Tag Archives: spiritual warfare

Sermon — 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 “Warfare for the Mind”

3 Jun

          The old cliché is true: “Whatever gets your mind gets you.” Paul knew this and that is why he consistently urges us to set our minds on things above and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is also the reason that Paul in 2 Corinthians acknowledged that a big part of his ministry in the local church was to wage warfare for the minds of his hearers.

          Don’t be naïve, everyone else around us is battling for our minds. Advertisers are battling for your mind. Schools, whether public or private or home, are all waging warfare for the minds of children. Politicians want to sway our minds with persuasive words. Scholars attempt to shape culture by shaping thinking. Interestingly in our information age at the same time we have been bombarded by more and more people trying to shape our thinking, we have been counseled by our popular culture for the last 50 years to “turn off our minds, relax and float downstream.” We have been told, “Don’t worry, be happy.” We have been told to enjoy life and don’t waste time thinking. We have “amused ourselves to death.” So we live in a world where there is a double-edged sword of intense external efforts to shape our minds combined with an internal emphasis on feeling over thought which makes it easy to conform us to the latest thoughts and ideas. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 come like a clarion call to a Christianity that has become apathetic, ineffective and in many cases even immoral precisely because it has exchanged the principles of this passage for nostalgia, sentimentality and emotionalism. We have done precisely the opposite of what Paul urges in this passage. And the results have been devastating. Hear the Word of God in 2 Corinthians 10 and you will hear our marching orders as the people of God . . .

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Now as we said last week, in 2 Corinthians Paul’s ministry is under fire, in part probably because he called out the church in Corinth for their toleration of open immorality and in part because he criticized them for their practices as a church, which tended toward disorder and favoritism rather than the kind of order that brings the widespread use of the gifts of the whole body which builds up, or edifies, the church. Paul had brought his critique from a heart of love, but we all know that critique is not easy to take and our first response is often to become defensive. It seems the church in Corinth had some of this defensiveness so some among them began to criticize the apostle Paul. They criticize his methods and his person. One of the criticisms they bring against him is that he is really bold in writing but in person he is weak and unimpressive.

Paul makes it clear in this passage that he does not intend to be weak or apathetic when it comes to this minds of his hearers. Instead he tells us that he is engaged in a war. And so he wages war in verse 3, takes up weapons of warfare in verse 4, tears down strongholds in verse 5, and prepares to punish rebels in verse 6. Many of us read this kind of passage and the book of Acts and conclude that Paul was a loud, brash, combative person. But the Corinthians do not seem to think this way about Paul. Nor do we catch this idea among the Ephesians, with whom Paul spent two years. On a personal level, Paul seems to have not been outwardly impressive. His ministry was not sustained by the power of his personality or charisma but by the power of God.

Paul acknowledges here that he “lives in the flesh.” By this he does not mean what his accusers meant, that he was living by his own wits and power, living sinfully, or that he was using manipulation or his own abilities to sway people. Instead, when Paul says he lives in the flesh, he is just acknowledging what he has already said, that he lives in a physical clay vessel that is subject to weakness. Later he will talk about the thorn in the flesh, some kind of physical trial that troubled him. But though Paul lives in a body that is subject to the effects of a fallen world, he does not war according to the flesh. Here Paul is saying that though he lives in a fallen world, he does not use the tools of a fallen world to wage his battles. He has already spoken of these things in chapter 4, when he says we don’t live in the dark, we don’t manipulate or use craftiness, we just openly tell the truth about Jesus and thus we have a clear conscience. Paul wants the victory of God to touch everyone but he won’t use methods to get people in the door that compromise the truth of the gospel. He is not interested in gathering a crowd so much as he is interested in making disciples. Paul has told us that his adequacy comes from God. Since Paul’s power is from God, he will fight according to God’s rules of engagement. The good news of this passage is that Paul has an arsenal of weapons through his union with Christ which are far more powerful and effective than anything he could come up with on his own. In today’s church circles we are on the lookout for the latest method or plan and we seem to think our plans are more important than God’s power to the blessing of a ministry.

