Christians are not Civilians
It should go without saying that Christians are not civilians. But it seems as if we get lulled into thinking that because the enemy is unseen that the battle is not raging. But it is, unbeknownst to some. Maybe to many.
The church (and the individual believers in her ranks) has been called to fight, but not the kind of Islamic jihad that seeks to decimate human infidels. The form of warfare in which we engage is combat against a virtually invisible enemy. As Paul says in Ephesians 6, “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.”
This means that the enemy of the church is not the liberal media, the democratic party, Hollywood producers, or the tech wizards of Silicon Valley. Put simply, the enemy is not human — not “flesh and blood.” We face a spiritual enemy who wages guerilla warfare from the shadows.
This enemy has captives whom we are not fighting to defeat but to liberate from deception, sin, and death. We ourselves were once enslaved. Now, as ambassadors of the Liberator, we have been sent to rescue others just as we have been rescued. To ready ourselves for this liberation invasion, Paul exhorts us to “10 be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,11 putting on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10–11).
In athletics, a scheme represents a playbook or gameplan — a strategy. In war, a scheme is a tactic. With this in mind, knowing that Satan hates the church of Jesus Christ, and wants it to be as ineffective as possible, what do you think Satan’s tactics could be for the next several months as believers plan to re-connect in person for live worship gatherings? In what ways could he be scheming? How can we know that his agents have been deployed and are fulfilling his evil strategy for destroying local congregations? What can do to be ready and react for his (likely covert) attack?
The Divide and Conquer Strategy
As Sun Tzu says in The Art of War, the most elementary military tactic is to divide and conquer, with the ideal scenario being a division of enemy forces fostered from within so that the attacking army doesn’t even need to lift a finger. If the enemy turns on itself, there is little to do except watch the implosion.
I believe the church in our present moment of history is ripe for such a scenario. If seeds of division are sown between believers with differences of opinion concerning how to re-open churches, with factions arising from within the church against each other (to re-open or not, to social distance or not, to sing or not, to have a nursery or not, to partake of communion or not, etc.), Satan can sit back, watch, and laugh.
Since no believer wants our re-opening of in-person services to play out like that, how can the church avoid such a tragic turn of events? What must we do to stand against the schemes of the enemy? Our plan of defense begins with awareness of what Satan wants.
We know he wants to divide and conquer. We know that he will seek to infiltrate the church with a divisive spirit in order to see local churches fracture into opposing groups that place their opinions as more important than peace and unity. But how will this division and fracturing take place? What is it that will lead to Satan’s (short-term) tactical win?
The Danger of Smugness
In a word, I think Satan wants Christians to become smug. I know first-hand about smugness. The seeds of its ugliness reside in my flesh as powerfully as in anyone else’s. Synonyms for this deadly infection include words and phrases like “overly-opinionated,” “pompous,” and “sure of one’s rightness.”
To be smug is to be cocksure that my view is the correct view and that my way is the right way. Smugness plugs my ears with vainglory so that I can’t hear someone else (because I don’t need or want to hear because I’m already right) and it clogs the arteries of my spiritual veins, preventing love from flowing from my life to someone else.
Smug Christians give no room for the possibility that they could be wrong or that their way might not be the right or best way. Smugness smells like condescension, whereby they write off others as weaker, less informed, and naive, and not as spiritually mature. Sadly, the opposite is often the case.
Nevertheless, by justifying themselves as being proponents of truth (just like a group of Jews in the New Testament whom Jesus called sons of the devil), a smug believer has a hair-trigger when it comes to fighting for the rightness of his or her position. It doesn’t take long to scroll through social media and see professing believers spewing venom against anyone with a differing viewpoint, especially concerning the COVID question. And doubly especially if it is connected to a particular political affinity. Yes, this cuts both ways and is true for those leaning both to the right and the left.
Pushing the Pause Button
I use the phrase “COVID question” on purpose because there are so many questions still to be answered about the novel coronavirus. The conversation has become so politicized that it may take years to untangle truth from speculation and the actual medical evidence from the propaganda (again, from both sides). With all the information floating on the web, it is easy for me to find data to support my own view and baptize that as evidence of my rightness on the subject— even if there is alternative data that suggests otherwise.
