The following is the manuscript from a sermon I preached on 3/30/2014 at Stonebrook Church. You can listen to the audio at stonebrook.org.
This the second of a three week series on the Christian life and the reality of the spiritual war we are in that we are calling â€œWartime Lifestyleâ€, a phrase coined (I think) by John Piper that has been very helpful to me as in making decisions about how to think about life and how to spend my time and money. It is an intentionally jarring phrase.
If you resolve that you will live a â€œWartime lifestyleâ€ you are saying a few powerful things.
You are recognizing that you are in Wartime and not Peacetime. You are saying that conditions are such that require an altered way of conducting your life.
Last week Brad brought out a concept that, when I first heard it years back, changed my life. It snapped me awake. It was one of a handful of foundational concepts in my Christian life. The truth is this:
You are at war, and you have an enemy who hates you and is trying to kill you.
1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
8Â Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
This is hard to get our heads around because most of the time you canâ€™t see it, you canâ€™t hear it, and you canâ€™t feel it, unless you know what kind of things you are looking for and listening for, and then so long as you stay alert to it, you see it everywhere.
As Brad pointed out last week, this is a battle for your affections, your desires, your worship. According to the scriptures, our enemies are not flesh and blood. We are not fighting against people. As a Christian, and as the Church there is no individual human who is your enemy that you must physically fight against. Our enemies are â€œpowers and principalities in the heavenly realms.â€ They are spiritual opponents fighting spiritual battles.
[There are clarifications that could be made here about the role of human governments, and our role in acting as agents of these governments to carry out justice. Also to do with the role of the elders and shepherds of a church in guarding the flock against false teachers who are in a difference sense, opponents. And if you have questions about that, Iâ€™d be happy to answer them.]
We are at war. A spiritual war. We are soldiers in a spiritual army. And God has given us very practical, tactical, physical things to do to fight this war. And that is what we are talking about here. The Life on the Battlefront.
I fully realize that when a preachers starts in on God and Jesus and Angels and Demons and spiritual war, our eyes start to glaze over because, as I said, it is really hard to connect with this. So lets pray and ask God to do something that I am insufficient to do.
This message might feel a little weird today, because for the first half, I am going zoom all the way out to the cosmic picture. And for the second half, I’m going to zoom in to the nitty gritty of life, personal budgets, weekly schedules, mundane, normal things. Hang with me here.
What is at Stake? â€¨
The reason I want to go big first, is because I want to show you what is at stake in your having a â€œWartime mindsetâ€ about your personal budget, your weekly schedule
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us a fascinating look into the cosmic, spiritual realm, and shows us what is going on. We see that:
- God has a master plan to unite all things in heaven and on Earth in Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10)
- That this plan succeeded and is currently working (Ephesians 1:20-22)
- That there are spiritual forces of evil, led by The Devil that oppose this plan (Ephesians 6:12)
- That all mankind is, by nature, enslaved to The Devil (Ephesians 2:2)
- That the church, all believers, have been freed from this slavery and given victory over The Devil, through Jesusâ€™s death, resurrection, and current reign. (Ephesians 2:4-9)
- That we, the Church, having been freed from this slavery, and having been unified with each other in Christ, serve as the primary evidence that Godâ€™s plan is being successfully executed, and as witness to the enemy powers that their defeat remains sure (Ephesians 3:6-10).
- That this victory and unity needs to be worked out in practical ways in the day-to-day interaction of believers with each other and the unbelieving world (Ephesians Ch. 4-6).
[Note: Thanks to Frank Thielman’s Commentary on Ephesians for ideas for this summary.]
The way we live our life, interact with one another, and with the world, in our moment-by-moment, mundane decision by mundane decision, is our critical part in the spiritual war. Nothing less is at stake than the spiritual forces of darkness being able to see Godâ€™s wisdom and plan, and that their defeat is complete and certain.
This sounds like a sci-fi novel, doesnâ€™t it? But brothers and sisters, this is reality. These are not metaphorical ways of illustrating some philosophy or way of thinking. All around you, right now, there is a reality going on that we cannot see. There are angels, demons, cosmic rulers and authorities waiting, influencing, listening, and suggesting. Godâ€™s ministering angels are helping us, and Satanâ€™s army are opposing us.
Where is the Battle? The Four Battlefronts
We are in the middle of a war. And I wanted to highlight for us where the battles are waging. Typically we think of these things in solely personal, spiritual ways. But these fronts are actually fought in very normal, every day ways, in every day activities. I want to group these battles into four â€œfrontsâ€ or categories, to help us be aware of them.
