A revealed truth that I must share: when a person submits to the Lordship of Christ and is filled with His Holy Spirit, an amazing array of tangible expressions of the Spirit emerge from that person; the Spirit of the living God expresses Himself through the individual in a song, a poem, an act of kindness or mercy, an utterance from on high, and many other manifestations. Writers express the love and promise of God in words, and to be exact, written words. Occasionally, there occurs a synthesis of expression in words both written and spoken; these anomalies are few and far between. I happen to know a man of God who is indeed true to the phenomenon of said synthesis. Pastor Dennis Sharp is blessed by grace to wield the sword of the Spirit while preaching, teaching, and writing.
The following article is not for the faint of heart. The offering on the table should be viewed as a platform, as a Truth to explore, and as a foothold in the pursuit of modern man wrestling with an accurate definition of what a Christian is called to be in an ever clouding world. It is a foundation to be built upon. Like a painter uses color, Pastor Den paints the picture for you with the sacred texts, he is expressly true to the veracity of Scripture, and he is unapologetically steadfast in defending biblical truths and a biblical worldview. The requirement for digesting such an offering, as the article that follows, is the desire to unwrap the gift. In order to unwrap this gift, one must have their Bible in hand, read slowly, and let the progression flow like a gently moving stream. For, to rush or to presume or to assume you “know where he is going” is a recipe for wasting your time. If however, you set aside the time, open the Book, and enjoy a cup of coffee over this deep well, I can assure you that this revealed truth will set in motion your own journey of discovery. And where the Spirit will lead you from there is unique to your eyes and to your ears.
The inspiration for inviting Pastor Den to share this with you came from a sermon series called “The Warrior Spirit”. In his introduction to Part Two, Dennis passionately and accurately builds a case for the spiritual understanding of divine tension. All of us have asked the question, “How can we be meek, loving, and Christ-like servant-leaders and still function as a brave and bold warrior?” Some would say, “We don’t need warriors, we need peace.” I would to that person and most assuredly offend them in doing so, reply, “You are not hearing what the Lord is saying through His Word.” This seemingly “in your face” stance is the very thing that binds Pastor Den and I together like mortar in our theology and faith; we agree that in order to truly comprehend and recognize the voice of Scripture, you must know the entire spectrum of it. In other words, Scripture defines Scripture, there is a harmony that runs from front to back, and one cannot speak with any authority unless the Spirit has revealed it. The dual nature of revelation is the key: together, the Holy Spirit inspired Scripture and the inward interpretation by the same Spirit are both necessary; they are inextricably linked. Who better to interpret the holy than the Author? Some think that just because they know the chorus or the “hook”, that they know the song! Like movements in a symphony, to truly experience the music requires digesting it from the beginning to the end and to allow the story to unfold. If we submit to this process, the effect will be one of unity…yes, I said it…unity! We can be led by the Spirit, but the Spirit will never lead us from the Scriptures, but rather lead us deeper still. So in final analysis, what we may expect from the following manuscript is that the nature of divine tension sings to us of a land where “either/or” is replaced with “both/and”, where if we allow ourselves to be swept into the song, we can see not paradoxes but rather different notes that harmoniously strike a melodious chord.
For His Glory,
Divine Tension: Being Empowered By The Spirit To Go To War!
By Pastor Dennis Sharp
There are times in the study of the Scriptures, that on first blush, different passages seem to contradict one another. For example, Psalms 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath,” but Ephesians 2:3-5 also tells us that although, “we were by nature deserving of wrath … because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” Unless one is willing to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, to hear the whole counsel of Scripture and then to rightly divide the word of truth, it would be easy to become confused or to end up in heresy. Is God a God of wrath or a God of mercy? The simple answer is “Yes!” If we recognize and accept that both pieces are true and exist in divine tension with one another, then we can begin to make sense out of it. God is a righteous judge and He clearly displayed His wrath against sin at the cross of Christ. We were dead in our transgressions, separated from God, and deserving of wrath, but God, who is also rich in mercy, took that wrath against sin upon Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s character qualities as “the righteous judge … who displays wrath,” and God, “who is rich in mercy,” were both displayed at the same time. He is both just and the One who, in mercy, justifies. Divine tension is not comfortable for we mere mortals (we tend to want things clearly labeled and pigeon-holed), but we live in the time of the “now” and “not yet” Kingdom of God. “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be” (1 John 3:2 NKJV). This is the nature of divine tension.
In like manner, there’s another piece of divine tension that I want to explore more fully in this article. Paul enjoins his readers in Philippi to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus … he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant,” but the same Paul uses a very militaristic metaphor throughout much of his writings, especially his letter to the Ephesians, to describe the ongoing struggle of Christianity against the dark spiritual forces of this world. How do we hold these two seemingly contradictory truths in tension and come to the real overarching message to the Church? How do we maintain the meek, loving, servant heart of Jesus and at the same time respond to the call to arm ourselves for battle and to stand against the wiles of the devil? It will be necessary to examine two separate passages and to hold them in juxtaposition, in order to see that instead of contrast or conflict, there is an amazing harmony.
TEXT 1: 27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 1:27-2:11).
