Spiritual Warfare XI: Final Thoughts About the Sword of the Spirit

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“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we conclude our discussion of the sword of the Spirit, I believe it is important to remind ourselves how to properly wield it. It is easy to misuse the sword of the Spirit, and such abuse can be devastating. Therefore, I offer a few final thoughts.

Remember 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” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, Satan is our enemy: not other people. Even if the other person seems to be our enemy (for example, we disagree with them on political issues, they belong to a false religion, or they are even part of a group that is persecuting believers), the real enemies are Satan and his demons. We should actually view the human “enemy” as a prisoner of war, enslaved by deception.

It is one thing to attack Satan, his demons, and their lies with the word of God. However, that does not justify using the Bible to attack another human being.

Therefore, when wielding the sword of the Spirit in encounters with other people—or even with ourselves—we approach the situation with mercy and grace, not hostility or condemnation.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV).

Our goal when dealing with people—whether they are fellow believers, unbelievers, or ourselves—is redemption and restoration, not rejection or damnation. We are looking to draw unbelievers into the kingdom of God, not to find opportunities to speed them into hell. We are looking to assist believers as they obtain the blessings of God’s kingdom, not to force them out or discourage them. We also need to pay attention to our own hearts. It is easy to condemn and judge ourselves. Years ago, I started reading the writings and theology of nineteenth-century holiness authors, many of whom preached on Christian perfection and entire sanctification (see Matthew 5:48). However, there was a problem: I was still struggling with some sinful habits. Ironically, a claim that believers could be delivered from all sin often led me into discouragement and self-condemnation, which led me even further from the holiness these preachers promised.

Now, over 30 years after becoming a follower of Christ, I am still not perfect. I still sin. However, wise men of God have taught me to remember that I am saved by God’s grace. He is working on me. For most of the last 15 years, I have sat under the ministry of a bishop who would close almost every service by saying, “Remember the Gospel, the good news: That God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting your sins against you. God loves you. God has forgiven you. God is not angry with you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Yes, I have that memorized!) Take that word to heart (it merely paraphrases several key statements from the New Testament). Believe it, and let it guide you as you share God’s Word with other people or apply it to your life.

Second, be bold with the sword, but know your boundaries. You are part of an army. There are some battles that do not belong to you. Do not be a busy-body, trying to fix every person you see. Do not take on battles that other soldiers of the cross should be fighting.

Some immature believers think it is their job to reprimand everybody whom they see faltering. However, there are times when it is best to leave the battle to other people. Maybe the pastor is already offering counsel and advice to the person who is struggling. If you think you need to start swinging the sword of the Spirit in another Christian’s life, make certain you have their trust and respect first. If a person has not requested your advice, do not force it on them (no matter how biblical or profound it may seem to you).

When ministering to people who do not have a relationship with Christ, always focus on Jesus and salvation. Our job is to lead people to Christ. Once they come into a faith-focused relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will straighten them out. Too often, we try to get sinners to start acting like Christians. Sinners sin—it is what they do. They need to first become Christians; then we can expect them to begin the process of acting like children of God.

In all, use the sword of the Spirit with wisdom. Do not swing it around like a maniac. Be bold, be direct, but be wise.

Many posts on darkenedglassreflections.com discuss proper use of the Word of God. I invite you to go to the search bar on this page and search “word of God” for more articles and guidance. Two popular posts are “Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness” and “Proverbs 7:1-5—Internalizing God’s Word and Wisdom.”

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

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Spiritual Warfare X: Using the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in the previous post, Paul was not the first writer of Scripture to think of the word of God as a weapon. Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (who provided inspiration for some of the other elements of the armor of God), Jeremiah, and Hosea likewise spoke of Scripture as a weapon. Paul and other early Christian writers recognized this theme and expanded upon it throughout the New Testament:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

It is helpful to see this verse in its context. The inspired author has reminded his readers (who were probably Hebrew believers in Jesus who are tempted to step back from the commitment to Christ and return to Judaism) that they are called to enter into the rest that God has provided. He mentions that the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership is a preview of the Christian’s opportunity to enter into the rest that Christ provides:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8–10).

The Israelites took their physical swords and, under Joshua’s leadership, claimed the land in response to the promises of God. They claimed “rest” by being able to settle down and end 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Now, the Christian takes hold of a double-edged sword. The link to Joshua is important. We are supposed to use that sword to claim and cling to the privileges of the kingdom that God has invited us to enter. We enter the rest He provides in Christ. We use the sword of the Spirit to claim that rest. When Satan seeks to steal God’s promises from us, the sword of the Spirit is our lethal weapon.

