“How Do You Fight?”
I John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”
Revelation 12:12, “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.”
This morning, contests of skill and wars occur wherein the outcome remains uncertain until the final whistle or the last shot is fired. To the observer of such events, we may hope that the outcome goes one way or another, but we neither know nor can alter the eventual conclusion. To the participant of such events, one may fiercely try to swing the outcome in the direction that he wants though still not knowing how it will turn out. Years ago when the rise of DVR and other things allowed for sporting events to be recorded and watched later, one of my friends stated, “I don’t think I like that idea, because the outcome is decided already making it hard for me to root for someone when it has already finished.” When I asked him if it would help if he did not know what happened but was able to watch it without the outcome certain in his mind, he said it would make no difference. I was slightly bemused by this, knowing that his efforts in rooting for his team did not sway the outcome whether it was in progress or already complete. But, it reminded me of a richer truth. We are observers and sometimes participants in a great struggle wherein our engagement should be easier than it is, though we oftentimes make things harder on ourselves.
In the study verses above, we see some knowledge that both we and our adversary have. God in His gracious mercy has given us evidence of our standing with Him. One of the siren songs of today’s cynical world is, “How can you really know?” John tells us how we can know certain things. When people today are asked how they know they are saved (born again), they will many times say that at a certain place on a certain day, “I did ______ to get saved.” By Scriptural declaration, we did nothing to get saved (Ephesians 2:8-9), but we can state that we know we have been born again based on love experienced towards the brethren. To the child of God in general and the disciple more particularly, love in action to the kindred of Christ is a clear indication of this blessed state. God has not left us in the dark about our condition, but rather, He gave some clear markers that delineate it. Since love is the 1st of the nine fold fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the evidence of love is an evidence of passing from death unto life.
On the other hand, our adversary – the devil – knows some things too. One of the clearest things that he knows is stated above. I get asked a lot about how much the devil knows, and from Scriptural record, I do not have exhaustive information on the subject. However, I can say comfortably that he does not know what God knows (God alone is omniscient), does know the Bible (quoted from it when tempting Christ), and knows more by experience than we do (has been around longer and seen more). However, John states unequivocally that he knows the end is coming. The passage from Revelation 12 talks about him as a serpent, an adversary, and an accuser. While he knows certain things, it does not keep him from engaging all the time and at every opportunity.
Let us describe how our adversary fights first, and then proceed to how we should fight in the warfare of life. Notice what John says in conjunction to the devil’s knowledge. With the knowledge that he has, he makes concerted efforts to do the maximum amount of destruction. For whatever time he has, he is going to battle to the full. Though his power is no match for God’s, the text still says he has “great” wrath. He is a formidable foe. Two of the greatest pitfalls that we can experience in battling with him is either 1. give him too much credit (applying power and authority to him that God alone has) or 2. give him too little credit (underestimate his ability and strength of will). Though he is no match for God, he is more than capable of winning a “duke it out” contest with us when we “go it alone.” Though he knows the end is coming, he still fights and fights and fights. Since Revelation 12 calls him a serpent, here is a personal story of reflection to illustrate the point.
Growing up in South Mississippi, I had many influences in life, and one of those influences was a deacon in the church that Dad served named Alfred Cothren. Sometimes I even credit him with helping to raise me as he taught me much about life. He was avid outdoorsman, and I went hunting and fishing with him many times during my youth. He taught me how to hand grab for catfish and wrestle some really big fish. The man had no fear of anything except God. One day, I saw him grab a cottonmouth that was wrapped around the limb of a cypress tree while we were on the lake. With lightning fast hands and a grip of steel, he caught the snake right behind the head and observed him for a bit before his next move. In one swift motion, he separated the head from the body with his bare hands throwing the head one way and the body the other. He used to call this “making a 2 piece snake.” His reflection after doing this (while I sat there mouth agape) was profound, “Boy, that snake is dead. But, don’t go near the head. There’s enough in him to still bite you. It’ll hurt, we’ll have to take you to the hospital, and mama ain’t never gonna let you go with me again.”
Our adversary is much like that 2 piece snake. Christ’s work on Calvary crushed his head just as Genesis 3:15 said it would. However there is still enough wrath left in him to bite us, send us to the hospital, and cause grief to our loved ones. Where is the power that he has? When we get too close to his head (devices). We are not ignorant of what those devices are, and by getting too close to them, we will get bitten. Why does a snake still have the ability to bite and harm someone after it is effectively dead? That is the nature and makeup of its composition. Why does the devil continue to fight though he has effectively been crushed? That is his nature and his chief desire to bring as much destruction as he can for as long as he can.
Looking at our warfare, we have the opposite picture. Having passed from death unto life, we know that we have an endless time (eternity). We have been given the hope, promise, and assurance that our joy and peace will last world without end. When one considers the transitory suffering and misery of this life, it should be of chief comfort to the suffering child of God that all the bad things will one day be swallowed up by good things that will never change, decay, or pass away. However, our warfare is not nearly as diligent as our foe’s is. He does not “take the day off” though we often do. We do not stay fiercely determined like he does. I am reminded of a dear sister years ago who had the sweetest aunt that anybody had ever met. She was full of the milk of human kindness without a cross word to say. One day, this sister asked her aunt, “You’d probably say good things about the devil wouldn’t you?” Her aunt’s reply was, “Well, he isn’t lazy!”
The ultimate but sobering point is this: due to his knowledge and our knowledge, we should fight the opposite of how we do. If you knew that your side was going to lose the war, would you want to continue shooting? He knows that he has lost, yet he fights every day like victory is possible and still hanging in the balance. We know that we have won, yet we fight every day like defeat is possible and still hanging in the balance. Friends, I must confess that I have lost many skirmishes and battles with the old snake. He has gotten the better of me many times, but I am always supremely thankful to recall to mind that my battle record will not carry or overturn the war. The war was won by the Chief Captain of our salvation. He “duked it out” alone and won! Because He won, we won! Because He lives, we live now in passing from death to life and will one day live wholly (body, soul, and spirit) with Him. If you knew that your side lost the war or would lose the war, you might want to quit shooting. But, if you knew that your side already won the war, what greater encouragement could there be to keep shooting?
Life continues to deal us curves and problems to sort through. Our adversary continues to fire darts to discourage and trouble us. However, our Elder Brother has secured for us a life that knows no pain, sorrow, or strife. Before we get down or want to give up and quit, remember that glorious truth that as many times as I have quit on Him, he has never quit on me. As dead as the serpent is, let me cut wide berths away from his devices so that I do not get burned by his fire. His wrath will remain as long as his time lasts. Let the joy and strength that we will have for eternity infuse our lives now. If we have become weary in the way, let us begin anew to fight with the vigor worthy of the Name of Him who has won the strife for us.