According to Ephesians 6:12 we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, so how do we treat those people who seek to falsely defame or discredit us with their words or denigrate us with their actions?

Jesus made it very clear how we are to respond to persecution and spite.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

“Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48

Loving those who spitefully use us is not very easy for most of us, but it is a sign of spiritual maturity. We are told that as sons of God we should show ourselves able to love, bless, do good and pray for those who oppose us.

Jesus said that as long as we follow him we will have enemies, not because of who we are, but because of who he is. They hated him, therefore they will hate his disciples because of him. What he is more concerned with here is how we respond or react to the actions of those who are hostile towards us.

Contending vs contention

He tells us to do four things in response to persecution – love, bless, do good and pray. Nothing here about vengeance, reprisal, judgment or combat. Even our enemies are to be loved. We are to pray for those who treat us spitefully. These are the marks of the mature believer.

Some will say that we’re called to contend earnestly for the faith once handed down to us, quoting Jude, but there is a difference between contending for the faith and contention with people. The contentious, in fact, are not to be admired or imitated.

As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. Proverbs 26:21

Jesus tells us exactly how to contend for the faith when it comes to those who spitefully use and persecute us. He says we are to love them, bless them, do good to them and pray for them. Contending for the faith isn’t an excuse for a contentious attitude. We are not admonished to kindle strife with those who oppose us, or to start a fire that will burn out of control and consume all in its path, but rather to show the love of Christ.

In this instance, contending for the faith means resisting the opportunity for reprisals against those who are unkind to us. Our response is to love, bless, do good and pray. These are the weapons of our warfare against spite and malice.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. 

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled. 2 Corinthians 10:3-6

We are being trained in the weapons of righteousness. We stand against spite and persecution with the armoury of love, blessing, doing good and prayer.

We are called to love our enemies. We are set apart in Christ to bless those who curse us. We are sent to do good to those who hate us. We are instructed to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us.

Weapons of our warfare

These are God’s weapons in our hands, on our lips, in our hearts. His weapons are mighty for the pulling down of strongholds. No weapon formed against us shall prosper, as long as we know our part in resisting the wiles of the adversary. We have spiritual weapons that are mighty through God.

Our weapons are not carnal. Those who spite us may be carnal, and they may use carnal weapons against us, but we are not to respond in kind. We are to love them, bless them, do good to them and pray for them. That is what works for us and for them.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 

Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:12-13

Having done all, we stand. Notice that the armour of God is completely spiritual and relates to our standing in Christ. It is his armour – the armour of light. Our fight isn’t with people. It is with spiritual darkness that manipulates the world and blinds the eyes of people to the truth.

Our weapons tear down the strongholds of darkness and reveal the light of the gospel. We are the Body of Christ. Christians are called to stand side by side in God’s formation, not to tear one another apart. We are separated onto him to be one in him.

Discern the truth

If we are to talk of discernment, let us at least discern this truth so that we can learn to face the real enemy head on in the name of Jesus, and not waste time and effort focusing on one another’s faults and shortcomings.

If you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! Galatians 5:15

The mature know their weapons, their armour, their position in Christ, their capabilities and, crucially, their enemy, who has been defeated by Christ at the cross and whom we are called to drive back so that we can bring captive souls into the liberty of Christ.

Paul tells us that if we do not correctly discern the Lord’s Body we drink judgment to ourselves, which is why many are weak, or sick, or even sleep in Christ (1 Corinthians 11:27-31). If we would judge ourselves, we will not be judged of God with the world’s judgment. We will correctly discern the Body and know how to walk in love in Christ.

If we are called to love, bless, do good and pray for those who oppose us, how much more those who are together with us in the Body of Christ? We have no excuse for immature behaviour in the Body. We have been clearly told how to conduct ourselves as the Household of God.

The world needs a strong Church that works as one in Christ and brings healing, salvation, redemption and deliverance to the captives. In this way we contend for the faith once handed to us in Christ.