fighting the good fight of the faith

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12

One of the basic tenets of the Christian life is that we’re in a fight, a spiritual one. It doesn’t take long to learn that, and especially if you’ve lived long enough as a Christian, to be reminded of it. The enemy will challenge us in any way at every turn, though usually in more subtle ways, now and then, here and there, with the intent of crushing us, or getting us to veer off path.

They do this according to our weak points. Basically challenging God’s goodness and promises, and whether or not God loves us, and loves others. They are always challenging that, just like the serpent lied in such suggestions to Eve in the garden.

It doesn’t matter what seems so real to us at the moment if it’s questioning God’s goodness and greatness as in God’s ability to see us through along with God’s willingness. Such a suggestion is patently false, a plain bald faced lie.

God is good, God’s plan for the world is good, and God has shown that in his Son, whom he sent into the world, that we might live through him. And the only way we overcome in this world, and even overcome the world is by faith. We have to believe God’s promises and trust in him. We do that through prayer, earnest prayer, as well as remaining in God’s word. Holding on to faith. So that in the end we might be able to say with Paul, the same one who told Timothy to fight the good fight of the faith:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

2 Timothy 4:7-8

In and through Jesus.

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Jesus has won, but for now we still remain in out and out war

And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

And don’t forget to pray for me. Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I, jailbird preacher that I am, am responsible for getting out.

Ephesians 6:10-20

In Christ we are above all children of God as well as servants of Christ, and we’re also soldiers in spiritual warfare. There’s no question that on the cross, by his death, Christ won and vanquished the host of Satan (Colossians 2:13-15). But for whatever reason, the result of that victory in finality is future, and in Christ is also present. We can stand and resist, but only through Christ and Christ’s work. We certainly are no match for the devil ourselves. Yes, I am referring to angelic beings who are fallen, in rebellion against God. In case we haven’t noticed, we’re in an out and out war. A decent analogy is World War 2, when after the Normandy Invasion, which came at such a horrific cost of human life, the war was all but over. Unfortunately serious fighting continued. My father was in a tank in Germany, and was definitely in harm’s way. In the same way, but spiritually, not physically, we in Christ must face it: we’re in out and out war. I like the way Eugene Peterson phrases it in the Message: “a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.”

There are countless ways that we can acknowledge this. Anything at all which gets our focus off Christ and the gospel is a sign. And whatever violates love for God, and for our neighbor as ourselves, including even love for our enemies, as Jesus taught us, is also equally a sign that we’re off track.

It’s important for us to realize the nature of what we’re in. God will give us the strength we need, as well as the resources through the gospel, just as Peterson’s rendering of this passage above, makes clear. We have to realize what we’re in for. It is no Sunday School picnic. Expect the worst. But then brace yourself. Again, God will give the needed strength, along with all we need through Christ and the gospel, and from God’s word. That is a given, but we must take it. We must be ready. If we have the attitude of wanting to avoid such, we’ll be in trouble. This is plain and simple reality. And the answer is nothing fancy, but is indeed profound. And makes the needed difference. In and through Jesus.

a refresher on spiritual warfare

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

Whether we like it or not, in this life, we are in a spiritual battle, pure and simple. Fortunately, it might ebb and flow, I mean go in and out in terms of its intensity. And there are those days, if we interpret “evil day” to mean special times, when it is especially trying and difficult. Maybe when all of our sense of God and of goodness is emptied, and we’re being attacked in ways which experientially is hard to describe. But not good.

But such occasions can help us return again to a passage which actually should be a staple passage for us, as those in Christ. To help us stand firm in the Lord in his strength, putting on God’s armor, so that we can emerge and be victorious.

The entire passage is important, and we do well to memorize it, and more importantly, meditate on it, and take it to heart and life. The part I want to consider a bit today, is the idea of the devil’s schemes, which we are to take a stand against in the Lord’s strength, and with God’s armor, along with prayers.

It is the Greek word μεθοδεία, transliterated, methodeia. From scholar and Bible translator, Bill Mounce

Gloss:
scheming, craftiness, strategy
Definition:
wile, scheme, scheming, craftiness

To be forewarned, as they say, is to be forearmed. If we can realize what we’re up against, it will help us get ready, and be ready when the time comes.

It might be that “the evil day” mentioned in the passage refers simply to the time we live in (see other translations and Greek and the link above). I think it actually could mean a bit of both, that yes, we live in the time of evil when this is taking place, and yes, there can be especially trying, even excruciating times.

We are no match for the devil, the demonic, and their schemes. But they are no match for the Lord and the truth of the gospel, which is actually the point of truth, the real point of God’s word, of scripture, which sends them packing. Remember that after Satan’s temptation of our Lord in the wilderness, at a certain time he left until an opportune time ahead. They plan, they strategize. Of course they’re quite intelligent, even though warped, and only in an evil sense, such intelligence. They are bent on destroying our witness at least, even on destroying us if they can, or could.

