Our Endgame

The definition of endgame is “the final stages of an extended process of negotiation” (quote source here). For “Avengers” fans, the latest movie in The Avengers” series, titled Avengers: Endgame,” opens in theaters tomorrow (April 26, 2019). I’ve seen bits and pieces of the previous movies, and here’s a brief description of this latest movie:

Adrift in space with no food or water, Tony Stark sends a message to Pepper Potts as his oxygen supply starts to dwindle. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers–Thor, Black Widow, Captain America and Bruce Banner–must figure out a way to bring back their vanquished allies for an epic showdown with Thanos — the evil demigod who decimated the planet and the universe. (Quote source here.)

Endgames are about showdowns, whether epic or not, and they are found everywhere–in games like chess, in business, in politics, in religion, in the military, in all types of relationships, and, in fact, life in general. It’s about strategies and the age old conflict between good and evil (the lines, of which, have significantly blurred of late).

I remember several years ago reading an article that mentioned Sun Tzu’s famous work, The Art of War,” was required reading in Russia’s military. Sun Tzu was an ancient Chinese general and military strategist in the 6th Century B.C. According to History.com:

Sun Tzu’s approach to warfare, unlike that of Western authors, does not put force at the center: indeed, the Chinese character “li” (force) occurs only nine times in the text’s thirteen chapters. This reflects the conditions of warfare in China at the time (force was then in fact of limited utility) as well as Sun Tzu’s conviction that victory and defeat are fundamentally psychological states. He sees war, therefore, not so much as a matter of destroying the enemy materially and physically (although that may play a role), but of unsettling the enemy psychologically; his goal is to force the enemy’s leadership and society from a condition of harmony, in which they can resist effectively, toward one of chaos (luan), which is tantamount to defeat. (Quote source here.)

This type of warfare is not fought with traditional weapons or even out in the open as on a battlefield (as in typical war scenarios). It is about using strategy and deception to conquer an enemy, and it’s base is psychological.

A chess player wrote the following about it’s value in playing the game of chess:

Although Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” was written more than 2,600 years ago and it’s not a chess book, this is one of the books that I would recommend to chess players. This work stands today as a prominent work on military strategy!

This manual is not only about war strategy, but, also about the lessons and knowledge that can be learned within a strategic framework, as is required in many aspects of life, including but not limited to war.

I recommend this book to chess players, as it is a masterpiece in strategy, which can be especially useful in preparation for a chess tournament. This book is an easy read – light and deep at the same time.

Even in this century, many high school and college faculty members use quotes from this book in their lectures. A paradox , given our dreadful advances in the technology of warfare.

That is the greatness of the “Art of War,” it is a book as old as the game of chess, and both, have stood the test of time. For it happens that the underlying science of combat remains little changed – the craft of deception, interpreting terrain, the movement of material and men, the discipline and motivation of troops. These elements are immutable, and those who must carry the sword have always turned to Sun Tzu for enlightenment and inspiration. (Quote source here.)

It requires no superheros to be effective. In an article titled, Sun Tzu’s 31 Best Pieces of Leadership Advice, by Eric Jackson, a tech and media investor, and contributor on Forbes.com, he states:

There was no greater war leader and strategist than Chinese military general Sun Tzu. His philosophy on how to be a great leader and ensure you win in work, management, and life is summed up in these 31 pieces of advice. They can all be applied by you in your job when you go back to work next week:

  1. A leader leads by example, not by force.
  2. You have to believe in yourself.
  3. Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.
  4. If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
  5. The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.
  6. Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
  7. If the mind is willing, the flesh could go on and on without many things.
  8. Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.
  9. To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.
  10. Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
  11. Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can?
  12. Even the finest sword plunged into salt water will eventually rust.
  13. Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate.
  14. If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.
  15. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) he will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight; (2) he will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces; (3) he will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks; (4) he will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared; (5) he will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.
  16. Be extremely subtle, even to the point of formlessness. Be extremely mysterious, even to the point of soundlessness. Thereby you can be the director of the opponent’s fate.
  17. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
  18. There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
  19. Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
  20. When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.
  21. Know yourself and you will win all battles.
  22. Move swift as the Wind and closely-formed as the Wood. Attack like the Fire and be still as the Mountain.
  23. Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.
  24. When strong, avoid them. If of high morale, depress them. Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise.
  25. All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
  26. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.
  27. The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.
  28. Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.
  29. Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.
  30. All warfare is based on deception.
  31. When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard. (Quote source here.)

If you happen to be Christian, as you should know, deceit and deception are not a part of the Christian’s modus operandi,” although we run into it often even in Christian circles, and we are tempted to do it ourselves at times, too. Other bits of advice in “The Art of War” are just some good common sense in dealing with others; but the main premise behind “The Art of War” is how to subdue your enemy using deception and psychological warfare.

As Christians, it never hurts to understand and be aware of what others might be doing to us that is not on the “up and up” whether at work, in social circles, in relationships, and everywhere else. Reading even some of “The Art of War” (as in the 31 points listed above) will at least clue us in on how others might be operating in our lives.

We (e.g., Christians) are taught to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves” (those are Jesus’ own words in Matthew 10:16). However, too often, we massively fail at the “shrewd” part in that verse.

