Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Art of War

Today is the fourth day of our 24th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  Proverbs 24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2; Psalm 41.

This sounds terrible, but it's true--when I was ordained to the Christian ministry, a friend of mine who came to the ordination service slipped me a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War.  He said, "You're gonna need it."  And he wasn't wrong.  Ministry can be a joy,  but it can also be a battle.  The Art of War is a book that many pastors have read.  It is an ancient Chinese military strategy textbook, so famous that it's well-known even in non-military circles.  Executives also study Sun Tzu's work, and often find its advice helpful in office politics and board meetings.  Though we don't like to admit it, the Christian life is often a struggle.  Though we're taught to be meek, the Bible also teaches us not to back down.

The more of a difference you're making in God's kingdom, the more of a threat you will be to Satan's kingdom.  If this is the case, then the powerful Christian should know that they will come under fire.  That's why Paul reminds us that we're at war.  But he also underscores the spiritual nature of that battle.  2 Corinthians 10:3-6 (ESV) says, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.  For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,  being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete."  Then, in Ephesians 6:12 (ESV), he writes, "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."  

Christians who forget that they're at war with the power of darkness often try to please people, rather than pleasing God.  They take the path of least resistance--in their relationships, at the office, and in church business meetings.  Rather than standing for what's right, they waffle in order to avoid conflict.  But who ever said that being a Christian means avoiding conflict?  Jesus said, "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18b)."  This means that there will be conflict.

Paul writes about his ministry at Thessalonica:  "But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict...For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! (1 Thessalonians 2:2, 14-16 ESV)."  Certainly the apostle knew something about conflict!

Today's passages from the book of Proverbs gives us some wisdom for engaging in conflict.

Proverbs 25:26 (ESV)- Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain  is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

In other words, you might consider yourself to be a "good guy" because you avoid conflict.  But sometimes it's only the ones who are willing to get into conflict who can truly be called "good guys."  Neutrality doesn't make you good.  Neutrality in the face of evil makes you a wimp!

Provebs 24:10-12 (ESV)
If you faint in the day of adversity,
    your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
    hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
    and will he not repay man according to his work?

The psalmist echoes the idea that it's our duty to come to the aid of those who cannot help themselves, insisting that God will protect those who protect others:

Psalm 41:1-2 (ESV)
Blessed is the one who considers the poor!
    In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;
the Lord protects him and keeps him alive;
    he is called blessed in the land;
    you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

Proverbs reminds us not to run quickly into battle with rash accusations:

Proverbs 25:7b-10 (ESV)
What your eyes have seen
    do not hastily bring into court,
for[b] what will you do in the end,
    when your neighbor puts you to shame?
Argue your case with your neighbor himself,
    and do not reveal another's secret,
10 lest he who hears you bring shame upon you,
    and your ill repute have no end.

God's Word also reminds us to make sure that when we do enter into conflict, we do so with integrity.

Proverbs 41:11-12 (ESV)
By this I know that you delight in me:
    my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
    and set me in your presence forever.

It's important what your attitude is, even toward the enemy that you have defeated.

Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV)
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,
    and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,
18 lest the Lord see it and be displeased,
    and turn away his anger from him.

Many Christians would like to believe that living as a believer means avoiding trouble and conflict.  This is impossible.  Neutrality isn't Christianity.  The truth can never be neutral in the face of evil.  The truth will get you into trouble frequently.  But Jesus reminds us of an awesome truth:

"I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33 ESV).”

No comments: