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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
 canadianreformedseminary.ca
 
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Ask your Father to Fight your Battles
Text:LD 52 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Spiritual Warfare
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-12-04
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 3:1,2                                                                                  

Hy 1

Reading – 2 Timothy 1:3 - 2:13

Ps 144:1,2

Sermon – Lord’s Day 52

Ps 35:1,9,11

Hy 78:1,3,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, when you’re a little child, you can feel pretty helpless at times. Other kids are bigger than you. Other kids can be bullies. When you’re on the schoolyard, and getting pushed around again with no teachers in sight, you can feel quite alone.

It’s in times like these that we look around for help. Who’s going to fight on your side? And when you’re a little child, you might appeal to the strongest person you know: your dad. Even though he’s not there on the schoolyard, you find comfort in his strength, his willingness to stick up for you. So sometimes kids will even say that to the big bully, “Wait ‘til I tell my dad. He can beat you up. ‘Cos he’s strong—my dad’s even stronger than your dad!”

Thankfully, we have to endure the days of schoolyard bullies only for a time, until they grow up or until adults step in. But there’s a good lesson in how that helpless child appeals to his father. For we have a strong Father, one who cares for us deeply. He’ll be our ally in the fight.

King David recognized this truth. For David was a man of war. He had that showdown with the Philistine bully Goliath. He had to defend himself against the jealous attacks of King Saul. And then when he was king, David often went to battle.

And as often as David went to war, David won. Almost every time he strapped on his sword and took up his shield, that’s what happened: he won. So why was he victorious? He chose his allies well. But he was resting in no earthly support. Not horses and chariots, cruise missiles or attack helicopters, David had a sure help in God.

Listen to how he prays in Psalm 35 to his mighty ally, “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me” (v 1). He prayed for his Father to fight his battles, and that’s what we pray. Our Father is stronger, and He fights with us and for us, and He gives us the victory. So even as we face cruel enemies, we finish our prayer with this cry of certain faith,

            Heavenly Father, please fight for me! We pray:

                        1) under a constant threat

                        2) for a mighty power

                        3) in a confident spirit

 

1) we pray under a constant threat: I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a war raging right now. It’s close to home. And we cannot help but be heavily involved. We don’t have the luxury of choosing to remain safely at home. We are embroiled in the storms of war because there’s a war being fought over us.

This was the truth behind the second petition, “Your kingdom come.” It’s the war of two worlds, contested by the evil prince and the good king. And in God’s grand fight with Satan, victories and losses are scored and tallied in you and me. Fighting over us, we said.

So the Catechism is not exaggerating or being alarmist when it calls this life a “spiritual war” (Q&A 127). This is a theme throughout Scriptures. We find it in the Old Testament, “Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help, O LORD. Draw out the spear and stop those who pursue me” (Ps 35:2-3). We find it also in the New, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12).

Again, it’s not a matter of choosing whether or not to go to war. It’s a matter of choosing what side you’ll fight on. We listen again to Jesus’s words in Matthew 12, unavoidably direct: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (v 30). To stay neutral is impossible.

For this is the nature of our war: “Our sworn enemies—the devil, the world, and our own flesh—do not cease to attack us” (Q&A 127). That’s an important line, and we need to take it apart for a moment. As God’s children, we have our adversaries.

What kind of enemies are they? Are they a bit of friendly competition, like the opposing team in soccer? Are they kind of like the schoolyard bullies who pester us, harass us for a little while, then lose interest? No, the Catechism says we have “sworn” enemies. Note that word, for it means this is hatred of a different intensity. Our enemies have a total dedication to our destruction. “The devil, the world, and our own flesh,” kind of like an unholy trinity against us.

The devil, of course, is the mastermind. He’s the general in charge of all the battalions of darkness. Daily he plots and schemes and invents new ways of doing the same old sins. His temptations are all designed for this one purpose, to draw us away from the LORD and to ruin the church. This is why James in his letter urges us: “Resist the devil” (4:7). Don’t make peace with him but fight hard against his attacks.

Because how long do we really resist the devil’s invitations? Sometimes it’s only just a moment of hesitation before we give in. If we always give in to temptation immediately (as we often do), we haven’t even begun to feel its power. Temptation still has lots in reserve—but we’re often so weak, Satan doesn’t even need to dial up the pressure: “These people are so easy. They see an provocative image, they click. A nasty thought occurs to them, and they say it. They see an easier way, and they follow it.” It’s only when we don’t give in, only when we try to stand fast and be holy, that we begin to feel temptation’s pressure. Then we start to understand how bad Satan really wants us, and how much we need the Father’s help.

That’s one enemy. Then there’s the world: the unbelieving world where we live and move and work, which goes right along with the devil. This world so often serves as the willing vehicle for Satan to deliver his poison: planting temptation along the roads we travel, bringing evil right into our homes, setting it before our faces. So John warns us, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The battle lines aren’t across the ocean, but very near. So even if cover up our Christian badge, we’re under serious threat. Swimming against the tide of this world takes a constant effort. That is why God calls his children to vigilance in this world, and we should not be complacent.