It will help us to understand Paul’s message to the Philippians if we know some of the background material to this text (we’ll do the same thing for our other text as well). Paul is in prison in Rome (around A.D. 62, Nero is the reigning emperor) and knows that it is possible that he could be executed, although by faith, he fully expects to live for a while longer (see 1:20-26). This church has been involved with Paul and his ministry since he first preached there (see Philippians 4). The Philippians know by personal observation the way that Paul has suffered for the sake of the Gospel (Philippians 1:30; Acts 16), that he is now in prison for preaching (Philippians 1:7,13,14,17), and they are perhaps in danger of violent persecution themselves (Philippians 1:29). What are some of the lessons and/or principles that we might pull out for today?
- Whatever happens, including persecution, we must conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.
- We must stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one, without being frightened.
- We too may have been counted worthy to suffer for the cross, if so, God will give us the grace we need for that in that moment. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
- If we have any encouragement from being united with Christ, any comfort from His love, any fellowship in the Spirit or any tenderness and compassion; we are to have the same love and be united in spirit and mind. Contextually, this is particularly true in light of persecution or the threat of persecution.
- We are to do nothing out of selfish ambition, rather value others above ourselves.
- We are to look to each other’s interest, not just our own.
- We are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus – He made Himself nothing, rather He humbled Himself by becoming obedient.
TEXT 2: 15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Instructions for Christian Households
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ … (Paul then gives several specific examples of what right relationships should look like – wives & husbands, children & parents and slaves & masters, before his call to arms) …
The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should (Ephesians 5:15-6:20).
Ephesians was also a prison letter, written during the same 2-year period as Philippians, but most conservative scholars place it a bit earlier during the imprisonment (A.D. 60-61). Ephesus was a major metropolis and the capitol of the Roman province of Asia. Paul said he had “fought wild beasts in Ephesus” (1 Corinthians 15:32). Not only was there demonic activity, witchcraft and idol worship there (Acts 19), but the Nicolaitans heresy also assailed this church. To their credit they resisted it fiercely (Revelation 2).
- We are to be careful how we live and make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.
- We are to be filled with the Spirit, sing and make music to God and be thankful.
- We are to be rightly related to one another.
- We are in a struggle, not with flesh and blood but with spiritual forces.
- We are to meet this fight head on; we are to take a stand!
- We are to pray in the Spirit, for all the Lord’s people, especially for those who are called to proclaim the Gospel.
- First, it needs to be pointed out that in Philippians it is in our “relationships with one another” that we are to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” In Ephesians we are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The Church needs to fix how we treat one another. We will never consistently win an audience with the lost if we treat each other as competitors, or worse yet, as combatants. It is imperative that we love one another and come to unity around the Lordship of Christ, the authority of Scriptures, and the core essentials of the Gospel.
- The Philippians are expecting more persecution. They know Paul is already in jail for preaching the Gospel and that it has been “granted” to them to suffer for Christ and go through the same things they saw Paul enduring (Philippians 1:29-30). The Ephesians are living in “evil days,” and are already in the struggle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Is it possible that we might be “granted” to suffer for Christ? Should we not already be in the struggle against spiritual evil?
- The Philippians were to stand firm in the Spirit and strive for the faith. That sounds amazing like what the Ephesians are to do: “be filled with the Spirit” and “take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
- The proclamation of the Gospel is an important factor in both passages. The Philippians were to “conduct [themselves] in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” They were to strive “together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [them].” The Ephesians were to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” and to pray for Paul that he would “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”
- Christians everywhere and at all times are to clothe themselves in humility and have a servants heart, especially toward one another. We are to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God,” but should keep in mind that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. We don’t assail people, but instead, we assail untruths.
- We must recognize that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, one in which we must take a stand, but “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.” Instead we are “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.” “In humility [we] value others above” ourselves. We are willing to suffer loss in order to promote the Gospel.
- We do warfare “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” not against those we hope to reach with the Gospel. We must “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,” by sharing that Jesus is Lord.
- The Church needs to present, as much as is possible, a united front to the world. Unless it is concerning the Lordship of Christ, the core essentials of the Gospel, or the authority and veracity of Scriptures, we should have our theological debates with one another privately.
It’s here, in our dealings with fellow Christians, more than any place else, that we should demonstrate the loving servant heart of Jesus.
- The Church is obliged to take a stand against the darkness of this world. We are not to demonstrate the warrior’s spirit against one another, but instead, we are to “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,” and “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose [us].”
Jesus’ model was that He boldly presented the truth, counter to everything in His culture, and they were amazed at His teaching because He spoke “as one having authority.” He confronted the religious leadership in their error. He absolutely assailed the traditions of men, and He demonstrated no fear in the face of physical assault by the secular authorities. In His actions He demonstrated humility and love, a servants heart. He died in obedience to the Father’s will. We are empowered by the Spirit to do battle in the Kingdom. What does that look like? We boldly and fearlessly proclaim the truth even if it’s counter to our culture. We confront religious error and the traditions of men. We demonstrate humility and love and a servant’s heart. In short, we bear witness to Jesus.
As per Pastor Dennis Sharp, I must end this post with the following tag:
“To Be Continued…” Good for us!