Do you remember those days in high school when one of several events could easily disrupt the monotony of a boring afternoon? For me, it was the occasional brawl that broke out on campus. Nothing captured our attention and freed us from academic bondage as a fight between two students. Nothing brought excitement to a classroom or a hallway quite like two girls trying to pull each other’s hair out or two guys trying to knock each other out with punches. When the dust settled, sometimes literally, I later marveled at how petty the issues were that started the fight. All that energy, pain and humiliation over what, an unkind word or misplaced personal item? Looking back, they seemed to be fighting for things that just were not worth it.
As we grow older, the fights take on new forms, especially among Christians. Though Christians, like unbelievers, are tempted to fight one another in very fleshly ways, God’s Word exhorts us to fight the right enemy over the real issues. We call this spiritual warfare. My first exposure to the doctrine of spiritual warfare came in college. Someone gave me a book by Jesse Penn-Lewis entitled, War on the Saints. Up until that time, the bulk of my exposure to Satan’s activity came from the testimonies of missionaries working in the darkest parts of Africa. War on the Saints took the activity of demons out of the “bush villages” of Africa and put it into the lives of everyday, ordinary Christians in America. Spiritual warfare was and is a battle we all face, not just the international missionaries. Penn-Lewis, unlike some authors of that day, did not write from personal encounters with the demonic but from Biblical exegesis. The author took passages of Scripture, primarily from the New Testament, and explained how Satan wars against all Saints on all continents in every church, not just a few Christians in a few remote places of our world. Spiritual warfare is a reality we all face including you and me here in Northern Utah. When the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he described a real enemy with real schemes designed to undermine God’s plan and purpose for Christians in every century. One simple and yet devastating scheme Satan uses is the ministry of division and strife. If our common adversary, the Devil, can inspire God’s people to fight one another then he has accomplished a major victory.
Often in marriage counseling, I will look a husband in the eyes and tell him that no matter how disappointed or angry he might be with his wife, she is not the enemy. I will tell the wife the same thing emphasizing that because they both are Christians, Satan has placed a huge target on their marriage. Satan works to divide and conquer. If a wife begins to believe that her husband is her enemy, an enemy to stand against at all costs, then she misses an important piece of marital restoration. Though both husband and wife must take responsibility for their attitude and actions, they must also realize that there are unseen forces warring against their marriage seeking to divide them as husband-and-wife.
What Satan seeks to accomplish in marriage, he seeks to accomplish in local churches. A sure sign believers have succumbed to Satanic schemes is the presence of strife and disunity. It’s when believers begin thinking and acting like their fellow Christians are the source of their church’s problems. Yes, just as in marriage, individual Christians must take responsibility for attitudes and actions. But, we must also realize that there are unseen forces warring against our church family seeking to divide us. Instead of the enemy being the enemy, our brother or sister becomes the enemy. What a glorious day however when brothers and sisters in Christ realize they are being manipulated against one another. That is a glorious day because it becomes the day we start fighting for one another instead of against each other. Of course knowing and applying, hearing and doing are two separate things. For that reason, let me offer several simple ways the members of Mountain View Baptist Church can fight for unity when Satan comes warring:
1) Satan works through slander. Fight for unity by encouraging fellow members to speak with grace towards others in the body when motives of hearts have yet to be revealed. When you hear another brother or sister speak negatively about fellow members, please caution them to be very careful with their words. There is great power in the tongue and when enough words begin circulating about an individual or a matter, it “colors” the motives or intentions of others. Until you know why someone has said or done something, withhold judgment. Take it to God in prayer asking for wisdom and patience until the truth is revealed.
2) Satan works through bitterness. Fight for unity by not allowing offenses to go unresolved. Go to the brother or sister who has offended you to talk through the issue. Until we go to the source and ask grace-filled yet pointed questions, we don’t really know why the person said or did what they did. All conflict resolution and thus all unity begins with this kind of action. If you find yourself “stewing” over something someone said or did to you two months ago, it’s probably not going to go away until you talk in person face-to-face. Remember, Satan works by dividing and conquering.
3) Satan works through fear and miscommunication in public settings. Fight for unity by taking concerns to your church and committee leaders before public gatherings. Public gatherings designed to inform, encourage and discuss can be great venues for Christian fellowship and discipleship. They can also become breeding grounds for strife and division. If and when you have a concern about how pastors, deacons, or committees and teams are handling issues, be sure to give them time to prepare before member meetings. No one likes to be surprised in public meetings by a question that was in reality a veiled criticism of the leader’s actions. All leaders, all leaders have blind spots and need accountability. But unless the error has to do with doctrine or immorality, leading to public discipline, the best place to have those discussions is in private. If you are uncomfortable seeking out that ministry leader by yourself, ask a friend to go along.
The bottom line: Satan is the enemy at Mountain View, not your fellow Christian. The enemy is not the pastoral staff or the deacons or committee leaders or another member who betrayed your trust. Fight for unity by looking to the One who makes us one. Fight for unity by looking to Jesus Christ who equips us to stand against spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places over Northern Utah.