Temptations are ever-present, and not just to do evil. For there’s a third sworn enemy we have, and that’s our own sinful flesh. God is renewing us, but evil hangs on. This is why we still find it hard to resist evil, and all too easy to neglect the good.

You’ve probably learned that there’s an old distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. As Christians, we might lead a very placid and inoffensive life; we transgress few of God’s commands in an outward and obvious way. But in the meantime, are we leaving undone the good things that God has called us to do?

This is a temptation that we hardly take notice of. But it’s no less a sin to neglect what is righteous. This is the temptation to look the other way when our neighbour is right there and we have an opportunity to say something about Christ. This is the temptation to withhold our help from a brother in the church, or from our classmate at school. Probably dozens of times per day we’re tempted to say: “That’s not my responsibility. Someone else will help with that. It’s the wrong time to speak up. I don’t feel like it at the moment.” Or think of how we are tempted to leave our Bible unread, night after night. We’re tempted to leave many prayers unprayed. Even in the good things God calls us to do, we’re tempted to take the easy way.

This kind of temptation is pretty quiet. It’s far less of an adrenaline rush than some temptations we face. It’s more like a numbness in our hearts, a quiet indifference toward God and other people. Because of the weakness of our sinful flesh, we don’t even notice that another lukewarm day has passed us by. So we need to have our radars tuned for the reality that moment by moment, we’re under attack: sometimes overtly, sometimes silently.

The apostle Paul knew about these attacks. Like David, but without ever seeing a battlefield, Paul experienced war often and intensely. For instance, when he wrote his second letter to Timothy, he wrote it very much as a soldier in the Lord’s army. In fact, he was a soldier behind enemy lines. For he’d been captured by those who opposed Christ, and he was put in prison.

Though he was about to die for the cause of his Lord, listen to how he encourages Timothy, “You must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim 2:3). “You’re a soldier, and you must endure it,” he says, implying that hardships will come. The difficulties of spiritual war will spare no Christian: not the old Paul, nor the young Timothy, not the sixty-year old man, nor the 14-year old girl in the same pew. Whether we are free or imprisoned, healthy or dying, the storms of war will be unceasing.

But let us endure like “good soldiers” of Christ Jesus. So beloved, what does it take be a good soldier? A good soldier is one who knows his weaknesses. A good soldier doesn’t underestimate his enemy and the harm he can cause. A good soldier puts on his armour. A good soldier doesn’t pretend to be neutral, but she knows very well that she stands on the side of God.

As Paul tells us, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life” (2:4). That’s a very revealing comment. If you’re going to fight effectively, you need to be focused, unimpeded. When we’re entangled in all kinds of our earthly pleasures and worldly ambitions and petty pursuits, we’re not going to be ready for the present warfare. We’ll be too busy to fight, too distracted, too burdened to care.

I read a book recently where the author said the church needs to get better at practicing “wartime austerity.” Austerity is when you ration things, you economize, you simplify, so that that you can devote more resources to a good cause. Like during wartime, when people have to cut back on meat and butter and electricity and luxury goods, all for the cause of strengthening the fight against the enemy, helping the war effort.

I wonder if that’s how we live, with a real wartime focus? With the kind of simple lifestyle that reflects our single-minded devotion to God’s kingdom? Not wanting to get too entangled with the affairs of this life, not too invested in the godless world, but prepared for battle—ready to devote more of our resources (and more of ourselves) to the Lord’s cause.

For a good soldier’s purpose is “that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2:4). Who enlisted us? On whose side do we fight? Christ is our King, our commanding officer, and we listen to him. Our priority is to please him by fighting against sin, by advancing the kingdom. We obey the call to arms, knowing that our mighty Father joins us in battle.

 

2) we pray for a mighty power: I’m sure that we’ve all thought sometimes that we’re pretty near spiritually invincible. Or maybe we haven’t thought it, but we’ve sure acted that way. “I can hang out with these friends at the bar on Saturday night, and not be tempted to do as they do.” Or, “I can get through my days without praying much.” “I can watch this bad movie and not be affected by it.” But see how the Catechism teaches us to acknowledge, “In ourselves we are so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment” (Q&A 127).

In our moments of spiritual pride, we really need the warning of 1 Corinthians 10, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (vv 12-13). Deceptive temptations are nothing new—and it is nothing new that God’s children fall. So don’t think you’re invincible. But make use of God’s power!

For Jesus tells us to pray this every day: “Uphold and strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit” (Q&A 127). And when we pray for our Father to help us, we’re seeking an ally who is more than able to assist us. This is what we confess with the doxology, “For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.”

First, notice the connecting word “for.” It’s a small word, but it says something essential. We’re not just adding a compliment because we have to. For the child of God, praise should never be an after-thought. Instead, it’s close to the beating heart of our prayer. Our closing words of worship have everything to do with what we’ve just brought before the Lord.

