A Duel to the Death

Mark Twain, in his book A Tramp Abroad, wrote about a time in which he was asked to be a “2nd” (assistant) to a French politician who had been challenged to a duel by a fellow politician. It was Twain’s task to confer with the “2nd” of the other dueling politician and arrange the terms of the duel, covering everything from the weapons to be used to the distance between the combatants.

Twain, who assumed the whole point of a duel is to kill the opponent, recommended several different lethal weapons that might be effectively used by the two opponents – suggesting everything from sawed-off shotguns to Gatling machine guns, and even axes. While the two French duelists vigorously declared that they personally would be in favor of using such deadly weaponry, unfortunately the French “dueling code” would not allow their use. After being denied on several such “technical” grounds, finally, in exasperation, he asked if they knew of any weapon that was allowed. At this, they brought forth a pair of guns so small & dainty that Twain remarked that they could fit on his watch chain.

When it came to setting the distance for the duel, Twain – still believing the purpose of a duel is to rid the world of a much-hated opponent – suggested a distance of fifteen paces. This was received as tantamount to a murderous bloodbath, so they instead selected a distance so far apart that the combatants couldn’t even see each other. This required the “2nd’s” to give a loud “whoop” so the opponents would at least know the general direction they needed to aim their guns.

Not surprisingly, in spite of the duelists’ rabid declarations that they truly wanted to slay their hated rival, the tiny “pea shooters” discharged at such a distance failed to harm either of them [The only injury being sustained by Twain when one duelist, thinking himself shot, fell on him, breaking Twain’s arm & rib].

Obviously, the two French politicians never seriously intended to kill (or be killed), contrary to what they may have passionately stated in public. Twain gives the reader a good laugh by pointing out the absurdity of enthusiastically declaring oneself to be bent on death, but then rigging the system to make sure that no one actually gets hurt. He exposes the wide gulf between what people say and what they truly intend.

We Christians do this same thing all the time, to possibly even greater levels of absurdity. The Bible is quite clear that we are to die to self, and that sin is a great enemy that we are to battle to the death [Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry – Col. 3:5]. So we openly declare our desire to deny ourselves, follow Christ and fight sin & evil, but then we rig our lives so that we don’t have to do any of those…at least not really. We may make a good show of it for awhile, but we’ll usually come up with an impressive list of “technicalities” & “excuses” for not denying ourselves and not fighting sin to the point of death. Thus, like Twain’s French politicians, we end up looking ridiculous as we say one thing and do the complete opposite. But, thankfully, God has given us a “2nd” (helper) – the Holy Spirit – who views sin as a much-hated opponent and wants to equip us with the weaponry we need to put it to death. [For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live – Ro 8:13]. May we all follow the Spirit’s guidance in our duel to the death with sin.


Post by: Eron Elswick, Leadership Team


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