For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12 ESV)
This verse often comes to mind when we sense forces against us that we cannot see. My sister has been a Wycliff Bible translator for many years and currently serves as a translation consultant in Senegal. She has noticed that whenever a New Testament is near completion, all kinds of things begin to spiral out of control. Computers break down, power goes out, roads are washed away, team members face personal crises – from economic hardship to deaths in their families – the list goes on and on. Of course, other observers may look at these events as coincidences, but for us it’s easy to see reminders of the unseen battle.
I’d like to focus, however, on another part of this passage. Paul writes that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. In other words, people are not our enemies. In our country today many have noted how difficult it has become to have civil debates. We Evangelicals in particular are seen as strident, judgmental, self righteous and defined by what (or should I say whom) we oppose. We can blame some of this on distorted perception or even intentional misrepresentation, but do we really believe that’s the whole story? How do we see the people around us, especially those with whom we have serious disagreements? Do we listen? I find we easily slip into being so convinced of our rightness that we are quick to speak and slow to hear. We even use war terminology to describe our differences. We speak of cultural wars. We describe disagreements as persecution.
Paul says people are not our enemies. That’s why he can bless when he’s reviled, pray for those who curse him and endure persecution. Jesus commands us to love our enemies as our neighbors. Even if they hate us, we’re not against them. We see them as neighbors.
World War I was a dark time in human history. Men waiting for death in trenches, exposed to gas, grenades, mines and machine gun fire – these are emblems of that terrible war. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict endured death and brutality at a level difficult for us to even imagine. The war left deep scars and deep hatred. It contained all the seeds for the atrocities of the next world war. In the midst of these horrors, a small victory for humanity appeared, a Christmas truce. As Christmas approached battlefields saw unofficial cease fires. Enemy troops exchanged gifts, sang Christmas carols together, played soccer with one another and even wept together over the dead. At one level they were still enemies. At a deeper level their humanity transcended the war. I imagine joy in these truces.
When Paul tells us that people are not our enemies I like to think he’s encouraging us to always be on the lookout for a Christmas truce. The dark forces that pit us against one another can be eclipsed by our common humanity. We can learn from, weep with and love our enemies as our neighbors. I’m not so naive as to think that this will drive away all conflict. It won’t. It’s hard work. It goes against our instincts. This I know, however. We are to be known for our love.