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Drawing Enemy Fire


In the life of a soldier at war there are times when life is "normal". You are sitting around with your mates drinking coffee, putting your boots on, talking about life back home. But then there are times when you are really in the thick of it, fighting hard and under attack. Or if you were a bomber pilot, perhaps for an hour or so you are seemingly just enjoying a nice cruise over central Europe. But then everything changes. You start taking fire. Anti-aircraft guns are shooting at you. Fighter planes have been dispatched against you. And perhaps the philosophical observer might ask – what exactly changed? One minute you were cruising comfortably, and the next you were under attack. Well, what changed was that you arrived at the battlefield, and you were now over the target. And this is the principle that I am getting at – you can expect to be attacked when you are over the target. Or to put it another way, if you start to attack the enemy, don't be surprised when the enemy attacks you.

This is a pretty self-evident principle in war, and yet we often fail to understand it in spiritual warfare. We have been reminded recently in our prayer meetings about the need to put on spiritual armor for the spiritual battle that we are in as believers (see Ephesians 6:10-18). We know that we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against the evil one and spiritual powers of the darkness (v.12). We know that the devil schemes against us, and attacks us as if with flaming arrows (v.11,16). We know that we need to be alert and prepared and to stand firm.

And yet, for many of us we are caught flat-footed when the attacks come. We forget that we are in a war. We forget that we have been redeemed out of one kingdom and placed into another – that God the Father "has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Colossians 1:13). If we are playing on the other team now, should we really be surprised when we start getting tackled by the other jerseys? Jesus himself promised this very thing. "Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). And Paul makes the same absolute claim when writing to Timothy. He writes, "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).

So let us be ready for the attack. And yet, there is one more thing to consider. Perhaps you are not under attack at all. Life is good. The world generally loves you. All is well. If you have no enemies, no personal attacks against you, no inexplicable discouragements, no signs of spiritual warfare and opposition, then perhaps you have a different problem. Maybe you are not in the fight. You are a bomber pilot doing laps over the Bering sea for no apparent reason. No one is shooting at you because you are absolutely not a threat. You are not attacking the enemy, and taking ground. You are disengaged, irrelevant to the enemy. To bring the analogy home, maybe you are not striving to be spiritually disciplined, you are not ruthlessly pursuing holiness, or you are not working hard to redeem and steward your relationships and responsibilities, or you are not engaging the world with the gospel and with God's truth. And because of that apathy, the enemy has left you well alone. The other option, worse still, is that you are still on the other team. As Jesus said, "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19).

If you are not under attack, you should feel a sense of dread and disquiet. All is not well. If you are being left alone by the enemy, something isn't quite right. As soldiers of Christ we should all want to be in the battle. No Christian should settle for minimal impact in the world, or minimal holiness in their life, or minimal love to others, or minimal worship of Christ. We should want to be faithful and fruitful and to make great strides for the glory of our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Again as Paul taught Timothy, "Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him" (2 Timothy 2:3-4). The call to the believer flying his warplane in pointless circles is to stop getting lost in civilian pursuits and to get in the game. Come to Christ fully. Live for him fully. And the call to the unbeliever is the exact same. Don't settle for this world and the things of this world, it only ends in destruction. Come join the winning team. Come to Christ, grab your armor, grab your sword, and lets get on the battlefield already!

And yet many of you might be feeling like you really are under attack. Family and friends have lobbed grenades at you. Discouragements and doubts keep whizzing at you like so many flaming arrows. Temptations to sin and to give up on the work abound. And you feel that the battle is raging all around you. Do not be discouraged, be greatly encouraged. According to all of these Scriptures I have quoted, what is God's answer to you? Good work soldier! You must be over the target. You must be doing something right. This is to be expected when you are a soldier of Christ the King. This is to be expected when you are striving to live a godly life in Christ Jesus. Rejoice!

Do you need a pep-talk from a fellow soldier and an officer in this army? Here is what I would say to you. Borrowing my words mostly from the Apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy.

Brother, sister, fellow soldier, do not be discouraged. Do not give way to a spirit of fear. Do not abandon the battlefield for the fleeting pleasures of this world. When the battle rages, keep the faith! Remember the gospel. Keep the main thing the main thing. Do not be surprised at opposition and attacks. Be steadfast. Stand firm on the word of God. Fight the good fight! Wage the good warfare! Never give up, and never surrender. Take up the shield of faith. Get a firm grip on the sword of God's holy word. Send up another prayer for God's strength and take another swing. Know that God will be with you in the battle. He never deserts his soldiers. Believe that. Believe in Him. Because "this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith" (1 John 5:4). 

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Sunday, 19 May 2024