Through the rest of the passage, Paul illustrates his calling to battle for the minds of his hearers through the imagery of ancient warfare. He says his ministry is one of destroying defensive strongholds, taking captives and punishing rebels when the city is secured. Paul in himself is weak and unimpressive. I am not sure if we were with him in a crowd if we could pick him out as being in any way distinctive. But in Christ Paul is mighty. And so should it be for us too.

Paul’s warfare imagery is distasteful to many in our day, especially in church. We think church should be nice and things should be peaceful. But shouldn’t we remember, on this Memorial Day weekend above all, that peace is so often only secured through resistance to the enemies of peace? And as it is physically, so it is spiritually. Paul’s aim is to wage warfare for the sake of his hearers.

Because Paul’s weapons are not fleshly but spiritual, Paul is confident that he can tear down the strongholds in the lives of his readers. The strongholds here are “speculations and lofty things” and these things are “set against the knowledge of God.” So the strongholds are ways of thinking that stand as a kind of resistance to the truth of God. Since Paul has made it clear throughout his writings that the focus of his preaching is Christ and Him crucified we can safely assume that Paul is saying here that strongholds are those thoughts and ideas and ways of thinking that are set in opposition to the good news of salvation in Jesus by grace through faith. Now Paul is not specific about what these stronghold ways of thinking are because these ways of thinking can be quite varied. Some people have strongholds that are thoroughly religious. They think that their religious activity or devotion makes them right with God. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who resist the truth about Jesus through atheism, the insistence that there is no God. Others trust in science. Others have strongholds of materialism or pleasure. Still others trust in the stronghold of activism or politics. In Paul’s day, people trusted in credentials and influence and impressive speaking ability. But as Paul said in Philippians 3:4-8, all these kinds of things were like rubbish to Paul in comparison to knowing Christ. Still, these strongholds, though they have no ultimate value, do have a very strong pull on us in the present time. That’s why they are strongholds. A stronghold physically speaking is a defensive protection. It is a fortress or a bulwark intended to provide protection from an attack. In this way, this is such a powerful picture for the way we live. Our false ways of thinking are like strongholds to us, they give us a sense of security and protection against the truth of the gospel. Why would people want a sense of protection against the gospel? Well, people are worldly, people are drawn to love the world and self and that’s why the Scriptures so often call us to reject worldliness. Non-believers certainly try to erect strongholds against the truth of the gospel but so do professing believers. We can fall very easily into worldly thinking, making the measure of our lives our bank accounts or our homes or our achievements and compromising basic Christian truth in order to keep an outward peace with the world around us that is really nothing more than simple cowardice on our part.

Paul says, “No! We must attack these strongholds.” Why? So that we can conquer people and build a kingdom for ourselves? No! The warfare we wage is for the glory of God and the good of those who are locked into strongholds of unbiblical thinking. Since our adequacy is in God we don’t come from a position of superiority to tell people how wrong they are but we do fight the good fight of the faith and we do face down false ways of thinking. This is not just work for Paul or for pastors it is for all the people of God. And the first step is to remove our own planks of stinking thinking about God and life and truth and to align ourselves with the truth of the Word of God.

Paul had effective weapons in this battle and so do we. Paul mentioned these weapons specifically in Ephesians 6 when he talks about the armor of God. The Word of God and prayer are the weapons with divine power to tear down strongholds. The world will not be impressed by these things. But just as David’s sling when he faced Goliath didn’t look impressive but was effective, we will find that when we wield the Word and prayer in dependence on God that God will make His mark against the strongholds that grip the lives of those we love.

Perhaps Paul had in mind Proverbs 21:22 when he wrote this text . . .

A wise man scales the city of the mighty

And brings down the stronghold in which they trust.

