by Roger McCay
5 July 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 16:25-28
Link to Audio Version
“If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”
By this thought, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the great American poet, seems to attempt framing a perspective on how to find peace with our enemies, which touches on the question of “How do we love our enemies?” Longfellow gives a nice sentiment. But, who among us can read the secret history of our enemies? Why does he assume our enemies have experienced sorrow and suffering? Why is it sorrow and suffering and not something else? How is hostility disarmed by a pity derived from our own imagination? Why is it wise to disarm hostility based on notions that are not based in reality? What proof does he have that his statement is in any way true? Who is the “we” he is referring to? And, who are our enemies? I could go on, and it was hard to shut my brain off on this line of thought, which may have been the point of Longfellow’s statement, after all. As it is, Longfellow presents a nice sentiment, but it’s artificially perfumed wind.
Still, the dilemma he addresses is real enough. It’s hard to love our enemies. Nonetheless, Jesus unequivocally tells us, his disciples, to love our enemies (Matt. 5:43-44). Although loving our enemies can be hard, it can be done, and not by entertaining nice romantic thoughts that find no purchase in the real. Loving our enemies is done by invoking the value of self-giving love through action in concrete circumstances framed with a Biblical perspective on reality that incorporates both seen and unseen realities. Did you get that? [repeat]
First off, with whom do we actually struggle? In Eph. 6:11-12, Paul tells us that the reason we need to don the full armor of God is in order “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.” R.C. Sproul explains: “In the heavenly spheres there are evil powers that have evil influence mediated through powers and principalities, which are earthly governments.”  He goes on to say that the people of God’s struggle is, therefore, “not just against people but against governments that have been or can be demonized; that standing behind worldly forces and authorities are supernatural powers that for the most part remain invisible to us.”
Concerning the enemy, notice Sproul said our struggle is “not just against people.” That we struggle against people is obvious, but we have to keep in mind the larger picture of the spiritual warfare that’s going on in the midst of the struggle. Along these lines, Paul gives us a realistic perspective concerning people with whom we might struggle, along with some tasks, in 2 Tim. 2:24-26. If you think about it, this passage aptly captures a lot of what happens in the next few verses of Acts 16. 2 Tim. 2:24-26:
24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
Like demonized governments, people can be held in sway by demons and led to do the will of demons, as demons lead them along according to their sin. They are trapped and used by evil to evil ends, according to the sin in their own hearts. Here we have a picture of our enemy—demonic forces working in and through governments and authorities at all levels, and individuals caught up in the evil one’s trap with demonic forces using them according to the devil’s will. Arrayed against us are Satan’s minions—both demonic and human.
And lest that overwhelm you, remember that there are also “agents of God for good that are involved in nations and governments” (as Sproul puts it). Don’t forget that (2 Kings 6). These agents of God are also not just people but angelic forces (e.g. the archangel Michael in Dan. 12:1). In the case of the jailer of our passage, well, he starts out in the enemy’s camp and ends up in God’s camp before this is all done.