Know Your Opponent
by Rev. Randy Brown
We continue in our Lenten series of sermons. It’s unlike any other Lenten series that I’ve ever used. But, in praying about this several months ago, the Lord gave me a word and the word was “battles” because we all face battles and facing battles and trying to be victorious in our battle is a part of the Christian experience and a part of the Christian life. Any of you fighting battles now? We all are. But, battles are a part of the deal for Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” There are all kinds of battles going on, the battle of good and evil, the battle for our minds, the battle for our hearts and our souls, the battle for our loyalty, for our dollars. And, I would be amiss to not mention the battle for our votes this week.
For the Christian, as Larson read a few moments ago, we’re engaged in a battle because our adversary, our opponent is going around like a roaring lion, that’s a pretty good description, seeking whom he may devour. And, sometimes we need to realize that that’s the tendency, that the way he works. The New York Times recently did a survey in which they asked 1,000 people, “Do you believe that the devil is a living being?” The statistics that they gathered were kind of shocking for me, because out of 1,000 people 62% said that they did not believe that the devil was a living being but only a symbol for evil. Now a symbol – now, let me back up. That’s a 149 million people who think that it’s only a symbol. But, a symbol, an inanimate object, a symbol doesn’t destroy life. It doesn’t destroy our homes and our marriages. It doesn’t attack our churches. If we’re going to win the battle we have to know our opponent. And, if you know the opponent that faces God’s will you know that it is like what Larson read a moment ago, like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour.
A lot of the times we lose the battle because we don’t give proper credit or we underrate our opponent. Just ask the University of Kentucky basketball team. They’ll tell you they underrated the Commodores yesterday, and it was a long bus ride home back to Lexington. The story is told of a boxer who was in the ring and the manager knew that this guy was outclassed but he kept telling him, “He hasn’t hit you yet. He hasn’t hit you yet.” All of a sudden this guy is just dazed more than he can probably take.
In the third round he said, “He hasn’t hit you yet. He hasn’t hit you yet. Just keep going. He hasn’t hit you yet.” When the third round was over he got back to the corner and his manager said, “He hasn’t hit you yet.” He said, “Well, he may not have hit me but it was probably the referee, and he’s wearing me out.” Sometimes we don’t take seriously our opponent. We overlook our opponent. Sometimes when we do that it’s disastrous. Sometimes our opponents will work us over because of the past choices and habits and tendencies and weaknesses and flaws and we underestimate our opponent.
When we underestimate our opponent we stand to lose. I want us to know our opponent, not to worship but to know our opponent because if we know our opponent and recognize our opponent, when it comes our way then we can be victorious in the battles of life. The first thing that I want you to know about our opponent is this, that he tends to discredit God’s word. You don’t have to read far in the scriptures, only to the third chapter of Genesis when the enemy is talking about the tree and he’s talking to Eve. Adam and Eve are telling the opponent, “Well, God said not to eat of that” and the opponent said, “Did God really say that?”
One of the things that the opponent does for us is try to discredit God’s word. And, we have to live by God’s word, follow God’s word. If we live by it and follow it, it exposes who the enemy really is. If you know the enemy, you know that the enemy will come to you with placing those nagging doubts in your mind. “Did God really say that?” You know, he was trying to discredit God even early on in the history of mankind. He distracts us. He wants us to debate his word.
A lot of folks now want to rewrite scripture. Even in the Methodist Church they want to rewrite scripture. Friends, we don’t need to rewrite it. We need to reread it. Did you hear me? It’s written. We don’t need to rewrite it, just reread it and recommit to living by it, resubmit to the authority of scripture. And, I think that’s the whole issue of all the things that the church is dealing with coming up at General Conference, and we need to be praying about that: is that we submit to the authority of scripture.
When we do that that rest will become clear because the Bible… Now hear me close, the Bible does not contain the word of God. Oh, Preacher, what’d you just say? No, hear me. The Bible is the word of God. It doesn’t contain it; it is it. It’s accurate. It’s worthy of our acceptance. The authority of scripture is what we have to go by. God’s word is never out of date. It is not ancient; it is eternal. The opponent, the enemy, wants us to argue over it because if he gets us to argue over it then we get distracted.
We don’t need to correct the word of God; we need to allow the word of God to correct us. So, God’s enemy tries to discredit it. And, then he tries to create doubt. Back to the book of Genesis, book of Genesis…there are several places, but go with me to the time that Jesus spent in the wilderness. And, Jesus was tempted in every way by the opponent, by the enemy. Every time he tempted him he began the temptation with one word. Do you know what it was? If. If you are the son of God, if you are this, if. That’s a little word, but boy it’s powerful.
And, every time he was trying to place doubt into the mind of Jesus, he began with the word, if. If you just do it once, nobody will know. If you just, just this time, you’ll get by with it. If, if, if. And he places doubts in your mind and in my mind. We have to know that that’s who’s placing the doubt there. You see, we need to know our opponent. And, his tendency when he wants to get us to be tempted by something or tempt us to fall and not follow God’s will, he begins by placing a doubt in our mind.
The word if is a big one. He wants us to become skeptical and suspicious, to doubt the consequences of our actions. If. Now if you’re one that’s battling with that there’s only one way to overcome it, and it’s the same way that Jesus overcame it. Every time that the enemy would say, “Jesus, if you are who you say you are… If this, if that,” Jesus had a reply. The reply was “It is written.” That’s the only way to overcome the tactics of the enemy when he begins to place doubt. Are we going to go on what he places in our mind, or are we going to go back to the book?
