The Forces We Face
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the
God is not interested in religion, but he is tremendously interested in life. You cannot read the New Testament without realizing that the Lord Jesus did not care a whit for the Sabbath regulations of his day when they were set against the need of a broken man for healing. God is not interested in stained-glass windows, organ solos, congregational hymns, or even pastoral prayers half so much as he is in producing love-filled homes, generous hearts, and brave men and women who can live right in the midst of the world and keep their heads and hearts undefiled.
I am deeply convinced that we can only understand life when we see it as the Bible sees it. That is why the Word of God was given. In the world of organized human society with its commerce, trade, recreation, and all the familiar makeup of life, we are continually exposed to illusions which are mingled indistinguishably with reality. We are confronted with distorted perspectives, twisted motives, uncertain hopes, and untested programs.
But when we come to the Bible we learn the truth. Here reality is set before us--the world as it really is. When we get down to the bare essentials of life and strip off all the confusing illusion, we find it is exactly what the Bible records it to be. Here is where our perspectives are set straight, here is where we get our value systems righted and our dreams weighed and evaluated as to whether they are real or only make-believe.
We may not like what we read in the Bible from time to time, but we shall only succeed in deceiving ourselves if we reject it. it Is up to us to listen to the words of Jesus and his apostles, for they are the authority which corrects us; we are not the authority that corrects them. Let us stop this silly business of trying to sit in judgment upon the insights of the Lord Jesus Christ. We Christians must continually reduce every argument we hear today to this simple consideration: "Am I to accept this person's word or the word of Christ? If this agrees with what he says, fine, it is truth. But if it does not, then I must decide whether the challenging authority is greater or less than Jesus Christ." As Christians, we are continually confronted with choices as to whether we will accept the puny, flimsy, uncertain authority of a mere man or the certain, solid, and clear word of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Life Is Not a Bowl of Cherries!
In this important passage near the end of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul sets forth his analysis of life, especially as it relates to a Christian. To begin with, we will look at the passage only from an introductory viewpoint to see what Paul brings out about the nature of life in general and then we "I take a closer look at the . character which he says a Christian life assumes This section begins:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly. places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Ephesians 6:10-13).
It is very dear in this Passage that Paul's view of the basic characteristic of life can be put in one word--struggle. Life, he says, is a conflict, a combat, a continual wrestling. This is, of course, confirmed constantly by our experience. We should all like to think of ourselves as living in an idealistic world where everything goes right and we can spend our days in relaxation arid enjoyment, with just enough work to keep us interested. This view is frequently embodied in some of the songs we sing:
We'll build a sweet little nest,
Somewhere in the West,
And let the rest of the world go by.
Now, it is not wrong for us to dream these dreams. These romantic ideals are a kind of racial memory, the vestigial remains of what was once God's intent for human life and, in God's good order and time, will again be possible to humans. But the Apostle Paul is not dealing with that kind of life. He is coming to grips with life as it really is now, and he says life is a struggle, a conflict, a battle against opposing forces. If we attempt to draw aside, to et away from the struggle, we continually find ourselves being jarred back into reality. Some unpleasant fact intrudes itself into our beautiful world and refuses to go away.
We all know how this is. We must get back to work, our vacation is ended the death of a loved one shocks us with all its ghastly emptiness and loneliness we remember some pressing decision we must make, some threat to our prosperity wealth, some disappointment in another person. We are constantly drawn back out of our dreams of ease and enjoyment to face the rough, hard realities of life.
The Apostle Paul also says that this is a fluctuating struggle. We must learn to stand, he says, "in the evil day," implying that all days are not evil; some times will be worse than others. There are seasons in the passing of life when pressures are more intense, when problems are more insoluble, when everything seems to come upon us at once. These are what we recognize as evil days. Sometimes it is an actual day, sometimes it. is a week, sometimes months. But thank God all of life is not that way. We are not always under pressure we are not always being confronted with. overpowering circumstances which call for agonizing decisions.
The reason we are not always under pressure is due to the grace of God. All of life would be an evil day and much worse, were it not for the grace of God which continually operate. to restrain the powers that are against us and to allow times of refreshment, recreation, enjoyment, and blessing. The truly tragic thing about human life is that we can take these times of refreshment, blessing, and glory and enjoy them without a single thought for the goodness of which underlies them and makes them possible for us and without a word of thanksgiving to " for them. This is the note on which Paul opens the Epistle to the Romans, "Do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that Gods kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4).
