Fighting the Good Fight
Today is Remembrance Sunday and we thought this morning about some of what the Bible has to say about war. We noted then that war is not viewed in the same way in the OT as it is in the NT. In the OT war played an integral part in the life of the people of God, Israel. It was by warfare that the people took possession of their land thus becoming a fully fledged nation state. The boundaries of that land did not however remain static and under Israel’s early kings they were expanded again by means of war. Later when the period of expansion ended war still played a role in maintaining the integrity of the nation against foreign invasion.
In the NT however a new situation is brought into being. Speaking to Pilate Jesus declared:
Jn.18:36 "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
The Kingdom of God that Jesus had come to establish was not like other earthly kingdoms being tied to a particular nation and a particular geographic location. Jesus’ kingdom was different; it was heavenly, it was spiritual. Consequently war, as traditionally understood, did not have a role to play in furthering the interests of this new kingdom.
The language of war is still commonly employed in the NT when speaking about the growth of the church and the life of a Christian disciple:
"Fight the good fight of faith" (1Tim.6:12)
"I have fought the good fight" (2Tim.4:7)
Paul also urges Timothy to be "a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2Tim.2:3) and describes other colleagues as "fellow soldiers".
But although the language of war is still used the type of warfare to which it points is very different; it now points to spiritual warfare. And so this evening we are going to spend our time thinking about how we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are to conduct ourselves in this new situation and we are going to look particularly at the spiritual weapons at our disposal.
In two different letters the apostle Paul writes to Christians exhorting them to put on armour. We have already read this evening what he wrote to the Ephesian believers when he told them to be careful to "put on the whole armour of God" (Eph.6:11, 13). He wrote in a similar way to the church in Rome. There we read:
Rom.13:12 "The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light."
Both of these exhortations are to be found in the practical sections of his letters. Having spent time laying out the truth of the Christian gospel Paul then went on to explain to his readers just what the implications were for them of the truth they had heard. So if you have understood the gospel of Jesus Christ and have put your faith and trust in him this is how you are to live.
The Christian really has no option. In becoming a Christian the believer has been pitched into a war and he is now to conduct himself appropriately. The life of a Christian is a life of perpetual warfare because whoever gives himself to the service of God will have not truce from Satan. You don’t after all walk about a battlefield in the same way you might take a stroll in the local park. New arrivals in the trenches in WWI were quickly told to keep their heads down so as not to be an easy target for enemy snipers. If they wanted to survive they would have to take precautions. This is what Paul was telling Christians way back in the first century – they needed to take things seriously too, the spiritual warfare to which they were now exposed was dangerous.
I wonder whether we are serious about this in our own lives. Are we aware of the realities and the dangers that confront us and are we in earnest in meeting them with everything God has placed at our disposal?
The only reason we need armour is that there is a something dangerous out there from which we need to be protected and God in his grace has given us everything we need. His armour is however demanding; it is up to the task of protecting us but it is not designed to protect us while we determine to go on living in old and sinful ways. If you want this armour to fit and protect you then you must put off those other things that will render it ineffective.
The Christian in coming to Christ is to live a new life and not remain unchanged – the works of darkness must be cast off if the armour of light is to be properly put on!
Most of the armour that Paul describes is defensive in function but he does also introduce the weapons that the Christian can use as he goes on the offensive. While not wishing in any way to minimise the importance of being well protected and well-
All the weapons of our warfare have some common features. Here are three of them:
They are all spiritual
Specifically Paul insists that our weapons are not of the flesh. They are not the kind of weapons that the people of the world use. They rely upon physical strength, upon natural ability such eloquence, talent, learning, wealth, influence, beauty, and they will even rely on trickery, lies and deception.
How easy it is to substitute something of our own and somehow imagine that we are wise enough, clever enough, or committed enough that we will be able to make it through on our own! Self-
There is no spiritual power in our own natural resources but there is power inherent in the weapons God supplies. That power is not however effective apart from him and we must never imagine that man-
"an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-
They are all related to truth
There are both objective and subjective elements to this.
If our weapons are to be used as intended "to destroy strongholds and to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God" then we must know, understand and firmly adhere to the objective truths revealed in the gospel. There is such a thing as "the truth of the gospel" and this must be preserved (Gal.2:5). Do we know this truth for ourselves and do we believe it? Probably most of us will want to answer "yes" but then we must ask ourselves are we growing in our grasp and understanding of these truths? The errors that confront us are chameleon-
Truth is something that is handled by the mind but when grasped and adhered too will involve not only our minds but also our affections and our will. God looks for truth in the inner parts – has the truth of the gospel gone beyond the intellectual level in your life?
Ps.51:6 "Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being"
God wants to see conduct that is in step with the truth of the gospel (Gal.2:14).
They all derive their power from God, ie. they are not inherently powerful in their own right but become powerful when used in proper dependence upon him.
2Cor.10:4 "the weapons of our warfare... have divine power"
The weapons we will think about this evening are the following:
Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God
Let us consider these in turn.
Writing to the Corinthians Paul spoke about another weapon in the Christian’s armoury:
2Cor.6:7 "with the weapons of righteousness"
I take this to mean not weapons that are somehow upright in themselves as the Christian’s own transformed behaviour. As the converted man or woman has left their old sinful past behind them (or as Paul put in a verse we looked at earlier, have "cast off the works of darkness" they are granted a new life in Christ. This new life constitutes the Christian as the salt of the earth or as the light of the world. As salt their lives have a purifying and preserving effect upon the society in which they live and bear witness. As light their lives shine for the benefit of others for just as the city located on a hill top can’t be hidden so neither can their lives be ignored.
