The Battle Belongs to the Lord

            This is our third Sunday here in this new building, and there are times when I wonder if the Israelites must have felt the same way when they entered the land of Canaan.  You may recall that when the children of Israel left the land of Egypt, God promised that he would give them the land of Canaan, a place of rest.

            But, before they could enter Canaan, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Until, finally, in the third chapter of book of Joshua, all of them crossed over the Jordan River into the land of Canaan.  After 40 years of wandering, 40 years of living in tents, they finally had a place they could call home, a place of their own.

            And I think they must have felt the same way that we did when we came into this building two weeks ago.  Fortunately, it didn’t take us 40 years (although I have to admit there were times it felt like it), but how wonderful it feels for us to have a place we can call home, a place of our own.

            But there’s another similarity that I see.  I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this or not, but when the Israelites entered Canaan, the land of rest, they didn’t do a lot of resting.  In fact, the first thing they had to do was to gather up their army and go to war against the city of Jericho.  And then they fought the city of Ai.  And then, one by one, they fought all of the other cities of Canaan.  Fighting battle after battle.

            And I see the same thing happening with us.  We have worked hard to get into this building, and I know that there is a tendency for us to want to sit down and rest.  But I need to let you know that it’s not yet time to rest.  There’s a lot of work yet to be done as we reach out into this community.  And there’s a lot of fighting that needs to be done.

            Not fighting with each other.  Not fighting with the people of this community.  But fighting against Satan and the grip he has on the people all around us, and his attempts to try to defeat us and our efforts to build up God’s kingdom.  In Ephesians 6:12, Paul 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.”

            The Contemporary English Version says, We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world.”

            Sooner or later, every Christian discovers that the Christian life is not a playground but a battleground.  But I think we need this constant reminder – our battle is not against people.  As you read through scripture, you see that there is this long, ongoing war between God and the forces of light and love and life and truth and beauty; and the cosmic forces of darkness and sin and death and chaos and corruption. And the leader of those rebellious armies is Satan.

            And everyone, no matter who they are, gets drawn into this turf war that’s been going on for ages.

  • There are some people who rebel and fight for the enemy.
  • There are others who get captured and taken prisoner of war.  They suffer pain and anguish because of all that Satan does to try to hurt them.
  • And there are some of us who just get caught in the crossfire, casualties of a war we didn’t start. We get wounded and damaged by the chaos of living in a spiritual war zone.

            So even though we’re all drawn into the fight somehow, ultimately, it’s not our battle. It belongs to God.  Which is why over and over, scripture teaches us that our God is a warrior who fights for his people.

            This morning, I want us to take a look at what Paul has to say about this spiritual battle in Ephesians chapter 6, and then I want us to take a look at a story in the Old Testament that shows us two things that we need to win this battle.

            In Ephesians 6:10, Paul writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”

            I want you to notice from the very start that our strength is not found in what we do.  Our strength is found “in the Lord”.  We do not depend on our own strength, but in “the strength of his might.”   And the truth is, if you think you’re strong enough to win the battle against Satan, then you’ve already lost.  Because the strength of the Christian life is recognizing that we don’t have enough strength and we must depend on God.

            Paul saidin Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Or, as the Living Bible puts it, “I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.”

            Now, unfortunately, I think those of us who are preachers have done a very poor job of teaching this.  Because, we come to Ephesians 6 and we sometimes teach, “If you want to be strong and defeat Satan, here’s what you need to do — you need to pray hard, you need to study your Bible every day, you need to live a righteous life , and if you do all these things and if you do them well enough, then you can win the battle.”

            But, right at the very start, Paul wants us to know it is not what we do, it is what God does.  “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  In just a little bit, we’re going to take a look at that Old Testament story that will show you exactly what I mean.