However, we do not use it against Satan only. The word of God pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. So, we do not use it only against Satan.

We apply it to our own lives. As we read God’s Word, we should allow it to dig deep inside us. Let it reach into our soul, spirit, joints, and marrow. Let it dig out any impurity that may bring death and decay within us. Let it discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Let it bring us to self-examination, asking God to search our hearts and reveal our condition to us:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

We use it to free the lost from Satan’s power. Evangelism must be centered in God’s Word. When we invade Satan’s domain to invite his captives to freedom in Christ, we must use it properly. God’s Word proclaims the saving work of Jesus: How He lived, died, rose, ascended, and sits at the right hand of the Father. It tells us how we can be saved. We preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name (Luke 24:46–47).

Finally, we use the sword of the Spirit to claim release for our brothers and sisters who remain in the devil’s chains. Be prepared to counsel, advise, admonish, and encourage your fellow believers with the Word of God. The sword of the Spirit is mighty. It is more powerful than the gospel of Dr. Phil or Oprah. Only God’s Word can dig can pierce to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Use the sword of the Spirit to help your fellow believers know discern whether the thoughts and intentions of their hearts are guided by the Holy Spirit or still directed by the lies of the enemy. Help them to tear down the strongholds so they can make their freedom more certain.

In a sword duel or fencing match, the fighter uses the sword both offensively and defensively. He must use it to block the opponent’s attacks. However, he must also use it to gain a victory. Soldiers fight to win. We must fight to win. The sword of the Spirit will bring us victory.

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

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Spiritual Warfare IX: Introduction to the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all verses ESV unless otherwise specified).

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“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we have seen earlier in this series, most of the Christian’s armor is defensive. However, we now come to a vital offensive element: The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Many preachers will claim that this is the only offensive weapon we have. However, as we will see in forthcoming posts, Paul immediately discusses intercessory prayer right afterward (as part of the same sentence). We can view the sword of the Spirit as the divine weapon for close combat, whereas intercessory prayer is our weapon for long-distance combat. If the word of God is our sword, then intercessory prayer is our arrow, catapult, cannon, or intercontinental ballistic missile. Although Paul did not continue the imagery to associate prayer with a specific part of the centurion’s armor, the intent is present. We will come back to this thought later in this series.

I will lead off by pointing out a mistake many Christians make with the sword of the Spirit. Although it is an offensive weapon, many use it only defensively. Early in my Christian walk, I had a pocket New Testament which I would carry with me almost everywhere. In the back, it had an index of verses addressing different needs: When you face this problem, turn to this verse. If you are being tempted, read this passage. It was helpful, but it can make somebody think that the sword of the Spirit is merely for self-defense: If Satan tempts you this way, quote this verse to him. However, for an army to triumph, it must advance. You do not fight to “not lose;” you fight to win. Jesus tells us that the gates of hell will not stand against the church (Matthew 16:18). Is Satan throwing gates at us? Of course not; the Kingdom of God should be advancing against the forces of darkness. Satan should be cowering behind the gates, while we smash them down, set the captives free, and occupy until Christ returns.

We do not wield the sword of the Spirit only to defend ourselves: we brandish it against our enemy as we march forth to claim victory. We should be on the offensive, not the defensive, when we draw our sword from its sheath.

The Bible describes the word of God as a weapon several times. Paul learned this image from the Old Testament. Like several other elements of the armor of God, we find a hint of it in the writings of Isaiah the prophet:

“He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2).

This verse begins the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah, where the prophet occasionally speaks in the first person (as if he is talking about himself), but his words prophesy the future ministry of Jesus (reaching a climax around Isaiah 53). The Word of God is a double-edged sword eternally coming forth from the mouth of Jesus:

“In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).

Make no mistake: The word of God that flows from the mouth of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:1–3, 14), is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He did not come to coexist with or tolerate Satan; He came to boot his butt to the abyss. Jesus is merciful and compassionate to all who call upon Him for salvation, but He is ruthless to the thief who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy those whom He has redeemed (John 10:10). The sword of the Spirit strikes at the root of sin to bring Christ’s judgment against wickedness and rebellion:

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4–6).

