Partisanship or division within any organization will destroy it, and God’s Church is no different. In fact, over 2000 years ago members of the Church at Corinth showed partisanship when they began choosing sides, saying “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos” (1 Corinthians 3:3-7). Partisanship is defined as a firm adherence to a party, faction, cause or person. It often leads to strife, hurt feelings, bitterness between friends and can cause some to abandon their faith. In short, partisanship makes us easy prey for Satan the devil!
How do we prevent this? Peter gave us the answer when he said, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Sobriety and vigilance are two weapons that we as Christians can use to fend off the attacks of Satan the devil. They can be very effective if we as Christians band together and use them collectively, as a unit. There’s an old Aesop fable that helps illustrate how to use these two weapons effectively.
The four oxen and the lion
“A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them, but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them . . .” (Aesop’s Fables, 1867).
Here we see a group of oxen banding together, using their horns as weapons to fend off the attack of a lion. As members of God’s Church there is a lesson to be learned here: banding together as a unit makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. Let’s pause here to find the connection between the horns of the oxen and our spiritual horns of sobriety and vigilance, before reading the rest of the story.
The horn of sobriety
Our first weapon is the horn of sobriety. Peter’s instruction to “be sober” has nothing to do with abstaining from the consumption of alcohol. Here it means to be calm and collected in spirit or to have thoughtful character. It speaks to the ability to have self-control in all things, and to let nothing take our focus off our efforts to be more like Christ.
This is especially important when disagreements arise between people. The damage to relationships caused by words spoken in anger can be severe and at times permanent. We must think before we speak in the heat of the moment, because harsh words cannot be unspoken. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube once it’s on your toothbrush. It’s impossible!
Using the horn of sobriety as a weapon against the enemy means exercising thoughtful character to spare our words in moments of anger: “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit” (Proverbs 17:27). As individuals, we must purpose in our hearts to use the horn of sobriety to think before we speak. When we do, we become like the oxen in the fable: tails together, horns out and as a unit we fend off the enemy.
As members of God’s Church there is a lesson to be learned here: banding together as a unit makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of Satan the devil.
The horn of vigilance
The second weapon is the horn of vigilance. To be vigilant means to be alertly watchful, especially to avoid danger. As Christians we must be on alert to avoid contention. Small disagreements left unchecked turn into full-blown quarrels that can spread very quickly.
We can liken this process to the releasing of water. We’ve all been sitting at a table where someone accidentally knocks over a glass. Before the glass is toppled there were probably indications that it was likely to happen. Maybe the glass was too close to the individual, or someone was getting a bit too animated while telling a story. Seeing the signs that the glass is likely to be knocked over and making adjustments to avoid the spill is a whole lot easier than cleaning up a mess. Once that glass hits the table, the water goes everywhere and there’s no stopping it. My wife and I were witness to this countless times while raising our daughters. Since then I’ve always been the person at the table on alert, watching glasses and moving them if necessary to avoid a spill.
Similarly, the signs are often there that a small disagreement is likely to become a full-blown quarrel. Recognizing them and taking action is a responsibility we all have. It could be as simple as calling for a time-out for the parties and individuals involved to calm down. In like manner we must use the horn of vigilance to stay poised and watchful to avoid heated disagreements: “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14). As individuals we must purpose in our hearts to use the horn of vigilance to stop contention among ourselves. When we do, we become like the oxen in the fable: tails together, horns out and as a unit we fend off the enemy.
The lesson to be learned here is simple: banding together as a unit makes us less vulnerable to the attacks of Satan. For the horns of sobriety and vigilance to be effective, we must be side by side, not at each other’s throats. We must purpose in our hearts to be sober and spare our words in anger. We must purpose in our hearts to be vigilant and stop contention before a quarrel starts. Failing to do so puts us all at risk of the attacks of Satan. Let’s take a second look at the fable in its entirety to illustrate this point:
“A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last however they fell a-quarreling among themselves and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four” (Aesop’s Fables, 1867).
We must all heed the words in 1 Peter 5:8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The parallel message for this passage of Scripture and the fable is the same: United we stand, divided we fall. Let’s all purpose in our hearts to use the horns of sobriety and vigilance to fend off the attacks of Satan.