For years, one of the most popular writers in Christian circles has been a man named George Barna. According to Wikipedia, “Barna has written more than 50 books, mostly addressing cultural trends, leadership, spiritual development, and church dynamics. They include New York Times bestsellers and several award-winning books. He has sold more books based on survey research related to matters of faith than any author in American history. His work is frequently cited as an authoritative source by the media. Barna has been hailed as ‘the most quoted person in the Christian Church today’ and has been named by various media as one of the nation’s most influential Christian leaders.” He is quoted everywhere, and I have put some of his statements in the bulletin from time to time. While he might be helpful in some ways, we must remember that trends are not as important as Truths. I know what society is doing from what the Bible says as much as from what the news media says. And I’m not planning on changing my theology or my practice to suit the current trends. And besides, it appears to me that Barna sometimes dispenses conflicting opinions. In one statement he seems to be saying that Christianity is alive and well. And then in the next he seems to be saying that we’re in serious trouble.
I suppose that, depending on your point of view, both statements are true. Clearly, Christianity is lagging behind other religions in its market position – market share. Cults and foreign religions are growing far more rapidly than Bible Christianity. So in this sense we might conclude that Christianity is failing. But then on the other hand, the Lord has told us that in the latter days we’d find ourselves in the exact position that we are in. There is a lull before the storm so to speak. Before the tsunami of God’s presence the seas roll back away from the shore. And with this in mind, we are closer to God’s final victory than we were a few years go. And then if the worth of a single soul is greater than the combined wealth of all the world, Christianity cannot fail, for the Lord has saved far more than just one sinful child of Adam. Besides, the war isn’t over as long as there is a soldier still fighting. But in this case the campaign isn’t dependent upon some poorly trained, poorly equipped PFC. This war is between Satan and Christ, and the Lord Jesus hasn’t slowed by a single step. Sure He has shed some blood, but it was victorious blood which meant life not death. And then there is the fact that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” “We are kept by the power of God unto salvation.” “And the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now, waiting for the (prophesied and guaranteed) manifestation of the sons of God.”
But on the other side of the question – are we – you and me – living victoriously? Are we growing in Christ, spiritually, intellectually and practically? Are we living victoriously over our sins? Are we more – or less – worldly than we were three months ago? Are we less fleshly than we have been in the past? Should verse 10 be kept as an exhortation, or might it be rephrased as a statement in our case? Is it “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might”? Or is it: “Praise God, I see that you are strong in the Lord and the power of His might.” If Christianity is a flop it’s only because the saints of the Lord are not what we ought to be. Or as we might express it in the light of this scripture – it is because we are underdressed. We have access both to the defenses and the offensive power of the Almighty. If we are defeated it’s NOT due to the weakness of the Lord, but to our own foolishness.
The words “whole armour” in verse 11 is the single Greek word “panoplia” (pan-op-lee’-ah). The transliterated word pops up once in a while in modern English, but not very often. It is a military word, very rarely used in any other context, except allegorically. It refers to the entire uniform of the combat soldier from his helmet to his boots – head to heels. Once in a while it might be used to describe the soldier in his best dress uniform. But it almost always refers to is combat clothes. And obviously, military armor, at least as it’s described in our scripture has no other application than warfare.
There is a very clear indication in the Bible that Christianity has some militaristic aspects. Our work is military. II Timothy 4 – “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight.” I Timothy 6 – “Thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith.” I Timothy 1 – “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare.” Our commander is military, being called our Captain and a Conqueror. And our spiritual clothing is military; “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”
If there is a way in which Christianity is failing, it is in the fact it has lost its sense of militancy, combat and discipline.
I think that it’s necessary to remind ourselves that we are in a SPIRITUAL WAR.
And again, what kind of war is it? Our presidents have been saying for years that we are all in a war against terror. Other politicians like to campaign on the war against drugs or the war on crime. Obviously, there are many different kinds of battles. Do you remember the job of Paul Revere? At a very early point in the Revolutionary War, it was necessary to the Americans to know whether the British were going to proceed against them over land or by way of the sea. It used to be that those two approaches to battle were very different. A guerrilla attack is entirely different from a nuclear attack. People fear ISIS in one way but they fear North Korea in a different way. But after either one, a lot of people might be just as dead. A conventional ground war is different from an air strike with B1 bombers or drones. Then there are conventional bombs, smart bombs, cluster bombs and bunker busters.
