In this final sermon of the Without Borders series, Greg explores our ultimate weapon for fighting the powers of this present darkness. (Hint: it isn’t more darkness)
This is the last sermon in the Without Borders series, which has been contrasting the kingdom way of dealing with conflict vs that of the ways of world.
It is said by some historians that human evolution can be traced by our weapons. We started out with clubs and stones, then grew to swords, bows & arrows, catapults, gun powder, bullets, then we made those bullets more accurate, shooting for longer distances, then machine guns, cannons, bazukas, tanks, nuclear, chemical weapons, and now drones. This evolution is a testament to original sin that we are so ingenious when it comes to killing each other. But it doesn’t stop there, words, gestures and expressions are also weapons. These are all designed to hurt people, and the assumption of them all is that other humans are the enemy.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul teaches that our struggle is never against flesh and blood but against the powers of this present darkness, also known as the principalities and powers. They deceive us into thinking humans are enemy.
We can fight these unseen powers by refusing to hate anyone. When we see an action that looks like evil, do not hate the person, but the powers that have deceived this person into thinking this way.
But refusing to hate, while noble, is simply pacifism– this is good but we have in our possession the ultimate weapon to fight and defeat these powers of evil.
Our secret weapon is entirely different than the weapons of the world. It is designed not to kill people but to free them. The weapon is the Self sacrificial love that God displayed on the cross. The world never suspected, never saw it coming. From the start it looked weak and foolish. This “weakness” is the Power of God almighty. The way God fights and vanquishes the principalities and powers is to sacrifice himself out of love, which obliterates all debts. This is the one weapon he uses and wins with, and calls on us to use too.
It is the sheer extravagance of this love that makes it so powerful — he goes to the absolute extreme. He didn’t stop at “just enough” but went as far as possible. It is what we see in Ephesians 1:3-8 — Paul says God doesn’t just sprinkle, but he *lavishes* the richness of his grace on us. This is what defeats Satan and his minions. The extravagant extreme of his love.
The Cross reveals a God who would do absolutely everything to give us absolutely anything when we deserve absolutely nothing. It is echoed in Romans 5 – where sin abounds, grace much more abounds.
This extravagance changes us because it compels us to love him back. It gives us a new motivation, and a new destiny. It replaces the darkness in our life with light, and transforms us into a Child of God with new identity. Nothing can do what the love of God can do in a person’s life.
Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul instructs us to “be imitators of God” This is our call, to echo this extreme love to our enemies. Paul spells it out in Romans 12:14, 17, 20-21. Never respond to evil with evil. Instead, overcome evil with good. Don’t just be neutral, either, but go overboard! Actually push back in the opposite extreme. Be aggressive in loving back. That is why in Revelation, the lion of Judah is a lamb. It is the ferocious power of a lion, packaged in the vulnerability of a lamb.
When we retaliate, we sink to the level of evil and are defined by their evil. But responding with love protects us from being sucked into the evil being brought against us. At the very least it takes the wind out of their sails, and allows us to be defined by love since this is our new identity.
But when we take it further– when we respond with even more force, even more love, the result is often much more pronounced. Responding to evil with copious and undeserved amounts of love actually short-circuits the destructive cycle of “evil escalating evil.” In Romans 12 Paul says this tactic “Heaps coals of fire on their head” meaning it shocks them, lets the other person see their own sin, and convicts them, and the result of this can be that they repent and reverse course. The destructive cycle of anger is thus interrupted and replaced by a cycle of escalating and self-perpetuating love.
Greg tells a couple of good stories that illustrate this, such as one time when a guy was super mad at him and yelling at him, and Greg responded by inviting the guy out to dinner. Totally threw the guy off and ended the conflict.
It’s hard, of course. You have to swallow your pride and slay your own nature. This is part of the reason Paul tells us to offer up our body as a living sacrifice. It’s not easy or comfortable. But sacrificing ourselves is an act of worship, and not only that but it feels so good when you do it and when it works, either by just ending a conflict or by actually restoring a relationship.
Here are some tips to help you get good at this:
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- Have your identity anchored in Christ. That frees you from needing approval (or respect) from others. Know who you are, know your source of life. Remember who you are.
- Remember that love starts in the mind. This is our primary battleground. We cannot operate on auto-pilot, we must be vigilant about our thoughts. It’s why Jesus said lust is same as adultery and anger equals violence. If you are not loving them in your brain, it negatively affects your ability to respond in love. You have power over what you think. Purge from your mind any thoughts that are inconsistent with love. It starts with a decision in your mind.
- Practice makes perfect. Start out by imagining yourself responding in a Christlike way. Practice it in your mind ahead of time. Ask Holy Spirit to guide you on how to bless that person. Just like a basketball player, you have to see yourself doing it first, in order to act it out for real.
- Speak the truth in love. Sometimes it is not right to simply stay silent. It can be godly to speak up. But we must confront in love. If you can’t do this, then skip this step until you can (and repeat steps above). Paul said to do everything in love. This is a must. When confronting evil, we can call it out for what it is, but we must do so with love (the act of ascribing unsurpassable worth) pouring from our words.