Can a war be won without the will to win? Without the determination to persevere, even in the face of setbacks and reverses? Without a zeal for victory? Understand why the answer to this question should matter to every Christian!
There’s something about war that often gets people excited and infused with a zeal for battle. In the initial stages of war there is not uncommonly a wave of enthusiasm as soldiers are drafted or line up to enlist.
Historian James McPherson comments in his history of the American Civil War, titled Battle Cry of Freedom, that in the immediate aftermath of the Confederates firing on Fort Sumter, “War fever …overrode sober reflections on the purpose of the fighting.” Yet, a common phrase reflected in the diaries and letters of Union soldiers was that their motive for fighting was “to maintain the best government on earth.” A New Jersey soldier wrote, “We will be held responsible before God if we don’t do our part in helping to transmit this boon of civil and religious liberty down to succeeding generations” (pp. 308-309).
For their part, many in the South were motivated by a determination not to be dominated by the North or to see their land invaded by Northern armies without resistance. A Southern diary reflected the sentiments of many Southern women at the outbreak of war, stating: “If every man did not hasten to battle, they vowed they would themselves rush out and meet the Yankee vandals” (ibid., p. 311).
On the other hand, wars may start out with a sense of reluctance, foreboding, or sense of resignation, even if tempered with resolve and determination to prevail. When war broke out in Europe in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, it was met with a sense of trepidation in both Britain and France, memories of the appalling carnage of the First World War still fresh on their minds. Even in Germany, there was a sense of apathy. William Shirer, a reporter for CBS radio in Berlin at the time, wrote in his book, The Nightmare Years, 1930 – 1940, “I… went out into the streets to see how the German people were taking the coming of war. They struck me as apathetic.
“What a contrast, I imagined, between this gray apathy and the way it had been here the day the war started in 1914. Then, from all I had read, there had been a wild enthusiasm for the war.” (pp. 444-445).
The point is, war often generates excitement, energy, animation. It’s amazing in a way that people can get so excited about killing, maiming, destroying other people. That could be one way of looking at it. And often war does engender a kind of bloodlust in many people.
Not uncommonly, people tend to see war in terms of good verses evil. The enemy is often pictured as evil and threatening. Even aggressors may seek to stir up passionate support by manipulating public opinion to make themselves appear to be victims.
Prior to attacking Poland, Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor, arranged a fake attack by Nazi S.S. troops dressed in Polish uniforms against a German radio station near the Polish border. About a dozen concentration camp prisoners, also dressed in Polish uniforms, were left dead on the scene as “proof” of the purported Polish attack. Similar incidents occurred elsewhere to justify the invasion of Poland that Hitler had planned for months. In a speech the day the Germans attacked Poland, Hitler sought to justify the assault on Poland with false charges that the Polish army had begun firing on German territory first.
The attack on the radio station was widely reported in the press, including newspapers in the United States, making it appear for a time that Poland was the instigator of the fighting.
People often enter into war in pursuit of what they perceive as their legitimate aspirations. Many may be willing to sacrifice everything, down to their very lives, to see their enemy defeated. And they may fight on even with no hope of victory until overtaken by death or exhaustion.
While there are a variety of factors involved in winning a war, a battle, a sporting contest, or being successful in life, zeal is one of them. Zeal can be defined as fervor, eager desire, enthusiastic diligence, ardor. It can be manifested in a variety of ways, but to result in victory it must endure.
Historian William C. Davis, writing about why the North won the American Civil War, concludes that because of the South’s disadvantages in manpower, industrial capacity, etc., the only way it could have won the war was a lack of necessary determination and staying power by the North, in other words, a lack of zeal for victory.
Early in the war many in the South thought they could win, despite their disadvantages. But, Davis writes, “The most important things they couldn’t see was the determination of Abraham Lincoln to win, and the incredible staying power of the people of the North, who stuck by Lincoln and stuck by the war in spite of the first two years of almost unrelenting defeat. The only way the South could have won would have been for Lincoln to decide to lose. As long as Lincoln was determined to prosecute the war and as long as the North was behind him, inevitably superior manpower and resources just had to win out” (“Why the South Lost the Civil War,” historynet.com, 8-19-1999; retrieved 12-12-2017).
A secular historian might not be expected to identify an even more important factor: God willed the Union to remain intact at that time, as he had a plan for the United States in keeping with his promise to Abraham, and his descendants. Nevertheless, Davis’ point is well taken.
