Against the Odds: The Shield Of Faith
The Apostle Paul is the greatest general the Christian faith has ever known, and therefore, in the war against evil in this world, his counsel is of infinite value. Our text for today is a case in point. Paul writes: “Take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”The Apostle Paul is the greatest general the Christian faith has ever known, and therefore, in the war against evil in this world, his counsel is of infinite value. Our text for today is a case in point. Paul writes: “Take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Now in the Roman army, the soldier’s shield was quite large—four and a half feet high and two and a half feet wide. It was thick, made of two large, heavy pieces of wood, bound and covered with sheets of metal on both sides. It was designed to protect the soldier from flaming arrows. These were arrows, which were wrapped with cloth, soaked in flammable liquid, ignited, and then launched by the bows of the enemy. They were doubly lethal. The Roman shield could repel or withstand those flaming missiles. So Paul seized upon the image of that shield as a metaphor for the kind of faith we need in our lives as we face the tough times which are a part of our Christian experience in late twentieth century America.
In order to understand what Paul meant by “the shield of faith”, we need to understand what he did not mean. We find the answer in Paul’s own life. For example, he did not mean that the shield of faith would protect us from hardship. The Apostle Paul carried the shield of faith and yet, he experienced great hardship. He was beaten. He was lashed. He was stoned. He was imprisoned. He was shipwrecked. He knew terrible hardship. The shield of faith does not protect us from hardship. Nor does it protect us from illness. Paul fought against illness all of his life. We do not know the precise nature of what he called his “thorn in the flesh”—it could have been anything from eye problems to epilepsy, but we do know, that it was a physical ailment, and it caused him great pain and embarrassment, and it put a heavy brake on his ministry. And so, the shield of faith does not protect us from illness. Nor does it protect us from failure. Think how many times, Paul would start a church, and then, it would crumble with problems. We read in his letters words like these: “Have you fallen away so quickly?” Or, “Is it true that you are getting drunk on the communion wine?” Or, “Why has such strife arisen amongst you?” Or, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world too much.” The shield of faith did not protect Paul from hardship or illness or failure, but it did protect his soul. That is the key point. It kept the hardship, the illness, and the failure from destroying his relationship to God.
We need to remember that. Faith does not make life easy, but faith does stop that which can wound or destroy the soul. Faith won’t protect us from failure but it will protect us from pessimism. Faith won’t keep us from injury, but it will keep us from a vengeful spirit toward those who have hurt us. It will not shield us from disappointment, but it will shield us from bitterness. It will not ward off difficulty, but it will save us from cowardice. It will not stave off success, but it will prevent us from falling into pride and arrogance. The shield of faith, you see, is Christian character, and there are three ways this kind of character is developed. Here they are:
First, to take up the shield of faith is to cultivate a personal closeness to Jesus Christ.
One of the great Presbyterian preachers of our time is Dr. Robert Boyd Munger. Bob Munger is known for many things, but perhaps best known for a little pamphlet he wrote called, “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” That pamphlet was first given to me by my great friend, Walter Pharr. In the pamphlet, Bob Munger visualizes his own heart as a home, and he visualizes Jesus as entering that home, and moving from room to room. The whole pamphlet talks about what Jesus does in the living room, or the dining room, or the drawing room. For example, when Jesus comes into the library, he says, “Now you are going to have to remove from this library all the books and magazines that are impure or unworthy. And if I’m going to stay here, then, you are going to have to hang my picture over the mantel, because I want you to see me, your Lord, as you read and study and learn, and I want you to think of the things you read and study and learn in terms of me.”
In Bob Munger’s vision, gradually, this person turns over his heart to Jesus—room by room, just like a house. However, there is one hall closet upstairs, locked, because he’s got some secret things in there that he doesn’t think Jesus knows about. Then Jesus says to him, “There is a terrible smell coming out of that closet. Something must be dead in there.” And the owner of the heart replies, “Now, listen Lord, I’ve given you the run of my whole house, but I’m not going to give you the key to that closet.” Jesus says, “Well, alright, but I’ll just have to sleep on the back porch, because you can’t expect me to sleep in the midst of all that stench.” The owner of the heart relents. He says, “Lord, here is the key to the closet. Please clean it out for me.” Jesus cleans it out, and there’s a great freshness in the place. Then, that one who owns the heart says, “Jesus, you are living now in all of my heart and home. Why don’t you just take the deed? I mean, why don’t you just own the place, totally, everything, all of it?” And he turns over everything he has—lock, stock, and barrel—to the Savior.
That’s what it means to cultivate closeness with Jesus Christ. Our Lord has lived life just as we are living it. The Scriptures say that He has been tempted at every point just as we are tempted. Now, He sits at the right hand of God, with all the power of God available to Him and He uses that power to help us in the fight. What we must do is to believe in Him—not just believe about Him, but believe in Him, and trust in Him, and claim His promise and His power. That’s the first step in building Christian character. Make your heart His home.
Next, to take up the shield of faith, is to give careful obedience to Christ’s counsel.
