As we face the reality of spiritual warfare in our lives, we see that God's Word is an essential weapon.
But did you know that the devil is not afraid of prayerless proclamation? Today on Truth for Life weekend we'll learn how to use both weapons, both the Word of God and prayer, for maximum impact. Alistair Begg is teaching from Ephesians chapter 6.
We'll be focusing on verses 17 and 18. As you study the Bible for yourself, and some of you are taking notes this evening, let me remind you of three important principles in studying the Bible and in coming to grips with the Word of God. These are principles of biblical interpretation. They are not unique to me.
You'll find them everywhere. When you read the Bible, read the Bible in the awareness of its natural sense. In other words, read the Bible with simplicity, in light of its most natural sense. Don't read the Bible like a mystery book. The plain sense of Scripture, the purpose of God's revelation in the Bible, is clarity. It is not confusion.
The purpose of God in writing the Bible is that there would be a readily intelligible message and not a series of dark and mysterious mysteries and riddles. And as you are aware of one of my now great clichés, the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things. I'm not saying that there aren't things that are hard to understand in the Bible.
Don't misunderstand me. What I'm saying is that when we come to the Scriptures as a principle of interpretation, we come seeking the natural sense of what is being said. And in the things that are central and clear, it is essential that there is absolute unity. In things that are peripheral—and we would not say that everything is of the same significance as something else.
For example, some people get very, very concerned about whether ladies wear hats or whether they don't. I would say that that was peripheral, and therefore I would exercise liberty in relationship to that. It would not be imperative that we all agree the same thing. So in the central things, we should have absolute unity. In the peripheral things, we should allow one another liberty. And in all things, we should approach one another with perfect charity.
And that way, we will be able to get along. Now, the second principle is not the natural sense but what we might refer to as the original sense. The first principle is the principle of simplicity. The second principle is the principle of history. The principle of history. And we've made much of this as we've studied various sections of the Bible.
I hope that it would be obvious to you. Namely, that the permanent message of Scripture may only be understood within the circumstances in which it was originally given. And the third sense is, if you like, the general sense or the principle of harmony. And all that simply means is that we set the verses in the context in which they're found.
The reason they're there is because God has purposed to have them in that way. So there is a harmony about the unfolding of Scripture. And therefore, we set the verses within the context of the letter, we set the letter within the context of history, we set the old in the light of the new, and the new in the light of the old.
So these three principles will be, I think, a help to you. Coming to the Scriptures, understanding its natural sense, the matter of simplicity, its original sense, the matter of history, and its general sense, the principle of harmony. Now, when we begin to get to grips with the Scripture in that way, then we will be able to use it on the attack as well as on the defense. And let me conclude this weapon with just a verse from Hebrews 4 and verse 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. That's why, you see, when we use our Bibles, we need to use them with great care. If you have a friend who does a lot of woodworking, they will always be very, very concerned if you're a novice or an amateur or a nuisance around the place to tell you, now, don't be fiddling and fooling around with this stuff. A lot of this is sharp, you know. Or if you've ever had the opportunity to be in the company of a surgeon as he engages in his work, he exercises extreme caution in the way he makes the cut, because of the sharpness of the scalpel. And in the same way, since the Word of God has such amazing power to be able to divide even spirit and soul and marrow and joints, as it were, to get to the very heart of the issue, it is imperative that in the wielding of the sword we do so cautiously and graciously and purposefully and kindly, rather than that we become a sort of whirling dervish, you know, swinging the thing around our heads everywhere we go, making people fearful and antagonizing them. And everyone who sits still long enough, we give them one of those.
Hey, try that for size. This is the Bible, you know. You ought to read it sometime, you clothier nitwit, you. You see, that doesn't endear people to the Bible. You understand that, don't you?
In the same way that many of our bumper stickers cause as much offense as the offense that we feel at some of the other people's bumper stickers. It's sort of in-your-face time. We need to take the sword of the Spirit and wield it with great care and great skill. Now, that brings us finally to the second weapon, which is namely prayer. Because it is interesting and it is imperative that prayer and the Word of God are put together always. Because it is in the shading of the Word of God, backed up by prayer, that the Word of God has dramatic impact. That is why, for example, in Acts chapter 6, the apostles make this change in the developmental and organizational plans of the fledgling church. And in Acts chapter 6, they recognize that the predicament that they're facing in some of the practicalities of Christian experience—namely, the food matters in the distribution of food for widows—that they were getting themselves all tied up in knots. And so the twelve gathered all the disciples together in Acts 6 verse 2, and they said to them, It wouldn't be right for us to neglect the ministry of the Word of God in order to wait on tables. So, brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, and we will turn this responsibility over to them.