In order to fight that fight we have to know what it says – “It is written.” And, then, not only does the enemy want to create doubt, not only does the enemy want to discredit God, sometimes the enemy – and Dan, I don’t know if you’ve had this in churches where you’ve served – but sometimes the enemy wants to cause division in the church. That’s a tough one. The thing that the enemy loves most is a good church fight. Amen? He loves a church fight. He’s happy when people are spreading gossip and shouldering grudges and shunning growth. He can’t stand if we’re unified. Not only does he not like it, he can’t stand it because if we’re in unity with one another and unity with the spirit, in unity with Christ, then the devil has to get out the door. So, he can’t stand it. He loves apathy.
You and I can be a part of prayer. Did you know that in John, Chapter 17, Jesus prays for us. Jesus prayed for you and for us? He says, “That they may be one, that unity would abide.” We either have an opportunity to live in that prayer or to work against that prayer. We need to be living in unity with that prayer. There is no greater deterrent to spreading the gospel than a church that’s quarreling. He loves a good church fight. He likes a fight between the pew and the pulpit. He likes a fight when the wolf comes in sheep’s clothing. He even likes a fight in your car on the way to church on Sunday morning. You ever been there? It was at one time in our family it was Sunday morning, you could set your clock by it, somebody would get upset with somebody else. Then you get out of the car at church, “Hey, great to see you. Glad you’re here.” All the time you’re going (growl). You’ve been there. I won’t even ask for a show of hands. Why is it on Sunday morning, Dan?
He hates Sunday, too.
He hates that day. When people are on the way to worship he wants to do something to distract us and to disturb us, so that we won’t receive all that God has for us that day. You see how the enemy works? You’ve got to know the enemy. You’ve got to know the tendencies of the enemy, and then you can overcome it. Well, then, fourthly, he desires to put “deadness” in our worship. I don’t think we have that problem here. I hope we don’t. He wants to put a padlock on praise and a wet blanket on worship. I would remind you of the verse in Amos, that little book in the Old Testament, if you don’t know where it is. Chapter 6, Verse 1, it says, “Woe to you who are complacent.” That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? “Woe to you who are complacent.”
I need to tell this real quickly. Several years ago, I don’t remember what year it was, but a friend of mine from Indiana came down and he wanted to go to the Vanderbilt-Tennessee football game. We got tickets. It was at Titan Stadium, whatever it was called at that time. And, I had been to dozens and dozens of UT-Vanderbilt football games and all that kind of stuff, but this one was going to be at Titan stadium and got there and to be honest with you it was the deadest crowd that I had ever seen.
I had been to great games before, but this crowd, even at the beginning before the game started; the crowd was dead, I mean just lifeless. Wasn’t any energy. The band started playing and that didn’t do anything. That didn’t get anybody’s blood rushing. All of a sudden I’m sitting there not paying much attention because I’m just wondering, what is going on? Is the game really today because it wasn’t that atmosphere that normally was there? The kick-off went and all through the game, the game was just; it was dead. I mean, it wasn’t anybody cheering or hollering or fussing. It just wasn’t your typical Tennessee-Vanderbilt football game.
I commented to my friend from Indiana, I said, “This isn’t… Something’s going on here. This isn’t right. It’s not typical.” And, somehow all through that day it just ate away at me that it wasn’t typical. Sunday, I couldn’t get it off my mind. Monday, I couldn’t get it off my mind. Tuesday, I couldn’t get it off my mind. I began to pray about it, “Lord, what’s wrong with me. Lord, speak to me through this.” I remembered Tuesday morning waking up and the deadness of that event was still in my mind, and God spoke to me. You may not like what he says. He said, “Randy, now you know how I feel most Sunday mornings.”
And, I went, “Ouch! That hurts.” God doesn’t want our worship… Worship was never intended to be dead and lifeless. No. We don’t have to go dancing on top of the pews, but we can get excited because we’ve come to worship the king of kings and lord of lords; and if we can’t shout on that one, we might as well not be here. He doesn’t expect our worship to be dull. Cheerfulness credits Christianity. When you go into a restaurant do you want a boring waitress or a boring waiter? If you get one you’re likely to remember and you’re likely not to go back.
But, if you get somebody who is cheerful and bright and always just upbeat and positive, won’t that cause you to go back? This means, yes. Then why is it any different in the church? I have a lot of respect for that little cook and that little waitress that were talking and the person they were waiting on looked at the menu and it said, “enthusiastic stew” and the person sitting at the table getting ready to eat said, “What is this enthusiastic stew?” The waitress said, “That means that the cook puts everything into it that he has.” We need to have enthusiastic worship, put into it everything we’ve got. Doesn’t God deserve that? And, then lastly and I’ll be through; is that he causes disloyalty to God’s work. Sometimes we become slack in our study. Sometimes we don’t pray as we should. Sometimes when we need one another, we have to go it alone.
If you go to Africa and you see a herd of zebras and you see a lion getting ready to take out one of those zebras, the lion waits until one of the zebras just kind of wanders off by itself. He is not going to attack the whole herd. He’s going after the one, the loner. When we go it alone, we become under attack. I hope you realize today that some of the things you go through is an attack from the opponent; for the enemy is real – He is not a symbol, that there is a force that comes after us and he wants to destroy us.
He wants to discredit God’s word. He wants to create doubt and division. He wants the church to be dead. And, he wants you to be disloyal to God’s work. But, do you know the antidote for scripture to fighting this enemy? The scripture says, “Resist him and he will flee from you.” We have to understand the tendencies of the opponent and then if we stand up to him, that’s what resisting means. If we stand up to him, he will flee. Now, that’s what the book says and the book never lies.
Let us pray. Father, thank you for your word that tells us how we can do battle with our opponent and how we can be victorious in that battle with the opponent. Thank you that you’ve already won the victory. In Jesus name, Amen.