The Battle Defined
But here Paul says that these days, though not always the same in pressure, nevertheless constitute the general makeup of life. Life is an unending struggle, varying in intensity from time to time, but extending from the cradle to the grave But be goes on now to analyze and define for us the nature of this struggle. We come now to that which is most important. For he says that the conflict is not against flesh and blood; that is, it is not a human problem, not a struggle of man against man. It may be a struggle within man, but it is not between men.
What would you answer if you were asked, 'What is the thing that gives you the most difficulty in life; of what does the struggle of life consist?" Many would say that it is other human beings. There are the Communists, for instance, who are always causing difficulty. They can never let anything rest in this world but are forever stirring up some kind of trouble somewhere. And then there are the Republicans or, if you are on the other side, the Democrats. They never let anything rest either but are always making difficulties. In their bullheaded obstinacy they are continually refusing to "see the light."
And let us not forget the Internal Revenue Service. Certainly they are devils, if there ever were any. And the county tax department! And don't leave out your wife or your husband and his family. Then, how about our ancestors? Our heredity is at fault. It is because we are Scotch or Irish or Italian--our family has always been this way; we have always had a, hot temper. And so it goes.
But the Apostle says that you cannot explain life adequate on that level. You must look further and deeper than that. The battle is not against flesh and blood. Rather, it is against the whole human race that certain principalities and powers, world rulers of darkness, wicked spirits in high places are set. There is your problem, Paul says. Those are the enemies we are up against. And it is not just Christians who are opposed by these, but every man, everywhere. The whole race is opposed by the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this present darkness. There is Paul's positive explanation of the struggle of life.
I hasten to say that this declaration will only be fully believed and understood by Christians. The world either distorts this to the point of ridiculousness or it rejects it as unacceptable to the intelligent mind. Superstition has taken this great revelation and distorted it, twisted it, reduced it to a ridiculous pantheon of goblins, witches, spooks, and ghouls.
I am very well aware of the disdain, even content with which the biblical concept of the Devil and his cohorts, this kingdom of darkness, these principalities and powers and wicked spirits in high places, is received. in many circles. There are those w o say, "Are you going to insult our intelligence by talking about a Devil? Surely you are not going back to those medieval concepts and tell us that the Devil is the root of all our problems?"
I once spent an evening in Berlin discussing this whole problem with four or five intelligent churchmen--men who knew the Bible intimately. Though we never once opened a Bible, we spent the whole evening together discussing various passages, and I never referred to a single passage that they were not aware of and could not quote almost verbatim. Yet all of them rejected the idea of a Devil. They could not believe in a personal Devil. At the end of the evening they admitted at, in their rejection of the Devil, they also had no answers to the conundrums with which life was continually presenting. We had to leave it there.
I am reminded of the story Billy Graham tells in response to this idea that there is no Devil. A certain boxer was being badly beaten in a match. Battered and bruised, he leaned over the ropes and said to his trainer, "Please throw in the towel! This guy is killing me!" The trainer responded, "Oh no, he's not. He's not even hitting you. He hasn't laid a glove on you!" And the boxer replied, "Well then, I wish you'd watch that referee--somebody s sure hitting me!" In similar fashion, the questions we must ask when challenged with this idea that there is no Devil are, "How do you explain what is going on in the world? How do you explain the entrenched evil in human affairs?"
The Desperate Disease
It is not clear that we cannot understand life--we cannot understand history, if we reject this proposition which the Apostle brings out that behind the problems of the world, behind the evil which manifests itself in mankind, there is a hierarchy of evil spirits--the Devil and his angels? There is an original l kingdom of principalities and powers at various levels of authority who sit as world rulers of the present darkness, wicked--spirits in high places. The world says to the Christian, "Why talk about this kind of thing? Why don't you talk about something relevant? Why don't you Christians get busy and do something that will be meaningful today?"
But what could be more relevant than this teaching which puts its finger on the basic problem? What is it to keep rushing around curing fevers but never stopping to analyze the disease? This is what is going on our day. There is a serious disease at work in the human race, and it is constantly breaking out in little fevers. But if we content ourselves, as physicians, with giving aspirin for the fever and never once inquiring what the disease is, we have wasted our time. Talk about relevancy! This is what is relevant--to listen to this analysis of what is wrong with the world, what its disease is, and what the cure is. That is what this passage so vividly and accurately sets before us.
This crippling disease is growing so desperate that even worldliness, non-Christians, are recognizing the inadequacy of their diagnosis. Listen to Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist and psychiatrist:
We stand perplexed and stupefied before the phenomena of Marxism and Bolshevism because we know nothing about man or, at any rate, have only a lopsided and distorted picture of him. If we had self-knowledge, that would not be the case. We stand face to face with the terrible question of evil and do not even know what is before us, let alone know what to pit against it. And even if we did know, we still could not understand how it could happen here.
