In everyday situations, a common enemy can quickly create an alliance. Sometimes instantly. When you’ve got a common enemy that threatens your life, some things have to change.
It is always better to win a fight to the death.
Seems like the sort of thing no one would need to have explained to them, right? If you’re sitting in a coffee shop minding your own business, you’re probably not even speaking with the lady and her three kids in the next booth. But if a fire erupts in the kitchen, you’d both be grabbing children and running out the door to safety. Common enemy – fire. Common goal – save kids lives. Two minutes before the fire, if you’d started running out the door with one of her kids she’d be screaming for the police. But a common, life-threatening enemy changes everything. Now her thanks and praise will be all you hear.
Sometimes the situation creates instant alliances with people nearby. There’s an ancient proverb you’ve most likely heard that says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The earliest reference may be a 4th century book describing a system of political rule and foreign relations called Rajmandala, meaning “Circle of Kings.” But the application of the concept goes way beyond trying to rule a nation.
Which brings us to today’s verse:
LET THERE BE NO DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH.
RATHER, BE OF ONE MIND, UNITED IN THOUGHT AND PURPOSE.
Recall the fire in the coffee shop illustration with me for just a moment. Let’s consider all the things that wouldn’t matter a bit when you noticed the fire starting to spread; things that some people may have seen as barriers to striking up a conversation in other circumstances. There could have been a significant age difference. Gender might have been a factor. Perhaps language may have played a role, it’s not uncommon to hear folks speaking one that you don’t. The list of things that didn’t matter a whit could go on and on. Living situation, political preferences, church attendance (goes or doesn’t go; or which one they attend), favorite sport, and on and on and on.
Sometimes I engage in great conversations with other passengers when I fly, but often we don’t. That was likely the case for most of the passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 headed from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina on January 15 2009 . Little substantive conversation probably took place between passengers who didn’t know one another … until the plane struck a flock of birds shortly after take-off, losing all engine power. After Captain Sully Sullenberger turned the Hudson River into a runway, suddenly 155 people had a common enemy. They worked together. All of them survived. Common enemy – common goal.
You may have noticed that both of the illustrations I’ve given have to do with life-threatening situations that are environmental, not personal. Sometimes, however, you’re actually the specific target, if not a general one. If you find yourself in an active shooter situation or a similar terrorist incident, the risk increases exponentially. This is all the more reason for everyone in that critical situation to band together as they try to survive. Nothing requires greater determined cooperation and the focused application of every available tool and skill like being hunted by a well-armed enemy who is out to kill you.
That, by the way, is precisely the situation in which the Church finds itself. One would think that having an experienced and well-equipped enemy whose sole goal is to steal, kill and destroy the Church would cause us to instantly bond together, ignore our differences and fight our common enemy. If only.
It’s not for lack of leadership, mind you. Jesus Christ, Himself the very cornerstone of our shared faith, has commanded us to operate in unity. Like passengers on an stricken aircraft, we may have begun as strangers; but now that the plane is going down we’d better get our act together and cooperate if we want to survive. Paul the Apostle writes to the church in Ephesus and reminds them they are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. They are facing the persecution of Rome, and they’ll be better off if they face it together.
LET THERE BE NO DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH. RATHER, BE OF ONE MIND, UNITED IN THOUGHT AND PURPOSE.
Jesus commanded our unity. Our King has issued a command, a royal decree. To disobey is unlawful, and to refuse to cooperate and aid the enemy is treasonous.
If you do a search on the internet you’ll find hundreds and hundreds of articles with commandments, rules, suggestions and ideas for how to get along with others at work. There’s a variety of suggestions, but the articles I read all had a similar opening position. You cannot pick your co-workers, the boss does that for you. The boss or owner is the one paying the bill, so he or she gets the final say as to who plays on the team. Your job is to focus on YOUR job, let them focus on THEIR job, and cooperate as harmoniously as possible when the two intersect. Then the articles delve into specific suggestions like drop your ego, remember the golden rule, don’t argue or complain, show respect, etc, etc.
Wouldn’t it be great if Christ’s Church would apply some of those rules !! I can almost hear Jesus saying, “Your job is to focus on the job I gave YOU, let them focus on the job I gave THEM, and cooperate as harmoniously as possible when the two intersect. And stop arguing because I have you doing different jobs in different places !!” When we get our egos and logos mixed up with our mission and purpose, everyone loses. And people die without Christ.
If we were determined as the Church to love one another, more people would find life in Christ. If we were sacrificial in our cooperation and insisted in showing one another more honor than we demanded, people would come to find out why we love each other the way we do. Jesus said so. He told us, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That’s it; He’s given us the key. He showed us how to do it. He said, “as I have loved you.”
Let me be blunt. (Like I haven’t ALREADY been!!) Our HEAD works perfectly. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church; we are His body. The HEAD is sending precisely the proper instruction, delivering sufficient energy for the body to move and accomplish what the brain is instructing us to do. But though we receive perfect instructions, our response is uncoordinated, weak and stiff. We are not hearing our instructions well, seeing our mission clearly or speaking His word with power. Each of those things I’ve just described are symptoms of a medical condition known as Cerebral Palsy, a disorder where the body does not respond to the commands of the brain as it should. We need to be healed!!! WE need to obey.
Elite military units are known for their organizational pride, and even for their rivalries. The good-natured jesting and jousting between the US Marines and the Navy is one such example, but there are dozens more. But these units know when to lay branch identity aside and focus on the mission. These units use a phrase we need to hear, a credo we need to embrace — One Team, One Mission, One Enemy.
Let’s rise up together. Let’s face our common enemy in unity. And, by the grace and power of God, let’s accomplish the mission and win the battle.
In this fight, the enemy of my enemy isn’t my FRIEND – they are my brothers and sisters. The family feud needs to stop – NOW. It’s time to win or die.
It is always better to win a fight to the death.