When we are involved in a conflict the tendency can easily be to vilify the other party in our hearts and minds. This is true whether we are conflicting with our non-Christian coworkers or our Christian friends. Communication breakdowns, misunderstandings abound, frustration rises to the point of anger and we begin to see them as the enemy. The Scriptures suggest however that the enemies for the believer fall into one of three categories: the world, the flesh (meaning primarily our own sin) and the devil. In fact, often when we are at war with men and women we are simply aiming our sights too low. For behind the conflict is the Evil One who loves to see Christians fighting one another. This is, in part, why we are told: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:11-12)
Simply put, our ultimate fight is not with the person with whom we are disagreeing, but rather the devil who is scheming to undo us both. Among Satan’s many schemes, such as doubt, discouragement, temptation and deceit, lies one of his choicest weapons: division. No doubt some humans foment divisions among us, as Paul warns, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17) But behind their efforts to create division there is another Great Divider. After warning of those who cause division Paul adds: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom. 16:20)
It was Satan who tempted Adam and Eve to divide them from their heavenly Father. It was Satan in part, certainly, using sin crouching at the door, who tempted Cain to despise Abel, striking at the first family. It was Satan who entered Judas to divide him from the disciples. Division is one of the Devil’s favorite strategies, for when we divide Christian against Christian we waste our time fighting friends rather than the real enemy of our souls and are simultaneously distracted from the saving of other souls for Christ. The Devil wins twice when believers divide.
It can be hard to believe that our opponent in an argument may not be our enemy at all, particularly if the person opposite of us is so utterly unreasonable and obstinate. We see their faults, as it were, under a microscope. The least falsehood is unforgivable, the slightest critical comment, an entire assault on our person, the simplest glance loaded with loathing. But we must see division among Christians for what it is: the scheme of Satan, who drinks our divisions down thirstily.
How can we avoid falling into the Devil’s trap of dividing against one another?
- First, recognize what is happening. While there may be human disagreement and sin involved, the devil is there hoping to score a victory. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Stop aiming your blows at your human opponent and look to defeat the one who wants you to divide.
- Second, go low and go slow. When you feel your heart growing in anger against, say, a fellow believer with whom you are having a disagreement, stop long enough to see that the devil is there whipping you and your friend into a frenzy. Rather than becoming angry and agitated, go slow and go low. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Eph. 4:26-27)
- Third, respond in love, gently teaching and instructing those with whom you disagree. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Tim. 2:24-26) When we recognize that our friend with whom we disagree is not actually our enemy, but may instead have been taken captive by the Enemy, we can stop quarreling and being resentful and instead, kindly teach them in order to help lead them from Satan’s trap into the glorious light of Christ.
- Fourth, take the log out of your own eye. When we are absolutely certain of our rightness we can be most dangerous. It is rarely bad for a believer to stop and search his own heart for sin or failings and to come repenting back into relationship with the one you took for an opponent. Even if we are 99% correct in our stance, it will help with the relationship to discover and turn from the 1% which is sin. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5)
Rather than blindly flailing away at brothers or sisters in Christ whom we consider enemies, let us be aware of the spiritual dynamics surrounding our conflicts. Let us be aware that the true Enemy of our soul would have us divide from, and go to war with, other believers. Don’t give him that victory. Rather, when human conflicts arise, “resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
Author: Rev. Dr. Tom Hawkes