So spiritual warfare is a part of our calling as believers. We attack with the Word of God and prayer against all the ideological and philosophical and religious strongholds people hide in because in their hiding from the truth of God they only do harm to themselves. Any militancy on the part of a Christian must be grounded in love for Christ and love for people. The goal is not to get society to adopt a Christian perspective by force, it is to lovingly confront what is false and graciously proclaim what is true.

I think this passage, along with Ephesians 6, has a great deal to teach us about spiritual warfare. I think often we have been taught that spiritual warfare is our direct entry into power encounters with demons and through prayer we cast out this demon or oppose that demon and for most Christians it just sounds so strange and scary that we don’t approach such things. But notice in this passage that the strongholds are not demons. Spiritual warfare is not about chasing demons it is about opposing the doctrine of demons which trickles down into the ways of thinking of people all around us. John MacArthur says, “Our enemy has formed, from demon sources, ideologies and we assault those ideologies. Yes, ultimately they are doctrines of demons. Yes they come from seducing spirits through hypocritical liars who build these great edifices to human wisdom and demonic doctrine. But we assault the system, we don’t chase the spirits. Scripture indicates right here that our war is for the destruction of fortresses. They are not demons, they are human demonically inspired ideologies set up in defiance of God.”

“Listen, there’s only one way, there’s only one way to destroy error and that is with truth. Now you know what the weapons are. The only way you can take wrong thoughts and make them right is to replace error with truth. So when you look at Ephesians 6 and you see the soldier who is the Christian soldier, and you see him with all of his clothing and then it says he has one weapon, that weapon is a sword which is the Word of God…the Word of God. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with a bunch of anti-demon formulas whispered at them or shouted at them. You don’t fight the spiritual warfare with some kind of magical incantations. The spiritual warfare that you fight is an ideological warfare that is fought at the level of the mind and when you find people ensconced and entrenched in the great fortresses of these ideologies, you assault them with the truth. That’s what we’re all about. That’s what we do.”

So taking up this pathway of spiritual warfare against the strongholds of people all around us inside and outside the church, we don’t just teardown the strongholds we take captives. The verb here where it says we are taking every thought captive means literally to take a prisoner with a spear. It means to take a prisoner with a spear. We smash the fortress to the ground, went in and put a spear in the back of the prisoners and marched them out. We see the miracle of God’s work here, the miracle all of us who are saved have experienced. We see God taking one who has all sorts of barriers set up against the knowledge of God brought to a place of obedience to Christ. We have here the picture of a person taken from a place of resistance to the knowledge of God to obedience to Christ. They didn’t even want to know God and now they are brought to a place where they desire to not just know but obey. That is a miracle of grace. Only God could do that. But let’s be clear. God has chosen in large part to carry out His work in the world through His redeemed people. Paul believes wholeheartedly in God’s sovereign power to save but he is also absolutely convinced that God has called him to proclaim the gospel and that a part of that proclamation is to speak in opposition to ways of thinking that are contrary to the gospel of grace.

There is an irony here. Paul speaks this language of conquest and capture but in doing so he is pointing the way to freedom. The only way to be free from the snares of the devil is to be conquered and captured by Christ. Everyone serves someone, either self or Satan or the Savior. I know which one of those three is the only One worth serving. I hope you do too and that you are ready to lay down and forsake any kind of foolish stronghold that has captured your imagination to walk with Jesus.

Now when we come to verse 6, after all this language of battle and victory, it just sounds mean. Why is Paul ready to punish disobedience and why is he waiting until their obedience is complete? Probably what Paul is doing here is an act of mercy. When the church in Corinth makes their stand on the Lordship of Christ rather than worldly wisdom then Paul will act to punish remaining disobedience, particularly from false teachers. In other words, Paul is trying to spare people from punishment if they will align their lives to the Lordship of Christ. But he will not spare from punishment those who will not turn away from the false fortresses set up against the knowledge of God.

