Sun Tzu was a Chinese military strategist who wrote The Art of War. This document describes many aspects of warfare and identifies different factors and strategies that leads to victory in battles. It’s not only considered as one of the most important military texts in history, but these concepts are also applied to debates, legal fights, businesses competitions, and anything else that use tactics and strategies. One well-known line in this document is a common saying that Sun Tzu finds true in military strategy:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” (Chapter 3, line 18)
This line reveals a consistent theme that the keys to victories are knowing your opponent and knowing yourself. If you know the strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and approaches of your enemies as well as yourself, you have the advantage against your opponent in warfare. You can predict moves before they happen, lead opponents to traps, make important decisions, etc, to defeat or destroy your opponents.
So, why am I talking about Sun Tzu and the Art of War? Many in the world think that people who are enemies should be hated, lead to fights and be destroyed, but Jesus gave a different command to Christians:
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:27-31)
The idea that you are to love your enemies is a hard thing to do. It takes much courage and swallow of self-pride to be able to love those who hate you or in conflict with you. However, an opposite problem can occur with this command. Some people think that they are able to love their enemies and they can show it outwardly, but then, intentionally or unintentionally, justify themselves by being picky of how they “love” and who they consider to be their “enemy”. I was actually thinking about this when I was rereading the moment Jesus shared the Parable of the Good Samaritan, on how a person loves their neighbor. It was the question that a lawyer asked before Jesus shared the parable that made me think of Sun Tzu’s line:
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” (Luke 10:29)
This man was justifying himself that he is worthy of inheriting eternal life by loving only those who are considered his neighbors, but Jesus points out later that his “neighbors” also include his enemies. (Samaritans are considered enemies to the Israelites) So the lawyer can no longer say that he does love his neighbors unless he is also able to love his enemies too.
And Who is my Enemy?
We live in a society where the idea of enemies can be quite shallow; that they are black and white. Look at any pop culture media, books, movies, and even historical records and you’ll see within them are clear cut sides or opposing forces: Batman versus the Joker, Robin Hood versus the Sheriff of Nottingham, Allied forces versus the Axis powers during World War II…anyone who is familiar with these references can point out who is against the other. With this idea influencing our minds of who is against us, it hides the more personal and passive groups of “enemies” in our lives and forget to love them as well. It’s easier for us to identify that jerk from fourth grade who takes your lunch money every Thursday as an enemy, but it’s harder to identify that person who used to be friends, yet incidents happened and no longer admit that the other exists. For now, I thought of 3 possible situations that we miss out on certain people who are actually in conflict with us.
Oppressed or the Oppressor?
Our selfish minds can blind us from enemies that we caused. When we think of “love your enemies,” we immediately think of how other people treat us. “Enemy” becomes synonymous to those people who “harmed me” or “went against me” or “oppressors.” Having this mindset can affect us when reading the Bible can put ourselves in a similar position to King David and pray to God, asking Him to “deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me;” (Psalm 59:1, with emphasis for point) People define who their enemies are by thinking about those treated them badly and instead ignore those that they do towards other people. This ignorance makes us have a “victim” mentality and our “love” for others can dangerously become a prideful statement of “I am better than you.”
“I Think Everything is Fine, so Everything is Fine”
Everyone is going to have conflict and arguments. If they are not resolved completely, there would be a false presumption that everything is alright. All it takes is one person to think everything is fine to lose an enemy in your mind, but not in reality. What makes it worse is wanting the conflict to resolve quickly. It’s like a person who blocks out any negative news and whatever one accepts is reality in their minds. The more they really want it, the more willing they are to see that nothing is wrong anymore and how they don’t have to deal with it anymore. They would be in denial while the other person would continue to feel hurt, yet can’t bring it up because of how engrossed the deception is. One will feel that there’s no more enemy, while the other feels more distant than before.
“Ignorance is Bliss”?
Some of us just hate confrontation. When we don’t want to confront our issues, the easy response is to ignore them. From a biblical perspective, that is a poor response. No matter what the issue is, the Bible never says ignoring solves everything. If a brother sins, we are to tell them (Matthew 18:15); if one has a complaint, we are to forgive one another (Colossians 3:13); if we sin against someone, confess to them (James 5:16). Dealing with friends and foes are the same. If one ignores someone in conflict, they don’t truly ignore them. By not loving them or by treating them differently than those that are good to oneself, one declares the other person as your enemy by action. What’s hard about this is that when our minds act irrationally from conflict, we won’t think of them as enemies. Sometimes ignoring the issue still lets them continue to interact regularly, but that conflict or internal turmoil will remain. In their minds, we think that not going towards the issue again would be the solution, but they won’t act towards each other the same way. In their minds, it is blissful ignorance, but outwardly, actions speak louder than words.
“Go and Do the Same”
As I write these descriptions, I don’t think of this as me telling everyone that they are thinking it wrong or doing it wrong. I’m also reflecting on whether I am like this towards anyone that I know or formed a relationship with. Am I forgetting those that I have harmed or continue to harm? Have I deceived myself in thinking that my relationship with someone is fine, so I don’t need to care about it? Have I known of an enemy that is so painful to bear that I just ignore them or not treat them with the same love that I should? In reflecting these, I know there are people who fit those categories. I won’t even be surprised that there are people who think that I am in those categories. We follow Christ because we love Him. Followers who obey His commands are to show the way God loves us. God wants us to love our enemies “so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:45) Since we have been born of God, we are to “love one another, for love is from God.” (1 John 4:7). If Christians, including myself, really know themselves and know those that we interact with, we need to be active and alert in who our enemies are and not hate them or treat them differently than those that are our friends, but to love them. All of this brings benefit to them, to us, and it brings glory to God as an example of unconditional love.
So the big question is this: Who are your enemies in your life? Forget the obvious ones for the moment, and think about everyone that you know or interacted with.
- Are there people in your life that you have been ignoring/avoiding?
- Are there people whom you outwardly seem to act normally, yet inwardly you hold a grudge over past conflict?
- Are there people whom you think that are fine or you consider as friends, yet discriminate them and don’t treat them like your other friends?
God gave us one life on this earth to be able to express love to others. It’s time to “know thy enemy, know thyself.” It’s time to act on what Jesus commanded that lawyer when he answered who his “neighbors” are: “go and do the same.” (Luke 10:37)