I once sat on the witness stand in court during a divorce case. A young man, I was grilled by lawyers from both sides because my mom had asked me to go help one of her female friends load up a U-Haul. The woman moving was leaving her husband and pregnant. I was there for muscle (as little as I had) and protection.
Protection because there was a history of abuse from the husband, even while she was pregnant, hence why she was leaving.
Good thing I was there. The husband arrived despite being asked to stay away. He proceeded to yell and scream at his wife and tried to push her around. I stepped close, and after one look at me, he decided to leave.
That’s why I was 24 years old and on the witness stand in court.
At some point, that man had sworn before God and his family and friends that he would love that woman, that he would protect her. What makes a man like that abuse the woman he claimed to love?
There’s a complex answer to that, but at the core, we recognize that we live in a world filled with conflict and division, hate and violence against one another. It’s the norm, not the exception. The Bible calls that enmity. As a pastor, I might see it more than most, but you don’t have to be a pastor to recognize it. You just have to be on social media. Or go to work and live in any community. Or church.
We as Christians know God’s desire is unity and love, so we’re better, right? The thousands of church splits and denominations are evidence we are plagued by the same enmity that rules the world.
What Is Enmity in the Bible?
The definition of enmity is “the quality of being an enemy, hostility between two parties.” The root of the word enmity is the same as enemy.
The root of all enmity is sin. The act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden set humanity down the path of conflict and death. War, racism, tyranny, abuse, all of it is a result of the rebellious nature of sin.
Sin isn’t a popular word (never really was), but the disobedience of sin is acting against our Creator. We, as humans, were created by God with a purpose and design. The heart of sin is going against that design, which hurts us and others around us.
In the movie Idiocracy, there wasn’t much food in the future. All the crops were dying because they were feeding plants a popular sports drink. The sports drink company had convinced everyone that it was better than water. But the crops died as a result. The main character looked crazy when he suggested they use water (“from the toilet?”), then a genius when it worked. The crops were designed to need water, not a sports drink.
One of the names of God is love. His acts are loving because he is, in fact, and in reality, love. His commandments are from love, for our good, for the best for us and others. To rebel against that, how much we might feel we are right or want something different, is to rebel against love. To reject love.
And so, we get the opposite of what we desire. Instead of love, we get enmity. Conflict. Isolation. Loneliness. Abuse. The first use of the term enmity is from Gen 3:15 when there is now conflict between the woman and the serpent. Ironically, even when choosing the same side as our spiritual enemy, the first one to rebel against God, we don’t find peace there, either.
What Does Enmity Do to Our Relationship with God and Others?
Enmity, as both a consequence and cohort to sin, has holistic effects on us. Enmity reveals itself in four main areas.
Person vs. God. The first and primary problem is that we become an enemy of our Creator. Believing lies and rebelling against the one who actually wants the best for us (and knows best what that is) results in our own destruction. We become, by nature, children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Our selfish thoughts and choices result in enmity with God (Romans 8:7).
Person vs. Him or Herself. Inner struggles, hypocrisy, anxiety. Enmity with God, going against our design and purpose, means we are actively working against ourselves (2 Timothy 2:25). Back to Idiocracy, it’s like if the plants chose the sports drink for themselves.
Person vs. Person. The next step is our conflict with others. Part of the curse of disobedience was a struggle of power between Adam and Eve, husband and wife, who had been created to work together in harmony (Genesis 3:16). Only one generation later, we have Cain killing his own brother (Genesis 4:8). The Old Testament is a history of people groups killing or enslaving one another over land or resources. The first problem in the church was one of race (Acts 6:1).
Person vs. the Environment. Part of the curse was that Adam would no longer be abundantly provided for; he would now have to produce his own food from the land (Genesis 3:17-19). Remember part of the paradise of Eden was harmony with the environment, plant and animal. Part of God’s law of rest and Sabbath was for the people but also for the land (Exodus 23:11). When the Jews stopped observing the Sabbaths, the time of God’s punishment and exile from the “Promised Land” was based on how many years the Israelites didn’t give the land rest (2 Chronicles 36:21).
How Does the Gospel Play a Role in This?
All of this leads to fear, conflict, destruction, and death. Fortunately, God provided a solution. Himself.
