Many people are unaware that friendly fire is a serious problem. We think that because of modern technology, friendly fire is a sad fact of the past. However, the statistics tell a different story. During six years of the Vietnam War, there were over 29,000 casualties due to friendly fire. In operation Desert Storm, 45% of all American casualties were due to friendly fire.* The government spends enormous amounts of money on research focused on inventing and utilizing devices that can prevent friendly fire, because, in a war, one of the most dangerous problems is not knowing who the enemy is and who he is not.
We all know what literal friendly fire is. It is when a person, or military unit is fired upon by one of his own side. It is impossible to win a war if you are wounding or killing your own men and not the enemy, thus in a war, if you are going to be victorious you must know who the enemy is and who the enemy is not.
Although this is a problem that many in the military and government are concerned about, literal friendly fire is not where my concern lies. What concerns me is that friendly fire is not isolated to the military world; spiritual friendly fire has become a problem of large magnitude in the church today.
In Galatians 4:14–16, Paul gave us an example of spiritual friendly fire. He wrote this about his experience with the Galatian Christians: “And my trial, which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus. What then was the blessing you enjoyed? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me. Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?”
Paul here is asking a very interesting question of the Galatian believers. He recounts how, when he first brought the gospel to them, they received him “as an angel of God.” If it were possible, he said, they would have even plucked out their own eyes and given them to him. However, a change took place. A change in the Galatian church, that caused them to look at Paul as their enemy instead of their beloved teacher and friend. The Galatians forgot who the real enemy was and they began using spiritual friendly fire. They turned their weapons, not only upon their brother, but upon the very one who had brought the precious truths of salvation to them. They became confused about who the enemy was and as a result became guilty of spiritual friendly fire.
Since friendly fire involves firing upon your comrade, instead of your enemy, it is imperative that we understand very clearly the true identity of the enemy. Jesus had many objectives when He came to this earth, but one of them was to reveal to us who the enemy is and who he is not. Sister White wrote, “While on earth Christ sought to sweep away the distinction that had been made by the Jews as to who was their neighbor and who was their enemy.” Home Missionary, June 1, 1897. This topic is something that we, as humans, have had a problem with for a long time. It is so easy for us to become confused about the true identity of the enemy.
The entire parable of the Good Samaritan was given to correct the erroneous belief the Jews held concerning who was their neighbor. “Among the Jews the question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ caused endless dispute. They had no doubt as to the heathen and the Samaritans. These were strangers and enemies. But where should the distinction be made among the people of their own nation and among the different classes of society? Whom should the priest, the rabbi, the elder, regard as neighbor?” Christ’s Object Lessons, 376. The Jews were certain that the heathen and Samaritans were their enemies, but Jesus came to reveal a higher order of love. Through the teaching of this parable, He swept away the prevalent thoughts of the day about who their neighbor was and who their enemy was. And the lesson He taught the Jews then is just as applicable to us today. “He teaches us to regard every man as our neighbor who is in need of our sympathy, of our assistance and our love.” Home Missionary, June 1, 1897. Who is in need of our sympathy, our assistance and our love? That encompasses nearly every person alive today and we need to regard each one, not as our enemy, but as our neighbor.
Who is Not the Enemy?
The first group that is not the enemy are those people that are in Babylon and that do not know this precious truth that we know. Like the Jews we are inclined to think that the “heathen” are our enemies, but if we think this, we are just as wrong as they were. We can never preach the truth in love, as God desires, if we regard the people in Babylon as enemies. We must come to the realization that although they do not believe the truth from the Word of God, they are not our enemies. They are the ones most in need of our assistance, our sympathy and our love. It is our work to do everything in our power to bring them to a knowledge of the truth; that they may not just be our neighbors, but our brothers and sisters also.
The second group that is not the enemy is even more subtle than the first. This group is made up of those who believe some heresy or fanaticism. Once again, it is not difficult to develop a mindset that looks upon these people as the enemy. We must not sanction heresy or error, and there are times that discipline is essential, but those that have been deceived into accepting false doctrines are not our enemies. They are in need of our assistance to show them the truths from the Bible. They are in need of our sympathy and love. None will ever be rescued from error if they are contemptuously treated as enemies!
Paul counseled us about exactly how we should deal with cases like this. “And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” II Thessalonians 3:14, 5.
The last class who are not our enemies is perhaps the most difficult for us to deal with. These are those who believe the truth, and are striving to live it, but who think or work differently than we do. Although they think, act, and work differently from us they are not our enemies. This is often very hard for us to handle because we are often brought in contact with them every day, but it is essential that we learn not to regard them as our enemies, because, if we do, we will eventually become guilty of spiritual friendly fire.