Why do we so often “miss the mark” on being shrewd? It is probably, in no small part, in an effort to keep harmony with others; to think good about others and not evil. But there is a significant difference between being naively trusting of others and being shrewd.

In answer to the question, “What does it mean to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16)?” GotQuestions.org answers that question as follows:

In sending out the Twelve, Jesus said to them, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, KJV). The NIV says, “shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Jesus was using similes (figures of speech that compare two unlike things) to instruct His disciples in how to behave in their ministry. Just before He tells them to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He warns them that they were being sent out “like sheep among wolves.”

The world, then as now, was hostile to believers—not incidentally hostile, but purposefully hostile. Wolves are intentional about the harm they inflict upon sheep. In such an environment, the question becomes “how can we advance the kingdom of God effectively without becoming predatory ourselves?” Jesus taught His followers that, to be Christlike in a godless world, they must combine the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove.

In using these similes, Jesus invokes the common proverbial view of serpents and doves. The serpent was “subtle” or “crafty” or “shrewd” in Genesis 3:1. The dove, on the other hand, was thought of as innocent and harmless—doves were listed among the “clean animals” and were used for sacrifices (Leviticus 14:22). To this very day, doves are used as symbols of peace, and snakes are thought of as “sneaky.”

Nineteenth-century pastor Charles Simeon provides a wonderful comment on the serpent and dove imagery: “Now the wisdom of the one and the harmlessness of the other are very desirable to be combined in the Christian character; because it is by such an union only that the Christian will be enabled to cope successfully with his more powerful enemies” (Horae Homileticae: Matthew, Vol. 11, London: Holdsworth and Ball, p. 318).

Most people don’t mind having their character compared to a dove’s purity and innocence. But some people recoil at the image of a serpent, no matter what the context. They can never see a snake in a good light, even when used by Jesus as a teaching tool. But we should not make too much of the simile. We cannot attach the evil actions of Satan (as the serpent) with the serpent itself. Animals are not moral entities. The creature itself cannot perform sin, and shrewdness is an asset, not a defect. This is the quality that Jesus told His disciples to model.

The serpent simile stands in Jesus’ dialogue without bringing forward any of the serpent’s pejoratives. It is a basic understanding in language that, when a speaker creates a simile, he is not necessarily invoking the entire potential of the words he has chosen—nor is he invoking the entire history and tenor of the linguistic vehicle. Rather, the speaker is defining a fresh relationship between the two things. A quick look at Matthew 10:16 shows that Jesus was invoking only the positive aspects of the serpent. There is no hint of His unloading Edenic baggage upon His disciples. He simply tells them to be wise (and innocent) as they represented Him.

When Jesus told the Twelve to be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves, He laid down a general principle about the technique of kingdom work. As we take the gospel to a hostile world, we must be wise (avoiding the snares set for us), and we must be innocent (serving the Lord blamelessly). Jesus was not suggesting that we stoop to deception but that we should model some of the serpent’s famous shrewdness in a positive way. Wisdom does not equal dishonesty, and innocence does not equal gullibility.

Let us consider Jesus as exemplar: the Lord was known as a gentle person. Indeed, Scripture testifies that He would not even quench a smoking flax (Matthew 12:20). But was He always (and only) gentle? No. When the occasion demanded it, He took whip in hand and chased the money changers out of the temple (John 2:15). Jesus’ extraordinarily rare action, seen in light of His usual mien, demonstrates the power of using a combination of tools. This “dove-like” Man of Innocence spoke loudly and clearly with His assertiveness in the temple.

In His more typical moments, Jesus showed that He was as wise as a serpent in the way He taught. He knew enough to discern the differences in His audiences (a critical skill), He used the story-telling technique to both feed and weed (Matthew 13:10–13), and He refused to be caught in the many traps that His enemies laid for Him (Mark 8:1110:212:13).

Jesus showed that He was as harmless as a dove in every circumstance. He lived a pure and holy life (Hebrews 4:15), He acted in compassion (Matthew 9:36), and He challenged anyone to find fault in Him (John 8:4618:23). Three times, Pilate judged Jesus to be an innocent man (John 18:3819:46).

The apostle Paul also modeled the “wise as serpents, harmless as doves” technique. Paul lived in dove-like innocence in good conscience before God (Acts 23:1) and learned to deny his carnal desires so as not to jeopardize his ministry (1 Corinthians 9:27). But Paul also displayed serpent-like shrewdness when he needed it. He knew his legal rights and used the legal system to his advantage (Acts 16:3722:2525:11). He also carefully crafted his speeches to maximize the impact on his audience (Acts 17:22–2323:6–8).

In Matthew 10:16, Jesus taught us how to optimize our gospel-spreading opportunities. Successful Christian living requires that we strike the optimal balance between the dove and the serpent. We should strive to be gentle without being pushovers, and we must be sacrificial without being taken advantage of. We are aware of the unscrupulous tactics used by the enemy, but we take the high road. Peter admonishes us, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). (Quote source here.)

In Titus 3:2 we are reminded “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone,” and that includes those who accuse us of doing wrong or who are acting deceptively behind our backs. Such is the world in which we live, but we are not to act or react as they do.

I’ll end this post with Jesus’ words in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you . . .

So you must . . .

Love . . .

One another . . . .

You Tube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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