Choosing Up Sides: What Really Counts
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:28 NKJV
“When the killing starts, make sure you’re on the right side.” This was Conagher’s sage advice to his young trail mate in one of the good ol’ Louis L’Amour stories. I love those old westerns. There’s just something authentic and refreshing about them. Maybe it’s the simplicity of life, the lack of so many complications and entanglements. I know I’m bringing a certain degree of conscious naivety to my love of the western genre but I can’t help it. I love the manner in which things in the old west seem to be more precisely defined. You know, the good guys wear white hats and the bad guys wear black. It seems as if there were less deceit and pretense with a greater emphasis on simplicity of life. I think movies like Open Range with Kevin Costner also capture this sense of authenticity of life (that is until the end of the movie when Costner fans his single six revolver and gets about 15 shots out of it).
Today life seems so much more complicated, more harried, so much more filled with deception and subterfuge. You see this in the advertising and marketing industries to a perfected degree. The main stream media is replete with obfuscation, inaccuracies, blatant biases, and outright lies. There is very little of what we used to know as “reporting” in mainstream media today. It is more akin to propaganda, editorialization and opinion driven by a powerful liberal bias. If it were not for the Internet we would know very little of what is really going on in the world around us.
In the seemingly less complicated life of the Old West, it appears that there were simply the good guys and the bad guys, the right and the wrong. Thus Conagher could counsel his young friend to pick the side which stood for what was right. I believe one of the greatest tactics of Satan today is in employing the strategy of dividing one against another, in setting off persons, groups or nations each against the other. In destroying unity and relationships he is able to further his own ends of interdicting man’s relationship with God. The Latin phrase, divide et impera, divide and rule (conquer), attributed to Philip of Macedonia in the 4th century BC, was successfully utilized by such great leaders as Julius Caesar and Napoleon. The technique was to gain the advantage over one’s adversaries by dismantling greater concentrations of power into parts that individually had less power than the one implementing divide et impera.
Divide et impera! Children employ this strategy in the home without ever having heard of the idiom. It is incredible how the use of this technique is inherent in fallen human nature. The very nature of sin is Satan’s effort to separate us from our heavenly Father. The essence of most advertising is an effort to destroy your oneness and tranquility with yourself by creating a sense of unrest by convincing you that you need a certain product or service in order to be more satisfied or happier. Satan’s tempting of Jesus in the wilderness was a blatant effort to separate him from his Father through offering him something that would ostensibly improve the quality of his life.
Of course not all separation is harmful. Having men’s and women’s restrooms in public places is totally appropriate. The creation of many different teams for athletic competition is certainly natural and understandable. Separate men’s and women’s dormitories on college campuses are certainly wise and fitting (at least they used to be). The type of separation I am speaking of here is that which is contrived with nefarious motives in mind. Creating artificial divisions causing persons to square off against one another for the purpose of gaining control and influence over them is a strategy from the pit of hell.
Oneness as a biblical principal is manifest throughout Scripture beginning in Genesis with the creation account when God said, “Let us make man in our image…” Jesus’ prayer for the disciples in John 17 was a prayer for unity as depicted in his own relationship with the Father. Paul’s letters are replete with urgings for believers to celebrate their oneness together as the body of Christ. Consider the power and significance of Psalm 133:
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.
Of course this specific passage is speaking more particularly about the body of Christ but the inherent principal is apparent. God’s presence, anointing and blessing are lavished on those who choose to set petty differences aside and love one another in Christ. It is incredible how successful Satan has been in bringing vast division to the body of Christ. There are in excess of 400 different Protestant sects and denominations in existence today. What kind of message is this sending to the world, to the lost masses whom the church purportedly is seeking to reach in the name of Christ. The comments of Stephen Beale, writing for the National Catholic Register, are particularly indicting:
“First, in terms of apologetics, the sheer multiplicity of Protestant denominations and nondenominational churches undermines (emphasis mine) the claim of any to be an authentic representation of the true Church. The contrast with the unity and universality of the Catholic Church, which claims to be the Church couldn’t be starker.”
