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Girding On The Armour

Ahab, one of the kings of Israel, is notorious in sacred history for his wickedness. He "did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD above all that were before him". And yet it was to such a king that the Lord showed remarkable grace, granting the outstanding victory recorded in 1 Kings 20.

Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, had made exacting demands upon Ahab. Alarmed by pressure the king of Israel had complied. True to the workings of depraved human nature Ben-hadad, encouraged by the spontaneous response of Ahab, submitted demands for further extensive concessions. This time Ahab showed more courage and he refused. He had had enough. The refusal brought dire threats from the king of Syria, and it was in such circumstances that Ahab sent to his enemy the message, "Let not him that girdeth on his armour boast himself as he that putteth it off".

The meaning and intention of Ahab's challenging remark are obvious, and his words hold a message for all time. It is very sad, and especially in the sphere of spiritual activity, when those who are just taking over responsibility think and speak disparagingly about their predecessors. Boasting at any time and for any reason is despicable and it is seriously so when such boasting carries the implications that newcomers to any activity feel aware that they enjoy, and intend to demonstrate, a superiority over those who have gone before them. Young men will be wise if they reject any such mode of thinking. It may well be that some will do better than those who have gone before. We might even say, Shame on them if they do not. The advantageous position in which many have been placed because of the labours and achievements of others should lead to greater success on the part of those who follow. Let this be demonstrated by results rather than be the theme of boastful predictions.

We would like to use the words of Ahab to emphasize a different matter. In recent years many beloved brethren and sisters among God's people have put off their armour, and put it off for ever. From the arena of conflict they have been taken to the rest of heaven. There, in undisturbed repose, they await the day of reward and honour. Others there are who by reason of age or, it may be, infirmity, are feeling the strain and are not as able as once they were for front line action. Are there young men and women who are realizing the increasing need to gird on the armour for the holy warfare of the Faith of our Lord Jesus Christ? As we look at the nations of the earth we are often impressed by the sacrifice which young persons are willing to make in loyalty to the cause of their nation. What about God's holy nation? Never was there a time when young brethren and sisters were more needed to shoulder the claims and support the cause of that nation. But it is a very serious matter. Spiritual conflict, in any area of engagement, cannot be treated frivolously. Standing and contesting for divine truth is very different from contesting for human sentiment and human opinion.

A primary lesson is illustrated in the story of Joshua. When he was approaching Jericho in his march of conquest into the land which God had given to Israel he had a humbling and instructive experience. Before him stood a Man with a drawn sword. His appearance must have made a deep impression on the mind of Joshua. He went to the Man and asked, "Art Thou for us, or for our adversaries?" At that point Joshua thought only of "us" and "our adversaries". He had a big lesson to learn. The Man replied, "Nay". It was not a question of being for or against. There was something more important. "As Captain of the host of the LORD am I now come". In effect He was saying, I am here to take control; I am here to give command. The first military engagement in battles for possession of the land was imminent. To the great Captain, Joshua was subordinate and must be subject. The supreme authority of the Lord must always be obeyed. The message went home. Joshua fell to the ground a humbled man who acknowledged the dignity and authority of the Stranger. He exclaimed, "What saith my Lord unto His servant?"

The apostle Paul was a courageous and faithful soldier of Christ Jesus. We think of him as the young man who left Jerusalem with authority to arrest and imprison disciples of Christ. He was full of self-confidence, he was haughty and insolent, he was a person of commanding personality and enthusing drive. On the road to Damascus the Lord Jesus came into his life. He saw the Man in the glory of heaven. He learned His identity and believed. The consequences for Saul were radical and amazing. The course of his life was reversed. Prostrate physically on the roadside Saul had a spiritual experience in which he died with Christ. Pride, insolence, self-confidence perished. A young man who up to that point had been satisfied with the power of his own abilities and attainments to determine his course in life exclaimed, "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). In such words is the spirit of willing subjection and ready obedience. A remarkable man was enrolled as a soldier of Christ Jesus. It was perhaps about thirty years later that the valiant warrior, soon to be withdrawn from earthly conflict, said, "I have fought the good fight" (2 Tim. 4:7).