And notice this. We will give our attention to prayer and to the ministry of the Word of God. The devil is unafraid of prayerless proclamation. For preaching—and what happens in a preaching event—is merely the gathering up of results of a battle which has either been simultaneously or previously waged at the rival of prayer. That, you see, is a great corrective to us when we think about all that's happening in such an event, or when we are beginning to make much of someone who is given the privilege of simply being a voice piece. Because when anything happens, it's the result of other unseen people engaging in believing prayer for the proclaiming of the Word of God for the wielding of the sword of the Spirit.
Lord, you're going to have to do this! Prayer and the Word of God going together. That's why Paul's letters are so full of these prayers for the church. For example, in Ephesians, from which we get our weaponry here, in Ephesians chapter 1, he is praying for these people. He says in Ephesians 1.15, For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you and remembering you in my prayers. And he asks that they may have an increase in their knowledge of God in verse 17, that they may have an understanding of the way that God has called them to a glorious inheritance in verse 18, that they may have a revelation of the power of God in verse 19—the very power that raised Jesus from the dead. Whenever the church in history has been in decline, there has been an absence of believing prayer.
And there has been an absence of the effective wielding of the sword of the Spirit. And whenever the church of God, in the course of history, has been lifted up in a period of usefulness, it can always be traced to faithful, unsung heroes, laying hold of God's great and precious promises in prayer, and then for others being lifted up, as it were, and wafted on the wings of the prayers of those who will stand at the head of the line in the day of his coming. You see, from the perspective of the history books of the final quarter of a century, history will be explained in terms of the political machinations of men, the strength and forcefulness of the combination of Reagan and Thatcher in standing against the tide of communism.
History will explain the fall of the Berlin Wall and those dramatic scenes as people scrambled for pieces of the wall and as the bulldozers brought them down. Secular history will not record what heaven will reveal—namely, that the Christians in Eastern Europe had bled and died and agonized in prayer for the downfall of the totalitarian regimes of atheistic communism. And as surely as that battle was fought and won on that level, as I believe eternity will reveal, so the battles in times past were fought and won.
And I want to turn you to one battle with which to conclude this evening. You can read it in Exodus chapter 17. And it's the battle between the people of God and the Amalekites—Amalekites against Israelites at Rephidim. Exodus 17 and verse 8. The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim, and Moses said to Joshua, Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. What are you gonna do, Moses? Well, tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands. Oh, I see. Okay. Uh-huh. So, me and the guys, we are gonna do the hard stuff down here on the battle, right?
And you get to just stand on the top of a hill holding your walking stick. Joshua would never have said that. Because the staff of Moses had been symbolic of God's abiding presence with him. It was with that staff that he had parted the Red Sea.
It was with that staff that the plagues had come upon Egypt. It was that staff which was a symbol of Moses' ultimate dependence upon God and God's abiding provision for his people. It was, if you like, that Moses, in this symbolic gesture, was going to take the part in prayer. In verse 10, so Joshua fought the Amalekites, as Moses had ordered. And Moses, Aaron, and her, went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning. But whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and her held his hands up, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with a sword.
And down on the battlefield, it appeared that effectiveness was directly related to the power and influence and wisdom of Joshua and his colleagues. But from the vantage point of heaven, a strange and unbelievable little scene was the key to it all—a strange man with his hands held up, in dependence upon God, so much so that his brothers at the sight of him would take turns in holding up his hands along with him. That's, you see, why Spurgeon would say regularly to his congregation, "'Your pastor may preach the same sermons to far greater effect if only some of you will determine in the unseen place to hold up your hands.' Independence upon Almighty God."
William Cowper, one of my favorite hymn writers, with words that were then set to an arrangement from music from Beethoven, writes these words in somewhere between 1731 and 1800. What various hindrances we meet in coming to the mercy seat, yet he who knows the worth of prayer but wishes to be often there. Prayer makes the darkened cloud withdraw. Prayer climbs the ladder Jacob saw. Gives exercise to faith and love, brings every blessing from above. Restraining prayer, we cease to fight. Prayer makes the Christian's armor bright, and Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon their knees.
