"The War Within"
On the Internal and External War
Between Good and Evil
Given By John McKay
At North Arnold Mill Baptist Church, Woodstock GA, on November 4, 2007 (AM service)
A downloadable MP3 file of the NAMBC sermon is here
Also given at Westside Baptist Church, Gainesville GA, on November 4, 2007 (PM service)
(Brief personal introduction)
As I mentioned, I am a high school history & government teacher, and attend New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, answering a call to ministry. I tend to listen to a lot of sermons while driving, and last week, heard one given by the well-know pastor John MacArthur, called "A Nation Abandoned by God." He thinks that God has turned his back on America, and used his interpretation of Romans 1 through 3 to make his point.
I have been thinking a lot about what Rev. MacArthur had to say, as well as the many prayers of my students for sicknesses and diseases in their families, legal problems, divorces and other personal problems, as well as prayers for their brothers, sisters, father and mothers serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of my daily devotionals is by a 1930-50s era pastor named A.W. Tozer, and this is what he had to say about the state of the world in his day:
In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men and women conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other ... How different today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. People think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight, we are here to frolic. (pp 4-5, This World: Playground or Battleground?)
Christians today are comfortable and seek to make themselves at home in this place and in this world. However, this is not our home, and we are in the midst of a immense metaphysical struggle between good and evil, of which we can only see occasional glimpses. Everyone, Christians and non-believers alike, play a part in this struggle, and all must choose sides; there is no middle or neutral ground in this struggle. To be ready for this struggle, we must do three things, recognize the presence of evil, declare we are on the side of God, and prepare ourselves for combat.
Is there a war going on somewhere in the world?
- Currently 30 "hot" wars going on around the world
- Another 20 "peacekeeping" operations going on currently
- You may not realize this because of the level of apathy in our society:
- Newspaper reports talk of "insurgents" but not enemies
- IED's but not ambushes
- Patrols and base camps but not front lines and combat
- The only "war" you normally hear called that is one being protested about
Is there a war going on within ourselves?
Rom. 7:21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
Rom. 7:22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
Rom. 7:23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
- Well over 7 million people are imprisoned or on supervised release currently (FBI stats)
- 2.4 million people have used illegal drugs in the past year (CDC stats)
- On an average day in 2006, youth used the following substances for the first time: 7,970 drank alcohol for the first time, 4,348 used an illicit drug for the first time, 4,082 smoked cigarettes for the first time, 3,577 used marijuana for the first time, and 2,517 used pain relievers nonmedically for the first time. (HHS stats)
- 50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce
So, why isn't there any discussion about this war within us?
- There is, some, but there are great forces arrayed by Satan against any of this as being seen as bad.
- 2Cor. 11:14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
- There is a professional, well-financed lobbying organization in Washington dedicated to the elimination of al child molestation laws (NAMBLA: the North American Man-Boy Love Association)
- The Supreme Court has ruled that teenagers do not have to even inform their parents that they are having an abortion, much less get their permission (AYOTTE V. PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF NORTHERN NEW ENG. (04-1144) 546 U.S. 320 (2006))
- For over thirty years there have been a number of groups organized and devoted to the cause of eliminating all drug laws (NORML, DrugSense, FFDLR)
How many of us in this so-called Christian nation are actually Christians?
- For many years a figure of 40% was believed accurate about church attendance
- Recent actual counts (as opposed to questionnaires) reveal the figure is more likely 20% or less
- Even within the church, there is great evil that has been introduced and is being promoted as good.
- The best example of this is Gene Robinson, the Episcopalian Bishop of New Hampshire, who is an open, non-celibate homosexual. (ordained 2003)
- Other presumably Christian leaders refuse to say anymore whether Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father or not (Joel Osteen on Larry King Live, June 20, 2005)
- As many as 80% of evangelical youth drop out of church life completely after high school
God will not allow us to "sit on the fence" when it come to Him and His Kingdom.
- In his letter to the church at Laodicea, Christ says that he wishes that they would take a stand, that he hates their indecision whether to stand with Him or against Him:
- Rev. 3:15 "I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!
- Rev. 3:16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!
o 1Pet. 5:8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
- God has provided us with all we need to resist the actions of evil, and to stand strong in our faith:
o Eph. 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
- We are not fighting men and women, but against supernatural, metaphysical forces of evil:
o Eph. 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
- Paul writes of a spiritual armor that is provided by God, that we are to put on, recognize we have, and to use!
o Eph. 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
- I believe Paul had military training at some point in his life, as he chooses which piece of armor represents what spiritual concept with great care and with great subtlety:
o Eph. 6:14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS,
- The "belt"(cingulum militarye) he refers to was usually made of a thick leather, used by the Roman soldiers primarily to mount their sword and dagger in sheath, though they did serve a secondary purpose as a heraldic device, with silver plated copper-alloy plates (phalerae) bearing embossed or inlaid insignia signifying their Legion and in some cases special awards they had been granted.
