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By Tony Grant
Enemy Mine is a Science Fiction movie, staring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jr, made in 1985. The plot is that in some far future human beings are at war with an alien race. After fighting for generations each side comes to believe the worst in the other; such is the nature of war and its justifications. After a fierce battle, two enemy pilots crash on a strange desolate planet. In the beginning, these two soldiers still see themselves as adversaries even on this world where it is only the two of them, but, as time passes, they come to see themselves as friends; each learning the others customs, and language.
The major premis of the movie is that all "lifeforms" no matter how different will always have common values, by the very nature of being alive. Away from politics, away from war; even soldiers on opposing sides, from different species, can learn the powers of friendship and love.
Today as a nation, we have some people that we single out as enemies. I suppose our number one national enemy right now is Osama bin Ladin, the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks. The son of a Saudi billionaire, bin Ladin has been on the FBIs most wanted list since 1999. Bin Ladin targeted the United States for terror back in the early 1990s because of American support of Israel and because of our role in the Gulf War against Iraq. Osama bin Ladin is the prime suspect in masterminding the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen and also the bombing of two American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.
So Bin Ladin joins a list of enemies of America, people like Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, and Muammar Qaddafi. It makes us unhappy to think that we have enemies. We think that Americans are pretty nice people and cannot understand why anyone would dislike us. A more sophisticated world observer would say, "Get used to it. Nations always make enemies. That is the way it is."
We may also have personal enemies. For most of our lives, the closest we get to an enemy is someone who treats us badly--a boss whos unfair or a former friend who betrays our trust. In extreme cases, perhaps someone tries to rob or kill us.
Let us consider now, our worst enemy. The last petition of the Lords Prayer refers to our battle against this meanest, baddest, most terrible of all enemies.
The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples--sometimes called the "Pater Noster," the "Our Father," or the "Lord's Prayer"--begins with adoration. When Jesus told us to pray, "Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your name," he was inviting us to approach God with love and reverence.
Then the prayer moves from adoration to affirmation, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done." We affirm our commitment to Gods government above all governments, to Gods will above all wills.
We pray for our needs in the phrase, "Give us today our daily bread." We can pray for our needs and problems, knowing that God will respond out of love and compassion.
Next, we come to, "Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone who sins against us." A connection exists between our experience of Gods forgiveness and our willingness to forgive those around us.
The last petition of the Lord's Prayer is, "Lead us not to temptation but deliver us from evil " (Matthew 6:13). In this last part of this model prayer, we find an enemy who threatens us, and we find how we can respond to this enemy.
The enemy in question exists within our own hearts. Like Walt Kelly said in the old comic strip "Pogo:" "We have met the enemy and he is us." Maybe you have seen that bumper sticker, "Lead me not into temptation, I can find it for myself." That bumper sticker expresses an unfortunate truth: we find temptation all too easily.
Understand upfront though that when Jesus instructs us to pray "lead us not to temptation," he is not suggesting that God is the author of our temptations. We are not dogs on a leash, with God walking us into a situation where he knows we will be tempted. What this phrase means is that we ask for protection against temptation. We ask God, "Lord, please give me the resources to defend myself against the lures and traps I encounter in my life."
Whenever we pray this prayer we admit that something inside our hearts does not want to please God, a part of us wants to take things that do not belong to us, wants to hurt people, wants to live ugly. We ask for help against a mean bad enemy--ourselves--enemy mine, enemy me.
In the old Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back"--released in 1980--Luke Skywalker is in training to be a Jedi knight. The Jedi master Yoda tells him he must go into a dark cave beneath a gnarled wicked-looking old tree, and there he will confront his worst enemy. As Luke advances into the cave, he meets a huge, shadowy figure that he thinks is the evil Darth Vader. In fear and fury, Luke whips out his light saber and chops off the head of this threatening figure. As the head rolls out into the light, he sees it clearly, and the face is his own. The enemy he has confronted is himself. The first, the last, the worst enemy is always ourself.