“Christ said, ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’ Matthew 10:16. If we are to meet opposition from our enemies, who are represented as wolves, let us be careful that we do not manifest the same spirit among ourselves.” Ibid. Let us be careful that we do not become guilty of spiritual friendly fire. Are we being careful? Or have we started firing our weaponry at our brothers and sisters? Is historic Seventh-day Adventism being riddled with friendly fire because we have manifested the same spirit toward each other that our enemies manifest toward us? Are we confused about who we are fighting?
Who is the real enemy behind the error and fanaticism in the world today? Jesus said: “The enemy who sowed them is the devil.” Matthew 13:39. It is true that there are “children of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38) in the church and in the world, but they are not the enemy. They are the very ones whom we need to love and help so that they may become “children of the kingdom.” Matthew 13:38.
How to Prevent Friendly Fire
In 1 John 4:7, 8, we read: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” What must we do so that we are not guilty of spiritual friendly fire? We must learn to love one another. And, this is not something that comes naturally to us; it is contrary to our nature, and thus it is possible only through the grace of Christ combined with much effort on our part.
Jesus came to this earth, not only to die that our sins might be forgiven, but He “took the nature of humanity, in order to reveal to man a pure, unselfish love, to teach us how to love one another.” SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, 1126. It was one of Jesus’ special missions to teach us how to love one another, how to be free from friendly fire. Have we learned the lesson yet? Or are we still in the combat zone with one another?
Sometimes we think it is enough to have the truth, but we must not only have the truth, we must live it as well. The truth lived out in our lives is going to lead us to have deep brotherly love for one another. Speaking of the power of the word of God, Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Your truth: Your word is truth.…That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us.” John 17:17, 21. If we do not have this love among ourselves, those in the world will not be attracted to the truth, instead they will be driven away. (John 13:35.)
While I was in Ghana, earlier this year, I talked with a man who was a minister from another denomination. As we were talking, I discovered that he had previously been educated and served for many years as a minister of a Sabbath-keeping church, but he had left that church and joined a Sunday-keeping church. This aroused my curiosity. Why had he abandoned the Sabbath to join another church? It was not because he no longer believed in the Sabbath truth. He still knew that the Sabbath was the day God had sanctified. He told me that he left the Sabbath-keeping church because he did not see very much love among the members and leaders, and he found a loving atmosphere in the Sunday keeping church. How many others are there like this? Are people drawn to our churches because of the brotherly love they see there or do they spurn the truth because of the friendly fire that exists?
Learning Brotherly Love
Inspired writings contain counsel on many practical ways that we can learn to love one another. However, there are three main guidelines that, if applied to our lives, will bring about a transformation in our homes and in our churches.
The first and most important of the three is found in I Corinthians 13:5. In this verse it gives the following description of love: Love “does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.” This is the most important thing to remember in our study on how to love one another. We must think no evil of one another. Spiritual friendly fire originates in our thoughts. In the military, no one can be guilty of friendly fire by only thinking about it, but this is how spiritual friendly fire most often occurs. If we are going to overcome friendly fire, this is where we must begin. Fortunately for us, the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy give us much instruction on what steps we need to take in order to think no evil of our brothers and sisters.
In Our High Calling, 178, we read, “See how you can forgive those who trespass against you, even as you want your Father in heaven to forgive your trespasses.” Probably all of us have had a brother or sister do something to us that hurt or offended us in some way. It is important, then, that we learn to forgive, because that is one of the first steps in thinking no evil and learning to love one another. Forgiveness is a much large topic than most people realize. It must go deeper than just saying that we forgive one another—it must come “from the heart” (Matthew 18:35) and be as deep and full as the forgiveness that the Lord freely gives to us.
God freely forgave Paul, who assisted in the murder of His appointed messenger. Can we forgive the one who wrongs us that much? God’s forgiveness is not just lip service, it is full and deep. At the close of the judgment, all the sins of the truly penitent will be “blotted out.” (Acts 3:19.) Can we blot from our memory the wrongs that have been committed against us? If we are going to have the love for one another that Jesus prayed would exist, we must.
“Jesus, who died for us, loves us with a love that is infinite; and we must love one another. We must put away all selfishness, and work together in love and unity. We have loved and petted ourselves, and excused ourselves in waywardness; but we have been unmerciful toward our brethren, who may not be as faulty as ourselves. The Lord loves us, and bears with us, even when we are ungrateful to Him, forgetful of His mercies, wickedly unbelieving; but consider, brethren, how relentless we are to one another, how pitiless; how we hurt and wound one another, when we should love as Christ has loved us. Let us make a complete change.” Gospel Workers, 429. If we are going to love one another, we must put away our selfishness. We must not look on our own things, but on the things of others. (Philippians 2:4.) We have loved, petted and excused ourselves while we are unmerciful toward our brethren. All of these things originate in how we think about one another. We must consider our own deplorable condition and how God deals with us and then deal with our brethren in the same manner.