The Christian Struggle
What about us as Christians? How deeply do we realize that we are in a life and death struggle to overcome? That our very lives, our destiny is at stake, and indirectly the destiny of all mankind? (Matthew 24:22; Romans 12:21; 2 Peter 2:19-21; Revelation 21:7).
Paul wrote near the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 ).
Our war is not a physical but a spiritual one. Can we be as zealous about it as people sometimes are in the physical wars they fight?
I say again, our war not a physical war against enemies of flesh and blood. As Paul wrote, “…though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3). Rather as we shall see, our war is spiritual in nature, our enemies are those of the spirit, and our weapons are those of the spirit. This will be explained in more detail below.
Zeal and Confidence
But first I want us to consider how an effective soldier should think, what his attitude should be. To gain victory a soldier must go into battle with zeal and confidence. David’s battle with Goliath provides an example. Take note of the zeal and confidence with which David went into battle against the enemy of Israel:
“Now the Philistines gathered their armies together to battle…. And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered together, and they encamped… and drew up in battle array against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on a mountain on one side, and Israel stood on a mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.
“And a champion went out from the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, from Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span [about nine and a half to twelve feet]. He had a bronze helmet on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail, and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. [Approximately 180 lb (avoirdupois or common pound of 16 ounces) based on a shekel weighing 252 grains troy.  The estimate given in Gill’s commentary is 156 lb.] And he had bronze armor on his legs and a bronze javelin between his shoulders. Now the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam [which are of various lengths, Gill estimates 26 feet long; JFB  estimates under five feet long; but we are not given the precise length, and spears historically have been of varying lengths and styles], and his iron spearhead [ weighed ] six hundred shekels [about 21.6 lb, or 15 lb to 19 lb by some estimates (Holman Christian Standard Bible, Gill’s Commentary)]; and a shield-bearer went before him.
“Then he stood and cried out to the armies of Israel, and said to them, ‘Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.’ And the Philistine said, ‘I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.’ When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.
“And David left his supplies in the hand of the supply keeper, ran to the army, and came and greeted his brothers. Then as he talked with them, there was the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, coming up from the armies of the Philistines; and he spoke according to the same words. So David heard them. And all the men of Israel, when they saw the man, fled from him and were dreadfully afraid. So the men of Israel said, ‘Have you seen this man who has come up? Surely he has come up to defy Israel; and it shall be that the man who kills him the king will enrich with great riches, will give him his daughter, and give his father’s house exemption from taxes in Israel.’ Then David spoke to the men who stood by him, saying, ‘What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine and takes away the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?’
“Now when the words which David spoke were heard, they reported them to Saul; and he sent for him. Then David said to Saul, ‘Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.’ But David said to Saul, ‘Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it. Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.’ Moreover David said, ‘The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ And Saul said to David, ‘Go, and the Lord be with you!’
“Then he took his staff in his hand; and he chose for himself five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag, in a pouch which he had, and his sling was in his hand. And he drew near to the Philistine. So the Philistine came, and began drawing near to David, and the man who bore the shield went before him. And when the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained him; for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking. So the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!’ Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.’ So it was, when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, that David hastened and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. Then David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone; and he slung it and struck the Philistine in his forehead, so that the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. But there was no sword in the hand of David. Therefore David ran and stood over the Philistine, took his sword and drew it out of its sheath and killed him, and cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled” (1 Samuel 17:1-11, 22-26, 31-37, 40-51).
David displayed confidence not just in his own skills but in God’s power to deliver him and give him the victory. Contrast David’s courage and confidence with the fear displayed by the rest of Israel’s army before the giant was slain.
Confidence and zeal alone, however, are not enough for victory. A soldier must know his enemy and he must have the proper weapons to defeat him. Do we know our enemies? Do we even realize we are in a spiritual war? Who are our enemies in this contest?
First Enemy – Self
“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
“Temperate” (verse 25), translated from the Greek word ἐγκρατεύομαι (enkrateúomai), means to exercise restraint, or self control. The self with its fleshly lusts and desires must be conquered and brought under control.
Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:18-19).
This is our carnal nature, our fleshly mind, unconquered by God’s Spirit, at work. To overcome the carnal nature requires discipline, and determination, as reflected in what we read earlier in 1 Corinthians 9. But it also requires God’s Spirit working with us to empower us to overcome.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:1-10).
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
God makes available to us his Spirit, a spirit of power that can help us overcome ourselves, as well as our other enemies.
Second Enemy — World
The world, in general terms, hates those who genuinely follow Jesus Christ. Jesus said, in a prayer to the Father, of his disciples: “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).