Connecting people to god
Everyone starts out enslaved to sin, in the domain of darkness. Once freed by through Christâ€™s work, The devil wages war against Christians through shame and guilt. Causing us to doubt Godâ€™s love for us and our own salvation. This battlefront is fought for both unbelievers and believers through evangelism, worship, and the spiritual disciplines.
Connecting people to each other
The devil wages war against us on this front by trying to isolate by any means possible. Just as a young child without a family has very little hope of survival in this world, a Christian without the community of the church will not make it. We fight this battlefront through community and discipleship (or spiritual formation).
Connecting people to the community
The enemy wages war on this front by by attempting to marginalize the church within the community. By string up every opportunity and accusation to show the hypocrisy and irrelevance of the church in the community. We fight on this front through mercy and services ministries. Helping to show people Christâ€™s love in physical and practical ways, without any expectation of anything in return, and sometimes without it being known who we are or what we did.
Connecting people to the culture
When I say culture here, I mean everything that makes up our society at large. Art, science, academics, influence, commerce, etc. This area was one of the primary aims of the Work and Worship series from last summer, to help people connect their faith and their daily tasks at work, the home, the classroom, and so forth. The devil attacks on this front by trying to segregate the two in our mind, or fooling us into creating our own isolated sub-cultures where we make cheesy ripoff replica replacements of everything. Faithbook instead of Facebook. Christian bands that â€œsound likeâ€ secular bands and are a â€œsaferâ€ alternative. Really bad movies so we have something â€œsafeâ€ to go see on the weekends. We fight by fully engaging, and fully connecting and being the salt and light we are called to be. Our mandate here is to work to use the raw materials of creation to cause the world in general and people in particular to thrive and flourish.
[For more information on these four fronts, see Tim Keller’s “Center Church”]
A major point here is that these are not exclusive, silo battlegrounds. They are interconnected, there is some overlap. For example, connecting people with one another through community and discipleship is a huge part of connecting people to God, as can our mercy and service ministry be a great testimony to the community. Without unity in our person-to-person connections, our community outreach will be seen as hypocritical. Without a connection to God, our cultural impact will potentially be in the wrong directions, as we are unable to understand our secondary vocations without our primary vocation. And so on.
It is critical to keep all of these battle grounds in mind. Typically when we speak of the spiritual war, we speak only of the first, and occasionally of the second. Our discipleship efforts have historically not had any focus on the community and culture aspects. And I have heard it said that the churchâ€™s failure to pass on a biblical doctrine of work and vocation to Christians is a large, maybe even primary part of why we find our culture in the state it is currently in.
The fact is that the enemy is pressing the battle on all four fronts, whether we have focused there or not, and we must be alert and live the life of a soldier
The Lifestyle of a Soldier
Seeks to please the one who enlisted them. (Jesus)
2 Timothy 2:3â€“4 (ESV)
3Â Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4Â No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
2 Corinthians 5:14â€“15 (ESV)
14Â For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15Â and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Romans 15:2â€“3 (ESV)
2Â Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3Â For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, â€œThe reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.â€
We no longer live for ourselves. Life is not focused on us anymore. It is not about us anymore. It is about Christ. And what did He do? He was our ultimate example in self-sacrifice, others focused-ness. Our chief aim is to please the one who recruited us into the Kingdom of God in the first place. Jesus Christ. Everything revolves around this.
Trains and strategizes for the battle
Paul urged Timothy to â€œtrain himself for Godlinessâ€, and said later that he himself does not run aimlessly and does not box as one beating the air, but that he disciplines his body and keeps it under control. There is a link to physical training and physical restraint and spiritual training and spiritual restraint. We are not talking about Crossfit here to curb the sedentary lifestyle, or keep blood pressure under control (though those are good and necessary things.) We are talking about resisting temptation and not giving in to sin. A soldier trains himself to resist the devil and to stand firm in the face of temptation.
We are also to strategize so that we make the best use of the time. We are to understanding and hold fast to sound doctrine. There is study, planning, and practice all involved in being a soldier. The study of the scriptures, of theology is critical. Understanding sound doctrine is key to the wartime lifestyle. Study hard, and plan your life.
Stays alert to the ever-present, always raging battle
I used to give life groups that took the summer off a hard time. I used to kid Tim Hibbing that â€œwell the devil doesnâ€™t take a week off.â€ I was kidding because I know why Life groups ramp down for the Summer. I was not kidding about the devil taking no time off. The battle is always raging. Every where you go. Whomever you are with. There is no off-time. Our charge is to be alert.
