A few years ago someone gave me a collection of different writings throughout the history of the Church. This past summer I began to read through the early Church Fathers, a collection of writings written by the disciples that followed after the first disciples of Jesus. And it was the topics and issues that those early Church writers brought up through which God led me to speak to you today and for the next few weeks.
If the last year has done nothing else, it has put an exclamation point on how easily it can be for us to set ourselves into camps. Since the beginning of this country Americans have been divided into at least two political parties, and at times, even more. For the last hundred plus years, the two major parties have been Republicans and Democrats. Since roughly the 1960s, the ideas of being a liberal or conservative, began to dived as well. Then in the beginning of the 2000s, progressivism began in full swing. And today, we have things such as inter-sectionalism, masker vs non-maskers, locker-downers vs non-lock-downers, and more.
In fact, this last year has put a point on how quickly we are willing to divide on issues. Now, I believe that there are points on which we should divide. In Matthew 10:34, Jesus gives these very harsh words when he said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
When we follow Jesus, there will be an automatic division between those that do, and those that do not. If the world is truly lost in sin as the Bible states, then those who accept Jesus as their Savior and move away from sin into his righteousness, there will a division with those who do not. In fact, in the first chapter of John’s Gospel, it says this of Jesus, “11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…(John 1:11-12)”
And so, for the next few weeks we’re going to take a look at a few issues that we as Christians should be divided from the world on, and not from each other. In doing this we will make people mad, that is inevitable, but my desire in doing this is to walk the same road Paul did in 1st Corinthians. This past summer our church went through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, where he dealt with the tough issues the church was dealing with. The purpose of his letter was to bring about unity in the body of Christ, and it is that same purpose that we are moving forward in. True unity is not conformity by sweeping the hard issues under the table, rather it is dealing with those tough issues together and seeing where God wants us to be.
In doing this, we will be talking about the issues facing the Church today, mostly our western cultural. Some of these issues have become seen as political and therefore shouldn’t be spoken about from the pulpit in the church. And so, we will be looking at these issues both from a biblical perspective and from a historical Church perspective. Because, even though our modern society believes some of these issues to be political and should not be spoken of in the Church, they are really beliefs that the Church has dealt with for centuries, because they speak to deeper issues of humanity’s lostness. And wherever you find yourself politically, as Christians, we must seek to do what Paul calls us to in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
If we divide on the world’s divisions, we are being conformed to the world, instead, since we are going to have divisions, we must have divisions that are following God, against that which is not.
As we begin this series we must first lay a foundation. Most of you know that love shooting. I love developing the skills of shooting, and for the last few years my family has made a week long trip to do just that. We skipped this year, because the place we go to is closed, but we’re already looking forward to making that time up this coming summer.
Being in the world of shooting, support of the Second Amendment is high. I follow several news outlets that follow gun laws throughout the US. Many of which have talked about the what-if of a full-blown civil war. On one of our drives, Marika and I were talking about this very thing, and she asked what I would do. I told her that in our area, we would probably end up being a place for refugees, as people would flee from the cities, whether that be Phoenix or the L.A. area.
But the tension of a coming war is prevalent. Back in July the Washington Times ran a story that talked about a poll that showed 34% of voters believed a civil war was coming (https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/jun/17/civil-war-looms-stats-survey-say/). Keith Mines, an individual who has worked for the U.S. Army, U.N., and U.S. State Department, shared with the New Yorker, that there is a 65% chance that within ten years we could see a civil war in the U.S. (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-america-headed-for-a-new-kind-of-civil-war).
With riots, the political atmosphere, and everything that is linked with COVID-19, tensions are rising higher and higher. But this is nothing new. Jesus said in Matthew 24:4-8, “…Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
These things are inevitable, because it is the sin condition of this world to be in conflict. It’s the default setting of humanity apart from God. When we seek sin, rebellion is what naturally follows.
