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Be Strong in the Lord

May 27th, 2019

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. (Ephesians 6:10)

In this passage about spiritual warfare, the God-inspired author’s first words include in capsule form all else that follows on this topic. The only hope that any of us have in spiritual warfare is God’s help to us.

Midgets among Giants

A fundamental fact about people and spiritual powers is that we are clearly overmatched. We may hold sway over one another and achieve great things in our lifetimes, accumulate vast amounts of knowledge and possessions, and we may hold numerous titles, receive countless tributes, and even have wonderful friends. But all that we are in this world’s estimation, and all that we might ever become, fades into powerlessness in the face of the most diminutive demon. We are like intoxicated spiritual midgets with marred souls and fundamentally flawed character stumbling out into a demonic street that we are completely unprepared for.

We should always remember that whatever rules we hold to about “fighting fair” the devils do not. We fight on two dimensions, if even that, while they fight in four or five. We are muddled in our allegiances, unclear about our loyalties, at least some of the time, but they are never such. We want to wage thumb wars, but they fight for our very souls. The height of any human foolishness has always been, and will always be, to enter into this spiritual battle in our own strength.    

And did I say “to enter into,” because we have already entered into it the moment we were born. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil have been set against us and against every human since the sin of Adam and Eve. Spiritual warfare is a constant in our lives, not mere random events. 

Hence the Command, “Be Strong!”

So Paul spends little time here trying to explain why this matter of being strong in the Lord is so important. He is here like a seasoned veteran soldier about to lead new recruits into their first real fight.  The dawn is about to break, the new soldiers nervously grip their rifles while wondering about what terror awaits them, the troop ships stop bobbing in the sea and hit solid ground, and just before they leap into the surf and directly engage the enemy the seasoned sergeant utters a few last words of instruction, and every soldier that has any sense at all listens carefully. This is the spirit of these verses.

Can you envision here that there are always some personal effects that raw recruits might want to take with them to battle – things that the experienced commanders would say, “Leave that behind.” Every useless or even sentimental item becomes another weight that slows the soldier down, something that competes with essential equipment. And in life, for every yes, there is also a no. For every acceptance there is also a rejection. 

Be Strong in the Lord

So the wise Christian travels light in personal affections and loads up his soul with the things of God. The first meaning that this verse has is the importance of a relationship with God, that we have trusted in Christ and know God as our Father and Christ as our Lord. There is spiritual strength that if we will have it we may only gain it through faith and dependence on God. The words “Be strong” clearly puts some responsibility on our own shoulders to believe and to align our affections toward God and toward Christ. 

The word in Greek is endunamoo and here it means to gain strength and courage by focusing upon the promises of God. It was used for Abraham “who did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith” (Rom. 4:20). It means to put aside your doubts and the things that cause you to stumble, to trust in Christ and from that trust to step forward to the duties into which God has called you. 

The second meaning is to know the “power of His might,” and here is a practical command, to be able to translate God’s promises into your circumstances. The word “power” is kratos in Greek and includes the idea of “dominion” as well as power. The power of God’s might is available only to those who recognize Him as Lord and surrender to His rule in their lives. Oh, but there is real power for the Christian to experience here, and to do any other thing, even to try and be neutral in this spiritual war, is render ourselves powerless.

Know and Love the Lord

So the entire passage from Ephesians 6:10 to 6:20 is introduced by this summary statement. If we will experience success against the schemes of the devil, we must be in a relationship with God, and we must be surrendered to Him as our Lord. We must know Him and love Him, things that we may only do as He calls us to Himself through Christ. We are utterly dependent on God taking this initiative and saving us through Jesus Christ, but thank God that is exactly what He does in this world. 

There is an apparent danger that someone may miss this point about faith in Christ, and try to simply memorize a few prayers, or a few scripture verses, or carry a religious artifact, thinking that these along can substitute for personal relationship. They cannot. Scripture and prayers and religious symbols are powerless without personal knowledge of God through Christ. God must come and rescue us by His grace in Christ. All we can do is to respond to Him in repentance and in faith and in surrender. 

Ephesians, Spiritual Warfare

The Logic of Heaven, Part 3

May 23rd, 2019

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden that God has laid on men to occupy them. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work that God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 BSB)

The very thought of eternity is a gift that God has given to humanity.

