There are times when the environment of spiritual conflict is more deadly than the weapons wielded in actual battle. Environments, whether social, familial or work-related carry life and death potential.
In II Samuel 18, David’s army entered a battle in the forest of Ephraim against the army of Absalom. 20,000 soldiers died that day. The text reads, “The battle raged all across the countryside, and more men died because of the forest than were killed by the sword” (II Samuel 18:8 NLT).
The forest of Ephraim was thick with oak and terebinth trees limiting the ability of Absalom's army to retreat. If the trees were not enough, the forest was filled with bogs, thickets, and wild animals. It was a dense, hostile place. Perhaps the saddest part of the battle was the fact that the opposing army was David's own people who had rebelled and came under the command of Absalom, David’s son. Absalom died in that battle when his hair was caught in the limbs of a tree while retreating on the back of a mule. As he dangled from the tree, he became easy prey.
The battle in the Ephraim forest weakened the kingdom. The conflict resembled a civil war. Civil wars are so negative in their outcome that the Romans would never allow a celebration of triumph for a victory in a civil war. They knew civil war only weakened the empire.
Civil wars between Christians have a similar weakening impact on our relationship with each other and our testimony to the surrounding culture. This weakening takes place when we put each other in places of conflict where death, not life is the outcome. Our negative thoughts, words, and deeds become relational bogs and thickets that catch people and make them easy prey for a loveless expression of our faith.
Of late, the Lord has impressed upon me more and more the importance of the environment of my heart. Any toxic attitude or desire to punish an opposing opinion must be dealt with immediately, or my relationships with fellow believers will become a place of sorrow resembling the forest of Ephraim.