While Moses stood with arms spread wide, success was found on Israel's side. But when through weariness they failed, that moment Amalek prevailed. Have you no words?
Ah, think again! Words flow apace when you complain, and fill your fellow creature's ear with the sad tale of all your care. Where half the breath thus vainly spent? … To heaven in supplication sent, our cheerful song would oftener be, Hear what the LORD has done for me. So we recognize that there's a war on. We discover our strength to be in the LORD. We identify the enemy.
We delineate our responsibility. We clothe ourselves with the armor. We take our weapons from the hand of the commanding officer, and we hear him say, Quick march! Are you ready for battle? Some of you tonight may not even be in the army.
And so you just hear to talk about something that is irrelevant to you until you join. Sterling Castle, about thirty miles from Glasgow, was a scene of boyhood paradise for me, for there a battalion or regiment was still in working order, as it were, when I was a small boy. And at certain times in the day they would come out and march on the Castle Esplanade, and I would walk on the cobbled street beside them as they marched, trying to keep step with the soldiers. And I loved it.
And I admired them. And I had no uniform. I wasn't in the army.
I was just hanging around on the side. If I'm speaking to someone this evening and that fits you, we'd like to give you a piece of literature that could tell you how to enlist, to remove you from simply walking up and down on the sides when the army marches, so that we would be able to introduce you to your commanding officer, to give you your armor, to provide you with the weapons, and to encourage you to come and join us in the battle. Are you ready for the battle?
Will you be one of the unsung heroes who lays hold of God's promises and faithfully prays for the Church? We're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life weekend. Today's message concludes our study on the subject of spiritual warfare. Alistair will be back in just a minute to close with prayer. At the end of today's message, Alistair mentioned a piece of literature that tells you how to enlist in God's army. That literature is called The Story. We posted a video version of it on our website, so you can watch it or download it and share it with friends as often as you'd like.
It's completely free. Simply visit our website, truthforlife.org slash the story. Now, as we listen to Alistair's teaching on the reality of spiritual warfare, it has become increasingly clear how challenging the Christian life can be.
And living in a distinctly secular culture doesn't make that any easier. The book Being the Bad Guys, the subtitles How to Live for Jesus in a World That Says You Shouldn't, shares principles from scripture to encourage us to live faithfully in every part of our lives, at work, at school, with our friends and neighbors, even though our beliefs put us more and more in the minority. The truths in this book will help you persevere in tough times.
This is the last weekend we're mentioning the book Being the Bad Guys. You can find out more when you visit our website at truthforlife.org. Don't forget, if you are away from home this summer, you'd like to listen to Truth for Life on a local radio station. You can find the time and station call letters where the program can be heard. Simply visit truthforlife.org slash station finder.
Just key in the zip code or the city name, even a local landmark, and you'll find a list of stations in your area that broadcast Truth for Life. Now, here's Alistair to close with prayer. Eternal God and loving Father, look upon us in mercy tonight, we pray, as we have heard your word. Speak into the lives of those who have come out of interest but who know themselves to have no uniform, never to have received your commission, and simply to be walking on the sidelines. There's something about the stirring of the drum. There's something about the forcefulness of the army. There's something about the strident nature of their boldness that attracts them. Help them to hear your voice, bidding them.
Lay down the arms of their rebellion and be gathered up in the arms of your loving embrace. And for some of us who, in the midst of the warfare, have lost sight of where the real battle is found, have wondered why it is that we've had so much time to skirmish internally, to criticize people within the army, to call and question this and that and the next thing. Where did we get all of this time that's on our hands? It's because we forgot what the battle really is. And tonight God is calling us to say no to resentment and to bitterness and self-pity and selfish preoccupation and to lift our eyes and look out and to take our stand against the devil's schemes. Lord, we don't want to be just a bunch of chocolate soldiers that melt as soon as the heat is turned up. We want you to make us strong and useful so that when we have done all we've been able to stand. And so that one day when we stand before you in heaven we might hear you say, well done good and faithful soldier. For we ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen. I'm Bob Lapine. How can we be certain that Jesus actually died, that his body wasn't stolen? Join us again next weekend for a special message where we'll investigate the history of the resurrection. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
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