CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (1)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

Religious celebrations of Easter Week, SpainConclusions matter.

From dessert and coffee at a restaurant, to the the climax of a story, to (this matters especially to pastors like me) how the sermon ends, the way things come to a close can make all the difference in the experience.

Lately in my study I’ve camped out a lot in Eph. 6:10-20. Paul’s treatment there of the challenging subject of spiritual warfare forms the focus of my church’s men’s retreat at the end of this month.

Think about it. He ends this exquisite letter to the the church at Ephesus on this note: we Christians are at war. We find ourselves in a never-ending conflict with formidable forces. Much opposition confronts anyone serious about walking in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Among those things, and the first place he starts in Eph. 4:3, is doing our best to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Safeguarding the treasured gift of unity in your church means you have to go to war over it.

It’s a high-stakes, dangerous, but utterly worthwhile undertaking.

Here are four strategies (a preview of our retreat content) for waging the spiritual battle.

One, trust your God for His strength. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (10). This same power raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). We have everything we need in the way of strength for this ongoing struggle. We draw from the One who effectively disarmed the enemy at Calvary (Col. 2:15).

Additionally our powerful God has equipped us with impressive battle gear designed to protect us so that we may stand and not fall (11). More on that in strategy #3.

Two, know your enemy for his schemes. The objective in this fight is plain–that you may be able to stand (11). Satan and his minions deployed in the invisible realm (12) plot our undoing. We must give him/them no ground.

The enemy attacks on multiple fronts: accusation (Rev. 12:10); deception (Gen. 3:1-6); sins like anger (Eph. 4:26-27) and withholding forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:10-11); just to name a few. Luther said it well in A Mighty Fortress:

For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Lesson?

Don’t underestimate the foe. Arm yourself with a informed knowledge of his shrewd tactics.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The bulk of the passage focuses on the battle gear God supplies every believer for spiritual warfare (14-17). Paul repeatedly emphasizes our responsibility to put it on–take it up–all of it. We dare not engage this battle every day without every one of the six components.

What they are and some thoughts about them, plus strategy #4, will come with my next post and the second part on this subject.

In the meantime, take heed to this exhortation from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Do not relax. “Maintain the field!” You are always on duty in the Christian life, you can never relax. There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.

Peacemaking warriors! Maintain the field! Ever on duty, battle to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in your churches.

WEAPONS FOR WAGING WAR AT A HOUSE OF DEATH

Preaching at All Women's

Believers on mission for Jesus in the places where they live, work, and play wield weapons of warfare that “are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Cor. 10:4). In the town where I live, right up the street from my church, exists one of the more formidable castles of destruction upon which we at OGC and other churches have declared spiritual war. I mean, of course, the All Women’s Health Center, an abortuary where babies perish regularly in the name of the right to choose. 

This morning a platoon of us gathered on the sidewalk to engage the battle for life yet another time. We employed three mighty weapons for the fray. First, we took up the weapon of praise. We sang Christmas carols within earshot of the waiting room where women prepare for their abortions. They heard carols like “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Away in a Manger,” ” O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and other tunes as well. You could feel the Spirit of God come with power. 

Second, I took up the weapon of preaching. Originally I was asked only to pray. This I was only too happy to do. But then this morning the invitation came to bring the Word of God. I didn’t hesitate. I spoke from John 1:12. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, glory of the only begotten full of grace and truth.” Once again, I sensed the Spirit come with power as I exhorted the faithful to carry on the campaign for life until the abortion mills in our city close and that the saving of babies would occur through the sidewalk interventions day in and day out. 

Third, and finally, we picked up the weapon of prayer. We pleaded with the Lord of life to save children from destruction. We begged Him to bring down the fortress of death upon which we had descended. We asked Jesus to convict the doctors and nurses within its walls. And we asked for fathers and mothers to choose life over death for their children in the womb.

