Warfare of a different kind

I have to admit that many times in my life I have felt like fighting the world. Especially when it blatantly upholds and even glorifies the worst in humanity: the murder of the innocent, the hatred of the different, the abuse and plundering of the helpless.

Have you ever felt it, the desire to pick up David’s slingshot, or Joshua’s sword? Why not? After all we know the world is our enemy. Jesus said so:

John 15:18-19 If the world hate you, know that it has hated me before you. If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, on account of this the world hates you.

Therefore John, the disciple, advised us:

1 John 2: 15-16 Love not the world, nor the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him; because all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Maybe this is why, for centuries, the Church called itself the Church militant. That is, (as the definition says) “the church on earth regarded as engaged in a constant warfare against its enemies, the powers of evil.”

Yet, before I take up my weapons, I should listen to the words of one who experienced more than his share of attacks by the world, Paul the Apostle:

Ephesians 6: 10-12 For the rest, brethren, be strong in [the] Lord, and in the might of his strength. Put on the full armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the artifices of the devil: because our struggle is not against blood and flesh, but against principalities, against authorities, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual [power] of wickedness in the heavenlies.

We all have heard this verse before. We do not war against flesh and blood…

So, how are we meant to fight this fight?

I have always been fascinated by Pauls’ writings; not just by the words he uses to build his arguments but also the way he structures them. In everything he did and said, Paul was a follower of Jesus.

A moment earlier I quoted Jesus’ warning about the world being our enemy. Do you know what led Him to say those words right then? Go to the verses before…

John 15:12-17 This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you…  Ye are my friends if ye practise whatever I command you… Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and have set you that ye should go and [that] ye should bear fruit, and [that] your fruit should abide, that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name he may give you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.

It was because He commanded us to love one another that Jesus had to immediately warn us about this enmity of the world. Apparently, the greatest damage that enemy can do to us is destroy our commitment to love. And then, after warning us about the world hating us, Jesus concludes this way:

John 15:24-27 If I had not done among them the works which no other one has done, they had not had sin; but now they have both seen and hated both me and my Father… that the word written in their law might be fulfilled, They hated me without a cause.

El Greco's painting of Pentecost
Pentecostés by El Greco

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes forth from with the Father, *he* shall bear witness concerning me; and ye too bear witness, because ye are with me from [the] beginning.

What is our remedy against the hatred of the world? Here it is: The Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit: God Himself, the Infinite God who created the Universe, living in us. Immanuel has become more than just God incarnate making His home among us… He has become God, the Lord of All, living within the temples of our hearts.

Can you imagine the power? And so, what are we supposed to do with all that power? Exactly what the Spirit came to do with His Power: bear witness!

Why? Because that is what the world needs. Because its hatred has condemned its people to the bondage of sin. And we have the remedy.

Now let’s go back to Paul in Ephesians 6. Why did he have to remind us to put on our full armor in order to fight the enemy? Because just before that he was reminding us what our lives are supposed to be like:

Ephesians 6:1-9 (NASB) Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise)… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With goodwill render service, as to the Lord, and not to people, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, he will receive this back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.

It is after this that Paul reminds us that we have an enemy that is not flesh and blood. Paul has just described what it is to live as children of God. And all those things he mentions are really (as you would expect) the fulfilment of the two great commandments: Love God above all, with all we have within us, and then love our neighbor (that is everyone) as we love ourselves.

The echoes of the Sermon on the Mount are inescapable in the phrase I underlined. Before God, we are subject to the Law of like-for-like. As we want God to treat us, so are we required to treat others. This is what it means to live as His children. Apparently, the greatest destruction the enemy can wreak in our lives is to destroy our commitment to live as children of God.

It is because of that danger that we must take up our weapons… and do what?

Ephesians 6:13 (NASB) Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Roman soldier in full armor

Isn’t this interesting? Take up the full armor… to resist… to stand firm. Doesn’t sound like I am rushing like a berserker into battle does it? What does stand firm mean?

Ephesians 6:14-17 Stand firm therefore, having belted your waist with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having strapped on your feet the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here we are bearing the full armor of God (Isaiah 59:16-17) and almost every reference is to a defensive function… in the service of the Gospel of Peace, for the sake of Salvation. And what is our main offensive weapon? The sword of the Spirit, that is, the Word of God.

What do we do with that sword? How do we wage this war?

Ephesians 6:18-20 With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be alert with all perseverance and every request for all the saints, and pray in my behalf, that speech may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

The warfare we carry out (not only for us but for all believers), the way we wield the Sword of the Spirit, is first of all in prayer so that we can then proclaim that very Word. It is again, as in Jesus’ conclusion, all about bearing witness!

The Church militant is here to fight… for the Salvation of the world, by speaking the Word of Love. Why? Because that is the reason Jesus, the Word of God, came to this world:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes on him may not perish, but have life eternal.

This is indeed a strange kind of warfare. But it is no stranger than winning the salvation of the world by dying on a cross.

It is a matter of perspective

As I said at the beginning, the things people do to people in our world, in our country, can make us “fighting mad”. The way the lies and propaganda of the enemy get spread by human collaborators – and how easily those lies entrap the unsuspecting – can make this life seem hopeless at times. Especially if you have children in your family who are going to have to grow up in this world. It can be overwhelming. In the grip of the natural reaction to “do something”, it may feel like we need to build up our castle walls right now, gather our weapons, and get ready for war.

But when I start feeling that way, I need to remember one truth: Humanity has never changed. If things are this bad now, they have always been this way. And, certainly, they were this bad (or worse) in the days of Caesar Augustus when he issued a decree that a census should be taken of the whole world.

And yet, into that world, God the Father sent His Son to be born as a baby.

What can be more defenseless than a baby? Do I really think that Mary and Joseph were immune to the feelings of trepidation all parents experience when they bring a new life, that they utterly love, into the reality of the world they live in?

How did they do it? How did they stay true to their mission?

Maybe they never lost their Christmas perspective.

Yes, the world can seem overwhelming and hostile, but it is only the world. It is small and its weapons are puny. The Kingdom of God is more than enormous by comparison. Just consider this fact: In the time of Hezekiah, king of Judah, one angel of the Lord wiped out 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. On the night Jesus was born “a great company of the heavenly host” was sent down just to announce His birth. If that great company was one Legion (and we know there are at least ten Legions), that is enough manpower to stand, in one night, against a human army one billion strong. Is there any power in this world that could even compare?

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That is the Christmas perspective: the world has no power to stop God’s Work of Love. And that is the work we have been called to do, in our families and in the lives of everyone we touch.

Tiny Nativity with lights as background

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