God sends His prophetic word to strike against false religion, worldliness, carnality, and all forms of sin. He slays by the words of His mouth. He sends forth judgment.

Take note: you cannot conduct spiritual warfare if you are afraid to confront sin and warn about God’s judgment against sin. Yes, God is love. He is holy. That means He is absolutely opposed to hatred, sin, unholiness, impurity, wickedness, etc. The sword of the Spirit is a sword of judgment. It is a sword that we use to strike at Satan.

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

Indeed, God’s word is a weapon. We do not trifle with it. It is not a toy. We must not manipulate or misuse it, but we must use it boldly in battle. We should expect it to powerfully accomplish its purpose, either to build up or to tear down. It is a vital tool in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

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

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Spiritual Warfare VIII: The Helmet of Salvation

“… {A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17).

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A Roman soldier’s helmet. Photo by Sailko, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sports fans know how important helmets can be. They are required at all levels of American football. Baseball players wear a helmet when batting, just in case a pitcher’s off-target throw hits them in the head. A few professional soccer players wear lightweight helmets (goalkeeper Petr Cech is a familiar example). Nowadays, all professional hockey players wear helmets, although they did not become mandatory until 1979. However, a single body check in January 1968 helped pave the way for helmets to go from rarities (usually worn by players who were recovering from major injuries) to a requirement.

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Modern hockey players protect their heads with a helmet. Photo by Santeri Viinamäki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Bill Masterton was a center on the Minnesota North Stars during their first season in the National Hockey League. During a game against the Oakland Seals in January 1968, he was checked by two opposing defensemen. It was a clean check, but still proved to be lethal. While it was originally assumed that he suffered the fatal concussion when his head hit the ice, it was more likely the result of a head injury from a previous game; the body check exacerbated that injury, knocking him unconscious before he fell. Seals defenseman Ron Harris, who delivered the hit, claimed that Masterton briefly regained consciousness while on the ice and said, “Never again”: possibly suggesting that he refused to play another game without a helmet (since these were probably his last words, we can only guess what he meant). He is the only NHL player ever to die as a direct result of an on-ice injury.

In the years following Masterton’s death, many players rejected the macho mentality that rejected helmets, deciding personal safety took priority. After several years of gradually increasing usage, the NHL made them mandatory for all new players.

As Masterton said, “Never again”: Let none of us ever play the game of life without a helmet. Head injuries are among the most lethal things that can happen to the human body, so athletes protect it. Spiritually, we must protect ourselves with the “helmet of salvation.”

Athletes, of course, are not the only people who wear helmets. Whether in sports, building construction, or military service, head protection can be vital. Most helmets cover the vulnerable top, back, and sides of the head. Roman soldiers’ helmets would also provide protection for the cheekbones.

In the Christian’s spiritual battle, the thoughts, will, and emotions are a major target. If Satan can hit us there, he can take us out of the battle. However, from the moment of salvation, we have protection available.

Many Christians mistakenly assume that salvation is a one-time experience. We think “I got saved when I said this prayer.” However, the Bible usually speaks of salvation as a continuing state for believers. However it begins, “salvation” brings us into a state of eternal life that begins in this world:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Salvation is eternal life, and eternal life is fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).

If we want to remain under God’s protective covering, we need to stay connected to the Lord and His people. Fellowship with God’s people, study of His Word, and prayer ensure our connection to God so that we may be sanctified in His truth (John 17:17–19).

If Satan can distract us away from God’s truth, he can lure us into sin and out of submission and service to God. Many of his attacks will be subtle. Notice that when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread; he did not tempt Him to rob a bagel shop or visit a prostitute. Likewise, Satan will probably try a more subtle attack against your heart and mind. Some of his weapons that he will launch at your head include:

  • Negative thinking: Do you believe God can bring any good out of your circumstances, or do you assume nothing can work out? The negative thinker expects bad things to happen; he does not expect God to act. True biblical thinking will look for God in any situation, believe He can act, and trust that He will bring His glory in any circumstance if we are willing to seek it.
  • False ideas about sin: Are you willing to believe what God’s Word says about sin, or do you allow pop psychology and modern social commentators to determine your ideas about right or wrong? Do you acknowledge that something is sin even if the entire culture decides morality is obsolete? Too many Christians accept the mainstream media’s views about sexuality, marriage, money, and other ethical and moral questions. If Satan can convince you that “Everybody is doing it,” “It’s not really that bad,” “At least I am not doing …,” etc., he will have you under his influence.
  • False ideas about your identity in Christ: Most Christians do not really their identity in Christ. We think, “I am a wretched sinner.” However, the Bible tells us that this is the Christian’s past identity, not his current status. After listing a litany of heinous sins that many of the Corinthians had committed in their lifetimes, Paul said, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, emphasis added). Whatever you were before you came to Christ, you are now a child of God. Even if you still struggle with that sin, it is no longer your identity. Claim your status as God’s child. Do not let the lies of the enemy drag you away from God.