What this passage makes clear to me is that there is a real battle for the mind and that we as Christians should be people of a renewed mind who are fighting for others to have a renewed mind. Christianity is not just another option for life among many. There are pieces of truth in all kinds of ways of living, but only one way is the embodiment of truth, rooted in a Savior who is the way, the truth and the life.

Paul was hated for the stand he took. And so it will be for us, even in the church. “Why be confrontational? Why draw lines in the sand over issues of biblical truth?” There is a way to be confrontational that is wrongheaded and arrogant and mean-spirited. We’re not interested in that. We’re not interested in proving ourselves right. We’re not against people. We are not trying to conquer people we are standing instead against the false and harmful ideas that people hold. We are interested instead in offering the gospel of Christ to a world that is hiding behind all sorts of false teaching. We are intent on showing in our actions and words that the way of obedience to Christ is the way of life and strength and peace.

All true Christian ministry involves a battle for the mind (which by the way is one of the reasons that teaching and preaching is so central in the life of a healthy church). It is necessary and essential to demolish false arguments so that the path to obedience to Christ might be opened to us. But these false arguments are not demolished by our ingenuity or our wisdom or our methods. Instead the Holy Spirit works through the Word and prayer to use us as God’s army of truth.

Warren Wiersbe says, “Simply because Paul did not use carnal methods and exert the power of a “strong personality,” the believers thought he was a weakling! His weapons were spiritual, not fleshly. Like all of us, Paul “walked in the flesh” (that is, had all the weaknesses of the body), but he did not war after the flesh by depending on fleshly wisdom, human abilities, or physical prowess.

There was disobedience in Corinth because Christians were believing lies instead of the truth of God’s Word. Paul warned them that he would smash their arguments and false doctrines and bring their hearts and minds to the place of obedience. Church problems are not solved simply by changing the constitution, revising the church program, or reorganizing a board, but by confronting people and problems with the Word of God.”

So in closing, what do we do with this passage, as individuals and as a church?  First, we must address our own hearts. Do I understand the gospel, what God has saved me from, what God has saved me for, how I am saved? Am I walking in light of the truth of the gospel? Are there any areas in which I am listening to false strongholds of human philosophy and worldly thinking? For example, am I good with following Scripture except when it comes to my sexual morality, in which case I listen to the world? Or am I good with God’s truth about honesty but not willing to submit to God’s truth about anger? So the first step this morning is to humble ourselves before God and evaluate whether there are strongholds of worldly thinking in our own hearts and to repent of any thinking that is out of step with God’s Word.

Second, what lies are we as a church listening to? Are we given to traditions or trends or to biblical truth? Are we willing to forsake ways that are false when their untruth is made clear? Are we willing to take a hard look at what is really biblical over what is just preference? What strongholds do we need to demolish within the walls of our church? Apathy, pride, worldliness, self-centeredness and lack of love?

Third, do we believe in the sufficiency of prayer and the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit to guide our life and ministry? It is not as if we have nothing to do but pray and read the Word. We make plans, we do things, but what is our compass? What is our guide?

Fourth, what is the place of demolishing strongholds in the work of evangelism? Are we willing to be bold and at the same time humble? Do we love people outside the walls enough to reach out to them with the truth of God and lovingly point out ways they may be building their lives on shaky foundations?

Finally, do we have the courage to live by the guidance of God’s Word in a world that more and more rejects the truth of God? Are we willing, like Jesus and the apostles, to bear the scorn of a world that despises God’s Word?

Each one of us must reckon with these questions in our hearts. And then we must come together to discuss these things. I would encourage you to talk about these questions with your spouse, with your friends, with your Sunday School class, with your pastors. Let’s not let any more time slip away where we are not giving serious attention to taking every thought captive. After all, “whatever gets your mind gets you.”

Bible Reading Blog — January 25, 2016

25 Jan

Today’s Readings — Leviticus 1-7 & Mark 5:1-20

If you made it through today’s reading, you made it through one of the longest readings of the whole year and you made significant progress in one of the most difficult books for most Bible readers: Leviticus.

