Remember Who the Enemy is.
The final avenue to unity we will explore in this series of posts is to remember who the enemy is. Paul states clearly that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, that is, not against humans (Ephesians 6:12). Instead it is against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms. Whatever these forces are (I explore it briefly in this post), they are clearly allied with Satan. Verse 11 warns us against the schemes of the devil, and then v. 12 explains this further (notice the “for” at the beginning of the verse) by mentioning these spiritual powers. The two are obviously related. Verse 16 supports this Satanic connection by saying the flaming arrows are coming from the Evil One.
As far as I can tell, Paul does not overtly state a connection in this passage between remembering who the enemy is and unity (5:10-20), but unity would certainly be one of the targets our Enemy attacks. The context of the book of Ephesians as a whole implies a concern for unity throughout.
One of the obvious implications of remembering that Satan is our enemy is that we should not attack our own side. The situation in the church is not the progressives versus the conservatives. The situation is not me and my friends versus my opponents and their friends. The situation is not me and the people I agree with versus all the people I disagree with. The situation is God and all the humans versus Satan and his dark spiritual forces. We do not oppose and attack each other. Friendly fire is tragic and must be avoided at all costs. We need to band together and remain aware that one of the deadly weapons the Evil One uses against us is surreptitious (secret) efforts to sow discord among us.
Intelligence agents apparently practice this regularly. One recent example is the Russian agents’ attempt to sow discord in our nation and undermine Americans’ confidence in democracy in general and our Government in particular. Russian agents, posing as Americans, established websites and social media pages to stir up divisive US social and political issues. They acted as trolls, people who intentionally antagonize others online by posting inflammatory, irrelevant or offensive comments and other disruptive content. That description sounds scarily similar to much religious rhetoric and argument. If an atheistic dictatorship uses a method to sow discord among people who ought to be united, perhaps that should tip us off that this is a strategy our Enemy will use against us as well.
When I have bad feelings toward you, instead of viewing you as the enemy, I need to realize the Evil One is working surreptitiously to sow discord in the church. He may be working on you to cause you to act or feel in ungodly ways. He may be working on me to feel or respond to you in ungodly ways. Most likely he is working on both of us in more ways than we are aware of. I know from experience that he will appeal to my pride and self-righteousness influencing me to conclude that you are the problem, not me. That is one of his schemes (Ephesians 6:11). Whenever one of us does something wrong, it is an opportune moment for Satan to outwit us and divide us. But if we are aware of his schemes, we can forgive and avoid being outwitted by him (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). This perspective is something we must firmly establish in our hearts and minds when we are thinking rationally, if we hope to actually be able to forgive in the heated emotions of the moment.
The same danger of dissension exists when ideas we are not familiar with are introduced in a church. Sometimes a new idea is from God and new to us only because we have forgotten, neglected, or never been taught it. This was the situation Jesus’ audiences experienced much of the time. Jesus was teaching things they had never heard from the Scribes and Pharisees. So Jesus underscored the need to have hearts that are able to stretch like new wineskins so that we can receive his new ways (Luke 5:37-38). Though grace and the Holy Spirit are now usually embraced as healthy teaching, some of us remember when these topics were new and considered radical. Thankfully there were some new wineskins back then to receive these “new” truths from Scripture that had been neglected.
Conversely, a new idea may be due to the “cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). In such cases it is not difficult to hear the schemes of Satan (Ephesians 6:11; cf. Mark 8:33) behind the human scheming (Ephesians 4:14). Residents of Athens were not the last people who spent much time talking about the latest ideas (Acts 17:21). Ideas that do not agree with the godly teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ are unhealthy and create controversies, quarrels, envy, strive, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Though some people enjoy this sort of discussion, Scripture says such things are destructive weapons of the Evil One that create discord and division in the church.
To determine whether a new idea is from God or the Devil will require humility, spiritual wisdom, discernment and maturity (James 3:13-18). Those who have been equipped to serve, are building up the body, have reached unity, maturity and Christlikeness (Ephesians 4:11-13) are most likely to withstand the sway of the deceitful scheming (Ephesians 4:14)(For more on this see post). I am not so naïve as to think all believers will agree whether a given new idea is from above or from below, but if we remember God’s purpose is to bring us together and remain aware of the Evil One’s desire to sow discord among us, we are more likely to handle such issues together in a mature fashion, instead of letting them separate us. Again, we are not our enemy (you may have to read that sentence again).
Remembering who the enemy is will not only keep us from fighting against each other, it will also lead us to use weapons that are effective against our actual enemy. You don’t want to throw water on an electrical fire. That is not only ineffective, it also makes matters worse. Nor do you want to use the weapons of the world against Satan (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). For example, when Satan takes someone captive to do his will so that they oppose godly teaching, we must not address this with quarrelling and resentment but instead kindness and gentle instruction. These are the kinds of spiritual weapons that give the best hope for them to repent, come to their senses and escape the trap of the Devil (2 Timothy 2:23-26).
The weapons Paul mentions as effective against Satan in Ephesians 6 include truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit, the word of God, and all kinds of prayer (Ephesians 6:14-18). Much could be said about each of these, but I’ll only go into one right now.
It is surely significant that he here describes the gospel as the gospel “of peace.” This ties in well to the strong emphasis on unity in Ephesians (cf. 1:2; 2:14, 15, 17; 4:3; 6:15, 23). Busying ourselves with praying about and proclaiming the gospel (Ephesians 6:19-20) so that more people can find peace with God and with each other is certainly more pleasing to God than arguing for our way on whatever new ideas is currently on the table. Believers are also more likely to be unified if they focus on their mission of communicating the gospel than if they focus on what everyone believes about every issue. Soldiers who are actively fighting the enemy don’t pick on each other.
As to the other pieces of Christian armor listed, it might be a good exercise to pray about and discuss how each can help ward off Satan’s fiery darts and so preserve unity in the church.
In this series of posts we have noticed that it is God’s purpose to reconcile the people of the world to himself and to each other and to do it through Christ. If this is God’s purpose, we clearly need to keep it in the forefront of our minds. Sadly, though, unity is rare in our world, society, and even in churches. But if we want to cooperate with God’s purpose in the world, there are several things we can do:
- Remember where we have come from
- Have and show authentic Christlike love
- Have and show humility, gentleness, and patience
- Make a strong, diligent effort to preserve the Spirit-created unity
- Emphasize the major matters of the faith
- Have and follow a leadership focus on equipping people to serve
- Engage in specific behaviors that are conducive to unity (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
- Live by the Spirit in the body through singing, thankfulness, and mutual submission
- Remember who the real Enemy is and act accordingly
I believe it is best if we establish these attitudes and behaviors before there is a real threat to unity in our congregation. The matters listed should be a part of the normal atmosphere of a church of Christ. If we will remember all that God has done for us, we will have the power and motivation needed to establish these things (see post). But if the threat to unity has already reared its ugly head in a congregation, we need spiritual people to step up and be examples to the rest by remembering and choosing to practice these aspects of God’s will even in the face of such turmoil.
Which of the ways of cooperating with God’s purpose for unity do you most need to bolster in your own life?