CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Are You In the Battle?

Jul 9, 2010

It is amazing how much the Bible speaks about the walk of the believer as being one of a life of battle. And it is equally amazing how many believers are either oblivious to these battles waging around them, or how desirous they are of opting out of these fights altogether.

The truth is, living in a fallen world in which God and Satan strive for the souls of men, how can we expect anything other than relentless and ferocious battle? Yet many believers live as if there is no such struggle going on. They seem far too much at home in the surrounding world, and thus know little about the battles taking place all around them.

Yet Scripture is full of language describing the life of the believer as one of constant warfare, battle and fighting. The believer’s walk in a hostile world is not meant to be a picnic. It is a battleground, and anyone seriously discharging his duties as a follower of Christ will testify to the hardships of battle.

The Old Testament features many actual battles: Israel taking on the Canaanites, dealing with hostile neighbours, battling against false gods and idols, etc. Mostly it was actual physical warfare. But of course it was also symbolic and typical of the spiritual battle which lies behind these earthly struggles.

We are clearly told in the New Testament that our battles are spiritual in nature, fought in the heavenlies. But a powerful spiritual foe provides as much opposition and antagonism as any earthly enemy can. Thus we must be just as serious in our spiritual struggles.

Two new books which I just bought speak to this very issue. While they are not aimed directly at this theme, I found it quite interesting that the pages I had just randomly flipped open as I was checking out the books zeroed in on this exact issue. Thus I will highlight some of these passages in more detail.

The first book is an expository commentary on 1 Samuel. Written by John Woodhouse of Moore Theological College in Sydney, it is a collection of 49 sermons on the book. It is part of the helpful series put out by R. Kent Hughes called “Preaching the Word”.

The page I happened to flick open to was about the battle Saul had with the men of Jabesh. On the page I had opened it said this: “Christian evangelism has this in common with Saul’s conflict: the enemy is real. Precisely because the enemy in this case is not a physical enemy, evangelism, cannot and must not be physically violent. However, we do not take the gospel into a happy marketplace, selling an idea to eager customers. There is an enemy. An evil enemy. An enemy hostile to God, God’s purposes, and God’s people.”

He continues, “The enemy has an army: unbelief, godlessness, pride, ignorance, sin. And the proclamation of the gospel is a war against the enemy and his forces. Do not forget that the war is not a worldly war. Our weapons must be the weapons of righteousness – and no other. But do not think that what we go to do can be painless.”

He introduces this section (1 Sam. 11:1-11) in this fashion: “Have you noticed how often the New Testament employs military and warfare language and images for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? . . . The proclamation of the gospel is war. As we take the word of Christ to an unbelieving world, we go to do battle.”

He goes on to note how we have drifted away from this understanding: “In many ways the business world has replaced the battlefield as a source of categories for thinking about this work. Gospel work is then not war but commerce: we go to sell a product, not to fight a battle. We face potential customers, not an enemy. We are out to expand our market share and increase our customer base, not to capture, defeat, and destroy a foe.”

So what do we now do? “We form a business plan, not a battle plan. The conflict we face arises from the competition in the marketplace of ideas where our product is not the only one offered, rather than the hostile wiles of the enemy. The language of war, weapons, and battle is too extreme for the way we think about evangelism. We are more like advertisers than fighters.”

The second reference to this battle motif is found in a new book on the theology of the Pastoral Epistles. Andreas Kostenberger and Terry Wilder edited Entrusted with the Gospel, and one of the essays looks at “The Ethics of the Pastoral Epistles”. The page I happened to flick open was offering some concluding remarks.

What caught my eye was this: “We might notice the cost that these letters attach to being a Christian, especially for someone who leads. That is, the Pastoral Epistles imply that ministry entails almost constant struggle against false doctrines, false disciples, and cavalier disobedience. . . . Accordingly, the aspiring country-club Christian gets no encouragement from these letters, to say nothing of the others.”

The Pastorals especially emphasise perseverance in the face of adversity and opposition: “No one escapes it for long, and highly visible members of the church – people like Paul, Timothy, and the overseers who follow them – will suffer disproportionately, no matter how kind, gentle, and respectable they might be. These themes line up exactly with what Paul says elsewhere about following Christ. . . . We have a charge to keep, guarding a trust given to us. The task will seldom be easy, but it will always be wonderful.”

There are of course numerous other texts that could be appealed to here. But these should suffice to remind us that any theology which says the Christian life is a life of leisure and ease is not biblical. Throughout the Bible we find that the walk of the believer is a struggle, a battle, and a contest, with many obstacles and hindrances in our way.