The Catechism explains the doxology, “All this we ask of you because, as our King, [you have] power over all things” (Q&A 128). In other words: “Father, I know that you can well and truly answer me.” We’re acknowledging that with all our troubles and temptations, we’ve come to the right address. Our eyes are wide open to the reality of his greatness, his glory, his utter ability to do the things we ask of him.

So we pray: “Father, yours is the kingdom.” That’s only a few words, but it’s a shorthand way of saying to God, “Father, you are King. From your glorious throne in the heavens, you govern all things in this universe.” As we face the attacks of our enemies, we know that even they can do no more that God allows them. God has power over all things, even over the devil and his fallen angels. God’s is the Kingdom!

As whenever we say that, we’re being reminded that we too, are part of the kingdom, citizens of heaven, enlisted as good soldiers in his army. That’s our identity. So we ask that God almighty would help us to serve him, help us to please him, our commanding officer. “All this we ask, for yours in the kingdom.”

“And yours is the power,” we pray, looking to the God of total strength and perfect might. For into our weak human spirit, the Father sends his invincible Spirit. As Paul says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). From God you can receive the Spirit for standing firm.

We can say to him, “Father, I’m praying about this difficult temptation in my life, because I know that you can deal with all things. You’re a strong Father, and I know you care for me deeply. Because yours is the power, you can help me to stand. Help me to be holy. Help my unbelief. All this I pray, for yours is the power.”

“And yours is the glory.” We make the confession that all the credit for our holiness, all the honour for our spiritual growth, all the praise for our faithful service in the Lord’s army, ought to be reserved for the Lord. It’s his work in us, so give God the glory! We can be strong, Paul says to Timothy, but only “in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 2:1). Grace means it’s a free gift, which means that of course God should get all the credit.

So your in temptation and trial, pray to the strong Father who is able to help you. And He will help you! This is what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10, that God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able” (v 13). And then he adds, “With the temptation [God] will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (v 13). That is God’s sure promise, one to count on. You won’t be able to handle it, but He will! There’s strength available for standing up against the devil.

Does it seem that way—that there’s always a way out, an escape? Haven’t you found some invitations to sin nearly impossible to turn down? It’s like our body won’t let us. Or is there always a way to stop the mind from doubting, the heart from coveting? Is there really a way of escape? Is there some hidden reserve of strength always available to us?

There is, if you know your Father. He is faithful. If you’re seeking a boost for your self-control, or more courage to face your temptations, or new conviction of God’s mercy toward you, or better wisdom about what to do, it’s freely available from the Father. Ask, seek, and knock! And so we pray…

 

3) we pray in a confident spirit: As many soldiers in many wars have done, Paul sat down to write his final letter home. It’s the letter of 2 Timothy. And like some captured soldiers, Paul had a feeling that death was coming. But when the good soldier Paul writes, he knows for certain that his death is for the winning side. He is confident that he’ll receive the reward for all his work in the trenches of God’s kingdom.   

Listen to what Paul writes a bit later in 2 Timothy, “The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:6-7). That’s confidence. God has greatly helped him. He has enabled him to endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ: “I have fought the good fight.”

And Paul also looks forward, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on the day” (4:8). Even deep behind enemy lines, he has hope. Even when things looked pretty grim, Paul is certain that the battle belongs to the Lord, that God will give him the crown of victory.

So you could say that at the end of his life, Paul gives his “Amen.” He affirms, ‘It is true and certain. God has heard my prayers. God has given grace my life, and He will give it, even in my death. Also in my passing away, God will glorify his Name. And beyond the grave, God will deliver on the rest of his promises to me.’

When we pray, we’re allowed to pray with the same certainty. When we endure the storms of this spiritual war, and we deal with the struggles that come with being a sinful person in a sinful world, we have this same certainty. We can finish our prayers every time with “Amen.” We say, ‘It is true and certain, for I know that God hears my prayers. I know that God will answer my prayers. My strong Father knows what I’m going through. And He’ll do much more above all that I ask or think, according to the power that works in us. He will bring me through all this struggle to perfect peace on the other side.’

That’s how Paul can write this too, “Nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day” (2 Tim 1:12). God can keep what I have committed to him! By this Paul means his life, his very soul and spirit. The apostle is not going to be on this earth much longer, but he has no doubt that God will keep him safe ‘til the very end. He will keep me!

We’re not in the same earthly position as Paul—in prison and about to die—but our identity before God in Christ is exactly the same. God has claimed us. He has given his sign and seal to us in baptism. God has declared that we belong to him in life and in death.

And so we are confident. We are sure of victory in this spiritual war, because we know whom we have believed, and we are persuaded that our life is secure in him! We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. We believe in Jesus Christ, who for us and our salvation came down from heaven. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. This is our God, and our great ally!

With God on our side, let no one say, “I can’t do this. I give up!” With God assuring his elect of the victory, let no one say, “This time, it’s hopeless.” With Christ as your commanding officer, no one should say, “I’m all alone.” No, with God on our side, we can say “Amen.” For we pray and we live with firm confidence in him!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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