How familiar does the following scenario sound to you? Upon arriving at work, you sit at your computer and check your email. Immediately, you are bombarded with a flood of emails, most of them junk.
Even if you do not do this as part of your job, you are most likely familiar with email. It is estimated that, in the United States, 147 million people check their email each day.
This ever-growing communication medium has certainly changed how we work, communicate and relate. With the Internet population expected to break one billion in 2005, and more than two trillion emails sent just in the U.S., what was once considered a novel technology is now an essential part of the global community.
Consider your own email usage. How often do you find yourself deleting junk mail—“spam”? Statistics show that nearly 85 percent of all emails are spam, which means that nearly everything in your inbox is spam. You literally have to filter through junk before getting to any real messages.
If you have not heard the term before, spam is the email equivalent of postal junk mail—except that it is much cheaper and easier to send, and is not regulated in any significant way. Therefore, spam runs rampant. Even recent laws trying to control it appear to have no effect. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year trying to block or stop junk email, or convict those who send it. But, in reality, there is very little the government can do!
You might ask, “What spiritual lesson can we learn from spam?” There is a spiritual equivalent of email spam that affects all Christians. It could be termed “spiritual spam.” If not properly dealt with, it can actually keep you out of the kingdom of God. The effects that computer spam has on one’s inbox are similar to the effects that spiritual spam has on one’s life.
“Spammers” attempt to circumvent measures put in place to stop them because they make enormous amounts of money from “spamming.” It works as follows: Millions of emails are sent to countless numbers of people. Hundreds of thousands of those messages are deleted by computers before the end user sees them—but many thousands slip through. When the Internet’s nearly one billion users check their email accounts, many more of these junk messages are deleted, as people often recognize these for what they are. However, some are not obviously recognized as spam. These emails manage to sidestep the measures mentioned above by looking like real messages. Thinking it contains something worthwhile, the user opens it and starts reading.
If the user is on guard, he will quickly recognize the email for what it is—junk—and delete it! Some, however, will keep reading, and may visit the website that the email promotes—eventually buying the product or service advertised. This actually happens more than you might realize—hence, the reason why spamming is so profitable and so widespread.
Others, thinking they have stumbled upon a remarkable deal—an “inside scoop”—that no one else knows about, want to share it, and forward the spam to other people. Effectively, they become the means by which spam spreads—acting as unwitting “agents” of the spammers.
Spammers are anonymous and unseen, employing tactics to catch one off guard. They are successful when one becomes “sold” on their message. And, if the deception is believed deeply enough, such people will pass it on to others. This is where the similarities between email spam and spiritual spam are realized.
A Remarkable Parallel
As Christians, our battle is not against people, governments or physical things. Our foes are much more powerful. Notice: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). This passage goes on to describe the armaments used to fight the Christian battle. However, using wisdom, if we protect our mind in advance, we can avoid many battles altogether (Prov. 22:3).
Perhaps you are already beginning to see the parallel that exists between spam and Christianity. In our battle against “principalities and powers,” we are bombarded with spiritual spam—wrong thoughts, ideas and attitudes—on a daily basis.
Satan attempts to deluge the human mind with wrong ideas and thoughts—wrong focuses—like spammers sending millions of unwanted emails. Most of the time, Christians are able to ward off the passing thoughts that Satan injects into their minds (Eph. 2:2). When we do this, we win the battle before it even begins. We effectively delete this unwanted spam, never taking the time to read its unwanted content.
Yet, this is not always the case. In some instances, we allow thoughts to remain a little longer. We may even entertain them. The apostle James describes this process and its inevitable result: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (1:14-15).
Sin always starts in the mind. If such thoughts are allowed to take root, they will “conceive” and “bring forth sin.” Or put another way: First you think it, then you do it!
Satan’s Next Step
The devil has a “next step” to his scheme. A Christian who allows his mind to be overrun with spiritual spam will focus on this type of “reading.” He will start to become very familiar with these thoughts, which will begin to feel comfortable to him. This will cause him to seek others who do the same—who think the same. Many have heard it said that two people who fully agree are “kindred spirits,” or “like minds.” This is especially true in the Church. As the old saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.”