Paul referred to this piece of armor as the "belt of truth," bearing on it the insignia of real Truth personified, Jesus Christ. By figuratively strapping on this belt, the Christian warrior publicly states to whom his allegiance is given, and silently but visibly declares that he is a warrior sworn to the service of his Lord.
The "breastplate" (qw◊raka in the original Greek, or lorica segmentata to the Romans) of the Roman army was not a solid, medieval style piece of plate armor, but a tightly fitting corset made of overlapping curved strips of iron laid over a thin leather jerkin, and fastened together with leather thongs. It was worn over a padded doublet, and designed to serve as the best possible compromise between protection from edged weapons and missiles, and to give the soldier to maximum unrestricted range of motion and flexibility. The breastplate was not intended to be a complete covering of armor for the warrior, but just to be an improved defense for the chest, back, sides and vital organs.
An important point about this piece of armor is that it was only worn in battle, or when combat was expected to be imminent. Just like our soldiers today experience in Iraq, and soldiers of my own generation experienced in Vietnam, a heavy armored jacket retains far too much body heat, is too heavy and saps too much energy to be worn when not expecting an immediate action or engagement.
o Eph. 6:15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE;
Paul is referring to the distinctive footwear of the Roman military, the caligae, a intricately hobnailed sole, heavy leather boot that laced well over the ankle, featured an elaborately cutout single-piece upper, and gave the soldiers a steady stance in combat and a sure footing on the march. The comparison of "readiness" to such footwear is Paul's way of stating how basic and essential a through knowledge of scripture is to the Christian warrior. Like the church today, the Roman armies fought as teams, with each soldier having to keep up his own part in the fight, at the risk of bringing down a whole section or even Century if he failed. A misstep in the heat of battle might open a fatal whole in the solid phalanx line of the Legions, while an under-prepared Christian warrior has at the very least a weakened ability to confront evil and witness to the lost.
o Eph. 6:16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
The word Paul uses for "extinguish" is "sbeąsai," an aorist, active, infinitive verb that indicates an undefined length of action, not just a passive wall of protection for hiding behind. This reflects well what shields were used for in classical warfare.
The shields (scutum) of the Roman legions in Paul's day were large, heavy rectangular affairs (though some in certain Legions were oval in shape), always carried in the left hand, about two feet wide and four feet tall, made of wood with painted leather stretched over the front, and a round metal "boss" projecting out from the middle. The painted leather carried designs indicating which unit the individual soldier belonged to[i], and the round metal boss covered and protected the handgrip inside the shield. In classical age warfare, archers frequently used pitch-soaked arrows set aflame to ignite their opponents wooden fortifications and shields. Just before battle, these shields would be soaked with water, to "extinguish all the flaming arrows" of the enemy, just as Paul had written.
Behind these shields, the soldier was well-protected from almost any enemy assault. They could absorb very heavy blows from an enemies heaviest warclub or battleaxe, direct strikes from almost any launched missile, were immune to the slashing of a sword, and could resist penetration from almost any pointed weapon. More importantly, the shield could be linked together with other shields on the left and right, to form a near-impenetrable wall of protection, while the second and following ranks of soldiers would raise and link their shield overhead, forming something that looked just like a modern, mobile battle tank in the field, and performing nearly as lethally.
Not only were these shields highly effective defenses, they were, as Paul subtly points out, effective offensive weapons as well. A soldier could effectively use his right hand to employ his javelin (pilum) and later his sword (gladius) or dagger (pugio), while holding up his shield with his left hand to protect his own front and the soldier to his left. The shield itself could be used as an offensive weapon, as well. Slamming into the opponent with the rounded metal boss, while employing the whole body weight of the soldier behind it, was an effective way to disable an assaulting enemy soldier. The shields were heavy, but entirely portable, so that it could be used to enable the soldier to safely advance against the enemy on the battleground.
