Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Them's Fightin' Words!

[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church. The title is "Why We Speak to Nations", and you can find the audio by clicking on the title.]

This past weekend, our congregation had a missions conference. Missionaries gave testimonies about work being done in Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Chile, South Africa, and here in Indianapolis. We had the opportunity to be encouraged by these men and women, and we had the opportunity to encourage them in return. I think this kind of exchange may be what Paul wanted when he wrote to the Roman believers. His desire in seeing them was to preach the gospel among them (Romans 1:15) and also to "be mutually encouraged by each other's faith" (Romans 1:12).

We closed our conference by seeking to answer this question: "Why do we speak to nations?" In doing so, we thought about God's revelation of Himself in words. We also thought about the role of words in the ministries of the prophets, the Lord Jesus, the apostles, and even the pastors who would follow after the apostles. We finished by being reminded that the words of the gospel carry inherent, inexplicable power, and they explain the way in which sinful mankind can be reconciled to a holy God. Christianity is a wordy faith, and if we want to be part of God's gathering of souls from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people, then we must be wordy Christians. We must continue speaking to nations.

This big picture of remaining involved in God's mission is important, but there may be a tendency to disconnect such ideas from today's experience of living. How does the importance of words intersect with my life today? This is an important question.

The answer that comes immediately to mind is that today we are living in a war zone. I don't mean physical wars between nations. I mean what Paul expresses in Ephesians 6:12, "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."

First, notice who the war is between...the war is not between God's angels and Satan's demons. This is not some epic battle that happens 'above our heads.' No, the battle is between Christians and "the spiritual forces of evil." We are actively engaged in this battle. The difficulty for many evangelical Christians is that we live as if such warfare is not happening at all, and if you ask a soldier on the front line, I'm certain they would tell you how dangerous such an attitude is.

Second, notice the position from which we fight. If you look back at Ephesians 1:20-23, you will see the great victory that Christ has achieved over "all rule and authority and power and dominion" (v. 21). The great Captain of our Souls has already defeated all that we will battle in this life. You have probably heard that we "fight a defeated foe" or "we fight from victory not for victory." That's what Paul is telling the Ephesians, and it is actually part of his prayer life on their behalf...that God would often bring this truth to their minds and hearts. This is why, in chapter 6, Paul applies that reality to their hearts by telling them that the Lord is their strength (v. 10). It was the Lord's strength that defeated their enemies through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it is the Lord's strength which will enable them to now stand.

Third, notice our means of fighting. In verses 14-17, Paul talks about the defensive portion of our preparation for battle, and I will only mention them briefly. We are to be girded with the belt of truth...a belt which holds everything together. We must wear the breastplate of righteousness. This is not the imputed righteousness of Christ, for Paul is writing to those who are Christians...they have already been given His righteousness. This is the righteousness of life...of daily living...of obedience. We must wear the shoes of the gospel, carry the shield of faith, and wear the helmet of salvation.

Then, he moves on to the offensive. We know how to protect ourselves against the "flaming darts of the evil one" (v. 15), but we are not to simply avoid spiritual injury. We are to fight! This battle is one fought with words, and thus, we have found the relevance of the importance for words in our lives. These words are those given to us by God...the sword of the Spirit...the Scripture (v. 17). By reading, studying, and knowing the Word of God, we are better equipped to wield this great weapon against our enemy. By doing this, "we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Our weapon, then, is one that is used to destroy weapons that would come against us. Arguments, lofty opinions, and various thoughts come against us every day...from our media, from liberal scholars, from our friends, and sometimes from within our own brains. The enemy loves to tempt us with his various Trojan horses, but inside each resides the poison of evil spiritual forces...ready to destroy sound doctrine, ready to alter our gospel, and ready to lead us into indifference. The only weapon that can fight against these is the Word of God, and the only way we will aptly use this weapon is to know it...to practice handling it...to train ourselves for such encounters (which happen more than we realize, by the way).

The other word weapon is prayer. It is an act of warfare to call on our God to empower us to withstand the attack of the evil one. It is an act of warfare to pray for those who are the preachers and teachers of God's Word. It is an act of warfare to pray for God to save family members and friends, for what we are asking is that they be delivered out of the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God's Son (Col. 1:13). We use words to call out to God, and He empowers us through His words for us. So, our weapons are the words of God to us (the Scripture) and our words of dependence on God (prayer).

Let's face it...we're in a battle that we cannot endure apart from words. Yes, Christ has already defeated sin, death, and the devil, but until the consummation of all things, we live in a world where our enemy's efforts still echo in the lives of believers. He has always been a thief who wants to steal, kill, and destroy...and his defeat did not change his aim. If it were not so, we would not be told to prepare for battle in such strong language.

In this life, we will face temptations to believe our good works make us more acceptable to God, and such pride must be defeated through the words of God to us and our words to God. We will face trials, tribulations, diagnoses, and disappointments through which we are tempted to toss aside faith because 'it doesn't work.' The battle will only be won through the words of God to us and our words to God. Our relationships with spouses, children, family, and friends will all be affected by the presence of sin and could fall apart...we may even be tempted to think that avoiding reconciliation is the best possible thing we could do. The only way to save them is through heeding God's words to us and calling out our words to God.

Our worldwide mission is a word mission, and personal mission is a word mission. Nations, tribes, and tongues will be conquered through words, and our soul's battle with the spiritual forces of evil will be won through words. So, the next time we open our Bibles to read and to study, we must not see it as a merely intellectual exercise but as the polishing of a weapon we need to survive. Maybe the next time we open the Bible, we should first remind ourselves...them's fightin' words!