Among the Devil’s chief strategies is destroying relationships of love between Christians by eroding their trust in one another. It is highly effective and highly destructive. As we ponder new resolves in 2015, we would be wise to consider increasing our vigilance against this very subtle tactic, since we are likely to face it repeatedly.
What Mirkwood Can Teach Us
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins and his 13 dwarf companions must travel through the forest of Mirkwood on their way to the Lonely Mountain. The forest had once been known as Greenwood the Great, but the evil Necromancer had crept in and infected it with fear, corruption, and the shadow of death. Just before the company sets out, they are warned not to stray from the path because the disorienting evil influence in the forest is so strong that they might never find the path again.
Sure enough, as they trudge through Mirkwood they fall under an oppressive discouragement. This is powerfully portrayed in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation (the 2nd film of the trilogy) where we see each character’s perception of reality become warped. Evil plays on their minds. They not only become more disheartened than they should be, they also become distrustful of each other. Conflicts break out. Bad decisions are made. The quest nearly ends in tragic disaster.
“To destroy love, Satan targets trust. It’s the quickest way to kill love.”
Mirkwood gives us a helpful picture of what it’s like for us to journey through life together in a world that lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19). We are walking through a dangerous, deceitful place. Many things we perceive and feel are distortions of reality, but they can feel so real.
What Satan Targets to Kill Love
Among the most painful and destructive of our “Mirkwood” experiences are when doubts and distrust develop between our “traveling companions” and us. Something happens — a sin or a perceived sin occurs — an offense is taken, relational tension builds, trust deteriorates, and the result is relational alienation. Often it’s not clear why or how things became so toxic. And that’s because more is in play than meets the eye.
Relationships of love trade on the currency of trust. If trust can be broken, love dries up and the church will split, the small group will fall apart, the marriage will break up, the friendship will disintegrate, and the professing Christian will walk away from the faith. When love dries up, Christianity dries up. So, to destroy love, Satan targets trust. It’s the quickest way to kill love.
Satan may not like when faithful churches are planted and passionate Christian marriages commenced and vibrant Christian friendships formed, but he is willing to bide his time. He knows that a strong start can still end badly and do a great deal of damage in the collapse. He knows how to play on our fears and our pride. He knows that the journey through the Mirkwood of this world is long and the evil influence is strong. And he knows how to wait for an opportune time (Luke 4:13). He will endure a happy beginning in the hope that an unhappy ending will produce that much more disillusionment and cynical unbelief.
For this reason, we must be prepared to remain alert and keep our wits throughout the long Mirkwood march.
What We Must Resolve
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). This love — John 15:12–13 love, 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 love, 1 John 3:16–18 love — is the single greatest evidence that we belong to Christ. It surpasses spiritual giftedness, social justice action, and martyrs’ boldness in importance (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
“If the great King forgave our debt of 10,000 talents, we can forgive our fellow servant a debt of 100 denarii.”
This is precisely why Satan seeks above all to destroy such love between Christians. And it’s why we find it so difficult to love — our love is under assault. And in the middle of it all, it appears like we are wrestling one another when we’re really wrestling with cosmic powers of darkness that are attacking Christ’s kingdom (Ephesians 6:12).
So, if Satan seeks to destroy our love for one another, and he routinely seeks to do that through corrupting our trust in one another, then we must redouble our resolve to vigilantly protect our love by guarding our trust. Here are seven resolutions:
1. Resolve to remember Mirkwood. Because we are journeying through a treacherous realm under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), we must have a healthy suspicion of our perceptions. Our indwelling sin, limited perspectives, and past experiences make us vulnerable to deception, easily misinterpreting others’ motives or intentions.
2. Resolve to assume the best in others. Sometimes the worst happens. I have friends who have been horribly abused by professing “Christians.” But far more often we think worse of others than we should, inflating an offense through speculation. Rather, we should assume the best motives in others until proven otherwise.
3. Resolve to pursue reconciliation quickly. Jesus tells us to go quickly to someone who has been offended by us and be reconciled to them (Matthew 5:23–24). Most issues that erode trust between Christians would be resolved if both parties humbly talked them through as soon as possible following an offense. This habit will save us hours of fruitless stewing in speculative and sinful anger.
4. Resolve to not gossip. Offenses and resentment are contagious (Proverbs 26:20). Don’t pass it to others and make trust rebuilding harder.
5. Resolve to forgive offenses. When an offense has really occurred, the Bible is very clear: We are to bear with one another and forgive each other as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). We live the gospel when we let love cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
6. Resolve to kill the weed of resentment (Ephesians 4:31). If we allow resentment to grow, it will choke love to death. When we recognize that it has taken root, we must kill it through confession and doing all we can to pursue the peace of reconciliation (Romans 12:18).
7. Resolve to remember the gospel. The cross of Jesus reminds us of how much grace has been shown to us, settles all accounts of justice, and frees us to serve our enemies (and much more offending friends) in love (Romans 12:19–20). If the great King forgave our debt of 10,000 talents, we can forgive our fellow servant a debt of 100 denarii (Matthew 18:23–35).