Summary: To win the battle, you must: 1. Understand the reality of evil. 2. You must be prepared for battle. 3. You must be strengthened by prayer.
Neville Chamberlain was known for his policy of appeasement. As the prime minister of Britain before World War II, he knew that the country was still weary from the first World War, and wanted to avoid a European war at all costs. The problem was that at the same time Hitler was planning to overrun Europe, including Britain. Chamberlain did not want Britain to have to confront Hitler and his army, so in September of 1938 he reached an agreement with Hitler that resulted in the Munich Pact. Italy and France joined Britain in agreeing to surrender parts of Czechoslovakia to Germany in return for Hitler’s agreement not to invade any other European countries. Chamberlain confidently came home proclaiming, “Peace in our time.” They really believed that by giving into Hitler’s demands he would stop, or limit, his aggression. And, at that point, America was standing back hoping the whole thing would go away. But Hitler arrogantly ignored the pact, taking most of Czechoslovakia and invading Poland. It became obvious that France and Britain were in his sights as well. The Munich Pact is now a universal symbol of the failure of the policy of appeasement.
What caused Chamberlain and the others to actually believe that appeasement would work? I believe that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and reality of evil. When we suffer under the illusion that evil can be reasoned with, and agreements made that will be lived up to, then we are at the mercy of evil. When we recognize evil for what it is, then we have begun to disarm it and are prepared to deal with it. We begin to live in the world of reality.
I want to talk today about spiritual warfare, because I believe that we need to take this reality seriously. Unless we understand the nature of evil, and our relationship to it, we will not be able to stand up to it, let alone overcome it. The world is a good and wonderful place, and there is much good in the world. But evil is also present in the world and it is very real. Good and evil exist as parallel kingdoms in the world, and they are in conflict with each other. This is no surprise if you read the Bible and accept its truth. The Bible says, “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). This has enormous implications in how we understand the world and how we approach life.
And so, the first point I would like to make today is: To win the battle, you must understand the reality of evil. The world is not an evil place, but there is evil in the world, and we need to understand that and deal with it. None of us really like to think about the world having evil in it. It is not pleasant. But when we deny its existence, pretend it does not exist, or ignore it, we become vulnerable to it. Think of it in terms of a terrorist attack. Are we more vulnerable when we recognize the threat of terrorism as real, or when we deny that it is a threat? Obviously, we cannot ignore the threat of terrorism, because we know that if we do, we are vulnerable to it.
I have heard many people wondering how anything so evil such as the terrorist attacks could happen. In fact, when two other pastors and I were interviewed this week on radio about the 9/11 service we had planned, the radio personality asked us that very question. He wanted to know how something like this could happen. And each of us pastors were trying to push the microphone toward the other guy. Part of it was because it is a very difficult question, and part of it is because it has a difficult answer to hear. In spite of the fact that history is full of illustrations about just how evil the human race is capable of being, we still seem reluctant to accept the existence of evil in the world — or in the human heart.
This was illustrated in one of the parables of Jesus. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).