Some time ago I wrote about the spiritual fight we face. This week I spoke on this theme in my sermon. Here then is an extended text of the original post with embellishments from the pulpit.
In September 1779, the converted merchant ship Bonhomie Richard engaged a new, purpose built frigate off the coast of Flamborough Head. During the battle the Richard’s flag was shot away. On seeing the ship’s ensign (battle flag) missing the British commander called out: “Have you struck, Sir (a sign of surrender)?” The American commander John Paul Jones quickly responded: “Struck Sir, I have not begun to fight.”
What a great contrast to the words of a different Paul. On reflecting on his Christian walk Paul of Tarsus remarked: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7 KJV).”
So let us examine the fight.
The scriptures tell us a lot about the fight or tests ahead of us. First of all it takes preparation.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9: 25-26 “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” We are fighting for an eternal crown, and with that in the offering, we dare not flail about beating the air. But take our preparation seriously.
So how do we prepare? Easy, God has equipped us!
Ephesians 6:11-18 tells us:
11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We have a belt of truth and a breastplate of righteousness. These protect all of our vital organs. We are not made vulnerable to falsehood and sin, because we are clothed in righteousness and truth.
And we have on our head salvation. For Jesus, the Emmanuel – “God with Us” is our head.
And we have a shield of faith. In our faith, no matter how dark it may seem, the assaults of evil can be extinguished – “for He who is in us is greater!”
I have seen some of this darkness, and the assaults on my life and my faith. Four years ago Dianne and I lost our daughter Ana. Shortly afterwards I had a heart attack, and yet was still reeling from our loss. It seemed that no sooner than we began to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that Dianne was diagnosed with cancer. But it was faith that saw us through. This is not bragging or bravado, but total reliance on Him who sustains. What a shield!
And then there is the sword:
So often we skip our fencing practice, yet we are armed with a sword of the word of God, that is sharper than any human sword. Hebrews 4 tells us:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
We have a weapon of mass construction. We can change the world with it.
God has revealed everything to us in His word that we need for our faith and righteousness. Yet, we often flounder around, like Paul’s boxer beating the air, seeking for answers in the wrong places.
It’s not about those crowns that won’t last, the fame, the money, the reputation, or whatnot. It is about finding our way in this fight though His word.
Here is something else to consider about the fight: When Jesus asked His disciples who they believed He was, Peter answered you are the Christ . . . Jesus responded blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, The gates of hell cannot prevail against this truth. Remember brothers and sisters, gates are a defensive weapon. We are already on the winning side!
We also don’t stand alone. We are part of a body. We are part of a cohort of like minded, believing people. We don’t need to stand alone. And chief among those who stand in the fight with us, is our older brother, the First born Jesus. And if God stands with us, who can stand against us?
Look at what happened at the Valley of Ellah. The armies of Israel were in disarray. They had taken to their trenches, and were not prepared to step out to face the challenge of the Philistines. Why, because they had lost track of the fact that it was God who stood with them. All they saw was Goliath of Gath. It took a shepherd boy, who had come to deliver a care package to his older brothers to see the truth of the situation.
When the champion of the Philistines came out and taunted the Hebrews, David asked the telling question. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he taunts the armies of the living God.” This mere boy, took up the challenge. Not with the armour of Saul, but with a breastplate of righteousness, and a belt of truth. For as he proclaimed it “Today, they will know there is a God in Israel.” And what better way to prove it than, a boy armed with a sling and five stones, would with his very first shot, drop a nine foot man of war? If God is for us, who can stand against us? Remember those defensive gates of evil, are already destined to fall to us.
As did the gates and even walls of Jericho. The onslaught of the people of God, was assured. For God had prepared Joshua, and God’s own hand was in the victory.
So what about us? Have we trained? Have we been fitted for our armour? Are we equipped with our shield and sword? Are we prepared to stand boldly like David, or Paul of Tarsus?
Let’s return to Paul’s rather bold claim, that he had fought the good fight and run the good race.
In 2 Corn 11:21-28 he summarises his Christian life:
“Whatever anyone else dares to boast about – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
Paul of Tarsus in deed fought a good fight on behalf of the gospel. He did so with confidence, and through it all he kept his “eyes on the prize.”
The question for us today is which Paul are we like? John Paul Jones “not yet even beginning to fight” or Paul of Tarsus?