What a tremendously honest revelation of the ignorance of men in the face of life as it really is! Listen to this bewildered cry from U Thant, when he was Secretary General of the United Nations. Speaking before some 67 distinguished scholars and statesmen from 19 countries of the world, convened before an audience of 2500 people to talk about the requirements for world peace, this is the question he asked:
What element is lacking so that with all our skill and all our knowledge we still find ourselves in the dark valley of discord--and enmity? What is it that inhibits us from going forward together to enjoy the fruits. of human endeavor and to reap the harvest of human experience? Why is it that, for all our professed ideals, our hopes, and our skills, peace on earth is still a distant objective seen only dimly through the storms and turmoils of our present difficulties?
As the world's great leaders face the dilemma of modern life, all they can say is, "What is wrong? What is the unknown element behind this? We cannot understand this, we do not know what is going on, we cannot grasp these things. What is it that is missing?"
No Isolated Claim
The Apostle Paul has given the answer to that baffled, bewildered cry for light from a modem statesman's heart. Talk about a relevant Scripture! The world, Paul says, is in the grip of what he calls "world rulers of present darkness. (What an amazing phrase that is! We will look at it more closely in a later chapter.)
These world rulers of present darkness are headed. By the Devil, whom Scripture says is a fallen angel of malevolent power and cunning cleverness, against whom Christians are called to wrestle daily. Now, that is not the claim. of an isolated passage of the Bible. That is the teaching of the Bible from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation, and especially in Genesis and Revelation.
The Lord Jesus himself put his finger on the whole problem when he said to certain men of his day, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he lies accord this own nature, for he is a liar and the lies." (John 8:44).
In that most amazing analysis the Lord stripped the Devil of his disguises and revealed his true character--a liar and a murderer. What the Devil does is related to what he is, just as what we do is precisely the result of what we are. Because he is a liar and a murderer, the Devil's work is to deceive and to destroy. There you have the explanation for all that has been on inhuman history throughout the whole course of the record of man.
The Devil has the ear of mankind. Scripture calls him "the god of this world." The world listens to him and to everything he says. But the Devil does not tell the world the truth--but a lie, a very clever, a very beautiful, a very attractive lie which makes the world drool with desire. But the end of this lie is destruction, murder, death--death in all its forms, not only ultimately the cessation of life but also death in its incipient forms of restlessness, boredom, frustration, meaninglessness, and emptiness. Whom the Devil cannot deceive, he tries, to destroy, and whom he cannot destroy, he attempts to deceive. Here is the working of the Devil.
The Call to Arms
"Well," you say, "this is all very depressing. I would rather not think about it." So would I, but I have discovered that you cannot get away from it that way. There is only one way in which we can ever handle this struggle and, that is to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his 'might. That is the way' of escape, and there is no other.
This is a call to intelligent combat. It is a call to us to be men, to fight the good fight, to stand fast in the faith, to be strong in the Lord right in the midst of the battle, in the midst of the world. You can hear the bugle in this, can you not? You can hear the trumpet call!
We must learn to recognize how these dark systems of the Devil work, but more than that, we must learn the processes of overcoming them--not by flesh and blood, not by joining committees or mustering some kind of physical struggle against these forces. Paul says the weapons of our warfare are riot carnal, not fleshly, they are not of the body. Our weapons are mighty, through God, unto the pulling down of strongholds and bringing into captivity every thought (Ah! there is the arena. It is the realm of thought, it is the realm of ideas)bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. That is victory!
Do you think that is not challenging? That is the greatest challenge any ear can ever hear! Do you think that is not demanding? That demands more courage and manhood than any other cause which has ever been known in the world! Do you think that is not exciting? That is the most exciting call which has ever gone out to men anywhere! "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might!"
Our gracious Father, thank you for a truth that shatters us, startles us, wakens us, prods us, disturbs us. Thank you, Lord, for a word of reality which speaks to us in the midst of our complacency and lethargy and stirs us up to see life as it really is. How easily we would drift on in futile weakness, never raising a finer against the deterioration of life and the destruction of body and soul, were it not for this word of challenge which calls us back, wakes us up, and makes us to see. Lord, teach us to bow in humility before this word and to say to the Holy Spirit, O Great Teacher of God, open these Scriptures, teach them to us, make them real." In Christ's. name, Amen.
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