The spiritual battle: truth and deception in the church

by IAN GREIG writing in THE LIVING WORD

The story that emerges from the Bible readings set for Sunday, November 6 (in the interdenominational Revised Common Lectionary used by a variety of churches and chapels)

Our story this week contrasts God’s faithfulness and goodness with the wickedness and oppression His people experience. It’s another insight into the enduring question — the question that never quite goes away, of why bad things happen to people who hold good and godly values.

It is confused by our bias towards reward and penalty. We want to place ourselves on a two-dimensional scale of obedience — however that is measured. But it doesn’t work that way. God is all about relationship. In the Old Testament, that might be more respectful than personal. In the New Testament, the coming of Jesus opens a way for us to know God personally. And while the respect is unchanged, the sense of being children loved by a caring Father is central.

  • Refer to The Living Word Bible Study for Nov 6, which goes through the main Bible readings verse by verse with explanatory commentary, reflections and discussion questions — ideal for home groups.
  • Watch this week’s video based on this article God’s People with God’s Truth Can Counter Man’s Trouble
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Whether we are God’s own people in the Old Testament, or His children brought to Him by His Son Jesus in the New Testament, we are not insulated from the attentions of those who oppose God’s supreme heavenly rule. In fact, we become targets in the spiritual battle, like anyone wearing the ‘wrong’ uniform.

What we do have is God’s majestic role and incomparable wisdom and power. And the reassurance of knowing that God is always working to save those who love Him and call on Him sincerely and faithfully. Which is where we start, with some headline verses from Psalm 145:

The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy. My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord…
Psalm 145:1–5, 17–21 excerpted

This is about God, who He is and — importantly, how He is. This is our hope — our confident expectation of experiencing His goodness. And that’s an indicator of how the story is going to unfold.

It is also the tone of the word brought to the former exiles by the prophet Haggai, to strengthen their resolve to rebuild Jerusalem and the centre of worship, the temple. Work has ceased following a campaign of false accusations made to the Babylonian king. They are short of money and struggling to survive. Where is God in all of this? Let’s hear this in Haggai 2:

“Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you saw this house in its former glory? How does it look now? Like nothing?

“ ‘Be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, and work. For I am with you. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And My Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea, and the dry land. I will shake all nations… and I will fill this house with glory… The glory of this house will be greater than the glory of the former house, and in this place I will grant peace.”

Haggai 2:1–9 excerpted

The word Haggai brought to the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua had strong echoes of God speaking to the renowned Joshua, who succeeded Moses and led the people through a succession of threats and dangers into their Promised Land.

“Be strong and very courageous because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
Joshua 1:6

It also sounded like the word King David gave to his son Solomon, who was to execute David’s plan for the first temple:

“Be strong and courageous… do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”

In other words, the Lord does watch over all who love Him, while confounding the wicked. The story of Nehemiah is of this period and shows how the Lord’s wisdom is used to win the spiritual battle over the rebuilding of the city.

The next episode in this story centres on Jesus and it is during Passion Week, the final few days of His life, when He was teaching in the temple courts and facing vociferous opposition from the religious establishment. Here, it is from the Sadducees, who unlike the legalistic Pharisees, only accepted the first five books of Moses, that’s Genesis to Deuteronomy, as authoritative Scripture, and — strangely — had a problem with resurrection and the afterlife. Jesus takes them back to words of Moses that they _did_ respect, to answer their own contentious question — as we hear now from Luke 20:

The Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry, nor be given in marriage. They can no longer die, like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

“But in the account of the burning bush, Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

Luke 20:27–38 excerpted

Earlier we saw Haggai reference an earlier word from the Lord with a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence with the hearers. Word and Spirit together convey God’s wisdom, the kind of heavenly wisdom we need in situations of spiritual attack. This is Jesus’ ministry here, firmly but kindly referring His opponents back to God’s truth and God’s ‘now’ word, in a context that was familiar to them.

The opposition the new converts in Thessalonica were experiencing did not come from unbelieving Sadducees — but look at the similarities.

  • It came from _within_ the faith community, not outside it.
  • And it centred on a particular falsehood masquerading as truth.

The Sadducees were not faithful to the Lord, nor to those He had sent to speak and lead for him, including King David. Yet, they controlled the temple, priesthood and Sanhedrin. Those who had assumed teaching roles in Thessalonica were not faithful to the apostolic teaching of their founders, who had brought them the message of the Kingdom of God and new life in the Lord Jesus. Yet, they were holding sway.

Paul calls this what it is — deception! He writes: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” Let’s hear this teaching from 2 Thessalonians 2.