Over the centuries, the agents of Satan in this world have persecuted, and often murdered, untold thousands, probably millions, of men and women who sought to live according to the truth of God’s word. In a similar manner, Christ was murdered at the behest of Jewish and Roman authorities.
But he gave himself to deliver us from the world. “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Galatians 1:3-4).
James tells us true religion involves keeping oneself unspotted from the world. “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
Christ overcame the world: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
We, likewise, while we are in the world, are not to be of the world. That is, we are not to live according to worldly pleasures, desires, passions and customs that are ungodly, but we are to follow Christ, and live according to his word.
“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word” (John 17:14-20).
We must be able to see the difference between what the world, that is this society, would influence us to do, and what God requires of us in terms of walking according to his word.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
James wrote: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Third enemy – Satan and his host.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).
Satan is the “god of this world,” or this present age. “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, KJV)
In the NKJV it’s translated “god of this age.” Jesus referred to Satan as the “ruler of this world” in John 12:31, John 14:30 and John 16:11.
It is Satan who led his enemies to want to kill Jesus Christ. Jesus said to those who sought to kill him:
“But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this” (John 8:40). He went on to say: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44).
It’s Satan who led Adam and Eve to reject God’s law and sin. Satan has deceived the whole world, virtually all of it: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
We are in a struggle – a spiritual war – against Satan, and God wills that we overcome him just as Christ did when he was in the flesh.
The right weapons are important for victory in any war. One reason the Germans were able to overwhelm Poland in less than three weeks in 1939 is that they possessed more and better weapons, such as tanks and planes, than did the Poles. David, though his chances of defeating the giant may have seemed hopeless to onlookers, had just the right weapon to defeat Israel’s enemy.
The weapons God has put at our disposal can empower us to overcome our enemies. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
As our war is not a carnal one, against fleshly enemies, but spiritual, our weapons are spiritual and are of God. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:13-18).
Truth, that is, the word of God, righteousness, faith, the hope of salvation, the Spirit of God, prayer. These are our primary weapons. Fasting is another one that could be mentioned, along with these mentioned here. “Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. When I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, That became my reproach” (Psalm 69:9-10; cf. Joel 2:12-13; Matthew 17:21; James 4:8-10).
We must work, we must strive, but what makes the weapons truly effective is that through them God works in our lives to give us the mastery over our enemies. “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Colossians 1:29).
The fleshly wars of mankind never truly result in permanent peace. There are always more wars, more destruction, more hatred, more bloodshed, more ruined lives. But, as mentioned above, one of the weapons of our spiritual war is the “gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). The outcome of this war will ultimately be peace, for ourselves, if we remain faithful to our calling. (Colossians 1:20-23). And peace for the world as God’s kingdom is established and ruled over by Jesus Christ, along with the saints who will rule with him in the resurrection (Isaiah 9:6-7; Revelation 20:4-6).
“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power” (Ephesians 1:15-19).
With God’s Spirit working in us, through godly faith and obedience to his word, we can overcome. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.
“I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one” (1 John 2: 3-6; 14).
We have available to us everything necessary to win the spiritual war we are engaged in. But we must exercise zeal and determination. Apathy, spiritual laziness and indifference, can defeat us, if we allow that to happen.
We are warned against apathy and a lack of zeal.”And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, `These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth .
“As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. “‘”(Revelation 3:14-16, 19-22)
David wrote: “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless; With the pure You will show Yourself pure; And with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd. You will save the humble people; But Your eyes are on the haughty, that You may bring them down. For You are my lamp, O Lord; The Lord shall enlighten my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop; By my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. For who is God, except the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God? God is my strength and power, And He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of deer, And sets me on my high places. He teaches my hands to make war, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your gentleness has made me great. You enlarged my path under me; So my feet did not slip” (2 Samuel 22:26-37).
If we can be properly motivated about fighting the spiritual battles of this life, understanding our enemies, having zeal tempered by wisdom, confidence in God and the spiritual weapons he’s made available for us, we can’t lose. Can we get excited about the cause of Christ to which we’ve been called to battle? It really is, without equivocation, the most holy and righteous cause possible. Why shouldn’t we be enthusiastic and eager for battle, running as David to meet the enemy, trusting, as he did, that God would teach us to use the weapons he’s given us to gain victory.
 “Shekel”, Merriam-Webster.com, retrieved 12-10-2017.
 “JFB”: abbreviation for Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown (1871).
Unless otherwise noted Scripture taken from the New King James VersionTM
Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Copyright 2017 by Rod Reynolds
Messenger Church of God
PO Box 542
Peculiar, MO 64078