"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."
-Sun Tzu, The Art of War
You might not be familiar with Sun Tzu, or his work The Art of War. The Chinese general penned his treatise on conflict sometime around 500 BC. While this non-biblical text is hardly holy scripture, I believe that it contains timeless truths that every Christian should consider within the context of their own faith. Specifically, what do we know about our enemy?
"For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms."
-Ephesians 6:12, New Living Translation
Although the scriptures are quite clear concerning the nature of conflict in this world, many believers live as though they don't know who their true enemy is. In fact, most Christians seem to have trouble making the distinction between the spiritual forces of evil that manipulate our world, and the unwitting human souls that serve as their pawns. All too often we as Christians fall into the trap of targeting certain groups and individuals, as if by eliminating political and ideological opposition we can win the war. And yet the scriptures tell us that "we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood." Even so, we continually, stubbornly, and dare-I-say-it, ignorantly attack the very men and women that we are commanded reach!
We can't seem to get it into our heads (or hearts) that these people aren't our enemies, they are our primary objectives! We're fighting fortheir souls, not against them. Yet it's far too common to hear even good intentioned Christians, concerned about valid issues such as abortion and prayer in schools, launching vicious personal attacks against non-believers via the media and the pulpit. When we portray individuals as enemies of our Christian faith, even if they are promoting beliefs and ideologies that we abhor, we miss the point entirely. We were never called to engage in character assassination. And frankly, we shouldn't act as though we are shocked when those who don't know God choose to do ungodly things.
Can we really expect to function as a light in this dark world if teams of self-appointed Christian assassins insist on targeting wayward souls stumbling in the shadows? We need to focus on combating the underlying evil, which originates in the dark spiritual realm, through earnest prayer. We must counter the devil's lies with the gospel and our love for humanity, while at the same time going the extra mile to avoid any and all appearances of personal attacks. The Air Force calls these "precision strikes." In other words, the cliche "hate the sin, love the sinner" should be applied as often as it is spoken.
If our true enemy is Satan, not those who are unknowingly serving his interests and falling for his carefully constructed lies, then we need to take this fact into account when we choose to make a stand on the issues. If we're commanded to love our neighbors, then maybe we should start by behaving like good neighbors ourselves, instead of operating as though we are an angry homeowners association intent on enforcing the community rules. We can express our concerns, and openly debate others, without adopting the tactics of the devil himself.
"But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" -Matthew 5:44
"A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack." -Yoda