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by teaching — allegedly from us — asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. That day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

But we thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So then, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you by word of mouth or by letter.

May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17 excerpted

The word Haggai brought to the governor Zerubbabel and the high priest Joshua had strong echoes of God speaking to the renowned Joshua, who succeeded Moses and led the people through a succession of threats and dangers into their Promised Land.

It also sounded like the word King David gave to his son Solomon, who was to execute David’s plan for the first temple:

In other words, the Lord does watch over all who love Him, while confounding the wicked. The story of Nehemiah is of this period and shows how the Lord’s wisdom is used to win the spiritual battle over the rebuilding of the city.

The next episode in this story centres on Jesus and it is during Passion Week, the final few days of His life, when He was teaching in the temple courts and facing vociferous opposition from the religious establishment. Here, it is from the Sadducees, who unlike the legalistic Pharisees, only accepted the first five books of Moses, that’s Genesis to Deuteronomy, as authoritative Scripture, and — strangely — had a problem with resurrection and the afterlife. Jesus takes them back to words of Moses that they did respect, to answer their own contentious question — as we hear now from Luke 20:

The Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.

“Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too.

“Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry, nor be given in marriage. They can no longer die, like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.

“But in the account of the burning bush, Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”

Luke 20:27–38 excerpted

Earlier we saw Haggai reference an earlier word from the Lord with a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s presence with the hearers. Word and Spirit together convey God’s wisdom, the kind of heavenly wisdom we need in situations of spiritual attack. This is Jesus’ ministry here, firmly but kindly referring His opponents back to God’s truth and God’s ‘now’ word, in a context that was familiar to them.

The opposition the new converts in Thessalonica were experiencing did not come from unbelieving Sadducees — but look at the similarities.

  • It came from within the faith community, not outside it.
  • And it centred on a particular falsehood masquerading as truth.

The Sadducees were not faithful to the Lord, nor to those He had sent to speak and lead for him, including King David. Yet, they controlled the temple, priesthood and Sanhedrin. Those who had assumed teaching roles in Thessalonica were not faithful to the apostolic teaching of their founders, who had brought them the message of the Kingdom of God and new life in the Lord Jesus. Yet, they were holding sway.

Paul calls this what it is — deception! He writes: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” Let’s hear this teaching from 2 Thessalonians 2.

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by teaching — allegedly from us — asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.

Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. That day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?

But we thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.**

So then, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you by word of mouth or by letter.

May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, 13–17 excerpted

Deception is like the carbon monoxide of church life, difficult to detect until it has started its deadly work. But there is an antidote. Salvation comes “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth”, or as The Passion Translation puts it, “Salvation through the Spirit… and through your belief in the truth”.

Again, we see this emphasis on Word and Spirit together. It is how salvation comes, when we first give our lives to Jesus in response to His life given for us.

It is how God’s wisdom guides us in every situation where we resist what attempts to pull us off course — by standing firm and holding fast to what is trustworthy, Scripturally sound and true.

Every move of the Spirit that brings the kingdom of God close, will also attract opposition. Some is as much physical as spiritual, like Paul’s reflection on being imprisoned, flogged multiple times, stoned and needing to flee for his life (as he did in Thessalonica, Acts 17:5–15). Physical opposition is the outworking of the unseen spiritual opposition in the heavenlies.

But more insidious, more common and more damaging is man’s ideas dressed up as God’s truth but not undergirded by it.

We need to be filled with God’s Spirit and filled with God’s word, standing firm and holding fast, able to discern what is true from what is half-true. And then His word of encouragement will come to us as it did through Haggai. God’s wisdom will empower us for truth, as it did in Jesus’s ministry on every occasion. Spirit and Word together will lead us on a path of continuing salvation through all the obstacles and opposition that the enemy can put in our way.

Because we are continually acknowledging Jesus Christ as our Lord, hearing God’s truth as we read His Word and asking to be filled afresh with the Holy Spirit day by day who leads us into His love and also His truth.

PRAYER

Father God, we acknowledge Your might, majesty, dominion and power — and the truth of Your revelation of Yourself, Your Word.
We know we have not always correctly or diligently handled Your Word. We have exalted our own ideas over it. We have not sought the revelatory understanding of Your Spirit in applying it. We represent churches which are spiritually weak, confused — and vulnerable to deception.
Save us from this folly we ask, with repentance. May we grow in a new way as people both of Your Word and Your Spirit. May we be known as bearers of Your truth, with grace and love. Your kingdom come, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Originally published at https://thelivingword.uk.

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Ian Greig

Husband+Father | Missional Christian | Author+ Speaker+Creator — offering ‘Faith without the Faff’ to encourage those not attracted to a formal club-like church