With our whole lives upended and poisoned by enmity, we need peace. The word in Hebrew for peace is shalom. Shalom is more than a lack of conflict. It includes the absence of conflict but also means a complete, holistic redemption and restoration to the original design. Complete contentment and satisfaction in life. That is shalom.
It is no wonder that the solution begins with the person of God through Jesus. That rebellion was the core problem, so repentance to the person of God is the only way. In our enmity and death, we could not accomplish this, even had we wanted to, so God made a way through the sacrifice and resurrection of his Son.
God has literally become our peace (Ephesians 2:14). It is called the Gospel of Peace (Ephesians 6:15). Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The Gospel preached by Jesus (Matthew 3:2), “Repent for the Kingdom of God is here,” means that Good News is connected to the Kingdom of God, and that Kingdom is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).
The world cannot give peace. The world is ruled by the same sin and enmity, so how could it? When we try to accomplish peace through worldly means, we increase the enmity, not lessen it. Therefore, Jesus shares his shalom with us (John 14:27).
Praise God! This is Good News! And the Gospel gives peace in every area.
Peace with God. Through Christ, we have been reconciled back to God (Colossians 1:22). Our repentance and submission unto him restore us back to reality where he is in control and Lord of our lives and choices through love and relationship.
Peace with Him or Herself. Inner peace and harmony. We are kept in perfect shalom when our minds are focused on God (Isaiah 26:3). Aligning our conduct with God, we have a clear conscience (1 Peter 3:16). The Apostle Paul tells us that when we cast our cares upon God and think on what is true and right and excellent, the shalom of God will protect our hearts and minds (Philippians 4).
Peace with Others. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus gave them two. Love God is first but inseparable from the second, love others (Matthew 22:36-40). For disciples of Jesus, our Christ-like love for one another proves we belong to God and come from him (John 13:35). A Kingdom marriage is one of harmony again (Ephesians 5:22-33). The sign of John the Baptist, that the Messiah had arrived, was his call for fathers and children to come together again (Luke 1:17). And even the enmity between races was put to death on the cross in Jesus, producing new people in Christ (Ephesians 2:15).
Peace with the Environment. All creation has been subjected to corruption and waits for the New People of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-23). In the end, there will be a New Heaven and Earth, remade by different, eternal substances (Revelation 21).
The Gospel destroys every case of enmity, breaks down every barrier, ends all division, and reconciles all of life back to complete restoration. Behold, Jesus says, I make all things new (Revelation 21:5).
Why Should We Know About Enmity?
The shalom of God isn’t simply being reconciled to God. That is the necessary beginning, but that reconciliation must expand to all of life. Jesus came to destroy all the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), all the enmity that he produced. And we have helped to produce it.
We must first recognize that there is an evil spiritual force constantly at work to bring division in marriages, families, communities, people groups, nations, neighbors. The Devil is real, and it feels personal because it is.
Next, we must submit to the truth that nothing in this world can solve that enmity. Only a transcendent, other-worldly, incorruptible, and loving deity is able to bring the peace we seek after. God is real, loves us, and is bringing all creation back to himself through Christ.
And since we were part of the problem, restoration includes being part of the solution. Jesus left with instructions to go out and make disciples, teaching them to obey God (Matthew 28:16-20). Now reconciled with God, we have become ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19).
In other words, we are now agents of peace to a divided and dying world. Not just pastors or spiritual leaders, but every born-again believer is an agent of peace, bringing the Good News of the Kingdom with us wherever we go (Luke 17:21). Heaven is in our hearts.
Our mission is to bring that Good News (true peace is available, enmity and division will cease) to our families, communities, churches, marriages, neighbors, our own hearts, and the world. We bring that peace through walking hand in hand with the Father, listening to him and allowing him to guide us day in and day out, and loving others enough to enter the chaos of their lives to speak peace and love, calling them to the shalom that God offers through a lifestyle of generosity.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Moussa81
Britt Mooney (with his amazing wife, Becca) has lived as a missionary in Korea, traveled for missions to several countries, and now lives in Suwanee GA as a church planter that works bi-vocationally with Phoenix Roasters, a missional coffee company. He has a podcast about the Kingdom of God called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author with Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.