“The Preacher,” as the inspired author of Ecclesiastes is often called, pondered three realities in this section of the book: (1) the timing of God in the different events in the world, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1); (2) the life and duties of man which have concrete realities and finite limitations of experiences, “his toil” or “the burden God has laid on men” — a single man in his life span will not experience every single thing that all other men experience; and (3) the understanding of eternity that dwells in the human heart, that God out of the wealth of limitless knowledge and infinite being has created the universe and rules over the affairs of human life.

The specific thing that is pointed out here is that despite our limitations as created beings, we humans have the capacity, as rudimentary as it may be, to conceive of the eternal. With this conception we also can perceive of eternal plans and eternal goals and an eternal singularity in the existence of all things. This traces back to one Creator, who as the eternal great Three-in-One has within Himself the capacity for fellowship, love, thought, intention, purpose, and goals.

In simpler terms it is the simple thought that despite the many different experiences of human existence, there is an eternal Person and purpose behind it all. One may be lifted out of his drudgery by taking pride in his work – “I know that there is nothing better for men than to rejoice and do good while they live, and also that every man should eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his labor—this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3:12-13). But still there is a sense of futility and emptiness in earthly human life alone.

As the Keil Delitzsch Biblical Commentary states:

The author means to say that God has not only assigned to each individually his appointed place in history, thereby bringing to the consciousness of man the fact of his being conditioned, but that He has also established in man an impulse leading him beyond that which is temporal toward the eternal: it lies in his nature not to be contented with the temporal, but to break through the limits which it draws around him, to escape from the bondage and the disquietude within which he is held, and amid the ceaseless changes of time to console himself by directing his thoughts to eternity.

The Necessity of Heaven to the Human Soul

There is in each person an appreciation for the perfect. And though “perfect” is defined in different ways, it is still present in each of us. I have not found a satisfactory explanation of this reality in any philosophy other than the biblical and Christian faith.

For example, the atheistic evolutionist says that this desire for perfection is simply the result of some latent desire for a mother’s comfort, something which we all had and needed in our infancy. So we spend the remainder of our lives desiring again for that same inner emotional security and comfort, and that the idea of heaven or eternity is nothing more than this manifesting itself. And any inner feeling of joy or peace in religion, they would argue, is merely the psychological construct in the human consciousness that allows for a person to tap into this infantile and hidden memory in our minds.

To me such an explanation seems entirely inadequate, for the whole notion of eternity and of purpose and meaning lies not within merely a latent emotion, but in logic itself. An infant cannot mentally construct the purpose behind the universe, and neither can memories from childhood, let alone infancy, provide the profound peace of forgiveness, redemption, and eternal hope. Certainly it is no accident that many people sentimentally associate heaven with their mothers, but this thought alone is inadequate.

The better answer to me is the biblical perspective, that God placed within the human heart the knowledge of eternity. And this means that we expect answers, comfort, and even judgment. We want clarification, vindication, and hope for redemption. The more profound of us would like the means and opportunity to atone for whatever we have done wrong, to gain assurance of forgiveness and grace.

The end of the Biblical revelation is precisely what our hearts long for:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4 ESV)

The Necessities of Eternal Peace

The necessary ingredients for an eternal peace are found in this passage above:

  • A new home: the new “Holy City” will come down to us from the home of God. It will not be the broken society of earth that we seek to improve and repair and pass on still in a broken condition. It will be a new creation of God that is perfected.
  • The dwelling of God with us: at the close of chapter 20 in Revelation the devil and his angels are thrown into the lake of fire, as well as the unbelieving of humanity. God in His grace and glory comes to the believing and redeemed community.
  • The assurance of forgiveness and grace: the wiping away of tears means not only the end of suffering, but the assurance of redemption and forgiveness. Tears come from the spiritual blindness and confusion in our lives in this sinful age.
  • The completion and glorification of our spirits, souls, and bodies: There will be no more disease or death or mourning or crying or pain. Paul wrote:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:9-12)

The heaven described in the Bible is not the sensual fulfilment of our earthly lusts – that is the Islamic heaven, but not the biblical one. Rather it is the transformation and perfection of our hearts. We shall be made perfect as Christ is perfect.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes. 5:23-24)

Bringing this Knowledge Full Circle

This hope of eternal heaven is also what gives us hope in today’s world with the challenges we face. Just as Solomon in Ecclesiastes brings the eternal God into the picture of our struggles in life, so Paul does the same in Romans 8. We read:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Our future glorification means that God also has a plan for our lives today. All that He allows into our lives helps to prepare us for heaven, to let go of our earthly fascinations and lustful thoughts, and to focus on God and eternity. Because God will perfect us spiritually, emotionally, and physically in heaven, we can trust Him with each day and each challenge in this life.