Not too long ago, I was talking to one of our great doctors in this church. In the course of his remarks, he said to me, “Howard, what’s happening to us? What’s going wrong in our society? Quote the Bible nowadays and people laugh at you. It wasn’t always like that in this country, you know—it wasn’t always like that.” And he is right. It wasn’t always like that.
There is a delightful restaurant, up in Asheville, North Carolina called “McGuffey’s”. It’s a restaurant all right, but it’s also a kind of a museum. It has on display educational materials from out of our American history. One of the displays is a book that was used to teach children penmanship. The book is about 75 years old. The way they taught penmanship was that across the top of the page would be a sentence, and then, under the sentence were twenty blank lines. The students were to copy the sentence twenty times. It was assumed that by the time they had done that twenty times, they would have learned to form those letters. What interested me was the sentences they were asked to duplicate. The first one was this! “Religion conduces to our present as well as our future nappiness.” Now, think of youngsters, sitting down and writing twenty times, “Religion conduces to our present as well as our future happiness.” See, they not only learn how to write, but they were given thoughts that were worth writing. We have youngsters, today, who can do marvelous things with computers, but they don’t have a noble or uplifting thought to put into them!
Then, of course, in that restaurant, they had an old copy of McGuffey’s Reader, the book from which so many earlier Americans learn to read. As I glanced through the pages, I was amazed at the stories which were used to teach children how to read. Example—the story of Henry Bond. “Henry Bond was a little boy. His father was dead. His mother worked very hard to provide for Henry. She could not provide luxuries but she did keep a healthy and happy home. Henry was told in school one day that he would need a new grammar book. Neither he, nor his mother had the money to buy it. Henry went to bed that night very sad. While he slept, it snowed. When he awakened, he saw the snow outside, and he said to himself, “It is an ill wind that blows no good.” He got up and went next door, and offered to shovel the walk, and they paid him. He went to another walk and they paid him. He kept on until he had enough money to buy the grammar book. Then he went to school and he worked very, very hard as a student. Henry Bond made the highest marks in the class.” Now after this little story, which I quoted to you almost verbatim, there were three questions! “What did Henry do to get a grammar book? What kind of student was Henry? And what kind of man do you suppose such a boy will make?” Amazing! That was a fourth grade reader, friends. Nine year olds asking themselves those kinds of questions about that kind of living.
Of course, that’s back when the Hebrew Christian tradition was strong in our country, but that is no longer the case, and we know it. That’s the reason we are in such tough times. Today people scoff at honesty or hard work or generosity. Today they ridicule you if you make self sacrifice or show some kind of moral zeal. Today we are living in a society which stands against our Christ and the things of Christ. That is why in 1994, our God willing and our people giving, we are going to construct this church, not just new buildings, but new ministries designed to strengthen the Christian character of our children and our youth. We are going to do whatever is necessary to give to them, the shield of faith, with which, they will be able to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one.
And then to take the shield of faith is to focus clearly on Christ’s ultimate victory.
In the years ahead, there will be times when we as Christians will encounter setbacks and hostility, opposition and rejection. There will be times, when we will know doubt and defeat and discouragement. In such moments, it will be important to remember the final victory of our Lord.My guess is that most of you remember the award winning film of a few years ago, “Chariots of Fire”. It’s a story of a young Scots runner named Eric Liddell. He went on to become a great missionary to China, and he died in the service of Christ there. Eric Liddell was an Olympic runner, and represented Great Britain in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. The most important race of those games, the 100-meter dash, was to be run on a Sunday. Eric Liddell, coming from a strict Scots Presbyterian background, refused to run on Sunday. All kinds of pressures were brought to bear upon him, trying to get him to run, but he wouldn’t and he didn’t. Why? Because he understood that the Olympic race was not, in ultimate terms, nearly as important as the race of faith we are called to run. And as we run that race of faith in Jesus Christ, we gain the final victory—a victory infinitely more important than any Olympic crown. We gain the final victory, which belongs to Christ and which belongs to all those who belong to Christ.
Some years ago, we had in this country a noted historian whose name was Charles Beard. On one occasion, Charles Beard was asked if he could condense all of the significant truths he had learned from history on to a single page. He said, “I can do better than that. I can reduce history’s most significant truths to four sentences.” Those four statements are these: “First, whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power.” What that means is that in the end, the humble will win! “Second, the mills of God grind slow, but they grind exceedingly fine.” That says, that in the end, justice will prevail. “Third, the bee fertilizes the flower it robs.” He is affirming that in the end, those who are persecuted will know triumph and victory. “Fourth, when it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” That means that Christians caught in life’s deepest darkness can still see the Bethlehem star, and the promise which came with it, and the victory which it guarantees.’ Bottom line? When you build your character upon faith in Jesus Christ, then you cannot be defeated. That’s what it means to take up the shield of faith in your life.
I leave you, then, with this word…
As you fight your way through life with Jesus Christ fighting at your side, one day there will come a lull in the battle, and Jesus will say to you, “My friend, we have fought so long and so hard together that now, we are closer to my home than we are to yours. Why not come in and rest awhile?” Then, we shall enter the house of His Father. When we enter that house, the mansions of eternity, we suddenly discover that the fight is over, and the battle is won, and there will never be for us again any tough times … Never!