Sunday Night Live Sermons
HOW TO WIN AND HOLD YOUR GROUND
My Favourite Scripture Passages
While we were shifting houses after 27 years, I had to make decision about what to do with my hundreds of files. Most were thinned, some were discarded, but I carefully reread two large boxes of over 4000 letters of encouragement and support that came from churches across the land. This was during the 1990’s when publicly we were critical of the Uniting Church Councils responses to the various reports on Sexuality and their refusal to accept the thousands of members who opposed the plans to approve homosexual clergy living in gay relationships, to ordain homosexuals living with lovers, to enter UCA floats in the Mari Gras, to retain Rev Dorothy McRae McMahon, who outed herself as living with a lesbian lover while in the second highest position in the Uniting Church. We were critical of the Church’s decision to accept her vowed intent not to resign, to allow other homosexual clergy to continue in their positions. Then they rejected the opinions of 91% of congregations and over 80% of individuals who responded to the Sexuality Report. Later they ignored 18 volumes of petitions. All the time they refused to discuss the nature of sin and immorality, to call those who offended Biblical standards to repentance and change, and to uphold the authority of the Scriptures as affirmed in the Basis of Union and the Associated documents.
Then came a sustained and personal attack on me. A former General Secretary warned me in a letter of what was coming. A campaign began with statements in the press, then the Presbytery meeting that was due to re-affirm my position as Superintendent was stacked with people who had never attended a Presbytery meeting before, and who were not eligible to vote, meaning a two third majority could not be reached.
I was eventually allowed to stay in my position while an appeal was heard and as a result of the inept Chairman’s failure to “comply with the regulations”, a fresh vote was ordered and this time I was affirmed in my position, and not long after, was elected unopposed Chairperson of the Presbytery!
On the 7:30 Report on ABC I was invited to speak but no Synod bureaucrat was willing to appear but Michael Adams QC., was asked to respond. Of course he didn’t have the information to answer any of the issues. Despite her vow never to resign, the Rev Dorothy McRae McMahon did, but most of her homosexual colleagues continue in office. Reading back though the files and the letters of thousands of people made me realise the incompetence and failure to lead by some of our moderators and Presidents. It was a most distressing time, and as a consequence the Uniting Church has lost tens of thousands of members, whole congregations and many ministers have left, there has been no significant national impetus to growth and evangelism since, the UCA which was the third largest denomination in Australia has now been passed by others, who today count as their members former Uniting Church members. All these years later, the issues are not resolved and the membership of the Church seems more resolved than ever not to be a church out of step with other Christian churches the world over, who uphold Biblical standards.
The immediate battle was won, but we must continue to uphold the authority of Biblical standards within the Church’s leadership. The spiritual battle may have moments of victory, but it has it ongoing battles when it is necessary to hold ground we have obtained.
Our evening services are geared to help people win the victory over sin, but we need also to learn how we can hold our ground in spite of the Enemy’s attacks. Several times Paul was imprisoned, and on at least one occasion he was imprisoned in Rome and guarded by a professional soldier of the Emperor’s own Praetorian regiment. He was chained by the wrist as a special prisoner of Caesar to whom he had appealed for justice against the death threats of the Judaisers who had followed his missionary journeys. Under a decree of Augustus, “Lex Julia de vi publica” it was illegal to scourge or imprison a Roman citizen who had the right to appeal to Caesar. “So we came to Rome,” Paul wrote. For the next two years he would be chained by the wrist to a guard all day and night, a new guard every eight hours to share his rented apartment. He was under the personal care of a “stratopedarchos” or camp commandant, but always chained by the wrist to a member of the Palace guard.
During this time many Jews visited him to ask about the Messiah. Priscilla, Aquilla, Phoebe, Mark, Silas, Justus, Aristarchus, Epaphroditus, Demas, Timothy and Titus and many other heard him preach, lecture and explain. They became the backbone of the Church in Rome that was to grow to be the most powerful church of all. Every time he spoke he had a captive unbeliever chained to his wrist. Some of those soldiers believed. Paul wrote of the believers “in the Emperor’s household.” Like any good teacher, especially the Lord Jesus, Paul gave these soldiers an object lesson on how to win and hold their ground. They felt trapped in the army, forced to live away from their home, to fight at the Emperor’s command, without control over their lives and often facing death and despair.
The soldiers understood as Paul pointed at each piece of their armour, and then applied a spiritual lesson to help them win. He saw in the pieces of armour that protected them and enabled them to win their victories and hold their ground spiritual insights. His words are favourites with so many Christians. EPHESIANS 6:10–20.
