In a poignant episode in The Lord of the Rings, Sam thrusts fear aside to search for his best friend and comrade, Frodo, who has been captured by the evil orcs. Despite being one small hobbit with no experience in war, Sam wins as two rival gangs of orcs fight over their prisoner. Sam later reports to Frodo, “They’ve done all the killing of themselves.”
When we read an epic story like The Lord of the Rings, we tend to identify with the protagonists. We’d like to imagine ourselves as brave, loving, and fiercely loyal like Sam; or wise, kind, and resilient like Frodo. But what if we’re actually more like the orcs—so focused on fighting our allies that we let our adversaries triumph?
We Christians are in the thick of battle. Paul calls Archippus his “fellow soldier” (Philem. 1:2) and exhorts the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God,” wearing on their feet “the readiness given by the gospel of peace,” and wielding “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:13, 15, 17).
We have a war to wage: a battle for the souls and bodies of those who don’t yet know the Lord. This battle demands all our combined strength. But too often, we spend our time on friendly fire, training our weapons on each other as we let second- and third-tier differences commandeer our resources.
So, what’s the antidote to infighting? I’d like to suggest it’s evangelism: if we evangelize more, we’ll fight each other less.
Here are three reasons why.
1. We Won’t Have the Time
Last month, I met a math professor in his mid-30s who has read his way to Christianity after three decades of atheism. His younger brother is still an atheist and doesn’t want to talk about faith. My new friend longs for his brother to read the books he’s read and see the light he’s seen. “What if something happens to him before he does?” he fears.
My mathematician friend prioritized reading over research in order to unearth the truth about God. Now, he feels the urgency of his brother and best friend coming to faith.
If we evangelize more, we’ll fight each other less.
Evangelism is both urgent and also important; when we remember this, we won’t have time for infighting. To be sure, some things other than evangelism should demand our time. Serving the poor, yes. Welcoming strangers, yes. Studying the Scriptures, calling on the Lord, and working with all our hearts at the labors he’s given us—whether at home or at work—yes, yes, and yes! But infighting? Sorry. We don’t have the time.
2. We Won’t Have the Heart
Frodo wouldn’t have gotten far without Sam. Their friendship fueled them to Mordor and back. And if we risk everything in evangelism, we’ll find we need each other, too. We’ll need comfort in the face of rejection, encouragement in the face of failure, hope in the face of despair.
Paul called the Philippians to live in humble, loving unity (Phil. 2:1–3). As Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed from the trenches of the confessing church in Nazi Germany, “The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him. . . . The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother.”
There have been times in my life when negative emotions have swamped my Christian friendships. Jealously, factions, and rivalry can breed like maggots in the church and turn us inward. I’ve noticed, though, that when I spend my emotion on witnessing to unbelieving friends, I find I have little to spare for sibling conflict.
When I spend my emotion on witnessing to unbelieving friends, I find I have little to spare for sibling conflict.
So, in both our private worlds and our public witness, let’s be slow to shout, “How dare you move with that speck in your eye!” and be quick to say, “I’ve got your back: let’s go!”
3. We Won’t Have the Nerve
Yesterday, I rebuked my 7-year-old for calling my 9-year-old a mean name. I didn’t say, “You shouldn’t talk to people like that.” I didn’t even say, “Don’t talk to your sister like that.” I said, “Nobody talks to my daughter like that!”
Parental love is fierce. When we remember we’re all children of the same heavenly Father, we won’t have the nerve to pull back from our shared task of evangelism in order to beat each other up.
Don’t get me wrong. We should challenge each other in love. It’s a symptom of our lack of deep relationships that we often don’t have people in our lives to correct us when we need it. But godly correction only works when it’s bathed in love. It’s not a grenade to be hurled across enemy lines; it’s a teabag steeped in comrade care.
Let’s Go, Together
Of course, there are times when we need to call out sin. We must rebuke those who teach gospel-denying falsehoods, or perpetuate injustice, adultery, or abuse. But across second-order theological difference, we must be quick to assume the best of others’ motives, and slow to slander our siblings in Christ.
We can debate ideas without destroying each other, but if we’re eager for intramural fights, we’ll fail in our mission, and we’ll all lose out.
When we remember we’re all children of the same heavenly Father, we won’t have the nerve to pull back from our shared task of evangelism in order to beat each other up.
Frodo and Sam didn’t go on a bromance road trip. They went on a dangerous, arduous, pain-filled quest. And in the midst of it, they gained a deep experience of love. When we focus our energies on infighting, we’re not just letting our adversaries storm our strongholds over the dead bodies of our friends. We’re also missing out on one of the greatest blessings God has for us: the comrade love that springs not from total alignment with one another, but from total allegiance to our one true King.
Christ calls us to lay down our lives for each other, because he laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). So, when our siblings are suffering friendly fire, let’s stand with them—even if their view is slightly different from ours. And if the fire is coming from our own guns, let’s repent and get back to the work God has given us: the task of testifying to the gospel of his grace (Acts 20:24).