Guard your head. Guard your thoughts and mind. Bring every thought captive to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). As long as we remain under God’s protection, wearing His armor, we can remain in the battle. We will not merely survive; we will triumph. Victory comes when we can withstand the onslaught and counterattack with a spiritual assault.

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

 

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Spiritual Warfare VII: The Shield of Faith

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16).

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A replica of a Roman shield. Photo by Dorieo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we will usually either be responding to an attack or we will face a counter-attack by our enemy. We must be prepared to fight, but we must also be prepared to defend ourselves.

The enemy’s counter-attack may be subtle, but sometimes it will be an all-out barrage. Satan may blast us from multiple directions. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul compares the Christian to a Roman soldier who is facing a barrage of flaming arrows. A direct hit can be deadly. You need full-body protection.

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Depiction of a 3rd-century BC Macedonian soldier holding a thyreos shield. From Istanbul Archaeology Museums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

For a Roman soldier, that protection would include a shield. The Roman shield was similar to one developed centuries earlier by the Greeks, called a thyreos, whose name was derived from the word for “door.” It was large, shaped like a door, and provided ample coverage when an enemy would launch a barrage of arrows or javelins towards them.

The Christian may not face literal arrows. The “flaming darts of the evil one” (some translations say “arrows” instead of “darts”) are not physical flying sticks with sharp pointy ends to puncture the skin. Satan’s arrows take other forms. Instead of darts and arrows, Satan and his demons may fire temptations at us. They may entice others to discourage us or drag us into depression. They may find our greatest weakness and turn it against us. Sometimes, his attacks may be constant, steady, but moderate. At other times, a period of relative peace may be interrupted by a sudden barrage of multiple attacks from diverse directions (imagine a person whose marriage breaks up within weeks of a job loss and a house fire, while struggling to overcome a drug addiction).

Spiritual warfare is ugly. Do not assume that you are too unimportant to be a target in the battle. Even the newest believer is involved in spiritual warfare. Whether Satan can rob you of your salvation or not, he will do whatever he can to keep you from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Some of his tactics, according to Matthew 13:19–22, are the following:

  • To steal the word of God from our hearts. If he can convince us to doubt God’s Word or His promises to us through Jesus Christ, Satan can keep us from following the Lord, experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life, and advancing the kingdom of God.
  • To bring persecution into our lives. If we have not produced deep roots in our faith, trials and temptations will convince us to give up. The antidote to this is to know, believe, and obey the Word of God (Matthew 7:24–27). Hearing the Word of the Lord and living by it produces the firm foundation and deep roots we need when the winds of trial and temptation blow.
  • To distract us with the cares of this world. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God. If we are too busy trying to make money, to attain prestige and popularity in this world, or have fun and comfort, we may not find time to do God’s will. If we put the cares of this world first, we will not take a stand for God’s kingdom.

Faith is the shield that protects us. It is more than the gateway to salvation. It is also much more than knowledge about the Bible or correct beliefs [even the demons believe, but they tremble in fear (James 2:19)]. Faith is the spiritual power within us that continually brings us under God’s covering protection. Faith draws us to God’s Word and then nourishes itself and our souls with greater faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith equips our hearts and minds to trust God and lean on Him when life becomes difficult.

Faith looks beyond our current circumstances to see the reward of our spiritual battles. After the beloved “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, the biblical author writes how Jesus triumphed on the cross by looking beyond His present circumstances:

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).

As we walk by faith, we emulate Jesus. The heroes of the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, which Christ accomplished. Jesus looked beyond the agony and shame of the cross to “the joy that was set before Him” (which included our eternal fellowship with Him) to triumph over sin, hell, and death. We emulate Jesus as we run with endurance, looking beyond our present battle to the ultimate victory we will enjoy forever.

