Monthly Archives: September 2018

 
 

Spiritual Warfare V: The Breastplate of Righteousness

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…” (Ephesians 6:14).

Greek_PhalanxA Roman soldier’s breastplate was essential. Some of the most important organs in the body are located in the chest. Wounds to the heart and lung could cause rapid death. Other vital organs, including the liver, stomach, and pancreas, are in the same general area. The chest and abdominal region of the body are vulnerable. Along with the head, they are some of the most important body areas to protect from injury.

The soul needs protection as well. The ancient Israelites would think of the heart in two ways, much like we do now. Both they and we acknowledge the physical organ. The Israelites thought of the heart as having a function for the soul as well, as the seat of the will. If you want to do good, it is because your heart is drawing you to do so. If you desire evil, it is because you have a bad heart. Incidentally, they associated some other internal organs with other elements of the inward part of people. The intestines were the seat of compassion: The Greek word for “to have compassion” could literally be translated “to have bowels for someone or something.” The kidneys were viewed as the seat of emotion. Nowadays, we symbolize all of these with the heart. When we have compassion for someone, we do not say, “I am bowelized over this.” Instead, we say something like, “My heart breaks for him.”

Whether it is the heart, the lungs, the liver, the small intestines, or any of the other organs behind the breastplate, it needs protection. Likewise, every element of our souls needs protection. This is why we need the breastplate of righteousness.

Paul was not the first biblical author to associate righteousness with a breastplate. Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in one of his Messianic prophecies

“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isaiah 11:5).

One can readily see the connection between the first line and the breastplate of righteousness, with a belt that protects the lower abdomen. Likewise, “the belt of his loins” is faithfulness, which the Hebrew writers frequently use as a synonym for truth. Thus, this verse prefigures the first two pieces of the whole armor of God. It also reminds us that the whole armor is found entirely in our connection with Jesus.

Later, Isaiah describes the Lord God’s response to injustice. When He could find no man who was willing or able to accomplish His righteous will:

“He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17).

The Lord God did this as He took on human flesh as the Son, Jesus Christ. As mentioned in the previous article in this series, putting on the whole armor of God is akin to clothing ourselves in Christ (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27). Thus, we do not clothe ourselves in our own righteousness. The Word of God tells us that our own attempts at righteousness are like filthy rags before God (Isaiah 64:6). We need to clothe ourselves in the righteousness of Christ, to allow His righteousness to cover us and emanate from us.

Elsewhere, Paul describes it as a breastplate of faith and love:

“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (I Thessalonians 5:8).

Faith, hope, and love are essential elements of relationship with Christ. Faith and love are intertwined with the righteousness of God. We protect our hearts—our will, emotions, desires, and entire souls, so to speak—by covering them with the righteousness, faith, and love of God in Christ Jesus.

We cannot ignore the opportunity to clothe ourselves in the breastplate of righteousness. This is not a take-it-or-leave-it option. It is a choice between being clothed in the righteousness of Christ as a slave to righteousness or being a slave to sin:

“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (Romans 6:15–22).

Each of us must make a decision. Do I want to be a slave to sin or a slave to the righteousness of God? “None of the above” is not an option. As Bob Dylan sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody / Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

Will you remain in the army of the Lord, or will you be taken captive as a prisoner? Will Satan hold you captive and bound in sin, or will the Lord release you with His power to serve Him with the gifts and talents He has given you?

As we clothe ourselves in Christ, He empowers us to walk by faith in Him and display His love to those around us. This is the breastplate of righteousness in action, guiding us to walk as He walked. Most importantly, this breastplate guards our hearts by guiding our wills to remain in sync with His will. As long as we keep our hearts guarded by Jesus, He will protect us from the temptations to turn our hearts to the lures of Satan that bind us in slavery to sin. Even when we do sin, the righteousness of Christ is available to us:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (I John 2:1).

This verse appears after John reminds us that Jesus is merciful and just to forgive and cleanse us if we confess our sins (I John 1:9). As we follow Jesus, trust in His sacrifice on the cross for our salvation, and turn to Him in regular confession and repentance, He will guard our hearts and protect us from the attacks of the enemy. Jesus will be our breastplate of righteousness.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare IV: The Belt of Truth

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…” (Ephesians 6:13–14).

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A Roman soldier’s belt, holding a dagger for battle. Photo by Elliott Sadourny [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.

When describing the whole armor of God, Paul begins by speaking of the “belt of truth.” This seems like an odd place to begin a description of battle armor. We barely think of belts as clothing, let alone armor. In most people’s wardrobes, they are considered “accessories.” Their main purpose is to keep our pants up, although some people wear a belt as a fashion statement (if it has a decorative buckle).

