Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified. 1 Sam. 17:10-11
Spinning the old expression to make it accurate, its become awkwardly clear that I’m a fighter not a lover. What has brought this to my attention? It might just be that in the past week, I found myself in three “fights” and nearly pulled into a fourth. As a kid, there was little as satisfying as that final slam of the door to my room to really clinch the win. Now, of course, I’m much more sophisticated and “use my words”, but those can be far more biting than any dagger. Not all fights cause injury, of course, and there are some fights which actually bring life – fighting for survival, for instance, or fighting for another person’s dignity. But mostly, fighting is bad and as a girl, well, we apparently prefer to be rescued and leave the fightin’ to the menfolk. As I stood on the sidelines at my daughter’s soccer tournament in Savannah this past weekend, I realized what a heart issue this really is, even as I had to walk away at one point to readjust my own. Not all opponents are Goliath and often, it turns out, my heart is the Goliath needing to be conquered.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2
As my heart began to race in response to the non-stop “instructional” screaming of the other team’s coach and parents and our team’s parents responding in kind to aggressive behaviors, offering passionate encouragement to “push her back!” and “take her out!”, the frenzy over who would come out the winner had become something of a forest fire. My racing heart and my pacing legs were telling me that my heart had taken a turn with this game that was no different than these “crazy” after-school-special parents I was surrounded by. This was not a made for t.v. movie but real life and something had become way more important to my own heart than it should. But I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was.
The weekend before, as I was coming out of the gate at the Bark Park at Piedmont Park with my dog, two children and a neighbor’s child, a man loudly criticized me for taking too long and holding everybody up. I did not care for that. I wrongfully engaged the man in a battle of wits and snarkyness. I’m not proud of it and it didn’t have a satisfying ending. But my heart was beating just as fast along those sidelines this weekend and a clue was provided as I reflected on Mr. Bark Park. My most natural fight has as its goal that I be proven right and all others humbled in their inferiority to me.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Phil. 2:3-8I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. Phil. 2:20-21
Jesus ran into a whole lot of rude people, disrespectful people, arrogant people, competitive people and people who were long on accusations against Him and short on humility in regard to their own position. Of all people in the world to have the right to put those clowns in their places, clearly Jesus was the man. But He didn’t. The only ones He engaged in conflict were the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, along with the money changers in the temple. And in those instances, unlike me at Piedmont Park or along the sidelines at a U-9 soccer game, the desires battling within Him weren’t about self-preservation, self-promotion or self at all. When Jesus fought, it was always for the hearts of His people and against anything that would keep those hearts locked in darkness and condemnation. His fight always has a redemptive goal.
The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. Joshua 23:9-10
God isn’t fighting for an earthly kingdom or a human ego. He fights for me, just like He promised in Genesis and afterward repeatedly, to redeem me. Just like Adam and Eve, when my heart starts racing and my personal image is on the line, I want to either jump in and take my opponent down (never mind loving my enemy or seeking to serve rather than be served) or I want to tuck tail and run away. I tend to either feel shame for the fight in me (because girls aren’t supposed to fight, for one, and because I confuse “nice” with loving well) or take it as license to disregard God’s mandate to love Him and others ahead of myself. Naturally, I am torn between just hauling off and slugging the people I find ridiculous or staying home and being a lover not a fighter. The Gospel’s beautiful third way doesn’t make me choose but offers me the opportunity to fight as a way of loving others, loving His Kingdom more than my own and loving Him above all else.
Last weekend, one of the conflicts I got into was with some men at the gas station down the street from my house. I actually feel good about that “cordial brawl” because their Goliath stature in the world’s eyes (men plural, area of town where some have little to lose, etc.) wasn’t remotely on my mind. Instead, God fought for their dignity through my refusing to let them play into stereotypes. It was a back and forth that ideally fought against either of us being characterized in such a way that would allow us to leave the interaction without realizing we had dealt with another real human being.
God made me a fighter, and there is no shame in that. Where I need the person and work of Jesus in that particular crafting is to fight for redemptive purposes rather than my own rights and honor. When my heart is racing because my own superiority and “correctness” is on the line, that is not the fight that loves others more than myself. And, I will sadly probably continue to be tempted by that fight as long as I have energy and a flapping tongue. But when God does use that same instinct of mine to grab my slingshot and pay no attention to Goliath’s size, He reminds me who is Big and who is not, including the girl with the slingshot.
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen. 1 Tim. 6:11-16