Today’s passage from Mark struck me for its focus on the reality of spiritual power. It is seen in the demonized man who could not be chained or contained even by many people. It is seen also in the man’s response to Jesus. When Jesus comes on the scene, the man who could not be chained or handled by many people reacts to Jesus with fear and trembling, before Jesus has said or done a single thing.

This story brings home to me the reality of the spiritual world. We are blinded to this reality by our technology and our scientific focus. The spiritual world we are presented with in our entertainment is often a watered down sentimentality or a gripping darkness with no hope of light. We need to pay careful attention in the gospels to the reality of the spiritual world. This attention, along with remembering passages like Ephesians 6 which point to the reality of the spiritual world, should make us attuned to the fact that there are spiritual forces of God and Satan which are at work in the unseen world.

There is a reaction in this passage that I think mirrors the reaction many people will have to the paragraph I just wrote above. When the demonized man, whom no one in the community had been able to control, was healed by Jesus, the people of the community wanted nothing to do with Jesus and begged Him to leave their region. Now in my prior readings of this passage, I always thought their motive for wanting Jesus to leave was financial; they blamed Jesus for casting the demons into their pigs, who ran down the hill and drowned. But when I read Mark 5:16, I saw this: “And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region.” It looks from these verses like the monetary motive was part of the problem, but along with it there was concerned over what happened to the demon-possessed man. In other words, Jesus’ actions in the spiritual realm made the people very uncomfortable. And this, I feel, is a common response. We often get hesitant when we encounter the spiritual world. Some are even ashamed to even speak of such things. We are afraid of being laughed at. And we’ve all met that person who sees a demon behind everything and we’re hesitant to speak out for fear of being lumped in with the demon hunters and other angel and demon-obsessed people.

It is necessary as a Bible-believing Christian to acknowledge the spirit realm but it is difficult to keep this in mind in our world that wants to find a physical explanation for everything that happens. This story in Mark 5 is a powerful illustration of Jesus’ power and an illuminating example of how the true Jesus of the gospels challenges our cultural assumptions. Jesus can not be boxed in by our preferred ideas about Him. He is who He is. We either fall at His feet as Lord or tell Him to go away.

 

Sunday Morning Sermon: Exodus 17:8-16, Looking to God for Victory

15 Oct

Exodus
Exodus 17:8-16
Looking to God for Victory

Exodus 17:8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD is my banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

God miraculously saved Israel from slavery in Egypt but ever since they had been saved they faced one hardship after another. The wilderness was not an easy place. Bitter water, lack of food, lack of water, all of these trials faced Israel on their exit from Egypt. But now, they face a different kind of challenge. The Amalekites come out to meet them not in friendship but to attack them without mercy.
The wilderness of our lives is difficult as well.  Cancer. The death of a loved one. Battles with depression. Nagging illnesses. The struggle of growing older. The pain of children departing from the Lord. The challenges of marriage. Yes, most of us have enough food and water and for that we are grateful, but it doesn’t mean we are free from very real problems. Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble. Our lives in the wilderness of this world are difficult. But we have One in our midst who is willing and able to lead us through hardship. He is with us. He is for us. And in Him there is victory. Not victory that delivers us from bad circumstances but victory that delivers us through bad circumstances. Look with me at verse 8 as we see how God works in all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Exodus 17:8  Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
The Amalekites initiated this conflict. We aren’t told here why they did. But we do know that they knew something about the Israelites, because they were related to them. Amalek was a grandson of Esau, Jacob’s brother. And Jacob, as we remember from Genesis, was the one who became the father of the twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel. This place Rephidim, which means “resting place,” had been anything but for
the Israelites, who were first without water and then, when God had taken care of that need, they were attacked by the Amalekites.
And we find from the book of Deuteronomy that the attack of the Amalekites was pretty much despicable. In Deuteronomy 25:17, God tells Moses, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear
God.”
So we see here a description of the Amalekites that puts them in a very bad light. They were attacking Israel at their weakest time and at their weakest point. Like one of those nature shows where the lion attacks the slowest antelope, the Amalekites attacked the weakest of the Israelites. And we find here the reason for their attack: they did not fear God. Like their forefather Esau, they had a low view of God and because of that low
view of God they put themselves under His curse, just as Esau had done.

