Return of the Unclean Spirit

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In Matthew, Jesus gave a strange account of a person who has an “unclean spirit” who leaves him. Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none” (Matthew 12:43-42 ESV). This is interesting, because it is in contrast to the story of the demons who entered the pigs and went into the water. Water, or the deep, is where demons were thought to live. What’s different here is the the demon passes through waterless places seeking rest.

The restless demon says that it will enter back into the “house” from which it came. But it finds it swept clean and put in order. So the demon goes out and “brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first” (vs. 45). Jesus said that’s what it will be like with this evil generation.

There are lots of points that can be made. First, people should never let their guard down. Just because we are living in a season of peace doesn’t mean the devil isn’t prepared to attack. Second, We shouldn’t be assuming. Evil people clean on the surface and assume they are cool with God. Clearly they are caught off-guard when evil comes back. Finally, it can probably be argued that evil people create an inviting environment for evil spirits. It’s not insignificant that these evil spirits chose a person as their home rather than the “deep” of the sea, where they belong.

In my opinion, Jesus is giving a stern warning that evil shouldn’t be tolerated. He previously said that a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (vs. 34). We’ve got to do good and be on the lookout for evil.

Overcoming Evil With Good

do good

Yesterday Thom Rainer published a blog titled Six Reasons Your Pastor Is About to Quit. As a preacher, the title caught my attention. Thom Rainer has been gathering statistics and has consulted with churches for decades and is one of the most respected statisticians on church trends. In the article, Thom says, “The vast majority of pastors with whom our team communicates are saying they are considering quitting their churches. It’s a trend I have not seen in my lifetime.” This ought to make us pay close attention. This is happening right now, at unprecedented rates.

As I read the reasons why these ministers are considering quitting, it became abundantly clear that their churches are incredibly on edge, worried, and angry. The assumption from church members is that their preachers are sitting around enjoying a vacation while the rest of the country suffers. Additionally, churches are dividing over what rules to follow to keep members physically safe. Ironically, while they divide over how to keep physically safe, there is a rapid spiritual decline. Christians are shouting, pointing fingers, and acting ugly. This is in stark contrast of what the Bible clearly teaches.

Romans 12 is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. I spent two years preaching themes from Romans 12. Paul is blunt and uses clear directives: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9 ESV). Compare that to the way many Christians are attacking one another. Romans 12 is pregnant with references to how we should position ourselves towards one another: “Outdo one another in showing honor, contribute to the needs of the saints, live in harmony with one another, never be wise in your own sight, do what is honorable in the sight of others, live peaceably with all, never avenge yourselves” (Romans 12:13-19).

Now is the best time for Christians to turn this around. We can either complain about the evil and problems, or we can do something about it. For Paul, there is no question what he is asking of the Roman church: “Do not be overcome evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

Photo by Nicolas Gras on Unsplash