Sermon illustrations


The Enemy Lines are Hard to Find

A friend of mine who is a child psychologist told me about something one of her young patients said. It is common practice to give toys to children in the treatment room so they work out their conflicts through play. This particular little boy was given toy soldiers, which he laid out and began to deploy. After he had done this for a while, he looked across his little battlefield with a puzzled expression and said, “The enemy lines are hard to find.”

Fleming Rutledge in William H. Willimon Ed, Sermons from Duke Chapel: Voices from “A Great Towering Church,” Duke University Press, 2005.

Human Nature: Fighting Our Neighbors

In the sixteenth century, there were close to seventy wars involving the nations and states of Europe. The Danes fought the Swedes. The Poles fought the Teutonic Knights. The Ottomans fought the Venetians. The Spanish fought the French—and on and on. If there was a pattern to the endless conflict, it was that battles overwhelmingly involved neighbors.

You fought the person directly across the border, who had always been directly across your border. Or you fought someone inside your own borders: the Ottoman War of 1509 was between two brothers. Throughout the majority of human history, encounters—hostile or otherwise—were rarely between strangers. The people you met and fought often believed in the same God as you, built their buildings and organized their cities in the same way you did, fought their wars with the same weapons according to the same rules.

Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know, Little, Brown, and Co, 2019.

If Life is a Competition

If a man is forever concerned first and foremost with his own interests then he is bound to collide with others. If for any man life is a competition…then he will always think of other human beings as enemies, or at least as opponents who must be pushed out of the way…and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down.

William Barclay, The Letter to Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Edinburgh: Saint Andrews Press, 1960), p.40.

Living In Peace and Forgiveness with our Neighbors

Sometimes, the Christian faith can be confounding to the outside world. Enemies can become friends, even to the point of caring for and protecting each other. In this short story from the small African country of Burundi, one leader, a university professor, brings two tribes together in a practical way. 

Our friend Emmanuel Ndikumana is a Hutu married to a Tutsi in Burundi. As a leader at the university in Bujumbura, he constantly finds himself caught between the Burundi military, dominated by Tutsi, and the predominantly Hutu rebel groups who are fighting the government. But he knows that small things make a difference in the everyday lives of people, so he has formed groups of Hutu and Tutsi students who travel together.

When they come to a military checkpoint, the Tutsi students talk with the soldiers. When they come to a rebel roadblock, Hutu student leaders do the talking while the rest of the students carry on with their own conversations. This way, they are able to confuse both the military and rebel fighters. The Christian vision of hope never disconnects the question of whether we can reconcile the nations from whether we can live in peace and forgiveness with those nearest to us—in our homes, at work, in worship and even on the road.

Taken from Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice Copyright (c) 2008 by Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Loving Your Enemies & Costly Love

One of the costliest requirements of Christlike love is Jesus’s call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5: 44). What does this look like for Christians in today’s world? Perhaps it looks like Nadine Collier, whose mother, Ethel, was one of nine victims in the 2015 church massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Given the chance to address her mother’s killer, Collier choked back tears as she forgave him: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again — but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul… If God forgives you, I forgive you.” Maybe it looks like loving people even if it potentially brings us harm.

In 2015 – 2017, there was much dialogue about whether or not Western countries should admit refugees from the Middle East. Could terrorists disguise themselves as refugees and infiltrate target nations within the “Trojan horse” of the massive flood of refugees?

Fears like this led to Donald Trump’s infamous call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. But which reflects the character of Christ more : refusing to take in a Syrian refugee because we are concerned at the possibility that we could be harmed by such charity , or taking in the Syrian refugee out of sacrificial love that says , “ You are welcome at my table even if it costs me something ”?

Taken from Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken, © 2017, p.92. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Marking Your Enemies 

One elderly monk in his community used to show his displeasure with other monks in a highly creative way. As you may know, most monastic communities chant the psalms several times a day together in chapel. Well, if this elderly monk was angry at someone, every time the word “enemy” came up in a psalm, as in “Deliver me from my enemies,” he would look up from his prayer book and glare at the monk he was angry with.

James Martin, Seven Last Words: An Invitation To A Deeper Friendship With Jesus, Harper One.

Our Real Enemies

Our enemies are not our circumstances or our neighborhoods or our bosses. Our focus on the theater of Christ’s glory complements our earthly callings; it does not distract us from them. Christ’s glory is the spectacle of all other spectacles, and its power is most clearly seen in how it equips and motivates and animates our faithful obedience in all other areas of life.

Taken from Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, © 2019, p,90. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Put the World’s Enemies in a Room Together

During my training [as a therapist], a supervisor once told me, “There’s something likable in everyone,” and to my great surprise, I found that she was right. It’s impossible to get to know people deeply and not come to like them. We should take the world’s enemies, get them in a room to share their histories and formative experiences, their fears and their struggles, and global adversaries would suddenly get along.

Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, HMH Books, 2019, p.5.

Until the Snake Has No Head

My grandad told me a story once and that story became a light. A light that unlocks the dark and releases you into the land of a thousand suns. Apparently, so the story went, there had been a tropical snake, longer than the length of a man, that wound its way up the stilts of a jungle cabana and slithered right into one unsuspecting woman’s kitchen. That woman turned around, split the day with one blood-curdling scream, and flung herself outside wide-eyed. That’s about when a machete-wielding neighbor showed up, calmly walked into her kitchen, and sliced off the head of the reptilian thing.

The strange thing is that a snake’s neurology and blood flow make it such that a snake still slithers wild even after it’s been sliced headless. For hours that woman stood outside, waiting. And the body of the snake still rampaged on, thrashing hard against windows and walls, destroying chairs and table and all things good and home.

My Grandad turned to say it, and I can tell you, it felt like a proclamation of emancipation: A snake can only wreak havoc until it accepts it has no head—that it’s actually dead. The enemy of your soul can only wreak havoc in your life until you accept that it’s already dead—and you’re already free. Be who you already are. Be Free — because you already are free. Your enemy is dead — so silence the lies in your head. No enemy can’t imprison you — because your Savior empowers you. Nothing can hold you in bondage — because you are held by him. Not one thing can hold you back — because his arms are holding you.

Taken from Ann Voskamp in Rebekah Lyons, You Are Free, Zondervan, 2017, pp.14-15.

See also Anger, Attacks, Betrayal, Bitterness, Evil, Revenge, Satan, War

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Enemies. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

Follow us on social media: