Fighting – Part 2

In Sermon Series by Rachel Schultz

An Enemy Has Done This

Photo: Mark Aplet

A short story from many years ago tells about a man who moved into a new neighborhood. I don’t know why he did it, or what motivated him, but he began to quietly move behind the scenes and create division. He did something surreptitious that made Neighbor A angry at Neighbor B. He set up a smoke screen that caused Neighbor C to decide Neighbor D was a liar. He stole things from Neighbor E and somehow planted Neighbor F’s fingerprints on the screen door. For about six months he just laced the community Kool-Aid with poison, and before one year was out the whole town was completely dysfunctional. Everybody hated everybody. They had to change the locks on their doors; they sabotaged each other’s garage sales. It was a mess.

And the entire time, nobody realized that this newcomer was the straw that was stirring the drink of distrust. This twisted visitor just sat back in his lawn chair, watching the emotional carnage and smiling to himself, just as an arsonist sets a fire and then from a safe distance enjoys the blaze and the roar of the fire trucks and the angry smoke and futile spray of the hoses.

The Voice of Prophecy radio ministry once received a tear-stained prayer request from a distraught mother. It was just three lines long, and you could almost see her frustration in the handwriting. She said this: “My son seems to delight in conflict. He’s always trying to get people upset.”

Last week we talked about the stark reality that a lot of the battles in this world happen in churches. It’s been that way for two thousand years: people have fought about church teachings, about policies, about worship styles. And they’ve fought over the simple fact that other people, unlikable, unlovable, unsaveable people, are sitting two pews over. 

In addition to that, it does often look like we like fighting. We enjoy the conflict. We go out of our way to indulge in it; in fact, we might be addicted to it.

Most of you know where the famous “Love Chapter” is found in the Bible: I Corinthians 13. And here’s a verse that really condemns some of our attitudes: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. I mentioned last Sabbath how in the political world, both sides seem to enjoy the other side’s mistakes and misfired shotguns. There was discord between two American speed skaters in the last winter Olympic Games, and the news stories seemed to always lead with the latest gossip: who snubbed who. Who refused to shake hands. Who called the other a traitor or a spoilsport.

Let me take you back to the very public, front-of-the-church fight we lamented over last Sabbath. An Emmanual Baptist Church—fictional name—had the senior pastor and the head deacon come to blows right in front of the Communion table. But let’s hit the pause button on our DVD players and ask this question: “Wait a second. Who wants this fight to happen? Who is enjoying this?” And of course, the answer is Satan. When we fight, he’s in delight. When we experience fireworks in our marriages, he and his imps set off a few of their own in celebration.

I want to take you to a New Testament parable this morning. And it’s simply amazing to me how powerful and how relevant the truths always are that we find in these rural fisherman-and-seed-planting stories Jesus used to tell. But in Matthew 13 there’s a little tale about a farmer and all his hired hands who have a field they’ve nicely plowed up and sowed with good seed. This is high-grade durum wheat: the primo good stuff. And then one morning the boss and all his help wake up, chug out there on their John Deeres, and lo and behold, there’s weeds coming up with the wheat. And I mean, bunches of weeds, not just a sprig here and there. There’s a whole Lord of the Rings Fangorn Forest of evil out there in the back forty, and the farm hands are up to their hips in the stuff.

And it’s very telling, the words Jesus puts in the mouth of this gentleman farmer. Five King James words: An enemy hath done this. 

So what’s going on here? These weeds didn’t get there by themselves. This discord, this battle, this assault on the peace and tranquility of Happy Hollow Farm isn’t just a random accident. An enemy came along at midnight to put those weeds there.

And it’s the same when you and I fight. It’s the same when an Adventist church is scorched with internal dissent. It’s the same when you and I deliberately climb into the ring of combat. There’s an enemy who wants us in there. An enemy who wants us to receive and give body blows and black eyes. Every time we fight, we play right into his hands.

