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Sometimes our enemies are chosen for us. For example, growing up in Indiana as a huge Indiana University college basketball fan, it was just accepted that our primary “enemies” were Purdue and Kentucky. In fact, it was not unusual to see people wearing t-shirts that said, “My two favorite teams are Indiana and whoever is playing Kentucky” or a similar one with “Purdue” substituted for “Kentucky.”
As Indianapolis Colts fans, our sworn enemy was the New England Patriots. Indeed, even though they don’t do it as much now that they are a little older, you still might hear one of my kids challenge the other to a race by saying, “Last one to the car is a New England Patriot!”
You see, there are times when “rotten egg” just isn’t strong enough.
On a national level, often it is clear who our enemies are. During the Revolutionary War our enemy was the British with their tell-tale red coats. During World War II it was obvious that our enemies were the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy. In the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, it was clear that Al Qaeda and other radical Muslim groups were the enemies.
It is much easier to wage a successful war if the enemy is clearly identified.
But sometimes it is not so easy to identify one’s enemies. I believe that is one of the main reasons why so many people are confused about what to do in places like Syria – it’s hard to identify the “good guys.”
As we’ve seen in Egypt, sometimes the good guys turn out to be worse than the bad guys, making it more difficult to decide the best course of action. About Syria, I’ve heard some people argue that because everyone on both sides hates us, we should just let them kill each other and not worry about it. I can understand why that is a compelling argument for some – taking Napoleon’s advice when he said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” (or killing another of your enemies).
As a Christian, this idea of identifying one’s enemies and then knowing what to do about it takes on even more significance.
In one of his most difficult-to-follow pronouncements, Jesus said that we were to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. (Of course, we mustn’t mistakenly apply a command that Jesus gave to individual Christians to our military or national leaders as a misguided reason not ever to use military force. The biblical command for individual Christians is to love and forgive, but the biblical command for government is to provide justice. Restraining evil and punishing wrongdoers – even through use of force if necessary – is a biblical role of government.)
In any conflict, it’s important to know and to remember who the true enemy is. I was reminded recently of a story I heard about a ventriloquist who was (through his dummy) entertaining a crowd by telling one blonde joke after another.
After several minutes of this, an attractive, well-dressed blonde woman had had enough. She stood up in the middle of the audience and interrupted the performance.
“Wait a minute,” she said. “You can’t keep speaking like that about us. Some of us are highly educated and intelligent, and what you’re saying is very offensive to me.”
The ventriloquist, who was clearly taken aback, began stammering out an apology when the woman cut him off. “You stay out of this,” she said. “My beef is with the little smart-aleck on your lap.”
For sure, we need to correctly identify our enemy. As Christians, we are called to be “salt and light” in an increasingly darkened and tasteless world. However, as we engage the culture with the truth of the Bible, sometimes we are met with resistance – and sometimes that resistance comes at the hands of difficult people.
For me at least, it is easy to believe that those difficult people are my enemy. However, it is at these times that we must remember that I Peter 5 and Ephesians 6 tell us that our true enemy is in the spiritual realm and that our battle is “not against flesh and blood.”
The Bible makes it clear that it is not the individual atheist, Muslim, gay-rights activist or even abortion provider that is our enemy. They have simply been deceived by Satan, the true enemy of our soul, who comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” all that is right and good (John 10:10).
Though I confess it isn’t always easy, we mustn’t make the same mistake as the well-intentioned blonde from the humorous story above. Our issue is with the ventriloquist, not those he deceives into being used for his purposes.
Another way to think of it is this: The Bible says that Satan has “blinded the eyes” of people who don’t believe in Christ.
In the same way that we wouldn’t be angry with a blind person who bumped into us, we shouldn’t be angry with those who oppose the cause of Christ, no matter how aggressively they do it.
Although by their actions they have set themselves up as enemies of God, we must remember that we, too, were once far from God and that it is only by his grace that we have come to know him. Because of this, we must see those who oppose Christ as people who need compassion, grace, and the light of God’s truth in their lives.
Again, this is very difficult, and I confess I don’t always get it right. But, rather than wish our earthly enemies harm, we should pray for them – with the hope that they come to know Christ and “switch teams,” so to speak.
Going back to the first example I gave, as Indianapolis Colts fans, my family despises everything about the New England Patriots. On the football field, any Patriot is the enemy.
However, if a player should leave the Patriots and come to the Colts, as kicker Adam Vinatieri did a few years ago, we now cheer for the former “enemy” because he has seen the light and joined our team. We realize that our issue was with the Patriots team, not necessarily with any of the individual players (except Tom Brady, for whom no true Colts fan could ever cheer, no matter the circumstances!).
I admit, loving our enemy is a tall order, and definitely not for the faint at heart. But that is our calling as followers of Christ. I’m just glad that Jesus’ command doesn’t also apply to sports. Oh-oh, wait a minute...