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The Greatest Enemy of the Church

But the book also whispers this message. For example, consider the judge Tola (Judges 10:1–2). But unlike Shamgar, who delivers from an external enemy (the Philistines), no enemy is listed that Tola fought. When Tola comes to save, he saves Israel from Israel.

And that is why the book, as a whole, concludes with an appendix of sordid stories likely from an earlier time in the book, stories of a greedy priest, a Levite who dismembered his concubine, and a civil war that nearly annihilated one of the tribes. Internal enemies, not external.

The Real Enemy in the Bible

But it’s not only Judges that makes this point, is it? Across covenants and authors—from Abraham, to David, to exile, to the church, to the second coming—the greatest issue is the purity and fidelity of our faith.

Peter speaks of Satan as our “enemy” and a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), but when Adam led us all into rebellion against God, his excuse that “the devil made me do it” didn’t fly. Adam and Eve stopped delighting in God. Sure, there was an external enemy, but it was their faith, their inner life, that mattered most and led to their fall.

Consider when the 12 spies did their recon in Numbers 13–14. They felt like grasshoppers facing giants, but the issue was never their relative size, but rather, would Israel trust the God of the grasshoppers?

And what about the end of Romans 1? After a notorious list of sins, the veritable punch in the gut is to the religious types, that is, those who should know better but apparently don’t (Romans 1:32).

And consider the letters to the churches in Revelation. The issue was not merely that someone, somewhere in the world was teaching something wrong, say, the “teaching of Balaam” or the “Nicolaitans.” Rather, the issue was that some in the church “held” to this teaching (Revelation 2:14–15). And sure, in Thyatira “that woman Jezebel” was doing her thing, but God was on it (“I gave her time to repent … I will throw her onto a sickbed … I will strike her down,” Revelation 2:20–24). The greatest threat to the church is whether they will “hold” to Jezebel’s teaching or remain faithful to God’s.

We could go on, but the point is clear: Not only Judges, but the whole of Scripture, teaches that the greatest enemy to God’s people is internal.

Will We Acknowledge This Enemy?

And yet we deeply resist this teaching. Don’t believe me? Does your church have a list of prayer requests? How many are related to spiritual apathy, fear of the Lord, love for the lost, divisions among brothers and sisters, and our subtle syncretism? How many prayer requests do we make to find our greatest joy in our Father’s delight over us on account of the gospel? Not enough.

Friends, the greatest threat to the church is not ISIS or Planned Parenthood. It’s not Hollywood. It’s not atheist professors who ruin the faith of our sweet, Christian college freshmen (who must not have been truly Christian in the first place if they fell away so quickly). And the greatest enemies are not secular politicians and Supreme Court judges, or greedy corporations who hurt the poor and destroy the environment.

These challenges are real. The reality of babies killed, chopped and sold as scrap metal is evil. And the Canaanite general Sisera, who “oppress[ed] the people of Israel cruelly” and raped captured women, was evil too (Judges 4:3), when their faith lost its purity and fidelity, and when internal (not external) idolatry became pandemic that the cookie crumbled.

If we want to know the worst enemy—the one that, apart from the sustaining grace of God, could eternally destroy us—then we must look in the mirror. Doing so won’t be easy; it will be uncomfortable. But a long look into our own souls and indwelling sin might catch our melanoma while it’s early. And if it does, praise God we have the gospel for our healing.  

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Benjamin Vrbicek (@BenjaminVrbicek) is a teaching pastor at Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He blogs at Fan and Flame.