34. Victories

God in the Psalms No.34  – God who gives victories

Psa 21:1 O LORD, the king rejoices in your strength. How great is his joy in the victories you give!

Victories are all about battles. The battle may be one football team against another, one basketball team against another, one fencer against another but in every case there is a victor and a loser after a battle. Historically, depending where we come from in the world, we can look back to days gone by of great battles in wars.  At the present time we look back to the past hundred years and, seeing two wars that engulfed the globe, hope we will never have such things again.  Yet David still lived in a time when there were those who sought to fight against him to bring him down. In the face of this he turned to the Lord and the Lord gave him victories, and it was in this he now rejoiced.

Many Christians don’t realize this dimension in their lives.  The apostle Paul spoke about this in Ephesians 6 when he started speaking about our ‘armour’.  He said,our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Yes, this is the truth; we don’t fight a physical battle but a spiritual one. This battle is waged at two levels. First there is the obvious external battle, then there is the internal one.

The external battle is people who, under the enemy’s prompting, come against us. It may be with words, it may be with actions. Whichever it is, it comes as hostility and it’s probably because we are Christians. Hopefully we did nothing to bring it on; we were just targeted by the enemy. It happens. It’s a battle where he seeks to wear us down and bring us down.  But there will also be an inward battle going on whereby the enemy tries to make us give up, tries to get us to respond badly, tries to get us to respond using the same ungodly and unrighteous methods that he uses. If he can do that we are no longer representing Jesus. The battle on the Cross was Satan trying to get Jesus to rail out against humanity, to curse us – be he remained sinless, he had the victory!

So how does God give us victory?  When temptations come, He shows us a way out (1 Cor 10:13). Sometimes he gives us the wisdom to know how to act in the face of it, the knowledge of what to speak (Acts 7:10), but sometimes that wisdom is just simply to flee the thing (Gen 39:12). In any and every situation God’s grace is there for us (2 Cor 9:8). Grace, that thing that Paul wanted for his readers in every letter he wrote, is simply the divine ability in us to overcome, to handle the situation like Jesus, with the goodness of Jesus or the kindness or gentleness or truth or love of Jesus. These are the things we use to overcome because ours is not a physical battle but a spiritual one.

There was something else that Paul wrote in Eph 6 that is pertinent here: put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then (v.13,14). Do you see that? Three times he says stand. You see the truth is that we have been given a position to hold, ground to hold onto. Our role in this battle is to hold on to what we’ve been given. What is that? Sonship!  We are children of God, temples of the Holy Spirit and therefore holy people. Satan will try to get us to forget that and think and act just any unbeliever. The battle is to hold onto that, and you know what? God is working to give us the victory by His Spirit within and by sovereign acts without! Let’s rejoice in that!

51. Armour

Ephesians Meditations No.51

Eph  6:14-17 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Sometimes Christians seem to focus on the functions of armour rather than the actual things Paul is talking about, so let’s identify from the outset the things that Paul says comprise our armour: truth, righteousness, availability in the Gospel, faith, salvation and God’s word.

A belt holds everything else in place so truth is the essential element of the Christian’s life without which everything else is questionable. When the enemy attacks, simply ask, “What is the truth here?” That is important because one of his weapons is lies and he uses them to deceive us into wrong thinking. Thus focusing on the truth in any situation is vital. Watch out for half truths as well. Yes, I am a failure but that’s only half the truth. The other half is that despite that I have been saved by God’s grace and mercy. Yes, I do get it wrong but the other half of the truth here is that when I confess it, I am forgiven and cleansed (1 Jn 1:9). Truth also requires me to me real. If I pretend or put on a face, then I make myself vulnerable to the enemy, but when I am seeking to let God work in me and I am patently honest about who I am, then truth prevails and the enemy is thwarted.

A breastplate covers the heart and so righteousness, and the knowledge of it, protects and reassures my heart. There are two sorts of righteousness we need to be aware of. There is the righteousness that God declares over us because we believe Jesus died for us. Thus we ARE righteous in His sight. The other sort is the practical righteousness that is heralded by a clear conscience, the truth that we are doing all we can to live as God wants us to live.

The third thing produces a variety of suggestions from commentators. Shoes essentially let you walk on any sort of terrain. The ‘shoes’ that Paul has in mind, come in the form of readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. We need to know the truth of the Gospel and that it applies to us and that it is needed by all people. When we are convinced, like Paul, that it is, “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes,” (Rom 1:16) then we can face up to all situations recognizing the needs of those before us, why they act like they do, and what is the answer for them.