1. BUILD UP YOUR STRENGTH. v10.
Every spiritual victory and capacity to hold your ground depends upon your spiritual strength. God’s work is not the place for spiritual weaklings. Here in the centre of large, sinful and sophisticated city like this, the spiritual battle is always tough. You have to be spiritually fit and strong. Some of you have lasted in this spiritual battled for decades because of your spiritual strength. You younger men, recently converted, should learn from some of these older people to “build up your strength in union with the Lord and by means of His might power.”
2. PUT ON THE ARMOUR OF GOD. v11–17.
Paul repeats: “Put on all the armour that God gives you…put on God’s armour now!” It is not Caesar’s armour that will protect them and enable them to stand their ground. It must be God’s armour. “Put on all the armour God gives you so that you may be able to stand up against the Devil’s Evil Tricks.” Paul named the real enemy in the toughest battles Rome had seen. “For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.” Paul called it like it is. In all my experience in the corporate and political worlds I have never seen such behaviour as I witnessed in these church bureaucrats.
The purpose of God’s armour was to ensure victory and enable soldiers to hold their ground: “So put on God’s armour now! Then you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks, and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground!” Every Praetorian understood. They were the elite, the toughest, the bravest; they had defeated Caesar’s enemies and held their ground. Now Paul called them into God’s army and named off each piece in an object lesson they would never forget.
- The Belt of truth. v14. The Roman tunic was held by a wide, metal studded leather belt that protected the hips and loins. From it hung his sword. Paul described it as the “belt of truth”, meaning for the Christian, character or inner integrity mattered. Security starts with inner integrity: none are safe without it; all are secure with it.
- The Breastplate of Righteousness. v14. The moulded leather and metal chest protector covered their vital organs. The Christian must be covered by righteousness, a right relationship with God given by Christ who covers us with his strong purity. His righteousness protects.
- The Boots of the Gospel. v15. Rome dominated the world because her soldiers were the first armies to march quickly across the Empire by the great roads. The soldiers wore “caligals”, knee high boots with hobnails underneath, protecting feet, shins and ankles. Christians need a good hold on earth so that “after fighting to the end you will still hold your ground.” The willingness to announce the Gospel, to witness, to proclaim gives us strong purpose in our stand.
- The Shield of Faith. v16. The Roman shield was 4’ high, one inch thick, made of wood covered with leather and metal. No burning arrow tipped in tar could set them alight. In battle the shields were locked together forming an overlapping impenetrable barrier like scales on a tortoise. Christians need to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with faith protecting them from “all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One.” Division always weakens.
- The Helmet of Salvation. v17. The Roman soldier in Paul’s cell wore a brass helmet to protect him from blows. So the Christian is protected by the fact of his salvation, God’s hand covers us.
- The Sword of the Lord. v17. The Roman sword was short and sharp, used in both offence and defence. So God has given us through His Spirit the Word of God, “alive and active, sharper than any double edged sword. It cuts all the way through to where soul and spirit meet, where joints and marrow come together. It judges the thoughts and desires of a man’s heart.” Hebrews 4:12 This is what protects a Christian and enables him to win and hold his ground: truthful integrity, righteous character, stable proclamation, protective faith, secure salvation, and the Word of God. The soldier thought of that every time he dressed in his armour!
3. PRAY ON EVERY OCCASION. v18.
Prayer was to surround the Christian, and the soldier remembered “put on the Gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer, where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.” They knew it long before we learned to sing it. Prayer was to be the basis of all Christian action. “Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help. Pray on every occasion as the Spirit leads. Pray always for all of God’s people. And pray also for me. Pray that I may be bold in speaking about the Gospel as I should.”
4. KEEP ALERT. v18.
Jesus warned the believers to “watch and pray”, and Paul stressed the necessity of keeping alert both for attack and defence. “For this reason keep alert.” The Christian young person must be alert for opportunities to work and serve others.
5. NEVER GIVE UP. v18.
“and never give up.” Every moral, spiritual, personal, community fight for God and goodness is a tough fight, and you should never give up. As Winston Churchill said of his bulldog tenacity, “Never give up. Never give up! Never give up!” “When the evil day comes you will be able to resist the Enemy’s attacks, and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground.” Persistence counts. Don’t quit. Never give up!
6. SPEAK BOLDLY. v19–20.
The reason Paul asked for prayer was that He might continue to speak boldly. Note his emphasis, “pray also for me that God will give me a message when I am ready to speak, so that I may speak boldly…pray that I may be bold in speaking about the Gospel as I should.” Even in prison, he would speak about Jesus Christ, an ambassador in chains. “For the sake of this Gospel I am an ambassador, though now I am in prison.” Today many people feel trapped in poverty and unemployment, facing defeat and despair. The Christian Gospel tells you how to win the greatest battles and how having won you may hold your ground to the end. Your life must demonstrate integrity, righteous character, stable proclamation, protective faith, secure salvation, and the Word of God. That kind of character wins and holds ground. Don’t despair. Win and hold our ground!