However, belts are not merely for modesty or fashion. In liturgical church traditions, priests, deacons, or monks (along with people in other vocations) wear loose-fitting robes while performing their ministries. A belt or cincture (a rope tied around the waist) enables the man of God to walk comfortably, by securing the robe so that it does not hang too loosely. It is too easy to trip over the hem when wearing a liturgical robe without a belt or cincture.

As Paul describes the armor of God, he associates each spiritual virtue or weapon with a natural military piece of Roman armor. Thus, he associates “truth” with a belt. A Roman soldier’s belt not only held his clothing in place. It also held some weapons, such as a dagger, much like a Wild-West gunslinger would hold his pistol in a holster connected to his belt. In Ephesians 6, the “belt of truth” secures the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Truth and God’s Word belong together. The belt that enables us to march into battle holds the weapon that enables us to fight.

So, a belt can help a soldier to advance safely in battle. Most of the armor that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:13–17 is primarily defensive. Some (especially the sword of the Spirit) is primarily offensive. The belt and shoes are primarily designed to allow us to advance into battle easily and safely.

The prominence of defensive features in the armor of God is significant. Our primary focus when engaging in spiritual warfare should be defensive. Some Christians, in the name of spiritual warfare, spend too much time on the offensive, seeking demons to attack. On a 1982 song entitled “Judas’ Kiss,” Christian rock band Petra included the following introduction, recorded backward (as a satiric response to preachers who claimed that all Christian rock music is satanic): “What are you looking for the devil for, when you ought to be looking for the Lord?” The message is clear; our focus should be on Jesus, not Satan:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

However, when demons attack, we should be ready to stand firm and fight. We cannot afford to be caught unprepared for battle. We must be ready to stand our ground, defend when necessary, and advance offensively when the time is right. Our goal in spiritual warfare is not merely to survive, but to overcome. As the body of Christ and army of God, we must advance the Kingdom of God and reclaim territory that Satan has usurped.

The spiritual virtue depicted by this belt is truth. Truth holds the rest of the armor in place. It enables us to stand comfortably and to advance unhindered. It holds the sword of the Spirit that enables us to fight. What is this truth?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

Jesus tells us that He is the Truth. All truth finds its fulfillment in Him. The Bible itself relies on Jesus Himself to ensure its faithfulness. If we miss Jesus, we miss truth:

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…” (Hebrews 1:1–3).

So, as we seek to put on the whole armor of God, we are clothing ourselves in the very life of Christ:

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Clothe yourself in Jesus Christ. By faith, acknowledge Him as your Lord and Savior. Commit yourself to Him, that He may live in you and guide your life. Allow His Holy Spirit to baptize and fill you, so that the life of Christ may abide within you. As you clothe yourself in Christ, you will have the foundation of the whole armor of God upon you. To stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil, you must be clothed in Christ by His Spirit.

As we come to know Jesus as the Truth, we will be eager to learn the truth as it is found in His Word:

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31–32).

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13–14).

Jesus Christ is the truth. He is the one who girds our loins for battle. He holds and empowers the sword that enables us to fight. All of our strength is in Him. We must never make the mistake of going out to face the temptations and trials of life without His truth to hold us together.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare III: Standing Firm

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:10–13).

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An actor dressed like a Roman soldier in full armor. Photo by Luc Viatour (https://Lucnix.be) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

No study about spiritual warfare would be complete without an examination of Ephesians 6:10–20. This passage includes the “whole armor of God,” a set of virtues which Christians wear (in a spiritual sense) to battle Satan. The armor includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Each of these will be discussed in a forthcoming article. I will also include a discussion about intercessory prayer as a spiritual weapon: Paul mentions this immediately after the whole armor of God (as if it is part thereof), yet most pastors and writers overlook this connection.

It is worthwhile to note, not only what follows the discussion about the armor of God, but what precedes it. Paul is in the “application” part of Ephesians (most of his letters begin with an abstract or theological discussion before he proceeds into a series of practical instructions for living out the Christian life). He was urging his readers to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:1) and in the Holy Spirit, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). This led to an extensive discussion of personal relationships: marriage (Ephesians 5:22–33), parent/child relationships (6:1–4), and master/slave relationships (6:5–9).

It is within this context, of how to apply Jesus’ teaching to interpersonal relationships, that Paul introduces the whole armor of God. Many Christians seek to engage in spiritual warfare by ourselves. We might think that we can resist Satan’s attacks and temptation on our own. We might assume that “I have a personal relationship with Christ so I can go solo.” That is probably one of Satan’s favorite lying strongholds. If he can keep us fighting as Lone Rangers, he can isolate us. If he can isolate us, he can keep us from living a victorious Christian life.