Exodus 17:9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”
For the first time in the Bible, we meet Joshua, who will become the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses. Here he is Moses’ assistant, charged with putting together a fighting force to deal with the Amalekites. Now a fighting force of slaves was not going to be very impressive, but we see here an interesting interaction between God’s
sovereignty and man’s responsibility. God’s staff, the symbol of His power, is going to be on top of the hill, but the people are still called to take up arms to fight Amalek. At the Red Sea, when God saved His people, He said to them specifically, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. And God parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites through all the way. But now, on the other side of their salvation, the Israelites must take an active role in walking in the blessings of God. And I just think this is a clear picture
of what salvation is like for us.
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. It is not by works. We didn’t contribute anything to our salvation. We couldn’t save ourselves and without the grace of God, we wouldn’t even turn to Him. We are dead in our transgressions and sins apart from Christ. Dead men don’t make themselves alive. But God can raise them from the dead. And that is what He did with
us. He made us alive. He awakened faith in us so that we trusted Jesus and were saved.
So in being saved we didn’t do anything but trust in what Jesus has done and even that trust was God’s gift to us. But after we are saved, we are called to walk in the blessings God has given us. We are called to take an active part in our spiritual growth. We are called to do things when we face challenges in life. There are calls all over the New Testament for us to trust in God, to pray without ceasing, to fix our hearts on the promises of God and to follow the commands of God in light of His love for us in Christ. There is a battle in the life of a Christian and we are called to take up arms in that fight. Yet we are not alone. The Lord is with us. His power is at work. And we are called to trust in His power to work even as we walk in everyday life.
I am so excited to see this in the pages of the first books of the Bible: salvation is all of grace but growth in grace is about walking in the power of God. We must depend on God, we must trust the Lord. Without this trust we will live defeated lives. But we must also walk in the ways of life He has given us. We must live and make decisions and do the things God calls us to do.
So, on the one hand, I don’t think you can square the message of the Bible with a totally passive approach to our growth in grace. “Let go and let God” just doesn’t work. But neither does it work to say, “God saved me, now I’ve got to figure out the rest of my life.” Rather, our lives should reflect what Paul says in His letters. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared for us beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And “I work with all my might, according to His power that works within me.” And “Work out you own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.” I like to say not “Let go and let God” but “Grab hold and let God.” Take up those things God calls you to do and then trust Him to work in and through you for His glory and your joy.

Exodus 17:10  So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
So Israel puts together their rag-tag troops, and Moses, Aaron and Hur head to the top of the hill. No training, former slaves, heading into combat. These guys would make Gomer Pyle look like a Navy Seal. So here go these guys who’d been in the wilderness for months, getting ready to enter battle with their leader not on the front lines but up on a hill holding a stick. And I think this too is a good picture, for while our efforts are a necessary part of our growth in grace, in comparison to our need our efforts and abilities are very weak. Our needs are always outrunning the resources we have in ourselves. And this is all God’s plan. He has called you to take steps of faith, to do real things, but He is really bringing you into all these things so that you will see that it is really His power that counts. This is what he was doing with the Israelites. I will be with you when you lack water, I will supply you when you lack bread, and I will even be with you when people are out to destroy you. I am your God and you are my people.
I won’t leave you. I won’t forsake you. I’ll bring you all the way to the finish line of this wilderness. And I will bring you through the battle of this day too. This is what we see in verse 11.