            But first I want to take a look at the armor that Paul says we should put on for this spiritual battle we’re engaged in.   In verse 11, he says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11).  And then again in verse 13,“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13)

            And then starting in verse 14, Paul starts listing the different pieces of that armor.  “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:14-18)

            I need to confess to you this morning that over the past 40 years of preaching, I don’t think I’ve fully understood what this passage is saying.  I’ve always seen this as something we need to do.  We need to put on this armor piece by piece, and if we do that, then we will have the ability to stand against Satan toe to toe and come out victorious.

            But I’m reminded of the story of David and Goliath, and how David took on this huge powerful warrior that all the soldiers were afraid to fight.  And Goliath had on a massive set of armor – a helmet of bronze, a bronze coat of mail on his chest and bronze armor on his legs, a javelin and a shield.

            And before David went into battle, King Saul wanted to give David some armor to wear.  He gave him a helmet and a coat of mail and a sword.  But David took it all off, and he went out to fight Goliath.  He said to him, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.” (I Samuel 17:45-46).

            You see, the only armor David needed was God.  God was David’s armor.  And that was all he needed, because the battle belongs to Lord.

            And I wonder if maybe I’ve gotten it wrong all these years.  If so, I’m not the only one.  If you look up “armor of God” in Wikipedia, you’ll find that it says this:

In terms of the parts of the Armor of God, the various pieces (the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit) are correlated to what Paul would have witnessed firsthand as the arms and armor of Roman legionaries during his life in the Roman Empire.

            And I suppose that could be true.  But this assumption misses the fact that each of these pieces of armor has a rich background in the Old Testament, where they describe God’s armor — the armor that God himself puts on to rescue his people.  And I don’t think it was the Roman soldier, I think it was the Old Testament that provided Paul with his inspiration — and if we miss this background, we’re going to completely miss Paul’s point.

            For example, Paul tells us to “put on the breastplate of righteousness” and “take the helmet of salvation”.  Both of these phrases come straight out of Isaiah 59:17.  In that passage, the prophet Isaiah says of God, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.”

            In the chapters before this, Isaiah described God’s promise to deal with the enemies of his people, especially Babylon.  But in this chapter, Isaiah describes God as a warrior coming to deal with an even greater enemy – the enemy of sin.  He says in verse 12, “Our sins are piled up before God and testify against us.  Yes, we know what sinners we are.  We know we have rebelled and have denied the Lord.  We have turned our backs on our God.” (Isaiah 59:12-13)

            And when God comes to fight the sin that is in our lives, he puts on “righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.”  And the reason he does that is because we don’t have any righteousness of our own to bring; Isaiah said in Isaiah 64:6 that our very best righteousness is nothing more than filthy garments.  But God comes to fight for us, wearing his righteousness and his salvation.

            And when Paul talks about our feet being shod with the preparation of gospel of peace, he was surely thinking about Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”  Isaiah tells us just what the good news is that we are to proclaim – “Our God reigns!”  God is on his throne, and he is our king.

            The belt of truth also comes from Isaiah.  In Isaiah 11, God promised that he would send a Messiah to deliver his people.  This coming King “will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment.” (Isaiah 11:5, NLT). 

            The image of the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, is also found in Isaiah.  In Isaiah 49:2 (NLT), the promised servant of the Lord says, “[The Lord] made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword.”  In other words, God was preparing his servant to come as a warrior with sharp words of judgment.  We see this again in Revelation 19 where Jesus returns as a warrior riding out on a white horse with a sharp sword coming from his mouth with which to judge all nations. 

            And Paul’s image of the shield of faith also has a rich history in the Old Testament.  When Paul says, “Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”, Paul is not saying that faith in itself has remarkable defensive power.  Rather, faith protects us from Satan’s attacks because faith takes hold of the power and protection of God himself.

            Throughout the Old Testament, it is God, not faith, that is repeatedly described as our shield. In Genesis 15:1, God tells Abraham, “I am your shield.”  Proverbs 30:5 says, “[God] is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”  God is our shield; he is the one who keep us safe when we are being attacked.  Faith becomes our shield because it is the means by which we flee to God for refuge.