Now, here’s a P.S. This isn’t to say that all arguments and board meeting debates in the world are Lucifer’s fault, and that we can just go around saying, “Well, the devil made me do it.” Sometimes we get into a pattern of blaming all things on the demon of discouragement and the demon of delinquency and the demon of daiquiris and doughnuts. We have friction in our families or in the workplace, and we pin the blame on the demon of attack e-mails. And that’s not fair or realistic. We’re responsible for our behavior in life, and we’re also responsible to resist the devil so that he’ll flee from us, as promised in James 4:7. But it’s clearly written down in the Christian farm almanac that if we don’t put up some fences and post a guard out in the field, Satan absolutely is going to come in at midnight with a weed-planting machine.

Let me give you the rest of the story of that mom who wrote about the sparring and scrapping of her kid. I said the note was about three lines long and I just gave you two of them. Again: “My son seems to delight in conflict. Always trying to get people upset.” And I think to myself, kind of instinctively, “Well, somebody should give him a good thumping. Stupid kid.” Well, maybe so, but here’s the rest of the sad, cryptic note: “He’s 11, has been sexually molested, in counseling for over two years.”

So that’s the whole story. This kid fights. He loves to fight. He’s addicted to fighting. Something sick, something hurt inside of him, compensates for his own heartache by getting someone else to share his pain. And we see right here a demonic power standing behind the curtain. Why does this boy like fighting? Partly because Satan set it up and sowed the seeds of conflict.

In his book, The Nature of Christ, Roy Adams addresses two theological issues that, for whatever reason, seem to trouble our denomination more than others. One of them is, like the title says, dealing with the issue of the inward human nature of Jesus Christ while He was on this earth. The question is this: did Jesus have a holy, sinless, unfallen nature, like Adam before he sinned? Or did He have a sinful, fallen, skewing-toward-evil nature like everyone here in the church this morning? 

In recent years there have been books published on both sides, magazine articles on both sides, forum gatherings on both sides. But the discussion and the debate has been going on for many decades now. It was hot in the beginning; it’s hot now. It was unsettled then; it’s still unsettled now.

The second related theological debate addressed in Dr. Adams’ book has to do with what is sometimes called “final generation” perfection. Will a last group of Christians, just before the second coming of Jesus, have such a close walk with the Lord, such an Enoch experience, that they themselves are completely sinless? Again, there have been books and compilations and discussion and maybe even some rock-throwings. “More heat than light,” as we say, with many, many column inches of space used up in the “Letters to the Editor” section of the church paper.

And the reality is this. These two questions simply cannot be solved or resolved. The Bible has verses that hint one way or another. You can look for your chosen POV, your point of view, and maybe find it if you look just on one side of the river. And I will say that entire schools of theology, with many attending perspectives, do flow from these streams right here, so the conclusions might be rather weighty. If you believe that Jesus had a sinful, craven nature just like we do, and that He lived in perfect obedience for 33 years, and He’s our example in all things, then it follows that you are perhaps going to teach the possibility of our reaching perfection as well in the last days. But in many years, decades, even more than a century now, people have gone round and round, sometimes very angrily fighting and accusing and casting aspersions regarding these extra-biblical questions that simply cannot be analyzed in a test tube. It can’t be done.

And here’s what Dr. Adams finally concludes, when all is said and done: “Clearly, the controversy that has consumed the church is completely unwarranted. We have wasted valuable time. And we have discouraged many. If the hand of the devil is not in this, then he is not alive.”

That’s quite an eye-opener, isn’t it? You know, the next time you or I are tempted to put on our boxing gloves and fight with someone else in this church, whether it’s about some Bible theory we have, or just the fact that we don’t like them, let’s do something. Just outside the boxing ring, there’s a shadow. Can you just barely make it out? Right there beyond the square of canvas is a shadowy figure. Lucifer is there as a cheerleader. When our friends cheer our pugilistic exploits, can we hear the faint voice of Lucifer’s angels in there too, saying go! go! go! Because Satan and his army celebrates when we get into the ring. And it doesn’t matter to them whether or not we win the debate. They don’t care about that at all. When we fight, whether we win or lose, Satan wins. It’s just like all the big Las Vegas hotel casinos covering bets on the Super Bowl. It’s New England by seven, but they cover both sides, Patriots and Giants, and take their ten percent cut, their vigorish, no matter what happens on the football field. 