To simply learn to pick up the scent will help us return in the Lord’s strength to what we should have on already, God’s armor, which essentially is gospel armor (this hymn gets it right, or instructs me, fourth verse). When we sense the enemy and its wiles, that should put us on full alert. And we need to anticipate that as well, or at least be ready for it.

Yes, our focus needs to be on Christ and the gospel, and never on the devil, or our troubles, or anything else. Yet as our focus is on the Lord and his triumph, we don’t hide our face in the ground, or deny what trouble we face. Instead we take up the truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation that is ours in Christ through the gospel (see The Message).

God will help us to resist and stand and be victorious in and through Jesus.

not losing the fight

I once heard a wise teacher compare being a Christian with a milking stool. I remember my grandmother using one. Three legs: in the analogy: sons (children), servants (of God, of Christ, and serving others), and soldiers. I think that’s apt. The Bible seems to bear that out. If any reader can think of something more to add, or that should be considered, please feel free to leave a comment.

They have to be kept in tandem, all three, or like the milk stool, it won’t stand. Surely priority must be given to the fact that we’re children of God through faith in Christ. We’re of God’s family in and through Christ. And we’re servants of God by virtue of Christ being a servant not only to God, but to us, to all. And being his followers, we seek to be a servant to everyone. And we’re soldiers in nothing less than a spiritual battle. But it’s God’s prescribed battle, not our own, with the gospel at the heart of it, both in terms of our own standing, as well as what the actual warfare is all about.

We are soldiers of Christ, but again this is in a warfare that is spiritual, directly against the demonic, and then in a sense opposed to the world, the flesh, and the devil, since that is another three that are in tandem, inseparable in scripture.

We’re in a battle, but it’s not on any lesser ground than where the spiritual battle is actually being fought, or needs to be fought. Otherwise we may be galavanting onto territory on which we’ll be fighting our own battles, or others, not the Lord’s. This seems hard, since we live in a world in which religious battles are all too easily taken up with lesser matters than the gospel. Now this is where it might get a bit complicated.

Political and what not kind of battles have their place, if engaged on their own grounds and humbly remaining in certain parameters. Too often though, they break those boundaries and come to take on something bigger than life, onto the enemy’s territory in which the winners and wins are not to be taken as gospel-oriented. And we must always be aware even within those spheres of where the enemy might at work in its crafty, deceptive ways.

The point for us as Christians is that the battle which is the Lord’s is a spiritual battle which at its heart is all about the gospel, the good news in Jesus. How other matters might be addressed in such as issues like abortion and racism is both direct and indirect in that while hearts are changed, systems oftentimes are resistant to change. An example is that while enough people’s opinions were changed so that in the United States slavery was abolished, albeit at a terrible price, there still were Jim Crow laws in the south, and segregation in the north even more so. And we have to remember that there’s a world system which at its heart is not only resistant, but in opposition to God, even if it accepts a certain amount of religiosity, including a veneer so to speak of Christianity which goes along with it. We want to be a light to society by our good works, and so that others might see the difference by our example as the church, and in society. But we must beware, lest the battle we are caught up in is something other than the Lord’s.

In this we need wisdom beyond our own, together from God, in and through Jesus.

our struggle is not against flesh and blood

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Therefore put on the full armor 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Ephesians 6:10-20

What if we Christians were known not for being engaged in American politics, or politics elsewhere, but for sharing and living out the gospel, the good news in Jesus? Maybe it’s not a question of either/or, but and/both. I can hear dismissive sighs or more like silences on different sides, from both progressives and conservatives. If Paul were alive today and in the United States, would he be part of any group cozying up to any political party or president? I wonder. I think not, myself.

Does that mean we have to be disengaged? I don’t think so. But we need to remember where the battle really is for us who are Christians, who name the name of Christ, and profess to follow him. It is spiritual, in the spiritual realm, yes, even the spirit realm. We appeal to people with the good news in Jesus. And we refuse to alienate those caught up in any lesser battle or war. That’s if we follow Paul’s example in following Christ. Or am I missing something here?

An obvious enough problem to me is that when we start battling within the system, the spiritual warfare we’re called to in Christ is largely set aside, perhaps lost altogether. Does that mean people can’t engage in the political system at all, and be involved in the spiritual battle. I think they can. But it takes a lot of discipline. I admire some politicians and career military people, and I am confident they can have deep faith themselves. So this post is not at all a denial of that.

But part of the spiritual battle for us in Christ might very well be a resistance against getting sucked into something lesser and on a ground in which the enemy has some serious footholds. We lose out, and in the end, so do others.

