Sunday Night Live Sermons
Essentials For The Twenty-First Century
The twentyfirst century will require greater toughness in witnessing Christians than in any other recent century. The rise of militant Islam, the population explosion in third world countries and the rise of aggressive secularism in the West means Christians will need a toughness about them that we older Christians could avoid. But if we are Christians, ought not we be gentle, kind, soft? Are not these the marks of a Christian, not toughness? Are not Christians to be known for their mildness rather than their robustness? We gloss over the fact that the work of Jesus Christ in advancing God’s kingdom is a spiritual warfare and casualties are real. There is war on the spiritual front. Young Christians on the front line need to be surrounded with the grace of God and equipped for spiritual battle. Now you may not like to consider spiritual warfare or use war terminology. You prefer to talk only of sweetness and light, blessing and goodness. But such an attitude is unrealistic.
It is out of touch with the realities of personal, inner conflict. It ignores the fact of evil. Jesus never promised His disciples an easy life. He warned them frequently about opposition, imprisonment and suffering for their faith. Their morality and faith would be attacked by crude and cruel men even as He Himself would be. Jesus warned His disciples of tough times ahead. “If the world hates you, just remember that it has hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, then the world would love you as its own. But I chose you from this world, and you do not belong to it; that is why the world hates you.” John 15:18–19 The disciples were to find out soon enough just how tough the circumstances were going to become. They would discover just how tough they had become!
The world marvels at the resilience of Christians. The world can mock, scorn, hate and burn, crucify and bury, but the true Christian cannot be confined to the ground any more than his Master. New life is born from witness. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
1. A WARNING TO US FROM JESUS
The world will hate His followers as it hated Him. No surprises. Jesus warned us. The world hated Him, so it will hate those who identify themselves with Him. “Remember what I told you: “No slave is greater than his master”. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too; if they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours too. But they will do all this to you because you are mine; for they do not know the One who sent me.” John 15:20–21 The world hated Jesus because He is not of this world. That is why they make it tough on us. We cannot expect better treatment than the Master. If they persecuted Him they will persecute us also. The true Christian makes others aware of their own sin. A true Christian is a challenge to all they meet. The world has always hated true Christians. They begrudge you your new character; they are tormented by your peace; they are infuriated by your joy. True witness infuriates the world.
2. AN EXPLANATION TO US FROM JESUS
The world hates followers of Jesus because it hated Him, and it hated Him because they did not recognise that behind Jesus is God Himself. We should not be surprised because we have seen the hatred of men who crucified Christ. If we are to identify ourselves with Him, then that is enough for them to make it tough on us. We cannot expect to have an easier life than our Master.
“They would not have been guilty of sin if I had not come and spoken to them; as it is, they no longer have any excuses for their sin.” v22 Jesus makes it clear that the world’s rejection of Him and us, is in reality their rejection of God Himself. “Whoever hates Me hates my Father also.” The reason why they hate God is because they do not know Him. Jesus makes it clear that the world’s rejection of Him and us is based on those good deeds we do and the clear difference that our life evidences. Jesus says: “They would not have been guilty of sin if I had not done among them the things that no one else ever did; as it is, they have seen what I did, and they hate both me and my Father. This however, was bound to happen so that what is written in their Law may come true: “They hated Me for no reason at all.”
3. A PROMISE TO US FROM JESUS
In the face of these tough circumstances Jesus does not leave us desolate and despairing. Instead He repeats the promise that One would come as our Helper, our Comforter, our Advocate, our Counsellor and our Friend. “The Helper will come — the Spirit.” v26 Jesus repeats to the disciples that God’s Spirit would come alongside them to enable them to withstand persecution. Tough circumstances may arise, but they have an even more powerful Spirit within. The Spirit enables us to face persecution: sneering words, unjust criticism, painful assault and even the martyr’s death with courage and strength. He is the Helper within us who enables us to face tough times. “I will send Him to you from the Father and He will speak about Me. And you too, will speak about me, because you have been with me from the very beginning.” v26–27
The way Jesus gives this warning to His disciples, and all of us who believe in Him because of their brave witness, and explains the reasons behind such persecution and tough times and reveals His promise of the presence of the Spirit within us, enables us to become tough Christians. Jesus left us a warning, an explanation and the Spirit of God within to equip us and enable us to cope with no matter what comes. You may not feel you have the power, for it is never given until the challenge comes. But rejoice. Live in peace and confidence. Because He promises you His Spirit.