There’s a caveat I want to add to our study today. Here it is. There are times when it may be appropriate to fight. It isn’t always a sin to be angry. Temporarily, that is. There are abuses that should make us mad and injustices that ought to create righteous indignation within us. Jesus saw the desecration, the selfishness, the materialism that was ruining the temple, His Father’s house, and it made Him angry. He was so righteously mad that He physically threatened the money tycoons with a whip. 

Jesus was in the church one Sabbath and there was a man with a withered hand. And standing all around were Pharisees and rulers; they loved the rules and the hierarchy and the status they got from being “Lords of the Sabbath” more than they cared about the suffering of their fellow human beings. And the Bible says in Mark 3 that Jesus “looked around at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.” “You guys are killing Me. You care about these 613 laws; you care about keeping your robes clean on the Sabbath day. You care about your own sheep—since it’s a precious financial investment to you—and you rescue it from pain if it falls into a ditch on the Sabbath day. But right here, your own suffering fellow human . . . you don’t care about him at all. You’re killing Me.” And then, with holy anger written on His face, Jesus broke the Sabbath—from their perspective—and made that man well.

So it is not wrong to fight against evil. It’s not wrong to be angry at the right moment. But here’s what the Apostle Paul writes to his combative friends in Ephesus: In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold (27, 27).

So if there’s a scandal here in the church, or where you work, it ought to make you angry. But let’s be cosmically aware that the devil is standing in the shadows. He planted those seeds of dissension, and he and his fallen farm hands are eager to water and fertilize their poisonous crops.

In his latest book, When the Enemy Strikes, by Charles Stanley, he points to this reality:  “The devil is a master at causing misunderstandings.” Doesn’t that underscore exactly what we’ve been saying? He doesn’t show his cards, but he’s just in the background, stirring the drink, fomenting anger.

C. S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters, is an imagined correspondence between a senior devil and a junior imp in training, who still has training wheels on his bike. And here’s how Screwtape advises his protege, Wormwood, to quietly work on his assigned man as he walks into this very church building on a given Sabbath morning: “When he gets to his pew,” the older, wiser demon suggests, “and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between the expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew.”

Lewis goes on to observe, as a devil, that most of us—it doesn’t matter what we say—believe inside that we are pretty wonderful people. The church is lucky to have us here. The people in the next pew are, in any great number of ways, inferior to us. We do accept Calvary salvation, but we just very barely need it. Not like those publicans and sinners sitting at the next table during potluck. That is our default attitude.

We mentioned last week that the cosmic, worldwide, continent-spanning church is a wonderful thing, a triumphant thing, an undefeatable thing. But here in this place, we have real flesh-and-blood people sitting five feet away whose actions disappoint us. People come late and leave early. They skip out on just being here and they skip out on the things they’re supposed to do while they are here. And Satan’s forces are sitting on our shoulder all the time, saying, “Look at that! Unbelievable! How you put up with them is a galactic mystery.”

Have you ever felt like your mind was almost haunted with that certain someone, that sparring partner? Have you ever mentally boxed with them while standing in the shower and then some more in your car on the way to work? You see, those thoughts aren’t just growing in your mind like innocent weeds. Somebody planted them there with purpose and malice aforethought.

So what can we do? If Satan is a practiced and invisible weed-planter, what hope is there for us?

Well, first of all, being Bible-studying, church-attending Christians takes away his invisibility. We know of his existence. We acknowledge it, and we confess his superiority to us. But we also fall to our knees at Calvary and ask Jesus for divine power and protection during the midnight planting season.

There’s a cute story in President Jimmy Carter’s spiritual book, Living Faith. Back in 1987, he was trying to write another book, entitled Everything to Gain, with a co-author, and the two of them simply were not seeing eye to eye. About 97% of the time, they shared similar perspectives, but on the other three percent, they just could not get on to the same page and the atmosphere there in the writing laboratory became rather frosty. It looked like they might have to call in the United Nations in order to get this dumb book finished. Unfortunately, the person he was co-writing the book with was named Rosalynn Carter. His own wife! Again, on about three percent of the manuscript she didn’t think he was getting it right, and he absolutely knew, as the commander in chief of the Carter household, that her feminine instincts were all messed up. It was literally to the point where it was about to threaten their marriage . . . and that’s no way for born-again, evangelical, Christian ex-presidents to sell a lot of books.