Indeed, there are many enemies, many barriers, and many threats to the fruitful faith life. But the good news is we are promised divine assistance as we endure these struggles and face these battles. And just as importantly, we are assured of final victory in the days ahead.

Given how important these themes are, I take it that this was more than mere coincidence that I happened to buy these books and flip open to the pages that I did. It was a good reminder to me of some vital biblical truths, and something which we all need to recall and take to heart.

So off to battle!

[1119 words]

18 Responses to Are You In the Battle?

  • This message has been eclipsed by the so called ‘prosperity gospel’. This prosperity gospel is one of the targets we should be aiming at in this spiritual war.
    Stan Fishley

  • Thanks Bill. This is beautifully put by John Woodhouse. I’d add that when the sum total of church attendance, and our Christian walk is a regularly comfortable, ‘nice’ and largely non-challenging experience then we’ve forgoten that …
    “The enemy has an army: unbelief, godlessness, pride, ignorance, sin. And the proclamation of the gospel is a war against the enemy and his forces. Do not forget that the war is not a worldly war. Our weapons must be the weapons of righteousness – and no other. But do not think that what we go to do can be painless.”

    I find the point about Gospel work now being about commerce not war to be a fascinating piece of discernment about where the focus of the church is. It’s also represented in what is proclaimed regularly from the pulpit – church growth and building funds, but little about taking the fight to the enemy in our lives, in the local community and for the good of the nation. And where there is talk of it, there’s little action. That’s because the focus and movement of a business is very different to that of an army.

    Garth Penglase

  • Indeed, Garth, I noticed the same point with equal force.

    Bill, how many of your responders are working and therefore in the business context? And by contrast, how many (few?) are aware of, or members of, the military?

    Business and commerce have come to dominate modern life, and as I commented a week or two back, government competence is nowadays defined in economic terms.

    That probably means the business metaphor has slipped under our guard. Thanks Mr Woodhouse, for the reminder!

    John Angelico

  • Bill surrounded by a life of relative ease, comfort and dare I say it, selfish pursuits it is not surprising the Church by and large has turned her back from the battle. The problem is though our spiritual enemy does not turn his back on us until the soul has been completely won over by his deceit. So even whilst taking our ease the webs of complacency and lies are still being spun and precious times of eternal fruitfulness is lost. I think that the coming spiritual darkness over this nation will serve to sort us out. Who is for this world and who is for Eternal Glory. May God’s grace be upon us all for the latter.
    Keith Lewis

  • I am sure everyone is with me but let me clarify so as not to cause any misunderstanding with my statement about business. When I talk about business being the wrong focus I am referring purely to the church’s approach to ministry.

    I, myself, am a business man, and that is one of my arenas of influence. Business is more than a legitimate area of ministry, indeed it is often where much ministry starts and ends, and the proper generation and accumulation of finance & the protection of property are enshrined as biblical fundamentals, as much as the charity that should follow from it.

    No, in fact there needs to be a military approach in all areas of Gospel work, business included, but not a business approach to the work of the Gospel.

    As part of leadership I have been unable to reconcile my belief in a radical gospel with the business-like programatic approach. This has caused much conflict within me since so much of church life is focused toward and run this way, yet I personally don’t see that when I look in Acts; at least not a focus on church growth, on numerical or dollar goals reached, on spiritual leadership performance based upon number and size of programs established or a person’s leadership worth assessed more on a business basis than on a spiritual basis.

    As John Wesley said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.” This is ‘take no prisoners’ type of spiritual leadership that I want to be caught up in.

    Garth Penglase

  • Thank you Bill. I’m feeling somewhat battered and bruised right now after once again trying to engage my own adult and non-believing children in a discussion on one of the current moral issues we are facing in Australia. Your words were exactly what I need, reminding me not to totally crawl into that shell. 🙂 Rather to regroup, in prayer and in the Word, and once more go into battle.
    Rob Robertson

  • Thanks Bill for your words of encouragement to the worshiping warriors, the wake up call to the slumbering saints and words of healing to the shell-shocked sheep.
    Glenn Christopherson

  • Now the ‘Battle Hymn of the Church’ is music to the ears of intercessors. The comparison of ‘business and battle plans is rather neat and well taken.

    An updated dissertation on the theology of warfare in scripture has been around since 1997 in G.A. Boyd’s book “God @ War”.

    Ray Robinson

  • Thanks Bill,

    Garth, thank you for your comments, as businessman taking a stand is costly particularly in the business environment. Even though it hurts we have to keep reminding ourselves of the standing before our Lord.