But as followers of Jesus, we must be careful to not be swept away by the world’s desire for conflict, at least not in the way the world sees it. We must put this world into the perspective that God calls us to. In Philippians 3:20 Paul writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…”
In Hebrews 13:14 were reminded that, “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”
And in 1st John 2:17 John writes, “15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
I am an American. I love my country, I will do everything I can to make sure my country endures, because I believe that it was founded on biblical principles that have shown through even when evil men use it for evil purposes. Yet, as a Christian, it isn’t my home. I was not saved to be an American, I was saved to be a citizen of heaven. Every decision therefore that I make here, has to be inline with that eternal perspective.
And with that eternal perspective I can begin to see what’s really going on around me. And it’s not like I am having the first epiphany about this, those Christians who followed after the original disciples had this very perspective, and they knew what was really going on. Athenagoras (A-th-en-a-gor-as) writing in the mid 100s, wrote this, “The Maker and Framer of the world distributed and appointed….a multitude of angels and ministers…to occupy themselves about the elements, and the heavens, and the world, and the things in it, and the godly ordering of them all…. Just as with men, who have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice….so is it among the angels. Some, free agents, you will observe, such as they were created by God, continued in those things for which God had made and over which He had ordained them; but some outraged both the constitution of their nature and the government entrusted to them (A Plea for the Christians, pg. 10).”
Origen, about a 100 years later, wrote this, “[A Christian] affirms that even now my Lord Jesus Christ wars against opposing powers and casts out of their cities, that is, out of our souls, those who used to occupy them. And he destroys the kings who were ruling in our souls ‘that sin may no longer reign in us,’ so that, after he abolishes the king of sin from the city of our soul, our soul may become the city of God and God may reign in it, and it may be proclaimed to us, ‘Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’ (Hom 13.1 )”
The early church writers understood what is really going on. This world is seeing the physical repercussions of a spiritual battle. This Scriptures attest to this in Ephesians 6:12, where it reads, “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.”
And what is the war? It’s rebellion against God led by Satan. In 2nd Corinthians 4:4 Paul writes, “4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
This world is dominated by the devil, in fact Jesus speaks these words in Matthew 12:29, “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.”
In this description, Jesus is the thief, the devil is the strong man, and the house is the world/our souls. It’s because of this, that later on John would write this in his first letter, “The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (3:8).”
And so we must put into perspective what is going on in our world. It’s not just civil war brewing, because of a divide between progressives and conservatives. It’s not riots over the treatment of black Americans, or as an excuse by others to cause destruction. It’s not even one political party over the next. Those are the results of the spiritual war raging around us. But when we see the world’s conflict around us as purely physical, then we are falling right into the trap the devil has designed for us. It’s then that we take our eyes of God and the true reality that is happening all around us, and place them on the things that are passing away.
Does that mean that we do nothing, or that we allow evil things to go unanswered? No! But we must prepare for the war as it really is, and not as we perceive it to be. This is why the Scriptures tell us things like this in Ephesians 6:10-11, “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
And in 2nd Corinthians 10:3-6 we’re told, “3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
And so, we must wake up to the reality of the spiritual war who’s effects we see all around us. If we do not, then we will be trying to put out a raging inferno with two gallon water buckets. And we’ll end up swept away by the fires of pure war raging around us.
And so my challenge for you this week is to read through Ephesians 6:13-18 where it reads, “13 Therefore 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”
So on Monday, read through the text and then speak with God about what it means to put on the full armor and have the belt of truth on.
On Tuesday, read through the text again and then speak to God about what it means to have the breastplate of righteousness on.
Then on Wednesday, read through the text and then speak to God about what it means to have feet ready with the gospel.
Follow that on Thursday, read through the text and then speak to God about what it means to take up the shield of faith.
Then on Friday, read through the text again and speak to God about what it means to have the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
And finally on Saturday, go to God and ask, about how praying in the Spirit connects with the armor of God.
We must open our eyes to the spiritual battle that surrounds us that has repercussions in the physical world. This isn’t not political, it’s biblical, and we need to be following what the Word of God says is happening, and not what the world wants us to follow. Amen.