            And when you see this imagery in the Old Testament, what it says to me is that what we need to put on truly is the “armor of God”.  It is the armor that God puts on when he fights for us, and in fact, I think it’s accurate to say that we put on God as our armor.  We do not put on our righteousness.  We put on God, who is our righteousness.  We do not put on our truth.  We put on God, who is the truth.

            And you might think this is just a matter of semantics, nitpicking about wording.  But I think it’s more than that.  Because when we put on God as our armor, God is the one going into battle for us and that makes all the difference in the world.

            And so, I think it’s significant that Paul finishes out his description of this armor by saying that we should be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:19).  If our armor is God, then prayer is so very important because that’s what connects us with God.

            Let’s turn now and take a look now at that story in the Old Testament that will show you what this looks like when it’s put into practice.  We’re going to be in 2 Chronicles chapter 20.  Let me give you just a little bit of background.  In the days of King Jehoshaphat of Judah, God’s people came under attack from not one … not two … but three invading armies all at once!

            So, King Jehoshaphat gathered all the people of Judah into the courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem.  And Jehoshaphat prayed that God would protect his people, and that he would not allow these three armies to invade their land.

            And God responded to his prayer by sending a prophet.  And this prophet, Jahaziel, told Jehoshaphat and all the people: “Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15, NLT)

            I want to spend the rest of the lesson this morning taking a look at this idea – “the battle is not yours, but God’s.”  This fight that we are engaged in, this spiritual warfare, this battle against Satan and his forces, this battle is God’s fight, not ours.

            So, as this spiritual battle rages all around us, and sometimes even inside us, we need to pay attention to the words of that prophet from so long ago: “Do not be afraid!  Don’t be discouraged… for the battle is not yours, but God’s.”

            Let’s see how the rest of this story played out.  The next morning, when they went out into battle, King Jehoshaphat sent out the temple worship choral group.  “The king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang: ‘Give thanks to the Lord; his faithful love endures forever!’” (2 Chronicles 20:21, NLT)

            And that’s when something absolutely amazing happened!  It says that the Lord launched a surprise attack against the enemy armies.  Somehow, God made it so that the invaders attacked and destroyed each other instead of attacking the people of Judah.  And, as a result, God’s people won the battle that day. Or to be more accurate, God won the battle for them.  Because remember — it’s not our battle, it’s God’s battle.

            That day, God and his people were victorious. And the only weapons they used against their enemies were prayer and praise.  And I believe these are still the two most powerful weapons we have at our disposal – prayer and praise.

1.         The weapon of prayer

            This story teaches us why prayer is such an effective weapon in spiritual warfare.  Sometimes I hear people say something like, “There’s power in prayer!” and I cringe just a little bit.  Because the power is not really in prayer; the power is in God.  And prayer is not saying some magic words that make God show up and do his thing.  Prayer isn’t about getting what you want out of God.  Prayer is ultimately about acknowledging your weakness and God’s power.

            We see this in King Jehoshaphat’s prayer.  Listen to how this great king ended his prayer.  He said to God, “We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

            Now, here’s what’s really amazing about this prayer.  When this story begins, Jehoshaphat has been king for three chapters. He was a wise and powerful king. He spent his days building up the walls and fortresses of Jerusalem.  He built up an impressive army.  

            But despite all this preparation, King Jehoshaphat stands before God and he humbly admits:  “We are powerless against this mighty army that is about to attack us. We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help.”

            As wise and as powerful as he was, and as much work as he’d done to protect his people, when the battle comes to them, King Jehoshaphat says: “God, we’re not strong enough. We need you to fight for us.”

            There is this popular idea that you hear tossed around among some Christians that says, “God will never give us more than we can handle.”  There’s only one problem with that: The Bible never actually teaches that anywhere!

            Like in our story. Jehoshaphat didn’t say: “God, I know you’d never let anything happen to us that we can’t handle.”  No!  He says: “God, we are powerless against these armies, and we don’t know what to do!” In other words, “We can’t handle this!”