“Then let us feast upon Christ. Let us enjoy His love, and praise God for this great salvation. Then we shall come together, heart to heart. When we shall subdue our pride, when we shall pluck from the garden of the soul every fiber of the root of bitterness, our hearts will flow together as the heart of one.” General Conference Daily Bulletin, April 13, 1891. Pride must come out of our hearts. It was pride that caused the great division in heaven and pride will continue to do so here. Also every fiber of bitterness must be thoroughly uprooted. If we are harboring bitterness of any kind in our minds, we will not be loving our brethren as we must and we will be defiled. (Hebrews 12:15.)
“Then all this heart burning and distrust must cease, and in place of it, there will be love and union, courtesy, kindness, and tenderness.” Ibid.
In Our High Calling, 178, we are told, “Press together. Do not make little wedges of slight differences of opinion, and drive them in to separate heart from heart, but see how you can love one another even as Christ has loved you.” The slight differences of opinion that will inevitably arise among us can become little wedges. Just as a wedge begins by making an ever so slight crack and continually increases it until the wood is split in two, so slight differences of opinion can drive us far apart. At first they may be ever so small, but if harbored and dwelt upon, they can separate the dearest of friends.
Our natural tendency is to be lenient with our mistakes, but to be harsh on others. This also must change if we are going to stop using friendly fire. “We must be kind, forbearing, patient with one another’s errors; we must keep our sharp criticisms for ourselves, but hope all things, believe all things, of our brethren.” Gospel Workers, 429.
“Then how dare you allow one thought of opposition against one child of God? How dare you do it? We want melting mercy to fall upon us. And Jesus says it is not possible for the Father to love us if we do not love one another. It is possible to love one another. Therefore you must not make up your minds you cannot do it.” Sermons and Talks, vol. 2, 16. If we are striving to not think evil of our brethren, then we must not allow thoughts of opposition against a child of God to fester in our minds.
Speak No Evil
The second main point that we must adhere to, if we are going to cease our friendly fire, is found in 1 Peter 2:1. “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking.” If we have learned to think no evil of our brethren, the second step will be a natural result; we will speak no evil.
“How the enemy has brought his own spirit into our work! We do not love one another, as Christ has enjoined upon us, because we do not love Christ. If your track is crossed in any way, if any one differs in opinion from you, then in place of feeling humility of mind, in place of carrying your burden to Christ, and asking Him for wisdom and light to know what is truth, you draw from Him, and are tempted to present your brother’s views in a false light, that they shall not have influence.” Review and Herald, August 27, 1889.
If you have ever heard two sides of the same story, you realize the relevancy of this counsel. We always tend to present our side in the best colors possible and our brother’s side in as dark hues as we can, but this must stop. We must learn to go to Jesus for wisdom and light and leave the enemy’s spirit out of our work.
“Those who learn His meekness and lowliness learn also how to love one another as He has loved them. They reach the place where they refuse to criticize and condemn others.” Upward Look, 359. Have we come to that place yet? If we are going to learn to speak no evil of our brethren, we must reach this place.
Love Shown In Our Actions
Lastly, if we have applied the other two points, our actions will show our love to one another. Jesus spoke about this high ideal in the sermon on the mount. He said, “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.” Matthew 5:44. It is difficult not to think or speak evil of those with whom we do not see eye to eye. However, Jesus’ ideals are even higher than simply not thinking or speaking evil. He says that we must love, bless, do good, and pray for those with whom we have differences.
Jesus exemplified this in His life when, as the Roman soldiers drove the spikes through His hands, He said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” We can and must reach the point where we too can say when someone drives those figurative spikes through our hands, “Father forgive them for they do not realize what they are doing. They do not realize that I am not the enemy.”
The very top of the ladder of brotherly love is found in 1 John 3:16. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Jesus demonstrated that perfect love for us by dying for us while we were yet His rebellious children, and He desires that love to be perfected in us. If we are finding it difficult to love someone, we need to go to our closet and plead with the Lord to give us love enough to die for that person. The Lord will answer that prayer if we are only willing to follow the steps that He has already walked before us.
* These statistics were taken from the following web sites: www.members.aol.com/warlibrary and www.members.aol.com/amerwar