If you’ve been around church very long and you’ve heard about “spiritual warfare”, you’ll find one of the key passages on the subject in today’s Bible reading.
Paul says, “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)
Oftentimes when we run into rough times in our walk with God, prayer is our last resort. Prayer should be our first resort! Why? Because prayer is a very powerful weapon in the battle for our hearts that’s fought mostly in our minds. Unfortunately, we often use prayer as a domestic intercom (“Butler, please adjust the thermostat.”) when prayer is actually a wartime walkie-talkie (“Commander, send reinforcements!”).
Prayer and the other spiritual weapons in our arsenal (Ephesians 6:10-20) are Weapons of Mass Destruction. When Paul says that our weapons are powerful for demolishing strongholds, he isn’t kidding! The word translated demolishing means absolute obliteration. Jesus uses the word to describe the coming destruction of the Temple in Luke 21:6 when “not one stone will be left on another that will not be thrown down.”
Our weapons tear down strongholds, defined as “1. a castle, stronghold, fortress, fastness. 2. anything on which one relies. 2A. of the arguments and reasonings by which a disputant endeavours to fortify his opinion and defend it against his opponent.”
Our WMDs attack the false arguments and thoughts that exalt themselves against knowing God. And do you remember what eternal life is? It is knowing God. (John 17:3) Proper use of our spiritual arsenal can affect people’s eternal destinies!
We often think of “spiritual warfare” as fighting demonic forces. But did you notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about using our spiritual arsenal against demonic forces? Of course, I believe in the influence of demonic forces in the life of Believers. But perhaps instead of fighting demons, most of our spiritual warfare has more to do with reclaiming the “thought territory” that we previously surrendered to demonic forces.
A good friend wisely said, “You will never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon.” If that’s true, why do we tend to resort to using fleshly weapons? Because those are the ones we are most familiar with, despite the fact that our spiritual weapons are infinitely more powerful. But we need to grow accustomed to using our spiritual arsenal so we are able to deal most effectively with spiritual warfare.
Using our spiritual weapons to win a battle isn’t the end of their use. We also use our spiritual WMDs to take every thought captive that we would obey Jesus.
 Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
This devotional was originally published on September 4, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.
From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.
But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.
As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.
Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)
Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)
Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.
Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)
The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.
It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.
In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.
The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!
This devotional was originally published July 23, 2019.
Dr. Luke records Jesus’ Beatitudes from His “Sermon on the Plain” in today’s Bible reading. It’s very similar to Matthew’s version from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”.
Dr. Luke juxtaposes the blessings in verses 20-22 against the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees in verses 1-11, and then his instructions on judging in verses 24-26 and 37-45.
The key verse in the “don’t judge” part of the passage (Luke 6:37-42) is at the end of verse 45:
“A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:45 (CSB)
The Pharisees’ words only revealed their hypocritical, judgmental hearts. And Jesus warned that when we judge, our judgment will return to back to us … in abundance. (Luke 6:37-38)
Moralism looks good. That’s when you’re doing all the right things and not doing any of the wrong things. It looks really good … on the outside. But the Pharisees’ problem was not their behavior — which was exemplary. Their problem was on the inside: their wicked hearts. And their hearts couldn’t be fixed by their behavior because behavior follows the heart, not the other way around.
Remember, the Christian walk isn’t about behavior change. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t focus primarily on your behavior. Instead, look at your heart. Ask God to reveal your heart when you’re inclined to judge. Hint: Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9) Deal with your heart and your behavior will follow.
This devotional was originally published July 4, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues his allegations that no one has an excuse when it comes to having a right standing before God. Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:1-3 to say that all are guilty. None are righteous and no one seeks God.
Just Friday morning, I saw a group post on Facebook where a small church pastor asked for prayer. He said he was preparing to preach a funeral of a nonbeliever who worshiped a lot. I responded that nonbelievers may go to worship services, but nonbelievers are incapable of worship of God. Those who have the Law are condemned by the Law and even those without the Law are condemned by the law in themselves.
Paul makes it crystal clear. Fallen people don’t have it in themselves to be sensitive to spiritual things. It takes a miraculous act of God to spark life in us that enables us to even be interested in the things of God. But when we experience God’s miraculous act of salvation, we so quickly latch onto the promises of God! We know instantaneously that God is all that He claims to be in Jesus Christ.
God is gracious to reach out to us in the midst of our fallen condition. Under what other condition could we be? Those without Jesus are in a desperately hopeless condition. They may think they’re only slightly affected by the Fall. But Paul couldn’t be clearer that apart from Jesus, we are lost. We are hopeless. We are helpless. By definition, we are unworthy of God’s grace.
And recognizing our condition is the best place to be to cry out to God and to receive His grace and mercy. We may think this heartcry is our initiative. But Paul says it’s simply a response to God’s initiative.
In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.
For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])
If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.
Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!
And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.
If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.
And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.