What is the source of temptations? What causes temptations? As we look around at the things that tempt us and tempt other people, we find that the source of temptation is always our own heart and mind. To use a term from Freudian psychology, it is our ego. The ego is usually defined as the "I" or self of a person. Our ego is what causes us to distinguish ourselves from the selves of others. Our ego is reflected in our self-esteem or self-image. We use the term more informally in a pejorative way. Egotism refers to a conceited attitude; a heightened sense of self-importance.
The ego is always self-focused and self-driven and self-important. Now here is the point we need to get: If we were not egotistical, if we did not have a self-centered way of thinking and living, then most temptations would vanish.
Think back to Genesis 3Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Eve is tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit. What gave rise to the temptation in Eves mind? Not the serpent. The serpent is not in Eves mind. Not the fruit. The fruit is not in Eves mind. Her attitude. That is all that it can be. An attitude of "I want". More specifically, "I".
Temptation is usually a violation of the tenth commandment--which is found in Exodus 20:17, Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." Eve coveted the fruit. So do we.
The Shorter Catechism adds that this tenth commandment means that we should have" a right and charitable frame of spirit toward our neighbor, and all that is his" (Q80). We ought to love our neighbor so much that we want no harm to come to neighbor, and so we do not covet what belongs to neighbor. We do not have the attitude of "I want"and we are delivered from temptation.
But that is not an attitude that I can have when I think of terms of I, me, and mine. When I am ego-centered, then I am tempted to steal from you or take advantage of you because I do not recognize you as a human being at all.
Take another temptation: adultery. If I love my wife, I am not going to commit adultery against her. In fact, if I loved the "Other" woman, I would not commit adultery with her. What then causes adultery? David and Bathsheba committed adultery. Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky committed adultery. Not out of love. Love usually has little to do with adultery. The operative word is "Lust." The attitude is "I want." It is I-centered, ego-thinking that does not regard other people as people.
Unfortunately, most of the people in this world are ego-centered people. Life, as it is lived by most people is a series of temptations which they do not handle well, which lead to more temptations, which lead to frequent falls into sin, which in turn causes all kinds of suffering and misery. In trying to escape from one temptation, we inevitably fall into another--because our basic way of living is wrong.
When we pray, "Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil", what we pray is "Lord, deliver me from an evil way of living. Deliver me from the evil one, namely me. Do you remember where Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is? He said, it is within you--in your heart, mind, and soul--in the way you live. By implication then, where is the kingdom of hell? Same place. Within you and me. In our hearts, minds, and souls, in the way we live.
And I promise you this. It is not the devil in Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Ladin I need to worry about. It is the devil in Tony Grant. It is my evil way of living, my ego-centered way of living.
It is a false way of living. To suppose that I am that important, that my ego is all that valuable is an illusion. The ego itself is a mirage. It does not exist. It is something we create, a false way of looking at the world, an ugly way of looking at the world.
So our problem is ignorance. We have confused notions about the nature of the world and the nature of our soul. We identify our soul with our ego. We identify the soul with a self-centered , self-focused attitude. And one thing is for sure--as long as we have that attitude, as long as "I want" is what we are about, we will break the tenth commandment, we will fall into temptation.
What then is the root of all evil? Not money. It is the ego. It is my selfish heart.
Our tendency is to deliberately multiply ignorance and find our enemy in any other place, we complain about the weakness of the flesh? I wanted to do what was right, we say, but the flesh was weak so I lied, I cheated, I stole.
But what is the flesh? Why does the flesh interfere with the aspirations of the spirit? Why is the flesh so meddlesome? The flesh is not our physical body. It is our evil way of thinking. It is our ego. We are not delivered from evil because our minds, hearts, and souls cherish an illusion. We have fallen in love with a false way of living.
We fall to temptation, fall constantly because of our secret belief in our self. Half the time when we talk about God what we are really talking about is our self, our precious ego. Most people are what philosophers call hedonists. That is to say, most people seek their own pleasure. That is even true in church. Why do many people profess a belief in Christ? They will tell you. "I want to go to heaven." I want what is good for me. After all, I am what is important. They seek their own pleasure. Their profession of faith in Christ has no religious significance at all. They are spiritually blind. They cherish a false way of thinking just like everyone else.