Upon conversion—receiving God’s Spirit—we are no longer “like spirits” with people in the world, and with “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4). When one opens his mind to the devil’s “junk email,” he allows some of Satan’s spirit to steal his attention.
The greatest example of this exists in the splinters. Because they have unwittingly allowed “another spirit” (II Cor. 11:4) into their organizations, confusion, heresy and division have become the evident fruits. The mingling of the two spirits always results in these fruits. And, if left unchecked, the other spirit—Satan’s spirit—will increase, while the Holy Spirit will decrease. This happens in organizations, and can happen in our personal spiritual lives.
Doubt and a lack of faith are often the first two feelings such a person will experience. Typically, these are directed at God’s government—at Christ’s ability to lead His Church. And because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34), those attitudes and thoughts will be spoken.
Consider this. Human beings naturally desire and enjoy fellowship. But such fellowship will always be sought with people of a like mind—a like spirit. If one allows Satan access to his mind, that person will automatically seek those who have done the same. This becomes a vicious “catch-22” situation. Two individuals—who are the least able to help each other—turn to one another for comfort and help.
If we are approached by someone expressing doctrinal heresy or divisive attitudes, we must not assume that we can “help” such people ourselves. When matters become those of dissension against God’s government or the discussion of heresy, the ministry must become involved, as they are trained to handle such situations properly. (Take a moment to carefully read Galatians 6:1-2.)
James wrote, “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor lists. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasts great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (3:4-6). So says God!
Like the rudder of a ship, the tongue is a powerful tool. Spreading fire with the tongue—or listening to people who do so—can send you into the “fire of hell.”
Are you beginning to see why spiritual spam, if allowed to fester, can destroy a Christian? If one opens himself to other “voices,” instead of the still, small “voice” of the Holy Spirit, over time, he will seek other fellowship—even if this means probing to find others who agree with him.
While the most destructive form of spam is heresy and division, there are other types that are not as obvious. Some people seem to express despair, depression or discouragement constantly. While not as likely to spread, this form of spam indicates that the person “sending it” is struggling with much more than just one particular problem. If such attitudes are not overcome, they can ultimately destroy a person.
When you see this type of spam, encourage the person and attempt to inspire them to overcome. Sometimes, the best medicine may be to tell the person they simply need to overcome the attitude—“take up their bed and walk” (John 5:8)—and see all the wonderful benefits of knowing God’s Way.
Nothing More Than Gossip
Spiritual spam most often manifests itself as gossip. As Christians striving to be Philadelphian, we must take care to avoid the attitude so common in the Laodicean era—that of people not focusing on their spiritual relationship with God, but rather being preoccupied with a “he said, she said” mentality. Many seem to think that the actions of others are most important. However, we must constantly examine ourselves, ensuring that this attitude does not appear in us.
The society in which we live has not made this any easier. Gossip has become common in business, entertainment, news media and education. The most popular sections of newspapers are often the editorial or the gossip columns. Soap operas and Hollywood insider programs score big ratings. People want to hear the latest about what a movie star has done—whether or not the stories are true. The entire entertainment industry thrives upon and is driven by gossip!
It also permeates other aspects of the media. For instance, nearly all news programs involve some level of gossip. What politician said what, who is at fault, what is being said by anonymous sources—all is gossip!
You can also find it in the business world. In fact, gossip is used to oust one’s competition. In such a scenario, one business spreads gossip about its competitors, probably related to the business or the owner. Such gossip is meant to undermine public confidence in a competitor, causing customers or investors to back away.
Also, be aware that you can tell the truth and still be gossiping. The apostle Paul told the Ephesian congregation to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). By extension, one can speak the truth in a manner that is not “in love.” How would this be done?
Paul expressed such concerns to the Corinthian brethren: “For I fear, lest when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as you would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults” (II Cor. 12:20). One could be completely honest, yet be involved in any of these actions that Paul warned against. But what does this have to do with gossip? Other Bible translations render the word “whisperings” as gossip!
One other well-known verse also bears reading. You are no doubt familiar with II Timothy 3, speaking of the perilous times in which we live. The New American Standard translation reveals more depth of character flaws of those in the world—and among God’s people. Notice: “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips” (vs. 2-3).