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Illustration of an ancient (Greek) army marching in formation. From Wikimedia Commons (public domain).

Most of the verbs in Ephesians 6 are plural: All Christians are supposed to do them, and we are supposed to do them together. Every Christian is individually responsible to stand firm, but he or she must do so with other believers. The imagery of war calls us into a spiritual army. Our success requires us to engage in battle alongside our fellow spiritual soldiers. Ancient armies usually marched in formation, side by side. They would at times join their shields together so they could protect each other as they advanced.

How do we stand with other believers in spiritual warfare? We must be honest, transparent, trusting, and trustworthy in our fellowship with other Christians. We must share our burdens with each other. If you do not have a few prayer and accountability partners, find them. Find a few mature Christians, whom you can trust. Share your battles with one another. Be honest about your victories, failures, and temptations. Encourage them when they fail; do not gossip nor condemn. When you are able to unite as a spiritual phalanx, you will be able to walk side-by-side to victory over the forces of darkness.

Our first response when Satan attacks is to stand. We must resist him. To do so, we must follow our Commander’s orders:

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

If we are standing firm, there are some things we cannot do: We cannot surrender to our enemy. We cannot give in. We cannot quit. We cannot flee like defeated cowards. We cannot yield to temptation. Soldiers win by fighting, not by quitting. Among other things, spiritual warfare demands perseverance.

The battle may be spiritual, but it is real. Our victory is assured as we remain in the Lord’s army, but we must remain strong and resilient if we hope to reap the benefits of that victory:

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (I Peter 5:8–11).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare II: Destroying Strongholds with the Sword of the Spirit

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

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“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Since we are dealing with a spiritual enemy, our weapons are spiritual. In Ephesians 6, Paul refers to the Word of God as the “sword of the Spirit.” He then urges us to pray. Scripture and prayer are our two primary weapons. The sword of the Spirit is particularly useful for destroying strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Many Christians assume that “strongholds” are sins or temptations that are particularly troublesome to a particular individual. They mistakenly believe that it is something that has a “strong hold” on a person, thereby being something that forces them into bondage. However, this is not what Paul is saying.

A “stronghold” (ὀχύρωμα in Greek) is a fortress or place of refuge. This word appears only once in the New Testament but appears elsewhere in ancient literature. While most ancient authors used it to refer to a fortress, some used it to describe a prison (in which case, Paul is engaging in a play on words when he proposes that we destroy strongholds so that we can take every thought captive). A word study on Biblehub.com observes that, in this verse, the word:

… is used figuratively of a false argument in which a person seeks “shelter” (“a safe place”) to escape reality…. In its use here there may lie a reminiscence of the rock-forts on the coast of Paul’s native Cilicia, which were pulled down by the Romans in their attacks on the Cilician pirates. Pompey inflicted a crushing defeat upon their navy off the rocky stronghold of Coracesium on the confines of Cilicia and Pisidia.

People seek refuge in all sorts of lies to justify sin or rebellion against God. It was true in Paul’s day; it remains true in ours. Much of what Paul wrote was in response to lies people chose to believe. First and Second Corinthians contain extended illustrations confronting false ideas and values regarding sexuality, the role of the ministry, suffering, family relationships, giving, etc. People would hide behind excuses to live a life that was not consistent with the will of God. Today, we continue to do so. We find clever excuses, including arguments and lofty opinions, for our sins (often secular worldviews baptized into biblical-sounding jargon). We may justify sexual sin because a pop-psychologist offered an excuse, or because we view ourselves as mere animals, the product of random evolution in a godless universe. We may justify greed or financial dishonesty because it seems like good business sense. The Christian must demolish these strongholds. They are castles built of lies, and they must come down. The strongholds of rebellion must come down so that we can bring every thought and action into obedience to Christ.

The battle must begin in our own minds. We must bring our own thoughts captive to obedience to Christ before we can expect to tear down strongholds in anybody else’s mind. As we study the Bible, we must confront our own thinking, recognize where we are not in obedience to God, and submit our thinking to His. If Scripture reveals sin in our lives, we must tear down the strongholds we have accepted and confess, “You are correct, Lord, and I am wrong. Forgive me and strengthen me to do Your will.”

Christians also have an obligation to tear down strongholds in the lives of other believers:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2).