This calls for integrity therefore in the way in which we live our lives as Christian believers. We cannot pretend that the way in which we now live as Christians is unimportant or a matter of indifference. And there are two aspects to this: i. our lives as seen by others and ii. Our lives as seen by God.
It is pretty clear I think that people don’t appreciate or respect the hypocrite, the person who says one thing but does another himself. The Christian who lives a life of compromise will not be held in high esteem by others who will have a tendency to discount whatever he says.
Sometimes however it might be possible to succeed in pulling the wool over other people’s eyes and keep our sinful compromises under wraps but God sees. Our hypocrisy is an affront to his glory and honour and he is not going to render our spiritual weapons effective when they are little more than sham.
The way to successfully standing firm in the spiritual battle will pass by this way of careful obedience. Don’t expect an endless run of victories without evidencing genuine righteousness in your Christian life.
Prayer is a weapon that we can so easily neglect and yet we do so at our peril. There is little else that we do that is more spiritual than praying and that is probably why we find true prayer so difficult. How much easier it is to "say our prayers" than it is to seriously engage with God in humble, persistent prayer. We want to be able to do something and our very language and ways of thinking betray our thoughts about prayer, we think of it as of doing nothing or of doing little, and we want to be up and busy. How easily we slip into thinking that it is our busy-
But prayer is an important weapon that we as Christian believers should be using both in private prayer and in prayer with others. The Bible speaks of many different types of prayer and all of them are weapons:
Praise and worship
The Bible contains many examples of prayer and James tells us that:
Jas.5:16 "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
Or, as it is put, in The Message:
"The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with."
James went on to speak about Elijah but I want to direct you to Daniel instead. The circumstances in which Daniel was called to live his life were hardly conducive to spiritual life and vitality and yet day-
We don’t need to explain everything to the LORD for he knows all already. We don’t have to come up with bright suggestions as though he needs our help in finding appropriate solutions. We don’t need to understand all that is going on either – Daniel was in the dark and didn’t understand what he was shown but he just kept on praying. His prayer demonstrates all of the major elements of prayer that I’ve just listed. He took up the truth of God’s word and prayed God’s promises back to him. In the event he spent his entire adult life far away from the Promised Land and would serve out his days away from Jerusalem the place where, above all others, he would have loved to live.
Was Daniel a success? I’ll let you decide. But I wish more of us would ‘Dare to be a Daniel’!
The Sword of the Spirit/the Word of God
The Bible is a wonderful book. There are bits that are easy to understand and there are other bits that we all struggle with but little by little as we continue to read, study and pray over what we read, the more we see how it all fits together. The more we read the more we see links and understand how, in different ways, the same truths are taught and reinforced over and over again. In times of disappointment and difficulty it can bring us suddenly and often unexpectedly just the strength and encouragement that we need. At other times it can be an uncomfortable book at times as it highlights our shortcomings and our reluctance to conform to the instructions that God has given us.
When the Word is preached it can speak to different people living in different circumstances and be relevant to them all – and this we have come to expect because we believe this Bible to be the living word of the living God. Someone who has no religious or spiritual background suddenly finds himself challenged and convicted by a sentence here or a truth revealed there and the book that had been regarded as belonging to the dusty shelves of history becomes the most important thing ever.
Of course enemies of God fear this book and try to keep us away from its truth and truths. Its truths are questioned and its ideas ridiculed. Its reliability is challenged and its relevance mocked. Anything to keep people away from this book. And when such attacks are not successful Christians can still let down their guard and simply stop paying attention to the word as perhaps they once did.
Sometimes we’re tempted to think that we have to have answers to every question before we can commend the Bible to others. Spurgeon viewed the Bible as a book that didn’t need to be defended but as a book to set free so that it could defend itself!
And what a weapon this book is! When Jesus wielded three of its truths Satan was sent scurrying away defeated. If you are a Christian this evening it is because that word, that imperishable seed, took root in your life and gave you new birth to a new and living hope. You weren’t perhaps very promising material but the word of God is full of power and gave you salvation.
This word always accomplishes what its author intends that it should – it doesn’t prove worthless nor will it prove futile – it will not return void.
To use this weapon we must declare its truth as intelligently and as clearly and as pertinently as we can. The result won’t however depend upon our cleverness but upon the word itself! But we mustn’t turn that into an no excuse for laziness – we should all be "beavers for the Bible" aiming not so much to master it more but rather to be more and more mastered by it! God honours such faithfulness.
The Bible when hidden away in the heart will keep you from sin and prove itself to you over and over in a multitude of ways. It won’t make you an expert on every subject under the sun but it will nourish your soul and enable you to help others find the way to God.
There is a vision in the Book of Revelation that describes how believers conquer their enemy Satan and make it through to glory:
Rev.12:11 "they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death."
Objectively all of salvation can be traced to the substitutionary sacrificial death of the Saviour for his people – or, as John puts it in Revelation, the blood of the Lamb. But there is a subjective element too that we must not overlook. John adds that these believers conquered also by the word of their testimony. This means not that they kept telling others their own life history but that they declared themselves openly for Jesus the Lamb. They testified that he was worthy, and that meant worthy of their of trust, but it meant more it meant that they had put their trust in him!
Rom.10:9 "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
That’s just what they did and the result was that they conquered Satan. And you will conquer Satan that way too.
What weapons have been made available to us! Let us use them. Not to lord it over others, to demean or belittle them, but that we might bring honour and glory to our Savour and that as we do so he might be pleased to draw others to himself as they see and hear what Jesus has done.
Onward, Christian soldiers!