I suppose the number of deaths associated with the virus speaks for itself. COVID is a new and obviously dangerous virus, especially for folks with immunity issues. And the asymptomatic spread seems to be much greater than with other viruses, which complicates the issue considerably, which is why the use of facial coverings is being encouraged for those with the virus and those showing no symptoms.
Maybe the stickiest wicket is the question of mortality rates. What is the actual percentage of death per infection? Is this just a really bad flu or something more insidious? Then we get into details. Should we shelter in place or re-open and re-gather? Is there a middle ground to protect the vulnerable and maintain the economy? Should masks be optional or required in public spaces where folks are unable to social distance? What about churches that make plans to re-open? What is safe? What is over-protective? Maybe we are out of the woods. Maybe we were never really in the woods but have succumbed to a politically manipulated, media-induced panic.
Everyone has an apparently data-driven opinion (I have mine) backed up by plenty of web links. But the reality is we just don’t know yet. It feels as if we are too close to the historic and scientific epicenter of the pandemic, as if being lost in the woods and not able to see the forest yet, to be as certain as we want to be. Consequently, I’m appealing to all believers — including myself — to push the pause button on our cocksureness. After all, being right about the facts of the virus is secondary to the real conversation that needs to take place, which is more about howwe engage than about who wins the debate. We need more true discussions than arguments and need to ask far more questions than we give answers.
I am convinced that we need to stop and listen. To Jesus.
In John 13:34–35, just after he has washed his disciples’ feet on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus delivers a simple manifesto to his church, “34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
The command to love one’s neighbor certainly is not new. That comes from way back in the Old Testament as a summary of the second table of the Ten Commandments. The new element is contained in the phrase “as I have loved you.”
How has Jesus loved us? The same Apostle who wrote the Gospel of John penned the epistle of 1 John 4:7–11, saying, “7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
The “as I have loved you” includes a willingness to sacrifice unto death. To love is to set aside my own interests and do whatever it takes to bless someone else, considering them more valuable than myself. Let’s be clear. This is not natural and is diametrically opposed to the flesh.
Therefore, if I feel myself pushing back against the call to lay down my rights, privileges, freedoms, and preferences for someone else, I need to open my eyes to the red warning flag being waved by the Spirit. The push back is not coming from the Spirit but from the enemy, who wants me to demand my freedom as an excuse for refusing to love as I have been loved by Jesus. Remember, we are under orders not to be right and demand our rights but to love well by laying down our rights in the same way Jesus laid down his very life.
The cross looked like a defeat, didn’t it? That is how the power of the gospel works. It doesn’t seek its own good but the good of others. Just like Jesus, we win by dying.
Fighting the Good Fight
Fighting back against the schemes of Satan will require an awareness of the battle and a commitment to tether myself to the cross of Jesus with a conscious faith in his saving grace extended toward me so that I will be able to confess my smugness and count it as dung. This is our moment. Will will respond to the call of the King?
Oh, what would happen if I were filled with the Spirit of humility, gentleness, and patience, empowered to love well by sacrificing self instead of gratifying it? Would I experience a personal revival? Could the church unite as one to storm the gates of hell in a time such as this? Would Jesus receive glory?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Fighting the good fight is not waged against flesh and blood, and not against our own brothers and sisters in the family of God. Rather, enabled by the Spirit, we will wage a spiritual war that is fought in the trenches of the heart at the level of attitude and motivation, where my great desire is not for me to win but for us to win by loving well as we have been loved by Jesus.
Soli Deo gloria.
I will be addressing this theme in more detail this Sunday (5.31.20) via Creekstone Church’s online service. Feel free to join us at 10:00 a.m. at facebook.com/creekstonechurch.
PROGRAM NOTE: I am encouraged and hopeful because of what I have experienced with my home church, Creekstone PCA, in Dahlonega, GA. In this congregation, smugness is so rare, and repentance snuffs it out when it arises. The potential for being smug resides within each of us, but by continually emphasizing the importance and hugeness of the cross as the defining truth of our lives, we have great expectation for this to be a season of many wins for the Kingdom of God in our day.