A shield is held up before us and protects us and thus faith is the vital defensive weapon in our armoury. Faith is believing and living by the truths that God has spoken to us through His word and through His Spirit, and we have to learn to remain steady and declare to ourselves and to the enemy, “God said…” or as Jesus refuted the enemy, “It is written…” (Mt 4:4,7,10)

A helmet covers the head, the mind, and so my salvation, the truths of it and the facts of it, should cover all of my thinking. Do you notice how many of these things overlap? We’re talking about the truth here, about my state of righteousness, about the gospel that I believe by faith. All of these things protect my mind against the lies that the enemy seeks to bring against me. Oh yes, all the pieces of the so-called armour work together to save me from his attacks.

Finally the sword in my hand is to be God’s word. I should know God’s word and be able to quote it as the truth that cuts through the barrage of lies that he hurls against me. We are what we are because God has brought His word to us and we have believed it. Now we can wield it to counter the untruths spoken against us. The more we know of it the more convinced we can be that we have the truth. The more we learn of it the more we realise that it works, it fits life and it IS the answer to all the needs of the world.

Remember, don’t focus so much on armour so much as what these things are that Paul speaks about. The armour is only a visual aid. It is truth, righteousness, availability in the Gospel, faith, salvation and God’s word that help us stand against the enemy. However, even here there is a danger, that we try to make these things mechanical, whereas they should all come out of our relationship with the Lord. It is Him, and His presence with us, who will save us from the enemy. Yes the ‘armour’ is our activity, our responses to the enemy, if you like, but ultimately our safety, our protection and our security come from the Lord Himself. He is our rock, He is our shield, He is our fortress, as the psalmists tell us.

49. Warfare

Ephesians Meditations No.49

Eph  6:10-12 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Finally? When preachers say ‘finally’ they usually go on for another quarter of an hour! But this letter is drawing to a close and this is a key and crucial issue before Paul finishes. Remember the context has been the unity of the body of Christ, the church, and Paul has worked through a number of practical issues in the Christian life, things that should not be there and things that should, concluding with thoughts about family life and life working for another, all very practical stuff. Now, in the concluding paragraphs he wants to cover and remind his readers about spiritual realities, about the warfare that is constantly being waged and, as a good pastor, he wants to teach them how to overcome.

The overall call in the coming verses is a call to overcome and he tells us how to do that: “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” It is God’s presence and God’s strength that will help us overcome, not our own strength. This is the wonder of the Christian life, that God’s strength is available for us. However it is not like receiving an injection and suddenly feeling full of energy; very often God’s strength is there but until we get on and do what we are called to do, we’re not aware of the ability He gives us, His strength that always matches the need. That is the truth, His strength always matches the need that He gives us to do, and so we’re not aware of overflowing power, just power to do what needs to be done!

But then Paul uses the language of analogy. It is possible that he is in prison and in chains or at least (and I think this is more likely) that there are guards in the vicinity who wear armour and he likens the things we have from God to pieces of armour, as we’ll see when we move on in the next meditation. For now he gives us a simple instruction, which he will soon enlarge on: “Put on the full armour of God.” Note the word, ‘full’. Not just odds and ends, but the full covering that God has provided. When you put on armour you cover all parts of the body. God doesn’t leave us ‘uncovered’ in any way. He provides full protection for us in the things He has given us. Now comes the reason for this need of this armour: “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Yes, this is the truth, that we have an enemy, an adversary.  In many places the Bible testifies to the fact of this fallen angel called Satan, the Accuser, or the devil. His activities are most clearly seen in Genesis 3 where he challenges the truth and tempts Eve and Adam to disregard God’s words.  He tempts, he deceives, he accuses and he attacks (see Job 1,2). He schemes to bring us down, he plots to get us to stop following God and he sows discord and discontent and seeks to get us to lose our perspective. We will see as we go on that our call is to stand, and the picture is of us having being given ground to hold – the truth, the truth about ourselves, the truth about God and the truth of the Gospel. In the fight our enemy seeks to push us off this ‘plot of ground’ so we give up believing the truth and from then on we are vulnerable and will fall.

If we are uncertain of our perspective, Paul spells it out: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We may think that the troubles we have, the situations we struggle against, are to do with people, but people are only the means that Satan uses to come against us outwardly. He also comes against us inwardly in our minds. This is a spiritual battle and the main part of it is fought in our mind. It’s not just people, it is all those who are ungodly and unrighteous, whether they be human or demon. When people come against us and challenge and oppose us with atheistic arguments, the origins for that are in the spiritual realm from our enemy, who rules their minds.

We need to be quite clear of this before we go on to consider the armour and the battle in detail: this is a spiritual battle, an unseen battle and therefore the answer is with THE Spirit, God Himself.  He is with us and He is for us and He will provide all we need. Remember, part of what we call the Lord’s Prayer says, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:13). Do you see the need to pray that on a regular basis?  There is a very real need and we ignore it at our peril.