The apostle Paul referred to Timothy as being "a good soldier of Christ Jesus". If a believer in Christ is to be a good soldier he has first to learn that there is One to whose supreme authority he must at all times bow. This Person is our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He has the absolute right to command. His soldiers have the responsibility to obey. There is a danger that we may claim that the Lord is "for us" in activities in which we engage, whereas, if truthful investigation be made we may find that there is lacking the prerequisite of obedience to the Lord. Many very active believers in Christ have, in the matter of baptism, preferred their own opinions, or, it may be, the advice of their teachers to the rejection of the commandment of Him who said, "All authority hath been given unto Me... Go ye therefore, and make disciples ... baptizing them ... " (Matt. 28:18,19). But the commandments of the sovereign Lord include much more than baptism. They reach every part of our lives and give direction for every attitude and activity. Great care is needed so that we do not permit the intrusion of our own ideas and opinions, and try to substitute these for the authority of Christ.

In a military operation it is a mistake to underestimate the power of the enemy, and it is a serious defect to lack intelligence covering the strategy and tactics of the attacking force. The word of God gives us clear and impressive information about the strength of the forces which oppose the Christian in his spiritual warfare. Foremost there is the arch-enemy Satan by whose malignant genius are coordinated and directed the principalities, the powers, the world rulers of this darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (see Eph. 6:12). This is a formidable array. In addition, Satan uses in his attacks human beings who wittingly or unwittingly have been enlisted in his service. Then there is in the believer the treacherous collaborator-the flesh. The striking power of the enemy forces is staggering. We dare not underestimate it. Nor dare we for one moment think that in our own strength we can resist or overcome the opposition. What, then, should we do? Should we give up in despair? The answer to this must be, No! God in His word has told us plainly what to do, "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil ... wherefore take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day..." (Eph. 6:11,13). The armour of God is fully protective in spiritual conflict. We do not now attempt an analysis of the armour provided, but we would briefly indicate things that are mentioned: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer. Here we have seven important features of the Christian's defence. To dispense with any of these is to invite defeat in the spiritual battle. We must put on the whole armour.

Paul speaks of the wiles of the devil. The soldier of Christ Jesus must ever be on the alert. In one sense the enemy is always attacking. Hostilities are constant. There are also distinct occasions of special engagement, and we need to be ready to withstand in the evil day. In many countries there has in recent years appeared a manifestation of terrorism called Urban Guerilla Warfare. In such tactics a few persons can inflict serious damage and loss. For example, a concealed sniper awaits the arrival of a selected victim who may indeed be lured to a required position by an apparently lawful cause. For a moment caution is dropped. For this the sniper with his highly efficient weapon has waited. He takes his aim and another victim is claimed. In spiritual conflict it often happens that the Christian finds himself in circumstances which in themselves seem to be quite harmless but which hold the danger of encouraging carelessness. The watching enemy sees the relaxation of alertness and presses home his attack. A spiritual victim is claimed.

Spiritual warfare is not only defensive. There are the necessary operations which take the battle into the enemy's camp. When Abraham heard that his nephew Lot had been taken prisoner by the four kings he mustered his trained men and attacked the kings. Lot and others were delivered (see Gen. 14). Today many men and women, boys and girls are held prisoner by Satan, the great enemy. It is true also that many believers in Christ are caught in the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him. Christian soldiers, trained men, are needed to move in for the deliverance of the captives. This will be accomplished, not by physical or political means, but by the speaking and preaching of the gospel of the grace of God and the gospel of the kingdom of God.

God sent a prophet with a message for Ahab: "Hast thou seen all this great multitude? behold, I will deliver it into thine hand this day; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD". This was an encouraging message. But, questioned Ahab, "By whom?" The answer came, "Thus saith the LORD, By the young men of the princes of the provinces" (1 Kings 20:13,14). It was an operation for young men. Ahab had another question. "Who shall begin the battle?" The prophet answered, "Thou". Young men need leaders to encourage, to counsel and to direct. God's nation is richly blessed for effective activity when young and subject soldiers of Christ Jesus are serving in close co-operation with wise and godly and experienced leaders. The challenge comes to us all. It was a woman who wrote:

Who is on the Lord's side?

Who will serve the King?

Who will be His helpers,

Other lives to bring?

Who will leave the world's side?

Who will face the foe?

Who is on the Lord's side?

Who for Him will go?

There is the challenge. WHO? The young men? Thou?