When Satan attacks, we can wield a shield that protects us under the assurance that we are already fighting from a position of victory. As we remain faithful to Him even in hard times, we gain a victory in spiritual warfare. It is not even a close battle. Scripture tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Faith does not give us a tiny victory; it empowers us to kick the devil’s butt!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4–5).

Through faith, we are triumphant. When Satan attacks, we do not run away in fear. We raise our shield of faith and continue advancing. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against His body. Think about that for a second: Do you think demons are throwing gates at us? No, gates (like shields) are for hiding and protection. God’s children are called to advance His kingdom. We do not do so cowardly. We raise our shields and continue to advance. As we continue the battle, the demons flee behind their gates! However, those gates will not stand against us. We will overwhelmingly triumph over them as we march by faith and raise the sword of the Spirit in victory.

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

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Spiritual Warfare VI: The Shoes of Peace

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14–15, ESV).

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A Roman soldier’s boot. Photo by Matthias Kabel, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

According to an article on a shoe company’s website, the average man owns 12 pairs of shoes, whereas the average woman owns 27. Both numbers seem extravagant to me: I own about seven pairs (if you count two pairs of winter boots and a very old pair of sneakers that I only wear while at home). Yet, most people can see the purpose of owning multiple pairs. Both fashion and functionality matter with footwear. I may wear a pair of black dress shoes to church or other occasions where more formal wear is expected. Sneakers or athletic shoes are acceptable for more casual settings; they are essential for athletic activity. If you participate in several sports, you may need different kinds of footwear for different activities: track shoes, tennis shoes, soccer cleats, basketball shoes, etc. We can probably count ice skates as “shoes” for playing hockey.

A Roman soldier’s boots (“caligae”) were, in some ways, similar to a modern cleat. They were designed to provide traction and stability while allowing the soldier to walk, run, or march comfortably and quickly. His shoes or boots were designed for warfare. They were intended to help him stand firmly in battle. As Christians serve in the army of God and engage in spiritual warfare, we need to wear the shoes or boots that provide “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

We wage war to advance that gospel of peace. We should be viewed as a threat in the spiritual realm, overthrowing the powers of darkness, confident that the gates of hell will not stand against us (Matthew 16:18). However, as we wage our warfare, we should treat the people around us like prisoners of war, to whom we have come as a liberating army that has overpowered their oppressors. Certainly, many we encounter will view us as the enemy; as the father of lies, Satan has deceived them into thinking that they are free when he really has them in chains of deception. We have come to break those chains with the truth of the gospel of peace.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14–17).

The gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation. Paul says that Jesus Himself is our peace. He is the one who has broken down the wall of hostility between us and God. Through Christ, we have peace with God.

Jesus also brings peace to people of all nations, races, and tongues who will call upon His name for salvation. The Old Testament Law is broken down so that it no longer divides Jews from Gentiles. The love of God should tear down the walls that separate us along racial and ethnic lines; the fact that Sunday morning can still be called “the most segregated time of the week in America” should give us cause for concern. It should propel us to our knees in prayer and repentance so that we are fit to march forth in victory. When addressing the temptation to seek revenge, Paul writes:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

We are called to pursue peace even with those who have hurt or offended us. How much more should we live at peace with those who are merely different from us?

We are called to show the peace of God in our relationships with others and to march forth with the good news of deliverance in Jesus Christ. Quoting Isaiah 52:7, Paul writes:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14–15).

God has given us our marching orders. The gospel we believe is also the pair of boots we wear as we march forth to proclaim liberty to the captives. Christ has already won the war. We march forth against a defeated foe (Satan and his demons) as they maintain their final futile effort at resistance. We have received the gospel of peace, with which we can join Jesus in His mission of destroying the works of the devil and advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Let us march forth today to let people know that freedom and life are available to them in Christ Jesus. Like cleats on a soccer field, the gospel of peace will keep us standing securely as we march forth.

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

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

Judging Judges and Judgmentalism—The Brett Kavanaugh Case as an Illustration of Matthew 7:1

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Public domain photo, from Wikimedia Commons

Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed yesterday as the next associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, following contentious hearings involving accusations that he committed sexual assault while in high school. While Matthew 7:1 was not quoted during the divisive debates I heard, the public response to this controversy gave a clear picture of what Jesus meant.