Finally, speaking of unsolvable conflicts, their editor said: “Look, you guys. Don’t kill each other. This is a good book just the way it is. On the three percent of the book where you just can’t seem to get on the same page, we’ll mark your paragraphs, Mr. President, with a ‘J,’ and yours, Mrs. Carter, with an ‘R.’” And that fixed it.

But there were still times when little things threatened to undo the harmony of their home down in Plains, Georgia. These were both strong-willed, successful, driven people, both used to the spotlight and to getting their own way. And one day, President Carter decided he really wanted for things to be better. He didn’t want to sense Lucifer in the shadows, hiding right behind the Secret Service, causing havoc in their marriage. So, with this Bible verse from Ephesians in his mind, he went down to his workshop and carved a little handmade plaque out of walnut, with this inscription on it: Each evening, forever, this is good for an apology—or forgiveness—as you desire. Jimmy. 

He gave it to her and said: “Just present this any time, no limits, no expiration dates, any time you think we need it.” And he writes in his book: “Boy, she sure has.” He got to know that piece of wood pretty good . . . and see, that is a biblical, heaven-blessed way of thwarting the weed-planting enemy who camps out in our backyards.

There are two other victory principles I want for us to embrace this morning. Here’s the first one. If the devil wants to plant seeds, let’s invite the other Farmer—the one who moonlights as a Carpenter—to nurture His crops in our minds and hearts instead. There’s a verse in First Corinthians 2 that says this: But we have the mind of Christ.

That sounds like an impossible goal, but Paul, the chief of sinners, says it’s what we need to desire and that it can actually happen. But how? How do we get the mind of Christ? We get it by reading His book and singing His songs. Every morning when I go for my jog, I have my little I-Pod, and I have to make a decision: what will I put into my mind for the next 30 minutes. I have the Bible on CD, and I have I Could Sing of Your Love Forever . . . and I have all of my pop albums from the 70s and 80s. What will I hear today?

How else do we get the mind of Christ? We get it by conversing with Him in prayer and going to the House where He and His Father dwell. And while we’re here in this building, we try to stay away from Screwtape’s suggestion that we focus on that aggravating person two pews over. There’s one thing I can promise you—speaking of fighting. If Jesus and Satan do battle, Jesus is always going to win. But we have to invite Him to be the planter and gladiator in our lives, and I don’t say that to be cute. Do we really feed on Him and on His thoughts? Do we set the alarm, not just during the frantic workweek, but also on the Sabbath day, so that we will actually get out of bed, get in the car, and come here to the church where the mind of Christ is what is presented during this hour?

Do we have lifestyles that are conducive to His thoughts growing and taking root inside of us? Some of you sitting here today go to the trouble of canceling other appointments and moving things around so that once a week you can get together with church friends and study the Bible. You have other things to do; you have bills to pay and aggravations of your own to deal with. But week by week, you get the mind of Christ in 60-minute doses. And I know it works because I can see the new look of peace on your faces. I see it. I experience it.

And then let’s remember that we can either advance Lucifer’s kingdom by fighting or advance Christ’s eternal kingdom by being peacemakers. There is such a thing as walking away from combat. It is possible. And every time we do that, every time we make a conscious decision with Christ’s help to turn the other cheek or bite back an angry word, we take a brick out of Satan’s castle, and we strengthen God’s government instead. 

Remember again the cosmic war theater where we are all players. Every holy act, every forgiving act, every angry word not said, every grudge deliberately sacrificed is a small but critical part of the foundation of God’s kingdom. We are here today in enemy-occupied territory; God and His ancient enemy are literally battling over every square inch of this city and this spiritual community. And every soft answer we give is wonderfully amplified into a shout of victory for the hosts of heaven.

Shall we pray?

Lord, you know all of the hidden desires of our heart. We’re here because we do want to bless Your kingdom and move this world toward it. But we also love the combat, the verbal skirmishes that just feel so good and which feed our fallen appetite for satisfaction. Please give us today a sense of which of those two battling desires is the lasting, eternal, heaven-blessed one. And give us the power to seek every day to find and love the mind of Christ. We pray in His transforming name, Amen.


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