Overcoming Evil

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul!  By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”  So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan?  If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.  And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.  In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up.  Then he can plunder the strong man’s house.” (Mark 3:22-27 TNIV)

Over the past few weeks, my wife and I have started reading through William Barclay’s commentary on Mark during our devotional time together.  It has been really interesting not only from a theological standpoint but also from a historical.  Not having grown up in the 1950’s, whenever Barclay mentions “Dr. Johnson,” we have no idea who he is referring to as he makes no explanation and cites no sources.  But it is the theological musings of Barclay that give us the most pause. Not because we find what he says to be heretical.  Quite the contrary, we find ourselves being in agreement with him and having come to the same conclusions ourselves from reading Scripture and not having much prior experience with him (I read one of his commentaries in college, and my wife had never heard of him until we met).

In the other night’s reading, I was particularly enamored by a comment he made in regards to what we today would call spiritual warfare.  He states,

One of the odd things is that we spend a good deal of time discussing the origin of evil; but we spend less time working out practical methods of tackling the problem…Jesus saw the essential struggle between good and evil which is at the heart of life and raging in the world.  He did not speculate about it; he dealt with it and gave others the power to overcome evil and do the right.
(William Barclay.  The Daily Bible Study Series: The Gospel of Mark [Revised Edition].  Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press.  1975.  78-79.)

This struck me particularly in light of the recent murder of a doctor who performed abortions.  Yes, abortion is a terrible, terrible thing; yes, the murder of even that doctor is still a murder and is a terrible, terrible thing.  But what seems lacking in the discussion, especially on the side of the Pro-Life movement, is consideration of a truly practical method of reducing the number of, and eventually eliminating, abortions.

Covering our mouths with red duct tape, while a powerful picture, doesn’t stop people from ending their unwanted pregnancies.  Protesting with signs has much the same effect, and even succeeds in eliciting an emotional response from the other side.  But what has protesting done?  Has the number of abortions performed decreased as a result of efforts to block the doors to doctor’s offices?  Hardly.

I use the issue of abortion merely as an example of a larger issue.  Barclay rightly points out that we, as a Christian community, do not spend a great deal of time trying to actually overcome evil.  Like doctors, we are masters in the art of covering up the symptoms.  But evil still runs rampant in the world, and has even found its way into our churches and pulpits…or even our own lives.

The sad thing is, Jesus Himself gave us the tools for overcoming evil, He even told us exactly how to do it.  And it is as simple as helping a nasty old lady carry her groceries across the street.

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (Luke 6:27-28 TNIV)

Paul boiled this down to one simple sentence.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21 TNIV)

And Peter reiterates the words of Jesus.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.  On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 2:9 TNIV)

While all of these verses are speaking in purely relational terms, I think we are right in carrying the same idea over into the realm of the spiritual.

Overcoming the evil one is simply a matter of spiritual civil disobedience.  The devil is referred to in Scripture as the ruler of this world (John 12:31).  To defeat him, we must simply oppose his rule and live in opposition to him.  When his followers insult us, we offer a blessing.  When he attacks our families’ health, we respond with praise to God for His protection.  When a young woman has an abortion, we offer her whatever it is that she may need to work through the ramifications of that decision.

We have acted too much like the Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:23).  We have acted too much like the philosophers and neglected our calling to be philanthropists.  Abortion, murder, drug addiction, alcoholism, and human trafficking are evils in themselves, true, but overcoming them means we must overcome the evil systems that drive them.  This can only happen by opposing Satan and living the opposition.  Or, to bring us back to William Barclay, do as Jesus did.  Stop speculating about it and actually deal with the evil in the world and overcome it by doing the right.

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