1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
8Â Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
Uses all their available resources for the wartime effort
This point is the first thing I had in mind when we were cooking up this series. A lot of things have since grown up and around it, but this is the original context in which I heard the phrase â€œWartime Approach to Life and Ministryâ€.
The image is that every resource you have has been given to you by God to be used for the war effort.
2 Corinthians 9:8â€“11 (ESV)
8Â And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 9Â As it is written,
â€œHe has distributed freely, he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.â€
10Â He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11Â You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.
And this extends to every resource you have, not just money. This goes with the point above about planning and strategizing.
Ephesians 5:15â€“17 (ESV)
15Â Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16Â making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17Â Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
The reason it is labeled â€œWartime Lifestyleâ€ rather than simply a â€œfrugalâ€ or â€œsimpleâ€ lifestyle is because in war time, sacrifices are made on luxuries in order to be able to afford massive expenditures on the tools of battle. We sacrifice self-focused uses of time and money for use of these things toward the war effort.
This is where understanding the four battlefronts becomes critical. Many times a church or ministry will use this line of thinking to make a call for funding of large church programs or events. But do you see how the battle is everywhere?
The question is not about giving money and time solely to church activities and programs, though that is definitely part of it. One way Iâ€™ve heard this put is: â€œUse our money to show that God, not possessions, is our treasure.â€ (And now expand this out to all our resources, time, talent, etc) The question really is, can someone look at our lifestyle and see a difference in the way we conduct our life? The way we spend our money and time? The way we go about recreation and rest?
A good way to gauge this is to take an honest and complete look at your checkbook, and your weekly schedule, and look at percentages. What do you spend most of your time doing, track all 24 hours of the day (8 of them should be spent sleepingâ€¦). What percentage of your budget do you spend on toys and self-entertainment, versus missions, capitalistic ventures to improve the local economy, local charities, hospitality, gifts, and investing in your personal and familyâ€™s spiritual health?
Now, with a call like this, it is important to make commendations where I see them, and I will tell you that overall I am very very encouraged by our church in this area. I see many of you, particularly those of you who have been around 20 years doing extremely well in this area. It is an encouragement and an example to me. And like the Apostle Paul I want to encourage you to â€œdo so all the moreâ€, to â€œkeep goingâ€. You are a blessing to this church and to this community.
[For completeness: Yes there is a time for rest, recreation and enjoyment. But I think only a very few of us struggle with not enough of these things. Recreation and enjoyment anyway, real rest is probably a huge problem for most of us. That is an important message weâ€™ve done in the past and probably should do again soon.]
Life on the Battlefront
A soldier in this battle stays alert to the battle, trains and strategizes to understand the battle accurately, to use all resources available to them, to wage war on the four battlefronts.
We will use our time, money, and talents to
- Connect others with God (and keep ourselves connected)
- To reconcile people with one another
- To serve the community (show Godâ€™s love for everyone in this city in practical ways)
- To promote the flourishing of the world in general, and people in particular. (Be salt and light to this world.)
And all this to please the one who enlisted us, our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not to get entangled in civilian pursuits. Our resources are not given to us for the sake of our own comfort and bucket-list experiences. They are given to us to make a life for others.
This is not an issue of doâ€™s and donâ€™ts. The question is not â€œhow many dollars am I allowed to spend on entertainment?â€ or â€œhow many movies can I watch in a year?â€ or â€œhow many hours can I spend playing video games a week?â€ The correct questions are along the line of how will this help me love Jesus more? How will this help to show that Jesus is my highest treasure? How is the way I am about to spend the next 4 hours going help to strengthen my family, build my brothers and sisters in Christ, and show Christâ€™s love to a lost world in practical ways?
Can you give us some more practicals, please?
In short, no. I canâ€™t give you percentages, hours, dollars. And to give examples here is even a little dangerous. We are so prone to want a law when it comes to these areas and Iâ€™m not going to give you one. I will say that this is something you have got to consider carefully with your family, and mentors, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Only in those settings would it help to discuss specifics like dollars, hours, and percentages.
If youâ€™d like what I consider to be the best resource currently available for thinking through these things very practically, see â€œWhatâ€™s Best Nextâ€ by Matt Perman. It is a gold mind of solid theology on the relevant issues, practical wisdom and helpful implementation tips.