Many people (including some Christians) think we should never suggest that another person is doing something wrong. They claim that is “judgmental.” This is, in fact, just another demonic stronghold. When Jesus told us not to judge others, He was not telling us we can never correct those who are in sin or claim that certain acts are sinful. The modern secular abuse of Matthew 7:1 is purely a demonic stronghold. The church must repent and tear down that stronghold if we expect to advance the kingdom of God. That is especially true in our dealings with other Christians.

Our weapon and enemy remain the same when tearing down the strongholds of non-Christians, but the strategy may be a little different. Church discipline or reproof of believers is very different from evangelism. In evangelism, our goal is to invite a person into a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that the Holy Spirit can begin to clean them up. We focus less on specific areas of sin and more on the fact that everybody needs a Savior. We point to Jesus. We wield the sword of the Spirit to bring a person to a proper understanding of who He is and what He has done for our salvation. However, we must still be ready to attack strongholds. Nonbelievers may hide in strongholds that keep a person from following Christ: “I am a good person. I do not need a Savior. I can go to heaven by doing good things, or at least by not doing anything that is too bad.” Or “Everybody will go to heaven anyway.”

The committed Christian must be a good student of the Bible. He must be diligent to attack the strongholds that have been built in his own heart and mind, and then fearless yet gracious in attacking those in other people’s lives. The enemy of God and of our souls is building strongholds to destroy millions. It is our job to tear them down so that we may build a holy edifice on a firm foundation:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24–27).

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Renewing the Mind Reflections, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Spiritual Warfare I: The Battle Is Real

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete” (Second Corinthians 10:4–6).

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The archangel Michael battling Satan. We may not use natural swords, but we still fight a real enemy. Guido Reni [1575–1642, public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Spiritual warfare is a popular topic in many churches. At times, it can be over-emphasized. Some Christians will blame and rebuke the devil for everything! If they sin, they blame the devil (even though James 1:14–15 suggest we are to blame for our sins). If they run out of money, it must be the devil’s fault (even if they were financially irresponsible). To them, everything from their own sin to the consequences of their ill-advised choices becomes the devil’s fault. Instead of confessing their sins and choosing to walk in obedience to God, they blame the devil and simply rebuke him in an attempt to solve their problems.

The Christian life cannot be reduced to yelling at the devil. Some believers go overboard with a false notion of spiritual warfare, reducing it to a habit of rebuking Satan. However, this does not mean Christians should avoid spiritual warfare entirely. It is mentioned throughout Scripture: biblical writers frequently use battle imagery to describe our conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil. However, we must approach this topic with a balanced view, recognizing its relationship to the rest of Scripture.

It seems particularly appropriate to me that this subject would come up in the midst of an extended series about “renewal of the mind” and immediately after writing an article that addresses the lies of the prosperity gospel. Many of the people who endorse the false teachings that claim great earthly blessings for Christians will also usually “rebuke Satan” when they do not get what they want. A false view of the blessings of the Gospel seems to coincide with an extremely unbalanced view about spiritual warfare.

Over the next few posts, I will share a few thoughts on this subject. I hope to address what it is, what it is not, and how we engage in such a battle.

Second Corinthians 10:4–6 seems to be an ideal place to begin our study. It reminds us of several key facts: First, that the weapons of our warfare are spiritual because the real battle is spiritual. Second, that spiritual warfare is integrated with the renewal of the mind, since much of the spiritual battle is emotional and intellectual. Third, spiritual warfare should lead us to obedience to Christ. Spiritual warriors will immediately recognize that some of these points overlap with Ephesians 6:10–18, where Paul introduces us to the whole armor of God.

First, we must remember that spiritual warfare is exactly what it claims to be: Spiritual warfare. We use spiritual weapons against a spiritual enemy. We do not use the weapons of our world. They are not “of the flesh,” because our real enemy is not a physical being. Ephesians 6:12 says that our enemies are spiritual: “For 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.” When Christians say that our real enemies are the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are not talking about natural physical entities. The “world,” in this sense, is a cultural (or inter-cultural) way of thinking and living that is contrary to God. The “flesh” is that part of ourselves that seeks self-gratification, without regard to the will of God. The devil, of course, is a personal spiritual entity in rebellion against God.

These are our enemies. Our enemies are not that political party that we did not vote for in the last election, nor the politician we do not like. They are not even members of non-Christian religions (although, I believe most people who have not accepted Christ are deceived by the devil, but that makes them victims in the spiritual battle). Our greatest enemies are Satan and his demons. Our greatest threats are their lies and deception, because Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). We need to recognize who our enemy is so that we can maintain our focus. Far too many Christians are fighting the wrong battles, using the wrong weapons.

In Part II of this series, we will look at the sword of the Spirit, which is our primary weapon in waging war against the enemy. We will also see what it means to “destroy strongholds.”

