It is a universal principle that people need enemies.
Loud protests notwithstanding, people need enemies. It is fundamental to modern politics. The left has the right. The right has the left. The people have the politicians. And the politicians have the people. We all have enemies. And we have them because we need them.
Every sports team has its opponents. Every nation has foes. Every city has its critics. Every ideology has its counter. Every thesis has its antithesis.
When we go for a relaxing fish, we make ourselves the enemy our prey. When we play a game, we make ourselves the enemy of the opponent. It is as natural as can be. And it is so because God made it so.
The greatest leader has his critics. The most irenic monk hates and is hated. The peacenik hippie is often found protesting. And if all else fails, you’ll find in fundamentalism an enemy for the most inclusive of pluralists.
The great leaders of history knew this. They united their peoples by giving them a common enemy. They kept the attention and focus of the people on these common enemies so that the people would not turn on each other and on them.
And it is no different in the local church. People will have enemies.
These may be internal enemies—the elders, the deacons, other church members—or the attention may be directed externally. Common external enemies might be other churches within the same denomination or movement. Or perhaps, in more moderate circles the enemies might be churches, denominations, and movements outside of their circles. Many a church is consumed by this sort of enmity with others Evangelical churches. Or our focus may be shifted to other religions. This apologetic emphasis can easily turn non-Christians into the common enemy.
May I suggest that the true enemy of the local church is threefold and familiar. The true enemies of the local church and of every single believer are the world, the flesh, and the Devil. And even among these, many err in over-emphasising the two which are easiest to emphasise: the world and the Devil.
The horrible truth is that of these three true enemies of the church and the believer, the one that is most insidious and hardest to fight is us.
If your church is made up of people, they will have enemies. Your challenge as a leader is to direct the combative energies of your people, not internally within the church, and not merely externally toward the plethora of potential enemies, but inward, to the resident evil in our own hearts.
18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
May we keep our focus on the real enemies, and may we fight them courageously with a sincere heart.
Grace to you.