Paul's metaphoric use of a shield is the sole instance of such in the New Testament, but harkens back to a host of shield imagery in the Old Testament. God is referred to over 40 times as a "protecting shield"[ii], whereas now faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, protects believers as a shield protects soldiers, and though Christ won the final victory against evil at Calvary, His shielding protection keeps believers safe from the final, ending shots of the war. To properly gird themselves for spiritual battle, the church must first understand that their very faith in Christ is in itself a defensive shield against any attack by the enemy, in this case, Satan and his minions. Although the evil one will try to convince the Christian warrior that he has been wounded by his flaming arrows of hate, it is just an illusion, just as a modern soldier in battle may suffer from any one of a number of debilitating psychological "wounds" that leave him physically unharmed, but mentally unable to fight anymore.
o Eph. 6:17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The helmet (galea) was an essential protection for the soldier, as an injury to the head would prove fatal that to any other part of the body would be merely irritating or disabling. Paul refers here an earlier reference to the helmet as a "hope of salvation," and deliberately picks the single most essential piece of armor to attach that metaphoric relationship. A saved Christian cannot be spiritually harmed, no action by the evil one can possible penetrate that armored protection. However, to be an effective warrior, the Christian must acknowledge and internalize deeply that promise, to fearlessly close in tight with the enemy in a struggle not for one's own life, but in the continuous battle for the souls of the unsaved. A helmet is purely defensive for the wearer, but through its passive protection, the soldier may live to fight day after day, battle after battle.
The metaphorical sword, "which is the word of God" was a wide, 20 to 24 inch long double edged single-handed weapon, known as a gladius, that was used in a thrusting manner during close-in hand to hand combat.
The Roman sword was used only when the longer-range missiles (javelins and arrows) and long-shafted pikes (pilum) had been expended, and the battlefield was reduced to literally an arms-length range. This is not a delicate dance between two fencers, ending with a bow and a decision made by judges based on points earned, this is a short and violent brawl between two mighty armies, where the decision is made quickly and with ruthless certainty. Paul clearly states that the "Word of God" was intended to be used in direct confrontation with the lost and the forces of evil, face-to-face, in the muddy and torn fields of spiritual conflict, it is not a long-range weapon to be lobbed blindly at some point beyond visual range while hiding in safety from any counter-attack.
Paul may well have an intended double-meaning in his choice for "spiritual weaponry here, as the Word of God is oft referred to as having a deep, piercing affect on the listener, exactly as the namesake weapon has on its victims. The author of Hebrews echoes this, stating that God's word pierces the body like a sword, pushing through all the layers until the innermost thoughts and intentions of the heart are laid bare.
o Eph. 6:18 ∂ With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,
The most important quality for any warrior, military or Christian, to cultivate is that of courage. Not courage in your own strength or abilities, but a courage rooted in reliance on the saving providence of our Lord and a confidence in the weapons and armor He has given each of us.
Almighty God, we thank you for your provisions and your constant support, not only in your own sacrificial giving that grants us an eternal life in your presence, but for the many blessings and kindnesses you shower down upon us each day. We pray that you will remind us of the constant struggle between good and evil we are caught in, that we will remain faithful to our promises and prayers we have lifted up to You, and that we will remain faithful Christian warriors, fighting the good fight and running the good race, until at last we may lay down our sword in the mansions being built for us in Heaven.
[i] An individual Roman soldier would be in the ranks of a century, which numbered about 80 men, and was commanded by the rough equivalent of a modern infantry captain, called a Centurion. Six centuries would form one cohort; 10 cohorts combined to form one legion, or just under 5,000 men.
[ii] Gen. 15:1 ∂ After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
Deut. 33:29 Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will trample down their high places."
2Sam. 1:21 "O mountains of Gilboa, may you have neither dew nor rain, nor fields that yield offerings [of grain]. For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saulčno longer rubbed with oil.
2Sam. 22:3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my saviorč from violent men you save me.
2Sam. 22:31 "As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
2Sam. 22:36 You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great.
Psa. 3:3 But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.
Psa. 5:12 For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Psa. 7:10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
Psa. 18:2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psa. 18:30 As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
Psa. 18:35 You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.
Psa. 28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.
Psa. 33:20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
Psa. 35:2 Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid.
Psa. 59:11 But do not kill them, O Lord our shield, or my people will forget. In your might make them wander about, and bring them down.
Psa. 84:9 Look upon our shield, O God; look with favor on your anointed one.
Psa. 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.
Psa. 89:18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.
Psa. 91:4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Psa. 115:9 O house of Israel, trust in the LORDč he is their help and shield.
Psa. 115:10 O house of Aaron, trust in the LORDč he is their help and shield.
Psa. 115:11 You who fear him, trust in the LORDč he is their help and shield.
Psa. 119:114 You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.
Psa. 144:2 He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.
Prov. 2:7 He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
Prov. 30:5 "Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Is. 31:5 Like birds hovering overhead, the LORD Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will Ćpass over' it and will rescue it."
Nah. 2:5 He summons his picked troops, yet they stumble on their way. They dash to the city wall; the protective shield is put in place.
Zech. 9:15 and the LORD Almighty will shield them. They will destroy and overcome with slingstones. They will drink and roar as with wine; they will be full like a bowl used for sprinkling the corners of the altar.
Zech. 12:8 On that day the LORD will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the Angel of the LORD going before them.