            And here’s what the Bible does teach us, over and over – God promises that you will never be given more than God can handle!

            So, prayer is a powerful and effective weapon because it teaches us to confess our weakness, and to take refuge in God’s power, and trust his wisdom.  Instead of relying on our own power and our own wisdom.

            So, when the battle comes to you, your first and most powerful defensive weapon is simply to humble yourself in prayer.

2.         The weapon of praise

            When it comes to spiritual warfare, praise is our other most powerful weapon.

            When the time came for battle, it says Jehoshaphat appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor.”  I want you to think about how incredible this was.  Those of you who are soldiers, imagine that your general has planned out an attack against the enemy.  All of the soldiers gather up their weapons and armor.  But the general says, “Before any of you invade the land and fight, I’m going to send in the Army band and have them play a few numbers.”

            Jehoshaphat sent out singers in front of his army!  And they were singing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (2 Chronicles 20:21).  But then notice.  “And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men…who had come against Judah.” (2 Chronicles 20:22).  God fought for his people when they started singing praises!

            In the early days of Israel, whenever the people went out to war, the priests would first carry the ark of the covenant.  The reason they did this because the ark of the covenant was God’s footstool.

            The idea was that God himself was going into battle in front of his people. The King of the entire universe was enthroned over his people. And they proclaimed his presence with them in battle by carrying his footstool before them.  It was like they were saying, “We are so confident that God is with us at that we’re carrying his footrest right here in front of us!  You may not be able to see him, but we know he’s right here on his throne, protecting us.”

            So, what does that have to do with these singers going in front of Jehoshaphat’s army?  The answer is found in Psalm 22:3.  Here’s what David said about God in that psalm. He said:“You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”

            David said that God is enthroned on the praisesof his people!  So basically, back in the day, God’s people would carry the ark of the covenant into battle to show that God was on his throne, going before them. But in this story, they showed that they were so confident that God was with them, all they brought was their praise and worship. They totally trusted that God was enthroned on their praises, just like David said.

            And that’s why praise is such a powerful weapon. Because when we joyfully, faithfully sing God’s praises in times of spiritual battle, we are building a throne for God over us.  We are being drawn deeper into God’s saving presence, so that we can feel him with us in the midst of the battle.

            Spiritual battles come in many forms, because the forces of cosmic darkness have so many strongholds in our world.  But whenever you find yourself in battle, open your mouth and sing praises to God.  Because this is a sure way to bring God’s power into the darkness.

            We learn that not only does worship bring us near to God’s throne — it also brings God’s throne near to us.  And when God is enthroned above us, it not only makes us bold in battle — we can also take much-needed refuge under the throne of God.

            In the midst of whatever battle you may be facing right now, I want you to know that God gives us hope.  This long war between God and the forces of spiritual darkness will not go on forever.

            Jesus Christ has already battled Satan, sin, and death on the cross.  And he won the decisive victory over all of them when he was raised from the dead.

            So, understand, that though we must continue to resist Satan and his forces of darkness, we are fighting an enemy who has already been defeated.  As soon as Christ’s nail-pierced, resurrected feet touched the earth outside the tomb, he secured a victory over sin and death for all of us.

            And we know that one day Christ will return and crush all of God’s enemies under his feet. When he returns, the strife will be over.  And when the smoke of that final battle clears, we will open our resurrected eyes to a renewed world.  And we will dwell in peace with our God forever.

            But, until then, the battle rages in our world, and sometimes even in our own hearts.  Even though it’s God’s battle, not ours, we are all involved somehow.  We’re all impacted by it.  We’re all wounded by it.

            But we also know that God is the Lord of heavenly armies, who fights for his people.  He will not send us into battles alone.  We saw this in a powerful way in the story we’ve just read.  God is a warrior who fought for his people in the days of King Jehoshaphat.  And he still fights for his people, because his faithful love endures forever.  He is enthroned upon our praises. And his power and his wisdom are as close as our prayers.

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