 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the primary accuser (two more women have since accused Kavanaugh of improprieties, but they did not address the Senate) claimed that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a party while in high school. These accusations were made public by Sen. Dianne Feinstein near the end of confirmation hearings. From the moment her accusations were publicized, most Americans split into two visible factions. Conservatives blasted Ford, accusing her of making up false charges and refusing to believe any of the evidence. Liberals immediately assumed Kavanaugh must be guilty of the charges. I suspect that there may have been a faction of Americans who wanted to hear all of the evidence before making a decision, but they seemed silent.

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Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, the vast majority of politically concerned Americans seemed to have their minds made up before the Senate heard both parties. Each faction seemed to hear and see what they wanted to believe. When Ford described the assault, liberals saw a sincere, persuasive woman who gave a convincing account of a tragic experience; conservatives saw a bad acting job to exaggerate a pack of unfounded false accusations. When Kavanaugh responded to the charges, liberals saw an angry, stubborn man trying to cover up his guilt; conservatives saw a man of principle boldly defending his honor. Liberals saw a rapist and his wounded victim. Conservatives saw a liar and a persecuted man of integrity.

 

In all of this, the words of Jesus seem to be lost:

“Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1, ESV).

5194572He goes on to reasons why we should not judge in vv. 2-5. He does not give exceptions. He does not say, “Well, I guess it’s OK to judge somebody if they hold public office, or thrust themselves into the public eye, or are a celebrity. It’s also good to judge somebody if it will advance your political agenda.”

Jesus says none of this, and I believe the Kavanaugh controversy was a good illustration of what Jesus really meant.

First, He is not saying we should not make clear statements about good and evil. The actions Dr. Ford accused Judge Kavanaugh of committing were evil, plain and simple. You do not force a woman into a sexual act against her wishes. You do not use physical force to make a woman engage in sexual activity. Those are sins.

The question was never, “Is rape or sexual assault illegal or immoral?” The question was, “Did Brett Kavanaugh actually do this?” This was where the public debate was marred. We should not make assumptions about a person’s innocence, guilt, or character to advance our own biases and desires. We the people—and Senators from both parties—should have waited to hear all of the evidence before pronouncing who was innocent and who was guilty. Several Senators declared their decision even before Ford’s claims were presented in a hearing. We would not tolerate such behavior out of a judge hearing a trial before a court; why do we defend similar behavior from our Congressional representatives?

Although Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court, this controversy is not behind us. These arguments will reappear for years to come, every time a ruling passes by a 5-4 vote with Kavanaugh siding with the majority.

Likewise, the moral and ethical failure common to so many people will remain, until each of us as an individual truly commits to following the hard sayings of Jesus. It is tempting to make the jump from “That activity is wrong” to “That person must be doing something wrong, because he looks like one of those bad people I do not like.”

In many 12-step programs, there is a slogan: “Principles before personalities.” When dealing with political and social issues, I will expand that to “Principles before personalities and parties.” We must maintain godly principles. We must be eager to take a stand for truth, righteousness, and justice. As Christians, we must be diligent to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We will not succeed if we are driven by prejudices, preconceived notions, and a desire to gain victory for our side that eclipses a desire to see Christ Jesus glorified.

This post copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Christians and Culture, Current events, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Putting on the Armor of God: St. Patrick’s Breastplate

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Stained glass image of St. Patrick. By Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after posting the recent article about the breastplate of righteousness, I began thinking about one of my favorite prayers: St. Patrick’s Breastplate.

This is an ancient prayer for divine protection. Although some scholars think it is more recent, tradition claims that St. Patrick wrote this prayer in the fourth or fifth century. As he was preaching the Gospel throughout Ireland, he knew he needed God’s protection. According to one legend, the soldiers of a hostile king sought to ambush St. Patrick and his companions while they traveled through a forest. The men of God were transformed in deer while they prayed the Breastplate, thereby passing the soldiers unnoticed. Yes, it is a far-fetched tale, and St. Patrick himself never mentions this event in his writings. Still, it is a great story.

Some people pray this prayer in the morning to claim Christ’s presence and God’s protection for the coming day. I know other people who may have no rote traditional prayer, but while they pray in the morning, they claim each part of the whole armor of God onto themselves during the day. However you go about it, do not start a day without seeking God’s presence and protection to follow you.

Here is a brief excerpt from St. Patrick’s Breastplate. You can read it in its entirety at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/st-patricks-breastplate-poem:

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” traditionally attributed to St. Patrick, is in the public domain.

 

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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: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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