Exodus 17:11  Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.
When the rod is raised, Israel is winning but when Moses’ hands are lowered, the Amalekites begin to win. This rod, this staff, we have seen all the way through Exodus was given to Moses by God as an instrument of God’s power. Moses used it when he first encountered Pharaoh. Moses stretched it out when the Nile was turned to blood and it was stretched out to the sky when the great hailstorm came. And then when Israel crossed the
Red Sea, Moses raised his staff and the waters parted. And even in the beginning of chapter 17, Moses struck the rock at Rephidim with the staff and water flowed for the people. The rod is the embodiment of the power of God. So when the rod is lifted up, when God’s power is the focus, there is victory, but when the rod is lowered, defeat is near.  In the rod, God is saying to Israel, “Yes, you are down there fighting, you are struggling, wrestling with these Amalekites, but I am with you and I will give you
victory when I am exalted.” The Israelites needed to act, but even more they needed to trust in the God who could bring victory against the odds. Verse 12 shows us even more about the sufficiency of God and our place in His plan.

Exodus 17:12  But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
There are two things that verse 12 makes really clear: first, Moses, the great leader, is not the reason for the victory. He can’t keep his hands up. God is the one who brings victory, not Moses, who in his own strength lacks so much, as we have seen throughout the book of Exodus. It’s not his eloquence, or his energy, or his wisdom, or even his track record of morality that makes him a mighty man of God. It is his humility and faith, his utter dependence on God in the midst of incredibly challenging circumstances. God brings the victory and Moses knows this.
The second truth we see here is that we need each other. This is not the major focus of the passage, but I think it is mentioned for a reason. The reason is that even in the part God calls us to, we cannot do it without one another. This is one of the reasons God has given us the church. We are called to encourage each other in the faith, as our year verse Hebrews 10:24 and 25 says. The things God calls us to walk in are not natural to us. We need the encouragement and help other believers can give to us. Moses needed his brothers in the Lord to hold up his arms and we need to hold each other up, so that when we are weary in faith, we have the encouragement of brothers and sisters in the Lord who love us enough to encourage us to keep going.
What we see in verse 13 is a great summary of what happens when we are walking in obedience to God, trusting in His power and helping one another. Look at verse 13 . . .

Exodus 17:13   And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
Look at this total victory, an overwhelming victory against all odds. Why? Because God was with them.  Because they were walking in obedience to Him.  Because they were supporting one another. This is where God calls us to live. And these times of victory are what God calls us to remember.

Exodus 17:14   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
What a shame it is that we often remember and dwell on the defeats and forget the victories. Often when we think of other people, we focus on their failures or what they have not provided for us. When we think about church life, we don’t think about the great things God has done, we think about past conflicts or troubles. But God would have us not focus our hearts on what we are not but on what He is. This victory would be written down
and spoken to Joshua. The Amalekites were going to be totally defeated. And many years later, they would be defeated completely.
How important it is for us to note the goodness of God. We need to write things down. We need to remember. We need to recall the great works of God.

Exodus 17:15  And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD is my banner,
In celebration of this victory, not only is there a writing down but there is worship, the building of an altar. And there is the recognition in the name of the altar that God is the One who gives the victory. In the last story we looked at in chapter 17, when Israel grumbled, the place was renamed for their grumbling, a recognition of their failure. But here there is only praise for God and true worship. No leaving with regret, no leaving behind the rubble of rebellion. Instead, they leave behind an altar of praise. When we look to God, we leave a legacy of praise. When we don’t, our legacy is one of regret.
    
Exodus 17:16  saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Verse 16 tells us that God will keep fighting for His people. He will protect His people. Victory only comes through the power of God. But the power of God is unchanging. He does not weaken, He does not become tired, He is always fully engaged. And this is all the more important for us as we remember that the heart of our struggle is not physical but spiritual. As we read in Ephesians 6: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

We’re in the wilderness. But God is with us. And He will win. So let’s take up those spiritual weapons and walk in Him. And let’s lean on each other. The battle is too big for us but the battle belongs to the Lord. In Him there is life. In Him there is victory. He gets the glory and we get the joy.

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