"Katniss, when you're in the arena, remember who the real enemy is." -- Haymitch Abernathy, Catching Fire
She had one mission: protect Peeta. Katniss Everdeen was dead set on saving her fellow victor from the first Hunger Games, knowing that she'd be willing to die for him to survive. As she and her mentor, Haymitch, said their last words to one another before the games, he reminded her of one thing: "Remember who the real enemy is." It was a reminder to her that, while 23 other men and women were going to try and kill her, there was only one that truly was their enemy: The Capitol.
The Capitol had arranged the Hunger Games. It engineered the destruction of 23 young men and women every year, causing disarray, chaos, and confusion. And for the one man or woman that won, they were changed for life. While young men and women killed each other to survive, the Capitol engineered it all, oppressing the rest of the districts.
I doubt Suzanne Collins meant for this to be a sobering picture of our spiritual war, but the fact is we need to be reminded of the same thought. In Ephesians, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that the days are evil (5:16), that the "sons of disobedience" (2:2) walk in the futility of their minds, are darkened in understanding, and alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance (4:17-19), and that we are not to become partners with them (5:7). There are people out there who hate Christians. There are people who hate God. But they are not our enemy. They might do things against us or against God that we don't like, but they are not the real enemy.
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Paul's encouragement is to put on the whole armor of God. Why? So that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. You see, our ultimate enemy is not other people. They might act out against God. They might sin against us. But we do not wrestle against flesh and blood. We war against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Our fight is with sin, with the world, with Satan. And Satan deceives us so that we might engage in sin and follow the world, forgetting all the while that he has an ulterior motive: to divide the church and conquer it.
In Ephesus and its surrounding areas, there was major disunity. Jewish Christ-followers and Gentile Christ-followers were divided, and Paul is writing to them that they would see they are one in Christ! But they were deceived by their sin. And it's Satan's plan to distract God's children from their Father, from His redemptive purposes, from their great hope.
So Paul says to this church, "Remember who you are wrestling against. You are not wrestling with the sons of disobedience. You're not wrestling with one another. You're wrestling against the authorities and rulers you can't see. So fight back with someone stronger." And then later, he adds to this: "And fight TOGETHER."
"In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." (6:16)
The shield of a roman centurion was large. It wasn't meant for hand to hand combat, rather it was meant to help set up a barricade for the whole battalion to guard them from enemy fire. That's why he mentions that the shield is used to guard them from darts. The only way for them to successfully defeat their enemy is together. As a team. As a unified force. If one falters, they are left exposed. And in our context, when the church is not together in Christ, Satan can disunify us through his deception.
Do you see how the church might be disunified now? Consider who, today, you've considered your enemy.
Is it a political candidate or party? A different moral position? A different race or ethnicity? A different culture? Different ideas?
Do you realize that you're doing exactly what Satan wants you to do? He wants you to put down your shield of faith, or he wants you to aim it in the wrong direction. And slowly, with each little lie, and each little wrong movement, he enters in and disunifies. The church falls away from being the city on a hill and a buttress of truth in which our aim is love, and instead becomes a divisive hodge-podge of politics and anger.
So take up your shield. Do it by remembering and trusting in your real Savior. He is the hero that brings us home. He rescues us from hell. He redeems us from sin. And He brings true unity to fight the real enemy.
And as we fight the real enemy, against the spiritual oppression against us AND within us, we march unified to win more of the "sons of disobedience" to the Savior.
So put down the wrong shield. Politics will not defend us. Platforms will not guard us from harm. Our country will fail us. So use the right shield; faith in Christ.
Change your aim. Don't defend yourself from personal attacks. Be wise, be discerning, and instead defend the truth of the Gospel, and fight fiercely for the unity of the church.
Call others to join the battalion. As Christ-followers, we need to remind each other that we need to work together. When we are in conflict, we need to pursue reconciliation. When we have deep ideological differences, we need to be peaceable and humble. There's too much at stake. Don't divide the church just to win your argument or to get your point across. Dialogue, care, and submit to the scriptures. And remember you and I aren't the ones leading the army. Christ is, and as we follow Him, He leads us to victory. Victory over Satan, over sin, and over death.