As the chapter continues, it explains how one should deal with gossips. God’s Word states that we should “avoid such men as these” (vs. 5).
Other Side of the Coin
There is another side to spreading gossip—that of the listener. Do you allow yourself to listen to people expressing gossip, wrong attitudes or false teaching? If you do, you have effectively read spam that has been “forwarded” to you. When you heard the information, did you realize that you witnessed a person destroying himself? As brethren, it is our duty to help one in such an attitude—and, once again, in matters of division or heresy, this means informing the ministry. One should be very careful not to fall into the attitude of Cain, and ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As Christians, especially ones striving to be Philadelphian, we must support—and “keep”—our fellow brethren.
Also, recall that “like spirits” seek one another. This is always the case, and if you have found that such people seek you out, you should ask yourself, “What am I spiritually attuned to? Why do such people come to me?”
Perhaps God is indicating that you should also look at yourself and examine the kind of people to whom you are attracted. Scrutinize the types of people with whom you associate and those you look up to—in both the Church and the world. Are you attracted to people who are positive, zealous and always willing to serve? Or do you find yourself aligning with those who are more self-absorbed, moody or given to entertaining odd biblical ideas?
Does the following passage ever apply to you? “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Tim. 4:3-4).
Your answer will be a telltale sign of the direction and condition of your spiritual growth.
Choose the Correct Spirit
As is the case with so many aspects of life, certain choices must be made. One cannot continue to selectively “read spam” while asserting that he or she is following God. Choosing the thoughts Satan injects into one’s mind means that he is choosing Satan. Remember, we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24).
At some point, such a choice will undoubtedly appear. The most common method in which it will manifest itself is when you hear others speak in an attitude of division or doctrinal error. In fact, Christ allows the use of heresy to test His people: “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest [obvious] among you” (I Cor. 11:19).
The book of Romans explains what one should do when heresies are uttered or divisive attitudes are expressed: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (16:17-18).
Two important points can be drawn from these verses. (1) Once we have proven a truth, we must continue in it. Many passages explain that it is a Christian’s duty to endure—continue in—what he has already learned (Acts 2:42; Acts 14:22; Phil. 4:9; Col. 1:23; I Tim. 1:4; II Thes. 2:15; II Tim. 3:14; Jms. 1:25). (2) Taking into account I Corinthians 1:26, we must recognize that we are apt candidates to be deceived. In Romans 16:18, the word translated “simple” means “innocent, unsuspecting or harmless.” It is when we are not paying attention—when we are not praying, studying, meditating, fasting and exercising God’s Spirit—that we can unsuspectingly hear and agree with such a mindset.
Consider the following account: “But Elymas the sorcerer…withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Spirit, set his eyes on him, and said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:8-10).
While this account is mainly about Paul dealing with a pagan sorcerer, note that this deceiver was attempting to confuse a man who was interested in learning the truth. How much more must we be careful when “all subtlety and all mischief” is expressed by those believed to be brethren. Notice that Paul was able to see through the deceit because he was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul was close to God—and it must be the same with us. When we “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17) and study God’s Word daily, along with applying the other three tools of Christian growth, our lives will be close to God and His will.
If someone then creates confusion about a doctrine, or even begins to disagree with it, you will be able to see through it. You will also be able to wield the sword of God’s Word (Heb. 4:12) and explain why such an idea is not only wrong, but also dangerous.
Cleaning Out Your Inbox
These are only a few of the reasons why we must strive to keep wrong thoughts out of our minds. Not only will they overtake our thinking, as we have seen, they will also lead us to seek others with whom to share them.
One who harbors wrong thoughts is actually choosing to allow another spirit into his mind. Such a person will then seek a like spirit in others—or attempt to bring others to this spirit—ultimately destroying his own chance for eternal life, and potentially wounding fellow brethren.
Avoid battles with Satan by removing the thoughts he puts in your mind—in other words, by “pushing delete.” Use the tools of Christian growth, and you will keep your spiritual inbox free of spam.
We must guard our thoughts—have full control of our thinking. Only then will we be able to prevent our minds from becoming overrun with spiritual spam!