Previous article in this series: February 15, 2017, p. 232.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Go forth in His service and strong in His might to conquer all evil and stand for the right.
– from Psalter 407, stanza 3
The words above are our marching orders for battle. The Lord Jesus Christ is the Captain of our salvation (). Through the inspired apostle Paul, who was writing from prison, our Captain sets the army that was the Ephesian congregation and all of us in order. He does that in the latter half of the epistle to the Ephesians by moving through the various relationships that exist in a congregation: church members dwelling among each other ( ), church members living among the ungodly of the world ( ), husbands and wives in marriage ( ), parents and children in the home ( ), and masters and servants in the workplace ( ). With those relationships and the proper conduct of them clearly established, the soldiers stand in rank and file. Captain Jesus then positions Himself before the troops and raises His voice: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Jesus is the Lord and He charges us to go to battle, and to go to battle strong in Him, for without Him we can do nothing ( ).
Our Captain issues many battle commands for the advancing of His kingdom in and through us. Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace! Be ye angry and sin not! Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth! Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God! Be kind one to another! Let not things inconvenient, such as fornication or jesting, be once named among you! Reprove unfruitful works of darkness! Honor your father and mother! Then, accompanying each specific call to duty is the exhortation: “And, go forth in the strength of the Lord!” To these words we march.
A Needed Charge
Continually we need to hear our marching orders to be strong in the Lord because we are weak in ourselves. Two outstanding weaknesses are fear and pride.
Beginning with God’s word to Abraham (: “Fear not, Abram, I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward”) and ending with the exalted Christ’s word to John ( “Fear not, I am the first and the last”), Scripture repeatedly commands us not to fear. We youth often are afraid. Sometimes we are afraid of God; having a very tender conscience and an acute awareness of the magnitude of our sin against His Most High Majesty, we are afraid of being abandoned by Him and perishing in hell. We are afraid of the future and all the unknowns regarding dating, marriage, a family, single life, our personal health, a career, and the trajectory of the nation in which we live. We are afraid of failure—failure that will cause unhealthy self-loathing and potentially subject us to ridicule. We are afraid of losing loved ones—a parent or sibling. We are afraid of being an outcast who is not able to fit in or find acceptance with peers. We are afraid of change, in us personally or in our life circumstances. We are afraid of hard situations, and will always choose to flee them rather than face them. We are afraid of perceived imperfections in our bodies or personalities and how we can overcome them. We are afraid of rejection at work or in college because of our identity in Christ. We are afraid of commitment in a relationship. We are afraid of criticism. Perhaps one even falls into sin—grievous, public sin—and is so ashamed to show his face that he thinks it might be better to die. Likely, we are most afraid of what Jesus calls “great tribulation such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be” ( ). Satan plays on these fears. Him we also fear. The Captain sees the troubled heart of the trembling soldier, and orders, “Be strong in the Lord!”
We are also proud, inclined to go forth relying upon our own strength. Falls have their origin in pride (, ). Noah drank too much and undressed; Judah spotted a prostitute and went in unto her; David lay with another man’s wife; Jeremiah wished he were never born; and Peter said of His Savior, “I don’t know Him.” What all these men had in common was that they went to battle strong in themselves, ignoring the marching orders of their Captain. That’s pride. That’s self-reliance. Should we stumble and fall into “little” sins all through the day, it is because we are walking without the Lord.
Consider pride only as it is manifested in our use of the tongue in communication. When we go through a day proudly relying upon our own strength, then that little tongue will be activated by the flesh and corrupt communication will pour out of our mouths. We will have a big mouth to mother, slam the door, and get into the car in a huff. On the way to school or work we will momentarily pause our singing of one of the top 10 hits of Satan’s billboard in order to shout an obscenity at the slowpoke in front of us who forced us to sit through another light cycle at the intersection. Using our phones, we will take to social media and give others a little piece of our mind, and because there is no face-to-face contact with anyone in particular it doesn’t really feel wrong to speak arrogantly, crudely, or cruelly like a Belial. We will be presented with a knotty doctrinal or practical problem requiring our response and, instead of taking time to contemplate and pray, we will jump right into the fray with a swift tongue and utter all our mind. Having that little member that is a world of iniquity, we cannot go off to battle in our own strength for we will certainly not love God and others with our speech but fall into tongue sins over and over again. The Captain sees His haughty soldier and charges, “Be strong in the Lord! Go forth in His service and strong in His might, to conquer all evil and stand for the right!”
A Mighty Power
What mighty power belongs to Jesus Christ our Captain and Lord!
He is God the Son. We could not create one grain of sand, but by Him the entire vast universe and all the creatures in it came into existence out of nothing. We would die getting too close to the door of the burning fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar, but the Son of God walked in the midst of it.
We stand before the devil as helpless as a newborn chick before a hunting serpent, but the Lord bruised the serpent Satan’s head. Men can crush the heads of big snakes, but Satan’s? How do you do that? Where is he? And how do you get him exposed? And what weapon inflicts the deadly blow? To bruise the head of Satan you must take away his right to hold souls captive in sin. How do you do that? God in His just judgment against the sin of man gave Satan the legal right to exercise dominion over man’s soul in sin. Therefore, in order to crush Satan you would have to take away his right by being in one person a perfectly righteous man and very God, so that you could sustain in body and soul the infinite wrath of God against sin and render to God the perfect obedience His law requires. If you could do that, you would satisfy the justice of God and God would take away Satan’s right to exercise dominion in sin. Jesus did that. At the cross Jesus crushed the head of Satan and made an open show of all his demons, triumphing over them.