One never knows just how any of these firefights will go. On this day, the Lord scored a major victory for life. During the battle with its praise, preaching, and prayer, one couple hearkened to the counselors invitation to come over to the sidewalk and talk. They listened to the passionate and informed pleas of the trained advocates for life. AND THEY CHANGED THEIR MINDS! They turned back. They chose not to abort their baby and left the premises. And we rejoiced at the goodness of God to hear our prayers and grant such a merciful encouragement in response to our feeble efforts to subdue evil. 

The One who abhorred not the womb nor the cross, King Jesus, showed up in the fight for life today and granted us a victory. May He be inclined to do so all the more as we carry on the struggle into 2014 and beyond, as long as it takes. 

With Whom Are You Fighting?

The apostle Paul calls the Christian life a fight in places like 1 Tim. 6:12.

J. C. Ryle devotes chapter four of his book Holiness to this notion.  You can read an online version of the book here.

HolinessEarly on he asks a crucial question that reminds us of the paramount importance of practicing biblical peacemaking in the local church.

With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy! He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, chapel and chapel, sect and sect, faction and faction, party and party, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. No doubt it may be absolutely needful sometimes to appeal to law courts in order to ascertain the right interpretation of a church’s articles and rubrics and formularies. But, as a general rule, the cause of sin is never so much helped as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another and spend their time in petty squabbles.

Let us fight the good fight with our mortal enemies the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15-16; Eph. 6:11) but let us eschew any strife among one another in the family of God.

Are You Weary in the Battle?

HolinessAnd make no mistake about it. The Christian life is a struggle, a battle, a war.

Paul made clear to the church of Ephesus that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).

In light of this perpetual warfare Paul exhorted Timothy, Fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12) and Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:3).

As I prepared to start another work week with our early morning prayer time as a staff, I read a word of encouragement from J. C. Ryle’s Holiness that gave my prone-to-be-weary soul a burst of strength for the fight. In stressing that the Christian’s fight must be one of faith, Ryle urges special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work, and office as the life, heart, and mainspring of the Christian soldiers character. He writes:

He sees by faith an unseen Savior, who loved him, gave Himself for him, paid his debts for him, bore his sins, carried his transgressions, rose again for him, and appears in heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God. He sees Jesus and clings to Him. Seeing this Savior and trusting in Him, he feels peace and hope and willingly does battle against the foes of his soul.

He sees his own many sins, his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy devil; and if he looked only at them, he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Savior, an interceding Savior, a sympathizing Savior—His blood, His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood—and he believes that all this is his own. He sees Jesus and casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him, he cheerfully fights on, with a full confidence that he will prove “more than conqueror through Him that loved him”  (Rom. 8:37).

So if you are weary this Monday morning as you reengage the battle fronts before you, I remind you with Ryle’s help to do so by faith in your unseen Savior casting your whole weight on Him.

Puritan Power & Perspective on Waiting

GurnallFor some reason I’ve made it a habit to turn to the Puritans first thing each morning this year in my abiding in Christ time.

Moody Press published a collection of daily readings in spiritual warfare from the writings of William Gurnall called The Christian in Complete Armour (1994). Numerous times the meditations within its pages have framed my perspective for the day and boosted my reserves of spiritual power and strength.

The entry for November 21 this week proved particularly meaningful for me and I thought I would pass it on.

Wait on God as long as you have to, until He comes according to His promise and takes you out of your suffering. Do not be hasty to take yourself out of trouble. . . . The fullest mercies are the ones we wait for the longest. Jesus did not immediately supply wine at the marriage of Cana, as His mother had asked, but they had the more for waiting awhile.

Hope assures the soul that while God waits to perform one promise, he supplies another. This comfort is enough to quiet the heart of anyone who understands the sweetness of God’s methods. There is not one minute when a believer’s soul is left without comfort. There is always some promise standing ready to minister to the Christian until another one comes. A sick man does not complain if all his friends do not stay with him together, as long as they take turns and never leave him without someone to care for him. . . .

The believer can never come to Him without finding some promise to supply strength until another is ripe enough to be gathered.

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength (Isa. 40:31).