Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Battle Is the Lord's*

Texts: 1 Samuel 14:47; 1 Timothy 6:12a; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:12; Hebrews 3:12, 12:1a & 2; 1 John 2:14b; 2 Timothy 2:22

TOBY, I WANT TO READ YOU something from J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It’s from Part Two, the place where Faramir, Captain of Gondor, takes Frodo and Sam into protective custody in the Forest of Ithilien. Faramir is expressing his hopes for future of Gondor and its capital city, Minas Tirith, even as the Dark Lord Sauron prepares to make total war against the Free Peoples of Middle Earth. He says:

For myself, I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens . . . War must be, while we defend ourselves against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Numenor; and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.**

Toby, these past few months, I’ve come to know you as a warrior for the cause of our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Church. So I charge you, as St. Paul charged Timothy, "Fight the good fight of the faith." Defend your flock against the destroyer who would devour all. Make war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. And as you do, fight not for the excitement of battle, struggle not for your own glory and honor, but for the glory and praise of Jesus Christ and the building up of His City on earth.

Toby, I charge you to fight the good fight against the world and everything in our culture that stands opposed to Jesus Christ and His Church. Bind to your heart as a breastplate the words of 2 Corinthians 10, where St. Paul says, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." Fearlessly, constantly preach Christ and Him crucified. With all your skill, wield the double-edged sword of the word of God, so your people and your peers may see how it judges and reveals the thoughts and attitudes of man. And remember, you are in the world but not of it. Exercise godly discernment. Fight against the temptation to take sides for or against an issue according to human factions and understandings. Make war on our culture’s sinful tendency to identify Jesus Christ with any human cause or commonwealth, however noble or great. Struggle against the world for the world’s own sake, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of peace through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I charge you to strengthen your congregation to fight with you. Arm them with wisdom and grace in the Holy Spirit, that they may prevail against the destroyer who would devour all. Especially in the present economic distress, train them to base their confidence not in material things, but on the Rock of Refuge that is Christ alone. In your war together against the world, I charge you to guard them and yourself against earthly pride. There must be no lording it over other sinners in need of God’s grace, and no thought that the victory is up to you. Remember always: He is the Lamb victorious, Christ the Son of God. In this faith, I charge you to fight, for the battle is the Lord’s.

Toby, I charge you to make war on those attitudes and proclivities that would undermine the Church and her calling to exalt Jesus Christ, especially here at Jefferson Center, in Beaver-Butler Presbytery, and in the Presbyterian Church (USA). When you engage in conflicts with those who live as enemies of the Gospel, do not let it become personal. For as Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Make war against legalism, libertinism, and laziness in doctrine and practice. Take your stand against cowardice and covetousness in pulpit and pew. Defend the weak, rescue the perishing, build up the saints in the virtues of our Lord Jesus Christ, love both the loveable and the unlovely as Christ has loved you. Lift high the Cross, bow low at the feet of Him who hung on it, and live in hope of the resurrection He has promised all His saints. For, for the joy set before Him our Lord endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Fight in hope for His Church, for the battle is the Lord’s.

And Toby, I charge you to fight against yourself, against your own sin of mind, flesh, and will that so easily entangles. In your personal life, be strong and overcome the evil one by the word of God that lives in you. Flee to it, cling to it, make the word of God your stronghold and high tower, for by it you will find sure refuge in Jesus Christ, the living Word. Be a loving and faithful husband to your wife, and a gentle, just, and strong father to your children. Make war on the temptation to put them second, third, last after your duties and obligations to the church. Be a loyal friend to your colleagues in ministry, as we build one another up in our common faith. Be accountable to others, for without companionship in the Lord, you will surely fall. Again as St. Paul advises Timothy, "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart." In all you do, lift up the love of Christ as your banner. Before that blood-marked standard the forces of the devil flee, for the battle is the Lord’s.

Toby, I charge you to make of yourself a sharp and shining sword in the hand of the Lord, reforged from brokenness in the fires of the Holy Spirit, ready to be unsheathed by your King. And remember, it is not you who wield Jesus Christ; no, your Captain the Son of God wields you.

Toby, I return you to the passage from Tolkien I opened with. I charge you to look beyond this noble fiction to the marvellous reality we are promised in Jesus Christ. As you fight the good fight, may your every desire be for the day when the white-clad company of the saints will stand like trees blossoming in the court of the King of kings, and the Lamb of God be crowned with many crowns, and the New Jerusalem descend in peace from heaven. Fight such that the Church may be full of light, high and fair, the beautiful and queenly bride of Christ her Savior. As you defend her against the destroyer who would devour all things, love not the battle for its own sake, or your skill in spiritual combat for your own glory. Before God and this company I charge you: Love earnestly the City of the children of God, the Church of Jesus Christ; and above all, love the Lord who rules in her. Love Him for the living memory of what He has done, for His eternal Sonship with the Father, and for His wisdom, light, and love as He justifies us, sanctifies us, and glorifies us by His grace. Fear Him, pledge your best allegiance to Him; in all your warfare, trust utterly in Him. And in Him, with Him, and through Him, this same Jesus Christ will give you the victory, for the battle is the Lord’s.

*Charge to the Pastor, preached at the installation of the Rev. Toby Brown, Jefferson Center Presbyterian Church, Saxonburg, Pennsylvania

**J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Part Two: The Two Towers, Ballantine Books, New York, 1965, p. 355

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