We stand numbly at a casket, helplessly gazing at the cold, pale corpse, remembering what was and what by our power shall never again be; but Jesus commands the dead to rise again. We cannot control all the happenings around us, or even in us for one minute, but Jesus is now seated at God’s right hand in heavenly places far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, so that all things in the universe—including His enemies—are in His hand and cannot so much as move apart from His will.
As little paper castles before hurricane-force winds, so are the strongholds of sin in a man’s heart before the gracious, rushing mighty power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus shed forth. In His return to judge, the Captain will show all men His power and might, especially when He destroys that Wicked One with the brightness of His coming. What tremendous, infinite power is the power of our Lord’s might!
All of our strength—strength to be courageous and to be humble—is found in Him as the Captain of our salvation. The strength of great battle generals like Sisera or Rabshakeh, Alexander or Napoleon, is in their troops. The opposite is true in the armed forces of the covenant. The strength of every man, woman, and child in the army of Jesus Christ is found in Christ alone. Hosts do not make the Lord strong; He makes them strong.
A Strong Soldier
The marching orders given to us naturally fearful and proud soldiers are, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Only “in the Lord” can we be strong. No unbeliever can follow the marching orders of Jesus and be strong, for that unbeliever is not “in the Lord.” Even as a branch has access to all the life of the tree, so we sinners have been graciously given access to the marvelous power of the Lord Jesus Christ when we were sovereignly grafted into Him and made believers. This is astonishing. As we live in the Lord, we have access to the power by which heaven and earth were made, demons were cast out, and the dead were raised. No wonder the apostle once said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me!” We do not always consciously live in the Lord. We are weak, and choose to live out of the fear and pride of our flesh. But we hear our Captain, “Be strong in the Lord!” and His word in the holy gospel is the effectual power that works in us greater exercises of faith by the operations of the Holy Spirit.
First, to be a mighty soldier who is strong in the Lord is to exercise our faith by believing that the Lord is powerful. This is first. Faith looks at Christ. Look away from self and danger. Look at Christ. If you are living in fear or pride right now, your eye of faith is not looking at Christ. See Him and the power of His might!
Second, to be a mighty soldier who is strong in the Lord is to believe that the Lord’s almighty power is ours. We do not become the Lord, but His power does operate in us. Do you believe that? If you are overwhelmed by fear right now, it may be because you are not believing that Jesus is mighty; or, you are not believing that His might is yours. Believe! His strength is yours! Why are we so fearful in the battle when the mighty Lord is on our side? Why are we so proud when none of our strength is our own but the Lord’s?
Third, to be strong in the Lord is to exercise our faith each day by consciously renouncing our own strength and relying upon the Lord. Here is where putting on the whole armor of God comes in (), and an explanation of that armor is forthcoming. We can already mention something very basic. We need our Bible (and other supplemental devotional readings) and prayer. The U.S. Department of Defense is always designing new and better weaponry, but not our Captain. The old Bible and prayer will never be replaced as long as the battle rages. If you were hoping for something new—something with easier, quicker results, you will not find it, and you are already losing the battle on account of that misguided hope. As we begin our day in prayerful contemplation of the Word and its exposing of our weaknesses and extoling of the Lord’s gracious powers, the Lord will make us strong. Having meaningful personal devotions will not guarantee that you will not fall into fear or pride, but not having meaningful personal devotions will guarantee that you will fall into fear or pride. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Marching to the orders of our Captain, we are strong soldiers. Unconquerable! When we go into the furnace of persecution, we do valiantly. When we have fallen grievously, even publicly—as Davids and Peters sometimes do—we will confidently plead, as the unclean leper did, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean! Thou canst pardon mine iniquity! Remove my shame! Wash me whiter than snow!” When we are at work, at school, at church, at home, or out and about with our tongues and phones, we are careful and controlled, and more than conquerors through Him that loved us, so that no word we speak or type will bring dishonor to the name of Christ.
You do not doubt this, do you? You do not doubt that you, believing soldier, really are strong in the Lord, saying, “I’ve been struggling with a certain fear, or my pride, or my tongue, or a certain bosom sin, or a troubling situation for a long time, pleading to God for help. If the believer has such tremendous strength in the Lord, why am I still struggling?” Maybe the Lord has given you a strength you are failing to see because you are looking in the wrong place? Maybe God has given you greater power of prayer so that you beseech Him for deliverance with greater earnestness than before. That is strength. Without the Lord’s mighty power your sinful flesh would have blown out the flickering light of the prayer of your soul. The soldier who pleads hardest is strongest. Maybe the Lord has given you greater humility in your struggles, and greater hatred for your bosom sins. That is strength. You still struggle, but you are abased. That is strength. You identify as a poor sinner, chief of them all. That is strength. The Lord’s strength is made perfect in weakness, so, dear soldier, gladly glory in your infirmities so that the power of Christ may rest upon you.
Believing soldier, you are strong. Go forth in the Lord’s service and strong in His might; and take the whole armor of God to conquer all evil and stand for the right.