Just what kind of battle is the Christian going to face? The saint of God needs to be aware that most of the attacks against us are of the guerrilla variety. Various Christian group in Africa are in the midst of severe persecution. There is no doubt that Satan is hurting the children of God with bullets, land mines and starvation. He has captured cities and even nations with physical force. But as far as you and I are concerned the battle for our spiritual condition is far more subtle than bullets. Perhaps Satan’s greatest victory today is in the realm of influence.
Not only do we need to know of the kind of assault to expect, but we need to know the enemy’s strength. “What king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.” Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and Hindus are not the main thrust of the enemy. These are nothing but decoys and patrols. The only way that they are effective, is if they can frighten us from our duties of worship and service. The lost man is lost, but the saved man can not ever be lost again, so we shouldn’t fear these people. On the other hand, we can be diverted from important battles to fringe engagements. Satan is not a straw man nor an imbecile. He is a highly skilled tactician. He knows how to keep us from personal victory. But his strength or wisdom cannot be compared to the strength which is on our side.
The Bible tells us that the combat in which we are engaged is carried out at close range – it is a wrestling. It is possible to fire a missile at people whom we can’t see. It is possible to shoot cannons at targets which we can barely see. Pilots may have dog-fights with other pilots, but they generally only see their planes. A sniper might be shooting at real individual targets, but they are often thousands of yards away. Part of the fighting in Iraq, Iraq and Afghanistan has been from house to house. But we are involved in fighting even closer than that. It means that we need to have the right kind of weapon, the sword of the Spirit rather than cannon.
Verse 13 implies that the attacks against us will sometimes be quite sudden. There is very often a calm before the next attack. This means that we must be ready at all times.
Over the last two years I have read two books on the Revolutionary War. When I was in my early teens I was fascinated with the history of the Civil War. And my interest hasn’t waned very much; there are several books on my shelves about that war. But my perspective on that war between brothers, changed entirely when I had the opportunity to visit two or three of the major battle sites in Kentucky and Tennessee. The thrill of the stories evaporated when I walked onto the same ground which sopped up the blood of several thousand people. And yet what I vicariously felt a century later must not have been what veterans of that war later felt.
When I pull out the history of the battles Satan, the situation is vastly different. Elijah, David, Lot, Jacob, Paul, Barnabas and Silas show us spiritual battles, which come closer to home to me than Shiloh and Look Out Mountain outside of Chattanooga. I see Satan try to defeat the Lord Jesus – without success. I see Peter in prison and Paul stoned nearly to death in Lystra. Even in those attacks which had physical implications, the spiritual aspects were far more critical.
This scripture tells us that OUR DEFENSE has got to be spiritual.
We can’t fight FIRE with a Winchester or Remington; we can’t fight DISEASE with water or bullets. And we can’t battle a spiritual enemy with physical weapons. “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal.” For example, since my days in Bible School I have amassed a dozen different books on evangelism. Most of them are not worth the paper they are printed on. One of the books which I recently threw away was called “Let it Grow.” Its theme was how to build a great church. In the second paragraph of the first chapter it said: “The key to reaching Harry is to discover a felt need and show him how the gospel relates to it. In other words, show him how the gospel will make him successful at reaching his goals.” Then the next paragraph speaks about creating “satisfied customers.” The whole book outlines secular weapons to do spiritual work. If I remember correctly, the Lord Jesus corrected Peter when he cut off Malchus’ ear with a sword.
When we see the battle getting closer and closer to the heart of the Lord Jesus, we see Him spending more and more time IN PRAYER. At the temptation in the wilderness. At the institution of the church and the commissioning of His ambassadors. We have John 17 and Gethsemane just prior to his crucifixion. If the Lord Jesus needed that kind of extra strength then what about us? “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Never in a million years will the Devil flee from you without the Lord Jesus at your side. Our first defense has to be spiritual.
Something else we learn from the scripture is that we must be READY AT ALL TIMES.
This is a part of the thrust of this passage. The time to learn the art of warfare is before the attack begins. David was experienced in stone-slinging long before he met Goliath. Put on the whole armour of God, and do it now. That is the command of the Lord.
Who should wear the panoply of God? Just preachers or Apostles? Look at the context of this passage: 5:14 – “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.” 5:22 – “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.” 5:25 – “Husbands, love your wives.” 6:1 – “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” 6:5 – “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters.” 6:9 – “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them.” This list covers just about everyone.
Christianity is failing in its responsibility to represent Christ because has failed to recognize its warfare. I say with Paul – “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”
Now, there might be somebody smiling about all of this, thinking that they’ve never seen any spiritual battle. That could be because they are already wounded and comatose. Maybe it’s because our enemies think that we’re too insignificant even engage in battle. “Be sober, vigilant, because your adversary your adversary, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour.”