But we have an answer to this self-stupifying illusion. Crucifiy it. As the first work of our religion, we must crucify this false notion of self. We realize that we invent our ego. We are not born with it. No such creature dwells somewhere between our heart and lungs. Our ego-prison is self-made. Our ego chains are self-imposed.
How do we break out? We need three things:
We need prayer.
We need the help of the Holy Spirit.
We need our own efforts.
By prayer, by the help of the Holy Spirit, and by our own effort, we come to understand that I and you are one in Christ. We develop a sense of unity in Christ that breaks down the barrier of egotism.
Jesus said, Love thy neighbor, Love thine enemy. When we labor under the false notion of ego. We see no possible way of loving either neighbor or enemy. The egotist works for the disadvantage of neighbor and the destruction of enemies. Jesus says, do not do it that way. Do not live that way. For most Christians, that is good enough. Jesus said it and so we do--but suppose we carry our analysis a little further and ask why Jesus said it? I suspect that if we could ask Jesus that question, he would say that any other way of living is false and illusory and vicious. In other words, Jesus would say the only rational way to live is the way of love.
But most people never realize this. They live the way of ego--which produces frustration, turmoil, hatred. They have no chance at all of deliverence from temptation or evil. They might as well not pray the Lords Prayer because they have committed their lives to another way of living.
But when our attitude is converted to a concept of oneness, a spiritual truth is driven home to our hearts. It is not that we cease thinking of ourselves, or that we think only of others but rather that we no longer think in terms of them and me at all. There are no more friends and enemies, no more lovers and haters, only us. The enemy is indeed mine, and the enemy is no longer me. But to get to this point requires prayer and determination.
Often we think we can handle temptation by ourselves. After all, we are good Americans. Sure we face with a temptation here or there, but we can handle those things on our own. When we do that, we grossly underestimate the enemy. We become like the apostle Peter. Peter told Jesus, "Even if everyone else abandons you Jesus, I never will. You can count on me. Im with you even if it means suffering and death." Peter assumed that he could never be tempted to abandon Jesus. Jesus warned him, "Peter, you will deny me three times before the rooster crows." And thats exactly what happened. And that is what happens to us because we carry our worst enemy in our own heart.
We lack the strength to face this enemy. We are like an electrical appliance without a power source. Can you imagine trying to cut a two-by-four with a circular saw thats not plugged in? That would be just about impossible. We need to be plugged in by prayer to the Spirit to change an "I-I" way of life into and "us-together" way of life.
The old gospel song says:
Aint my brother or my sister
But its me, oh Lord,
Standing in the need of prayer.
When we face that enemy mine, that enemy in our own hearts, we desperately stand in need of prayer. Prayer offers us power.
In Galatians chapter 5, verses 22-23, we read: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." We are promised in these verses that the Holy Spirit helps us to have several fruits or characteristics. The last characteristic is translated in the KJV as "temperance." In most modern translations, it is "self-control." This Greek word refers to "mastery over ones desires" (Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon Based on Semantic Domains 88.83). It is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 to describe the training of an Olympic athlete. Self-control does not mean the elimination of outward temptations. To return to poor Eve in the Garden of Eden, the serpent is always there. The forbidden fruit is always there. And we are always Eve. What can change then? What does self-control change things? It changes me. It changes my attitude so that I am no longer interested in that temptation
Notice this strength to resist temptation is not totally active or totally passive. Paul is not telling us to just try harder--bear down, grit our teeth, and pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. The whole point of this prayer is that we cant face temptation alone, that we need Gods strength because our own strength is insufficient. But the Apostle Paul is also not saying, "Just let go and let God." He calls us to a life of prayer where we receive strength from the Holy Spirit, but where we make the choice to use that Spirit-given strength to resist our worst enemy. Yes, we are responsible for resisting temptation, and we can resist temptation, with Gods help. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 5/6/02