My Mom always told me, "When you see something in multiples, pay attention." (I'm pretty sure she also told me too much caffeine might stunt my growth, but I ignored that nugget of wisdom and only made it to 5'4".) Anyway, this week, on three occasions, someone brought up the Armor of God passage from Ephesians 6.
It's all about us understanding that there is a spiritual battle, and responding by consciously preparing our hearts and minds with truth, peace, faith, righteousness, salvation, and God's Word. The idea is that we should metaphorically dress ourselves in these things like armor. Its a soul kind of armor because we aren't fighting physical enemies.
Ephesians 6:12 says, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" and John 10:10 says that the enemy's sole purpose is "to steal and kill and destroy".
Thankfully, when our hope is in Jesus- rest assured the enemy can't ultimately destroy us because God bought us with a price and nothing can take us from Him. (Romans 8:38-39) But I Peter 5:8 states that we should always "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
What I have been hearing over and over this week through the Bible, spiritual teaching, and conversations with friends, is that one of the enemies major attacks is to destroy our unity as believers. The same enemy who wants to see broken families, children trafficked or abused, corruption in government, rampant poverty, inadequate school systems, orphans without families, people without the hope of God- that SAME enemy is the reason we focus so much on our differences. Because what better way to divide, immobilize and distract people from the real problem, than by leveraging and elevating our differences until they replace what is truly going to destroy us. So instead of joining together and fighting against the real enemy- we are shooting ourselves- civilians- burning bridges- joining our missions half-heartedly, one foot out the door, just in case we can't agree with those who are really on our team.
In "Catching Fire", the second Hunger Games there is a simple, convicting line: "Remember who the real enemy is." There is so much good that we can do but only if we let go of "decoy" enemies- the differences in our lives that we give so much attention to that they actually distract us from the real threat.
Remember who the real enemy is.
And trust me this post is about myself- the reason that God has put Ephesians 6 in my life lately like a blinking warning sign is that I have totally let the enemy get the best of me. I'm sobered to look back over the last year and find multiple instances where I was needlessly negative, offended, withdrawn, unloving, insecure or ineffective. At different points:
- I was quick to speak negatively about a situation, slow to consider how I might be able to help improve things.
- My passion for a cause or ministry faded because I felt left out, focused on my disagreements or ambivalent about selflessly committing to others.
- My criticism was more directed towards other people, less on myself.
- I was unable to wish the best for someone I disagreed with- or I'd actually fantasize that their "wrongness" would catch up with them.
- I find myself withdrawing from really good friends because of petty things, silly offenses, or no. good. reason. at. all.
- My pride eclipsed my ability to see beauty in others.
- I saw my pain or hurt to the exclusion of what other's felt.
- My fear of unworthiness or negatively comparing myself to others prevented me from stepping out where God made me to, or kept me from healthy community.
- I was more worried about being right than being loving.
I'd go on but it would be a sadly tedious read...and these are mostly just subtle ways that the enemy has kept me from the kind of community God desires for me. There are whole other categories of ways the enemy has kept me down...us down.
The idea of the enemy can suddenly seem so overwhelming when you consider how pervasive and persistent his attacks. Still, I don't think we are meant to dwell on the enemy. We are supposed to prepare ourselves well for His schemes, but we don't focus on him constantly- we don't spend our time looking at him.
Instead, to avoid the enemy we fix "our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith". (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus is stronger, He lives in us and works fruit in us (John 15:5), and HE is able to provide a way out for us when we are tempted. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Then, Hebrews 12:1 says "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us". So there's this idea that we are putting ON God's armor, and taking OFF the sin, the lies, the pitfalls that entangle us. And we have to keep persevering because the enemy doesn't give up. I also keep coming back to the idea of "truth". The enemy is "the father of lies" who has "no truth in him" (John 8:44). Jesus is the polar opposite...He is literally the truth (John 14:6) and we have to learn to recognize His voice as a sheep with its shepherd. (John 10:27). When we let Jesus call us as we are, we stop letting the enemy falsify our identity; when we are comfortable with Jesus' voice we begin to pick out the voice accusation, condemnation, and negativity as the voice of an impostor.
Finally, love. 1 John 2:10-11 says, "Anyone who loves their brother and sister[c] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them." So when our love ceases, darkness creeps in, we stumble, and we are blind. (Sounds like a field day for the enemy.) But WITH love, we cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Love unites us and marks us as followers of God. (John 13:35) When we love each other God's love is somehow made complete in us (1 John 4:12). Love is one powerful thing that keeps us from being "ineffective and unproductive in [our] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:5-8)
Love destroys the enemy.