Of course Beale’s indictment is intended to bolster his argument for the authenticity of the Roman Catholic Church as the one and only true church. However, his observation of the disunity within Protestantism is nonetheless accurate and impugning.
Quite possibly the greatest reason the enemy of our souls is strategizing through the employment of divide et impera is to keep our attention away from the evil that is really taking place. If this is in fact the case, then it would mean that most of our efforts to counter the enemy’s attacks would be fundamentally misdirected. It is pretty hard to come up with a good score if you are shooting at the wrong target! Today the degree of divisiveness in America seems greater than in any previous era. It is Democrats against Republicans, conservatives verses liberals, rich against poor, haves and have-nots, racial divides, pro and anti-gunners, and the list goes on. I am basically suggesting to you that these are fundamentally false and contrived conflicts, mis-directions which are intended to keep us off balance and focused away from the substantive issues of life. Most of what is presented to us for public consumption and reaction is purely scripted somewhat analogous to watching a drama on the stage. Recalling a line from a nineteenth century French novel, “To be faithful at every point of the battle’s front except for where the battle rages is to not be faithful at all.” As Christians, are we focused where the battle is raging?
How many false labels of differentiation are we defending? How many different camps have we joined? How many good people have we separated ourselves from either consciously or unconsciously through adhering to so-called causes or issues that promised far less than eternal significance? I have lived long enough to realize that those with whom I have the greatest opportunity to influence for good are the very ones with whom I have acceptance, credibility and favor. In other words, our greatest chance at conveying credible truth is in the context of meaningful relationships. I’m sure we have all observed the cultish passions of persons caught up with a particular athletic team to the extent they would treat followers of other teams as virtual enemies. Although this may seem extreme there are many other issues or causes for which our particular personal affinities can subtly introduce some degree of divisiveness in actual or even potential relationships.
I believe one of the highest motivations for meaningful relationships is that we might in some manner help to call one another more into the fullness of Christ. I unashamedly want to influence any and all persons with whom I come into contact. To whatever degree I can, I want to encourage their relationship with Christ, not just that they might escape hell and gain heaven, but that they might rise up into the fullness of all He died to make possible to them. My best opportunity for doing this is in having an affable relationship with them. This doesn’t mean forsaking fundamental core values or beliefs in order to find acceptance with others. It means recognizing what is eternal and what is temporal in nature. It means embracing a humility that refuses to be entangled in insignificant matters and issues.
When I enter into dialogue with another person I don’t want to be conceived of as being the representative of a certain faction dogmatically espousing a particular persuasion. If this were the case, the person with whom I was conversing would probably already have formed preconceptions through which all my sharing was filtered. This kind of scenario makes for a rather jaded exchange. Honest and authentic intercourse means we are open to examine new and different thoughts sans ingrained biases. This open approach of course doesn’t preclude our evaluating what we hear in light of our previous knowledge and experience. It means we are not threatened by hearing new or different points of view.
In the movie The Accountant, the parents of an autistic son asked a potential therapist to define their son’s condition. The therapist simply answered, “I’m not a fan of labels.” When we enter into these false differentiations with others we are basically labeling. The end result is that we tragically forfeit any possibility for godly influence in another’s life. The real test for choosing up sides boils down to this—what is it that is truly righteous. It is not a matter of preferences, personal tastes or whims. In the final analysis, it is always about what is truly righteous. There is right and wrong, good and evil. We should seek to be discerning and discriminating in all matters but ultimately choose righteousness. Scripture speaks of the separating of sheep from goats. Bottom line, it is always about righteousness.
Satan’s strategy of divide et empera is just as alive today as it was in the garden of Eden. The question is, will we allow ourselves to be vacuumed into the Devil’s charade?
“When the shooting starts, make sure you’re on the right side.”