Life, Death, and Kingdoms at War
Does anyone remember the song “I’m in the Lords Army” that you sang in Sunday school as a child? It was like standard curriculum for children’s ministry.
“I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery, I may never fly over the enemy but I’m in the Lords army.”
It’s a concept many of us were taught as children -- but as time goes on and as we grow up spiritually, we tend to overlook it. In fact, it could throw up some red flags for people when you start mixing concepts like war and armies and church – because war and armies and fighting can imply violence. For some it conjures up images of the times in the past when Christianity has taken on a dreadful form in the way of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and worldwide colonialism. For others it conjures up images of culture wars, picketing, voting on issues, Duck Dynasty and Chick Fil A. But when talking about fighting, I don’t think either of those things are what Jesus or Paul had in mind.
Imagine there is an established kingdom that rules the whole world and right in the middle of that kingdom, someone stands up and begins to proclaim that a new kingdom has come, with a new ruler, and a new way of doing things. This is a treasonous activity in any kingdom – yet this is exactly what Jesus does. He steps into a world dominated by one kingdom and begins proclaiming that through His work a new one is beginning. This is exactly the kind of proclamation the religious leaders were looking for, a messiah that would overthrow the rulers that oppressed them. But Jesus didn’t quite meet their expectations.
Throughout His ministry (specifically in Matthew 12:25-28) Jesus makes it clear that there are two different kingdoms and they have completely opposite agendas. One is about destruction, chaos, dysfunction, and ultimately death. It is led by the prince of darkness - one who Jesus calls the ‘Father of Lies’. The other is about beauty, restoration, love, functionality, and ultimately life. It is led by the Good Creator, the ‘Father of Lights’. Jesus proclaims boldly time and time again that he has come to establish a new kingdom! But the enemy is not Rome or any other foreign oppressor like the religious leaders may have thought… the enemy is Satan. In John 10, Jesus makes it completely clear what Satan is about and adversely what He is about: “the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy… I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.”
Satan has always had one goal – to see God’s creation crumble under the weight of chaos and eventually collapse. Jesus is declaring war on the kingdom of Satan – in fact, he wants to destroy the two things Satan’s kingdom is about, sin and death, once and for all. If we don’t understand this truth, it’s very difficult to understand what exactly Jesus was doing throughout his ministry.
This is the story we are all living in. There isn’t my story and your story – there is one story with one central character and one primary antagonist. There are only two sides -- and the war between them is going on all around us. The big questions for each of us are 1) are we aware of this war? AND 2) do we know who we are in that war?
So using the imagery of warfare, I’d like to talk about 3 types of soldiers that you and I might be that prevent us from engaging in the war.
The military has a saying, “a distracted soldier is a dead soldier”.
Perhaps the biggest way Satan has subverted the work of the church in America is a tactic called distraction. I played a lot of baseball growing up and (maybe you can relate) there was always a kid in little league that was completely disinterested in actually being a part of the baseball team. So, where did we put that kid? Right field. This kid would literally sit down cross legged in the outfield, glove on the ground, picking dandelions and eating grass. He honestly had no idea he was in the middle of a baseball game. And do you know what the opposing coaches had to do to neutralize his influence on the game? Nothing. In fact, they did whatever they could to exploit the fact that he had no interest in playing the game (because little league coaches stay up all hours of the night analyzing game film trying to find tactical advantages).
Sometimes I wake up and find myself lying down in right field.
If the enemy can get us thinking we have something to live for other than the extension of God’s kingdom then he doesn’t have to worry about us doing much for the kingdom. We can all be distracted by a multitude of things – and when we get so wrapped up in them that we don’t even realize we are standing right in the middle of a battlefield, we aren’t paying any attention to the Spirit of God, and therefore Satan has nothing to worry about.
PRISONER OF WAR
A lot of us are still living in captivity and slavery to things of this other kingdom. It’s difficult to fight against the enemy while he has you held up in a jail cell.
What is it that you have been overcome by? You might be in bondage to materialism, to food, to status, to pornography, to debt. All of these addictions or idols are distortions of God’s created order… and therefore make us slaves to the kingdom of this world.
But in Christ, you have been set free from these things – we must no longer live as slaves to sin. The irony of being a prisoner of war is that Jesus has already set us free. The jail cell is unlocked. We’re just still sitting in it.
I hesitated to use this word because it is pretty strong, but a traitor is simply someone who undermines the work of the unit from the inside. And on one day or the other, we’ve all been traitors.
Disunity truly subverts the influence of God’s body on this earth – and if we look around at all the unrest and division in churches around America, we’ll see its one of Satan’s favorite tools to neutralize the work of God. The NT writers address this as one of their primary topics in their letters to the churches because they recognized that bitterness, slander, rage, selfishness, gossip, and so on were extremely dangerous to the whole church. As Paul says, don’t cut off your arm claiming you don’t need it.
There is not one thing – whether universe, city, or family – that has not been exposed to and altered by the brokenness that comes with living in the kingdom of this world. The second law of thermodynamics says that the amount of entropy in any given system is always increasing and never decreasing. So, the forward movement of any system is always toward entropy or chaos. This is actually really incredible imagery if we transplant it to how the world works. Whether the universe, our cities, or our families, our systems are all moving increasingly toward chaos – these things are becoming more and more broken. Satan is always working to bring brokenness and chaos, but God is about setting things right and putting everything back together. If we aren’t aligned with the agenda of God’s kingdom (to restore and set all things right) then we (even inadvertently) are aligning ourselves with the default order of the universe (heading toward chaos).
So how do we align ourselves with God’s agenda? We have one weapon: LOVE. The kind of love that Jesus demonstrates for us – a kind of recreating, restorative, vitalizing love that does whatever it takes.
Ephesians 6:10-18 (Message)
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.