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , | 2 Comments
 
 

Your Best Life, NOT Now—Second Corinthians 4:16–18

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (Second Corinthians 4:16–18).

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The first time the Bible mentions St. Paul, he is participating in the execution of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, who was not experiencing his “best life now.” Painting by Rembrandt (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

The Christian satire website The Babylon Bee recently commemorated the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey by posting an article claiming that Joel Osteen sailed his luxury yacht through the flooded streets of Houston after that storm, distributing free copies of his bestselling book, Your Best Life Now. Another recent gem from that site imagined a Christian humanitarian relief organization responding to famine in East Africa by dropping crates of prosperity-gospel books into Ethiopia. Both articles highlighted an unfortunate irony of a popular brand of Christian thinking, that believes that faith in Jesus Christ guarantees health, wealth, and comfort in this world.

Let me begin by stating that my purpose in this article is not merely to attack Osteen’s book. To be honest, I have not read any of his books. My grievance is against the school of thought that believes Christians can experience “your best life now.” This is an unbiblical worldview that would sound absurd to the writers of both the Old and New Testaments and their initial readership. Ancient Israel was a small nation with a troubled history, frequently under foreign oppression. The early church was viewed as a radical fringe sect within Judaism, during a particularly repressive period of Israel’s history. Early Christians would not believe they were experiencing their best life now.

American Christianity has bought into many of the ideals of modern commercialism. We buy cars that we think will make us look prosperous. We buy cologne, perfume, clothing, and alcoholic beverages because commercials promise that this particular brand will make us popular with the opposite sex. Then, we baptize this mentality into a watered-down gospel, believing that the promises of Jesus include not only forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, but also financial wealth, perfect health, whiter teeth, fresh breath, and sex appeal. Since we want the best things in life, we demand that God offer us His best blessings in this world.

Early in my Christian walk, I learned a method of evangelism that involved sharing “The Four Spiritual Laws” with people. This was a tract, providing a brief summary of the gospel and inviting the reader to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. It was a great little booklet, written by Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright. According to Bright, the first law was “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” To support this claim, he quoted John 3:16 and John 10:10—

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b).

Fortunately, Bright kept a proper biblical balance here, emphasizing spiritual blessings and everlasting life. However, many modern people read our own hopes and desires into that first law. We are thrilled to hear that God has a wonderful plan for our life, but that does not mean that His plan is our plan! God’s wonderful plan for your life recognizes that we are eternal beings. After our earthly bodies die, our spirits will live on. It is in that life next phase of life—heaven or hell—where God will bring His wonderful plan for our lives to fruition.

My self-made plan for my life includes health, happiness, comfort, and wealth. Instead, like most people, I experience hard times. There are days when I am not healthy. Sometimes, the universe does not submit to my personal agenda. There are times when unexpected expenses arise and I wonder how I can pay those bills. Clearly, if God has a wonderful plan for my life, it is not “Sit around all day, taking it easy, while millions of dollars just roll in from nowhere.” Today, I know deeply-committed Christians, men and women with deep faith in Christ, who are struggling with illness, affliction, and suffering, and some who are facing imminent death. I would hope that today’s circumstances are not their best life.

When St. Paul listed his accomplishments and proof of his genuine anointing as an apostle, it read like this:

“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (II Corinthians 11:23–29).

Many Bible scholars believe Paul also endured problems with his eyesight and would be considered legally blind today. Several Bible verses hint at this possibility, including the fact that the Galatians would have gouged out their own eyes to give them to him (Galatians 4:15): judging from what he says elsewhere in his letter to that church, one cannot imagine him commending such self-mutilation unless it would have served a meaningful purpose.

Thus, one can safely say that St. Paul did not expect his best life in this world. God loved Paul and had a wonderful plan for his life—but His plan was not one of ease and comfort. Likewise, God loves each of us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but it does not match the plans we devise when we put ourselves first.

God’s plan for us does include this world, but it is not what we can take out of it. Instead, it is the legacy we can leave behind. God’s plan for our lives includes our faith in Him. It includes the people to whom we witness, who will join us when we see Him face to face in heaven. It includes the people we disciple, minister to, encourage, and exhort. It includes all of the lives that are changed for the better when we live in obedience to Him.

We will experience hardship in this world. But, that hardship is creating for us an “eternal weight of glory.” Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1) so that we can take on the eternal weight of glory that God is preparing for us. God has a wonderful plan for our lives. We do not see it now, but we will see it when we behold Jesus face to face. We do not live our best lives now, but we can behold our best life by faith as we look to those things that are unseen.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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