Spiritual warfare was an image used by Paul. On one occasion he was guarded by professional soldiers of the Emperor’s own Praetorian regiment. Every time he spoke he had a captive unbeliever chained to his wrist. Some of those soldiers believed and became the saints “in the Emperor’s household.” Paul taught them the Gospel and surrounded them with God’s protective care. But all Christians need to be spiritually equipped. Paul knew young Christians need knowledge of the faith and also spiritual protection because of tough times. Spiritual victory depends upon spiritual strength. God’s work is not the place for spiritual weaklings. In a sinful, secular country like Australia, the spiritual battle is always tough. You have to be spiritually fit and strong. Some of you need to learn how to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.” v10. Paul wanted us to recognize the enormous power of God behind us. Paul uses all the synonyms he can lay hands on as he describes how the power (dynamis) of God functions according to the operation (energeia) of the strength (kratos) of his might (ischys). What an expression of power!
This vital power is the same divine power that raised Christ from the dead. Paul gave them an object lesson on how God protects us and makes us bold in our witness. They understood as Paul pointed out each piece of the soldier’s armour, and applied a spiritual lesson. He saw in the pieces of armour symbols of spiritual truth that protect and enable victory in spiritual warfare. Paul repeats: 11”Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes… put on the full armour of God.” It is not Caesar’s armour that will protect you and enable you to stand your ground. It is God’s armour. 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.” That, every Praetorian understood. They were the elite, the toughest, the bravest; they had defeated Caesar’s enemies. Now Paul called them into God’s army and named off each piece of armour as an object lesson. We need the whole armour of God. Note the pieces of the panoply of God for Christians today:
1. THE BELT OF TRUTH: MEANING INTEGRITY. v14
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” The Roman tunic was held by a wide, metal studded leather belt protecting the hips and loins. Paul described it as the “belt of truth”, meaning Christian character or integrity matters. Security starts with inner integrity. Nothing damages like lack of integrity.
2. THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: MEANTING CHARACTER. v14
“…with the breastplate of righteousness in place.” Character counts. The twentyfirst century will require greater toughness in witnessing Christians than in any other recent century.
Nothing is more needed by Christians in marriage, personal relationships, business dealings, financial affairs, and family conduct than righteousness of character. There can be no failure of ethics or morality. The Christian must be covered by God’s righteousness, lived out in pure living.
3. THE BOOTS OF THE GOSPEL: MEANING PURPOSE. v15
“..with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” God called me to one purpose: to march in the boots of the Gospel! Rome dominated the world because her soldiers were the first to march quickly across the Empire on the great roads. The soldiers wore “caligals”, knee high boots with hobnails underneath, protecting feet, shins and ankles.
4. THE SHIELD OF FAITH: MEANING TOUGHNESS. 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.” You have been trained, equipped, prepared do not run from the battle! The Roman shield was 4 foot high, one inch thick, made of wood covered with leather and metal so that burning arrows tipped in tar could not set them alight. Christians need to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with faith protecting them from “all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
5. THE HELMET OF SALVATION: MEANING ASSURANCE. v17
”Take the helmet of salvation.” 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 or her salvation. Be sure of your salvation.
6. THE SWORD OF THE LORD: MEANING COMMITMENT. v17
”Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The Roman sword was short and sharp, used in both offence and defence.
So we have the Word of God. Heb 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” If you do not believe the scriptures, you are defenseless.This is what protects you and enables you to win and hold your ground: truthful integrity, righteous character, purposeful proclamation, tough faith, assured salvation, and commitment to the Word of God. The soldiers of Christ thought of that every time they dressed in the panoply of God! So Paul concludes: 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 saints.” Prayer is to surround the Christian. We sing “Put on the Christian armour, each piece put on with prayer.” Prayer is the basis of all Christian action. Then Paul says: “be alert.” The Lord Jesus warned us to “watch and pray”. Paul stressed the necessity of keeping alert both for attack and defence.
Every moral, spiritual, personal, and community fight for God and goodness is a tough fight. You should never give up. “Therefore put on the full armour 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.” Persistence counts. Don’t quit. In the twentyfirst century we must fight for Christ and guard ourselves just as the Christians had to in the first century. The twentyfirst century will not be easy. The twentyfirst century will require greater toughness in witnessing Christians than in any other recent century. We must take with us, mental and spiritual toughness!
- The Message Of Galatians: The Bible Speaks Today. J R W Stott IVPress 1968.
- The Expositors Bible Commentary F E Gaebelein Zondervan 1997
- Discovering Paul G K Moyes Albatross 1986