This is difficult. Of course there are issues we’re all rightly concerned about. And we should address those issues along the way, but with much wisdom. Because our priority is on the one answer we stake our lives on: the gospel of Jesus.

the thorn in the flesh: my reluctant go-to passage

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

One of my favorite parts of the recent Paul, Apostle of Christ film was their treatment of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and showing how it tormented him all of his life as a Christ-follower. And how that was addressed immediately after he was beheaded. Love is the only way I can describe my reaction to that. What they chose as his thorn in the flesh was a possibility I had never heard of before, and was rather compelling, at least for the film. But the main point is beside the point of what it actually may have been. The fact of the matter is that everyone who seeks to follow Christ will be living in opposition to the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we will experience opposition in terms of what is expressed in scripture from the devil, the demonic. And like Paul, these are actually allowed into our lives to keep us from becoming proud, which for reasons far less than Paul’s we are all too prone to become. To keep us humble, and dependent on Christ, and I would add, interdependent on each other.

I am faced with this myself, maybe not as much as in the past, yet it seems to come crashing in on me just as hard, usually in one form in my life. I think there is genius so to speak behind the concealing of what specifically Paul’s thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him, was. We simply can’t say for sure. There has been more than one reasonable answer. That means whatever it is that torments us as we seek to follow Christ, we can chalk up as something of the same, in fact our thorn in the flesh. Flesh could mean physical weakness, but in scripture it’s most basic meaning is one’s life. It may involve some physical debilitation or weakness, but doesn’t have to, and I would go so far to think, most often doesn’t. What it doesn’t mean is out and out sin. We deal with everything, and especially our sin through Christ’s death for us, confessing it, and receiving God’s forgiveness and cleansing as part of our ongoing walk in Jesus.

Who likes to be tormented? In the film as I recall Paul seems to be frequently tormented in his thoughts, and clearly in his dreams. And yes torment is a good word to capture this experience. I don’t so much dread it, myself, as simply hate going through it. Going through it is a good way to describe what it’s like for me. For Paul it may have been more chronic, ongoing, something present with him all the time. I tend to think so. My weakness which gives rise to this activity in my life is certainly as close to me as the next thought, which could hit me at any time when all was well, or okay before.

It’s the experience part which frankly I hate. Life is hard enough in itself, without having to feel miserable, yes tormented inside. But it seems in part what at least some of us who are believers in Christ will be up against in this life.

The necessity of hanging in there by faith, and knowing that Christ’s strength is made perfect in our weakness is key here. We realize that God is at work in this malady, even when the source of it is from the evil one, the demonic. The world and the flesh in the sense of unredeemed humanity and creation included.

To come back to this passage, and yes, the entire book of 2 Corinthians, but especially this passage is always helpful for me. To remember that the Lord in love is at work in our lives in a way that helps us live as he did, in weakness, even the weakness of the cross (see the end of 2 Corinthians). Not where we want to go, except that there we find the Lord’s power at work in our own lives, and through us into the lives of others.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say to some degree along with Paul that I have learned to embrace my weaknesses at least much more since in them I find Christ’s grace and power, and learn to be strengthened in that awareness and reality. In and through Jesus.

breaking through into prayer

I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

Daniel 10

There are times when prayer seems to come easy, most of the time not, and then there are times when it seems like impossible to pray, or that one can’t really pray at all. This passage in the book of Daniel reminds me of that.

Daniel was engaged in spiritual warfare no doubt. A heavenly messenger sent from God, an angel, seemed to be active in accordance with Daniel’s humbling of himself before God, and prayer. God was at work, and there was a battle going on in the heavenly realm. Daniel was seeking insight from God for the benefit of God’s people, and ultimately the mission of God for the world. Yes, every part of the message we find in scripture is one way or another to that end.

I have found at times, and this can go on for days, and it can seem especially so at critical times, but I’ve found that sometimes I simply have to accept the heavy burden, or weakness of my heart and mind, just accept it, and pray. And that can be the turning point for me, to break through out of the doldrums, and actually impasse, so that I can begin to really pray.

It’s not like there isn’t value in praying, and trying to pray when it seems completely empty. Maybe that’s something of half the battle. However one can begin to despair, and give up, exactly what the spiritual enemy wants. They can’t stand up to faith in God in true prayer. They will try to resist that, but they will flee as well, when we resist them through God’s word and the gospel.

We have to remember that this is ongoing. We won’t simply break through never to struggle again (see Ephesians 6:10-20). There will be times, probably strategic, in which it will seem impossible for us to pray. Or times when it can seem more or less empty, just something we do with not enough life or light in it. And then there will be those breakthrough times back into the norm, or something special, something more from God. In and through Jesus.