in at our point of weakness and frustration — can remedy this battle that is fought in the spiritual, yet lived out in our churches.
“Be alert and always keep on praying” (Ephesians 6:18). When prayer is no longer the oxygen of our spiritual soul or the heartbeat of our church, our defense is down. Praying for those who hurt us becomes something we don’t even want to do. Neglecting prayer and neglecting reading the Bible leaves us open to the enemy, turning the wrestling match on one another, instead on the spiritual enemy sneaking around and on attack against children of God!
It is so subtle and we can feel so justified, but the loss in our own hearts and in the Kingdom is an unnecessary tragedy. The stealing and robbing is done long before we have even recognized the enemy was at the door. Knowing he is prowling the neighborhood keeps us in a proactive state, and we are able to recognize him and withstand his tactics.
Our enemies are not flesh and blood. Fighting each other in the physical is not going to get us anywhere. Love your neighbor as you love yourself, but hate the devil and don’t give him a chance to reside close to you and yours.