Laura Miller | Category: Theology for Life; Worldview
Remember the old TV show, "M*A*S*H"? Imagine for a minute you are one of the medical personnel preparing for incoming wounded. A helicopter hovers, its blades thwump-thwump-thwumping. Casualties are strapped into baskets and the ground thunders, although you are not sure whether the tremors are from the force of the machine in front of you or the battle going on behind you -- or maybe, from within your chest. You haven't slept in days, and the adrenaline you've been running on operates mostly off of fumes and wishful thinking. The enemy is just too big for the efforts of me and my colleagues to have any effect, you think to yourself. This war will be the undoing of us all.
In this spiritual war, that's not only true, that's the critical life-saving thought. Our ancient foe is too big for us; our destruction is his goal; his craft and power are greater than anything we've seen in mortal life, and he is armed with cruel hate. On earth is not his equal. If we don't acknowledge this, it is to our doom.
Yet . . .
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing.
(A Mighty Fortress Is our God", Martin Luther)
At the end of the first part of this discussion about Holy war, I quoted Tim Challies on the mindset Christians ought to have whie in the midst of battles with the devil. He says we ought to be celebrating "the sovereignty of God, not fear or flee from it. Satan will be put in his proper place, and God in His -- vastly more sovereign over Satan. . . . The evil and suffering in this world are greater than we can ever imagine. But evil and suffering are not ultimate or sovereign. No, only and always it is God who is sovereign over joy and pain, evil and suffering." (Liveblogging post of John Piper’s Desiring God message from 2005, “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God”)
In that post we looked at the reasons why the world hates the pilgrims on the road to the Celestial City, the allegorical heavenly abode and destination for all Christians, who are represented by Christian, the traveler in the story The Pilgrim's Progress* by John Bunyan. Where we left off, Bunyan's hero had just been interrogated by Apollyon, the enemy of the King of the Celestial City, and because he could not convince Christian to return to the City of Destruction, he erupted in rage and fury in an attempt to destroy this "rebellious subject of his kingdom".
The battle that ensued was fierce, but "Christian had the Shield in his hand, and ... drew his Sword." Still, the monster was keen on destroying him and for hours flew at him with blows and arrows that nearly accomplished his wicked goal.
Finally, Christian drew courage and strength from the Lord and rallied against Apollyon with a deadly thrust of his Sword, saying, "'No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.' With that, Apollyon spread out his dragon's wings, and quickly sped away, so that Christian saw him no more."*
Now do you understand why we have been issued “the full armor of God”? Now do you see why this warfare must be waged until final death befalls Satan and his dominance over the world comes to an end? Christian's tactics -- and a Christian's tactics -- are drawn from God's book: truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and the Spirit. (Ephesians 6:13-17) Christ's resurrection does declare victory over sin and death, and yet for a time, the Evil One demands allegiance from his worldly citizens. He cares little about how many are left as casualties on the battlefield. Look, the trauma is all around us.
This is the spiritual warfare we and fellow believers face every day. We are called to “suffer hardship” (2 Timothy 2:3). Our souls are the target of the war of fleshly living promoted by the world (1 Peter 2:11). “If the world hates you,” Jesus said in John 15:18-19, “know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Imagine how equipped an army hospital would have to be to deal with the tribulations that Christian experienced. Consider how ill-equipped many of us are to minister to the wounds and trauma inflicted in Apollyon's battle against the church. But according to verse 17 of John 15, we do have balm and solace to offer our stricken comrades: These things I command you so that you will love one another.
I don’t think we’re supposed to go through the trials and afflictions dealt by the world alone. Although Christian had to battle Apollyon solo, soon afterward the King sent Faithful to him to patch up his wounds and share the journey with him. As they traveled, they encouraged one another in Scripture and songs, edifying and building each other up in the faith. Later, Christian discovered that a citizen of Vanity Fair, where our pilgrims were abused and persecuted and threatened with death, had fled the service of the Rebellious One. Once a reviler and mocker, once content to live in a town known for its vaguery and meaninglessness, now Hopeful prevailed upon Christian to allow him to travel in his company. This is loving one another taken to a Christlike level.
It was necessary to make a case for the intensity of the spiritual warfare we face as believers because our materialistically trained senses would rather we forget all about that. It's just too . . . weird to focus on demons and angels and unseen maneuvers in the air. However, if we are aware that that is the manner of attack that we’re all enduring, why do we neglect our brothers and sisters when they are in the midst of the battle, resisting the devil's lies and temptations, enduring the slings of doubt and accusations, or when they are lying wounded and bloody in the aftermath?
Basic training should be ongoing for all believers, where the weaponry of prayer, the Word, the Spirit, righteousness, faith and the gospel are drilled and perfected upon, and where we encourage one another with reminders of the Prince's promise that He will return to settle the score once and for all. I am reminded of a line from another, more recently penned spiritual warfare song by Steve Camp: "Look around you . . . for another soul just fell, let's run to the battle!" There ought to be a mess hall where brotherly love, fellowship and unity in Christ are served at each meal. And it goes without saying that an army hospital should be raised up at the gates of hell where we are the servants the great Physician uses to provide healing to wounded travelers and warriors, until we see the full manifestation of His victory over the world. (John 16:33)
As Martin Luther's hymn majestically concludes:
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That Word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
*The text of The Pilgrim's Progress came from the 1998 Bridge-Logos edition, revised and updated by L. Edward Hazelbaker, titled The Pilgrim's Progress in Modern English. This is the book being used by the women's study group for this spring, meeting on Mondays and running through May 2. More information is available here. If you are already familiar with Bunyan's better known work, I invite you to read his lesser known but more relevant to this topic masterpiece, The Holy War.
The first part of this two-part article on Spiritual Warfare appeared at the Three Rivers Grace blog on 2/27/16.
The full article originally appeared at Laura's blog, #thereyougothinkingagain, on 2/17/16.
The purpose of our church blog is to serve the overall mission of our church: to delight in the beauty of God's greatness,