A recent post explaining what it means for elders and pastors to “stand in the gap” used the Biblical metaphor of a walled city under attack, and a break in the wall. God uses this metaphor to confront the spiritual leaders with their failure to protect His chosen people. In order to do the work God has commanded, religious leaders must fight God’s enemies.
At first blush it might seem a bit of a strained metaphor to think of pastors and elders “fighting” today. After all, the time of Elijah executing priests of Baal is long gone. And we’re not even sure what to make of Jehu’s violent behavior. Isn’t this fighting stuff all in the distant past now?
No. It is true that Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) and told Peter to put away his sword, making clear that our work in advancing Christ’s kingdom today is done with the Bible—the sword of the Spirit—not guns.
Yet Jesus had no shortage of fights with God’s enemies as He went about His work of protecting God’s people and bringing them into His kingdom. For example, here is what He said to the lawyers after they became offended at his rebuke of the Pharisees: “Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52). Likewise, who could forget his cleansing of the temple with a whip in John 2?
Nor did conflict between God’s servants and His enemies end when Jesus ascended into Heaven. Stephen was martyred because he was in conflict with God’s enemies, and they couldn’t think of any other way to shut him up. His arguments were unanswerable, except by stones. The Apostle Paul had plenty of enemies as well, and not all of them were trying to kill him. In fact, he fights against them in his letter to the believers in Corinth. It is in that context that he says, “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
Paul is engaged in a serious fight.
And it is still necessary to fight God’s enemies today. The Apostle Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 3, “in the last days difficult times will come.” Why? Among other reasons, because “men will be… holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” and “among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses.” Like Timothy and Titus, it is our job to know who to “gently correct,” who to “avoid” and who to “silence” (2 Timothy 2:25, 2 Timothy 3:5, Titus 1:11).
Pastors and elders must still be shepherds today, and that work will always include protecting God’s sheep from God’s enemies by fighting them. That work will not end until the day we die or until the day God’s last enemies are placed under the Lord’s rod of iron and He crushes them to dust. If that seems a bit harsh for me to say; if you think mentioning it is lacking grace or at least tone-deaf; if reading about that violent act makes you squirm rather than rejoice, I encourage you to begin reading and praying the Psalms. Those fighting on the Lord’s side rejoice at the knowledge that all His enemies will be destroyed.
Now here I expect someone to object that Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) and somebody else point out that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11), so we shouldn’t either. Yet God is not in conflict with Himself. He loves His enemies by calling them to repentance, and that is exactly how Ezekiel 33:11 continues: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!” As we fight them, we pray for them, and if one of God’s enemies repents and becomes our brother, we will celebrate all the more. But if not, we will celebrate when their jaws are broken, when their voices are silenced, when they are no longer a threat to God’s people.
So what does fighting God’s enemies actually look like?
There are two categories of enemies that need to be examined. The gap in the wall is where enemies make it inside the city, making a difficult problem worse, since it means godly shepherds need to fight not only those attacking the city from the outside, but also those attacking from the inside. Most of the examples I mentioned above are in the latter category—people who claim to be followers of God, but are actually His enemies. Jesus is rebuking the conservative religious leaders. Stephen is as well. Paul is fighting false teachers in the church of God, even as his life is threatened by those who wanted nothing to do with God. Both need to be fought in different ways, and we have plenty of examples of both. Now that the goodness of fighting has been established, the next post will examine more directly what fighting each of those enemies actually looks like.