Are you experiencing division in your family, with your friends, or in your church?
Strong feelings about masks, politics, and racism have brought to a head some of our differing opinions and even spoiled some relationships. Believing friends have been “dropped” because they don’t share our views. It’s not surprising, but it’s tragic.
However there is more at play here than the deep divides in our country, and amongst believers. The danger is that we don’t recognize that a bigger force is at work.
We have an enemy.
Who is He?
He is Satan. Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) Jesus describes the devil as “a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
Satan will use anything — especially today our strongly-held opposing opinions — to bring us down. If we don’t maintain a larger vision (perspective) of what is happening we will fall prey to his tricks. And the result will be destroyed relationships and a tremendous lessening of the influence of believers — in fact, an impotency in the church.
3 ways we see him at work today:
Satan works in many ways. However in today’s culture three stand out:
He divides, he distracts, and he discourages.
He seeks to divide.
He will divide families.
I know several strong Christian families whose relationships have been damaged by differing views on political issues. Adult siblings who have withdrawn from each other, no longer communicating. Parents who have been blasted by their adult children because of their opposing positions.
He will divide spouses.
For many, social distancing has proved to be good for marriage. There has been the opportunity for more time together, less outside pressure. For others, COVID has been a time of growing distance. The enemy will use whatever he can (a plague, a different perspective on child-rearing, finances, etc.) to divide us from our spouse.
I remember a time when John and I were sitting on the couch having a nice, normal conversation when all of a sudden we found ourselves at each other and into an argument. It seemed to come from nowhere. My wise husband realized that it was from the enemy. He was seeking to divide us, to sow dissension. Once we recognized him and commanded him to leave us alone (James 4:7), we were able to continue our conversation. Recognizing the enemy is crucial to preserving unity.
(This does not mean we won’t have conflict in marriage. We have to learn how to handle conflict in a healthy manner. See this blog for thoughts on that: 6 Powerful Steps to Resolve and Prevent Conflict in Marriage.)
He will divide friends.
I have 2 close friends whose political perspectives are vastly different. Both are brilliant believers with lots of facts to support their own positions. In today’s climate a natural response might have been to write each other off. However, their love for one another transcends their views. They are working hard at listening to each other, praying for one another, and reaffirming their life-long commitment to each other. They know there will be other important issues in the future, but their primary calling is to love one another, not to find complete agreement.
He will divide churches.
Recently John and I were at the Gospel Coalition National Conference. (John is on the Board). There were over 3k pastors and church leaders there and another 28k attending online. Many were young. Nearly all have experienced division in their churches over masks, politics, and the response (or lack of it) to racism. These pastors have taken a beating.
In one church a pastor was accosted after the service by 2 different women, both in tears. One in tears because she and her husband were gently asked to wear their masks (the policy at that time of the CDC and their Governor.) The other was furious because not everyone was wearing masks.
What is so disheartening to these pastors is that much of their time has been devoted to responding to angry emails, critical and sometimes in-your-face accusations of how they’ve handled things. They’d much rather be spending their time preaching God’s truth and equipping their believers for ministry.
God’s call to us as believers is to love one another in a way that others would see this love and be drawn into it. (John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:10-13) Our lives should cause others to exclaim, “See how they love one another.”
We have to ask ourselves:
- Am I letting my views on one of these issues damage or destroy a relationship?
- How is Satan seeking to put a wedge into my marriage? Or into a friendship?
- What should my response be?
- How might I support my pastor in this difficult season?
He seeks to distract.
One of the most dangerous things about our enemy is his subtlety. We fail to recognize him. He’s sneaky. He slips into a relationship without our realizing it. If we see a poisonous snake in the grass we run. It’s an obvious danger. Yet ticks in the grass or the woods might not be so obvious. They too are dangerous. They carry Lyme disease, rocky mountain fever and other perilous infections. We have to be on the lookout for ticks, aware of them, get rid of them, and treat any disease.
The subtlety of Satan is seen in how He distracts us. After all, we are busy (self-important) and need to get to “our lists.” So we tell ourselves we’ll spend time in the scriptures later. But later disappears. Or we say we’ll pray later when we have more time, but we forget.
You may be overwhelmed with small people and feel like there’s little meaningful time with your spouse. It’s easy to adapt the attitude that “I’ll spend time on my marriage when life calms down.” Life will not calm down. We have to resist the temptation to put our marriage on hold and instead schedule time together. If you want your empty nest years to be sweet, don’t let the enemy distract you from working on your marriage now.
Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” It helps to realize this.
We have to ask ourselves:
- Am I spending more time on the internet than in the scriptures? In the long run which will matter the most?
- Am I investing time and energy into my marriage?
- Is my prayer life increasing or on the slide?
- Where might the enemy be distracting me?
He seeks to discourage.
The pastors at the Gospel Coalition Conference were mostly discouraged. They are battle-weary from nearly 2 years of conflicts. Some have decided to quit the ministry. Others are barely hanging in there.
One of Satan’s most valuable tools is discouragement. It too is subtle.
You may be discouraged from a long year of online school, social distancing, illnesses, financial needs. Often discouragement comes in the guise of general malaise. You just feel “down” without a specific reason.
It’s helpful to recognize that Satan often speaks generally. “You’re no good. You are a lousy wife. You’ve ruined your kids. You’ll never…” General condemnation is from the enemy. God’s word says, “For there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).
On the other hand, when God speaks, its usually specific. He may convict us of a sin we need to confess. You should not have said or done that, and you need to ask forgiveness. When we confess our sins, He’s faithful and righteous to forgive us and to cleans us from all ungodliness. (1 John 1:9).
A loss of perspective can cause discouragement. We think, I’m the only one who…No one else…this will never end… In each of these thoughts we discern a loss of perspective. We are not alone. Others have experienced similar things. When it feels like no one understands, remember Psalm 147: 5 “His understanding has no limit!”
Two of the many blessings of the Gospel Coalition Conference were the reminders for the pastors and church leaders:
You are not alone. We too ‘get it.’ You are in like company.”
And the encouragement in strong messages from their older mentors to stand on the word and to finish strong. “For He who calls us is faithful and He will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
The face-to-face fellowship of other believers who remind us of the truths of scripture, and of the Power of the Holy Spirit will encourage each one of us — no matter who we are — to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1)
We have to ask ourselves:
- Is the enemy bringing to my mind general thoughts of condemnation or is the Holy Spirit convicting me of something specific that I need to confess?
- Is there a person I can reach out to and encourage in some specific way today? (a text, email, note, call, meal?)
Remember: Our call as believers (and certainly the church) is to love one another in order that those who see this love would recognize it and desire to be drawn into it. (John 13:34-35)
In whatever way Satan may choose to attack us we have to remember that He wants to neutralize the church. BUT we are God’s body, his bride, his beloved.
The power of His love is far greater than the attempts of the enemy.
“For he who is in you (referring to Christ) is greater than he who is in the world (referring to Satan) 1 John 4:4.
This is great news indeed!
For further study:
- I cover the enemy in greater detail in Chapter 4 of my book Risky Faith.
- Check out my video, Our Enemy: Be Alert and Know How to Respond.