Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
For wisdom, one cannot beat God’s inspired Word. That Word, Jesus said, is truth (John 17.17). Even so, the secular works of man can be insightful. For example, soldiers and captains of industry alike still quote China’s Sun Tzu. From his work, The Art of War, we take our title. However, the full quotation is longer. Therefore, I will share it to provide context.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” 1
I realize some might say this is obvious enough to be a truism. Yet, for some, it is advice that seems so novel despite having parallels in Holy Writ. Doesn’t the Bible teach us to know our enemy as well as ourselves? Of course, it does.
- “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5.8, all ref. NASB1995 unless otherwise indicated) We see our enemy is on the prowl. That noun denotes stealth. Yet, it likewise signifies he is continuously on the move, a restless foe. This restlessness seems evident in the introduction of Job when we find Satan flippantly admitting to God’s question of where he has been that he has been “roaming about on the earth and walking around on it” (Job 1.7). Hence, in knowing our enemy, we expect that he will attack us at any time from any location. Thus, we must maintain our sobriety (i.e., sensibility) and state of preparedness (i.e., alert). As we introspectively examine ourselves, do we note that state of readiness to combat a cunning enemy? Do we have the tools for offense and defense ready?
- Paul reminds us that our battle is against spiritual enemies (Ephesians 6.12). And those enemies have a leader that likes to use “schemes” (“wiles” KJV) (Ephesians 6.11). In other words, we do not expect our enemy to fight fairly. In pure militaristic terms, the devil is engaged in guerrilla warfare. He cannot win the war against a superior enemy (i.e., God), so he snipes those he can. Within the same context, though, we observe what we have at our disposal: the panoply of God. God’s armor consists of a loin covering (truth), breastplate (righteousness), shoes (readiness), shield (faith), sword (God’s Word), and helmet (salvation) (Ephesians 6.13-17). These items we must wield with prayer and alertness if we desire to win (Ephesians 6.18). Do we actively use God’s armor, or has our apathetic spirit cast it aside?
In all fairness, Sun Tzu admits that knowledge alone cannot ensure every victory. And we acknowledge that, as Christians, there are times when we lose a battle against the enemy. Everyone sins (Romans 3.23). There are even occasions when the enemy is in more significant numbers. In such situations, Tzu says it is best to avoid the enemy. Of course, we cannot do that as Christians (John 17.14-16). But we can flee from sin (1 Corinthians 6.18; 10.14; 1 Timothy 6.10-12; 2 Timothy 2.22). And we must keep good company to ensure we are not corrupted (1 Corinthians 15.33). We must periodically check our footing (1 Corinthians 10.12). And when we are seeking to restore someone, we must look to ourselves so that we are not tempted (Galatians 6.1). In the end, though, Tzu’s truism serves us well. We must know our enemy and ourselves. In the interim, as we fight this good fight, we look forward to the day when God will destroy the enemy. Until then, we take comfort from these inspired words:
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5.4)
1 Tzu, Sun. “A Quote from the Art of War.” Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/17976-if-you-know-the-enemy-and-know-yourself-you-need.