    Though we are not involved in military invasions in our daily lives in Australia we are being invaded by stealth. Take for example Fridays article in the AFR about Islamic finance and becoming a regional centre. We seem to forget that infiltration in the marketplace of ideas gets subsumed in the chase for the dollar. We do not even realise that parts of our lives are already under sharia law – if you buy any lamb product say from NZ you will need to be aware that it has been killed in accordance with Islamic practices. Discernment at the subtlies of battle that rages and that we now face is the key. I thank Bill for is continual raising of important issues we face.

    We need to be arming ourselves with the spiritual weapons that Paul taught us in the epistles. Sadly, the lack of Christian unity and leadership on Biblical integrity and principles leads to ineffectiveness in reclaiming the Kingdom of God within peoples lives today. At times it does seem overwhelming, however we have an awesome God and need to allow him to work through us one day at time to effect his will.

    Charles Northocte

  • Thanks Bill for that article. It may be that the biggest battle of all is the one of surrendering and humbling ourselves completely before God.

    Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)

    Peter Baade

  • Yes quite right Peter

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • This type of website is a good tool for preparation for engaging in spiritual warfare. It informs us about those little things that sometimes slip past us as in all fairness, we cannot be aware of everything at once, we need to rely on each other for that. The example about sharia finance, probably not a lot of people know about that but as Christians it is our duty to be informed about all things so we can be on guard both as individuals and as the church collectively. I am of the opinion that every morning, if we begin our day in Christ, we will be engaging in spiritual warfare as there are demons all around us looking for a weakness or opportunity to shipwreck our faith or cause doubt in us so that when we take our eyes off Jesus we then focus on ourselves and this leaves us wide open. Sometimes we are fighting ourselves as we struggle against the temptation to sin.
    Steve Davis

  • Any serious Christian knows we’re in an escalating war. When we step forward for God we attract more attention in the spiritual realm. Temptations may increase or difficulties with the “World” – work, neighbours etc. Such trials can sometimes be an encouraging sign that we’re on the right road, though discernment is needed, as always. I like Exodus Ch.14 v.13 in such circumstances whoever the particular “Egyptians” might be.
    Anna Cook

  • I didn’t think there would be a day I would face violence as a christian. Yes it happened to me 2 weeks ago. A young man, troubled by the world and obviously angry. I felt prompted to offer some help or support in some way. He responded by punching me in the face. Twice. I responded by being shocked and hurt and the best i could say then was, you cant just go around hitting people. I then walked off.
    Daniel Kempton

  • @Charles, I am too concerned by the under-the-radar encroachment of Islamic finance & law into Australia. Overtly we have Muslims waging a political and media war to get Sharia law accepted for a subset of the Australia population. A horrendous idea at any level, and there are no doubt many non-extremist and non-political Muslims that have lived here peacefully for generations horrified with the idea, just as many Christians are.

    I had a non-Christian relative send me an email talking about the Halal symbol on many products and recommending a boycott of these products, since even she recognised that they extract a royalty for it and saw it as the marketplace pandering to a tiny proportion of the population probably for political reasons as much for financial ones.

    I agreed with her assessment and her boycott of such products – you’ll notice there are some major companies that have bought into this.

    But I notice that Bill has written an article about this so…

    Garth Penglase

  • It’s better for your life to be a happy war than a miserable picnic.
    Don Hayman

  • Yes Garth, we must not permit Shariah Law to enter into this country! And I think a tough stand has to be taken by our government, which Julia Gillard seems to be doing – Thank God! And even though she is apparently atheistic, she is speaking up for the Christian ethos of this country and the fact that “God” is a part of our culture, and stating that the majority of Australians are Christian. I commend her for this.

    I am against Halal meat due to the barbarically inhumane animal treatment also, and to think we Australians transport our cattle and sheep to Middle Eastern countries where they are met with such brutal cruelty! This is not our way… (Human beings are still stoned to death in some of these countries under Shariah Law!)

    Yes, most Muslims in Australia are against extremism and have assimilated well into our country, but I understand there is no choice of leaving their religion if they are disenchanted – due to the threat of execution (in other countries), so hopefully they feel safer here. In Australia we have “Freedom of Religion”. (Sharia Law – is not a religion but a political dictatorship, and a sadistically cruel one at that!!) I believe this is the Earthly battle we must fight, plus there is the Spiritual one also, because our society is disintegrating, and I firmly believe we are being chastised/punished/warned right now via these extreme natural disasters. God help us all!! Those of us who recognise this must pray.

    – Wonderful article Bill! (sorry if I got carried away)

    Paula Mari Pike

  • Daniel,

    How horrible an experience for you! You just took that, made your statement, and then walked off!! Don’t know if I could have done that actually…. You’re a TRUE Christian! Hope you’re okay now?

    Paula Mari Pike

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