Community Baptist Church of Gay Head in Aquinnah
November 22, 2020
Sermon, “Fight, Flight, or Right?”
Ephesians 6:11-13 “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. 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.”
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are especially challenging. It might be a crisis in your marriage; a calamity at your business; it can also be a moment of peril as you’re driving on the highway, or walking alone in a dangerous area at night.
In these moments, we experience what is called the fight or flight response. We’ve all experienced it. It comes in many forms and many degrees of intensity, depending on the level of the challenge. Maybe there’s no immediate sense danger, and your life is safe, secure, and comfortable — but a friend of yours says, “I need your help, and it’s not going to be easy.” Maybe it’s not even a friend — maybe it’s a stranger who needs help. Maybe it’s your community. Maybe it’s your nation calling you to service.
All these challenges have one thing in common: whether it’s your marriage, your business; whether it’s peril on the highway or in a dangerous area; whether it’s a friend, a stranger, your community, or your nation calling you to a service: these are all challenges that God’s got. God’s got this. Our faith is pretty straightforward when it comes to that: God’s in charge.
But the question is, if God’s got this, where does that put you? When the time of trial is knocking on your door, do you choose “fight” — or do you choose “flight”?
Once upon a time in the days of Israel’s first King, Saul, there was a shepherd named David who was growing very popular. More popular than Saul, some would say. Saul became paranoid: “Maybe David is after my throne. Maybe David wants to mount an insurrection against me. Maybe David wants to kill me!”
Saul felt threatened by David, and in his jealousy, he conspired to have David murdered. David gathered a band of fighting men together and moved into the wilderness like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and they went from place to place to stay ahead of Saul’s assassins.
One night, King Saul himself was out hunting for David when nature called, so he went into a dark cave to do his duty, shall we say. Little did he know that he’d just stumbled into David’s hiding place!
For David, it was time to choose fight or flight.
All of David’s men said, “Here’s your chance! Fight! This is the day the Lord spoke of when He said to you, ‘I’m gonna give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’”
They were egging him on to kill King Saul.
So what did David do? He snuck into the dark cave as Saul was doing his business, and he drew his sword. But instead of cutting off Saul’s head, he snipped off the corner of Saul’s robe.
Then he confronted Saul, saying, “My lord and my king! Why do you listen when men say, ‘David’s bent on harming you’? Today you’ve seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in this cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I haven’t wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life.
“May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me — but my hand is not gonna touch you. May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”
When Saul saw that David spared him, he wept. He said, “You are more righteous than me. You have treated me well, but I’ve treated you badly…May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands. Now swear to me by the Lord that you will not kill off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father’s family.”
So David made the oath to never hurt Saul or his family. And yes indeed, David did indeed become King, a man after God’s own heart. I’d say it went well for him, wouldn’t you?
David didn’t choose “flight”, but he didn’t choose “fight” either: he did what was right. To put David in Robert Frost’s poem, David saw two roads diverging in the wood, but he didn’t take the one less traveled — he just forged his own. Sometimes the most obvious choices before us aren’t the best. Just because you’re given a set of options doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones. Our God is the Great Creator – and he has more creative plans for us than we think.
From the times of the first Apostles down to our day, Christians have been hunted like David was hunted by King Saul. Their gatherings were illegal then and in some places they still are today. We saw Americans in certain states getting fined and arrested for gathering just this past Easter. Philadelphia just banned any sort of indoor gatherings, public or private, until January — so much for Christmas this year! Earlier this year in Florida, a man plowed his car into a church and set it on fire with the people inside. And this is just in America. In other nations, it’s much worse. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the Age of Martyrs is past. It’s not. The Pope’s ambassador to France, Archbishop Migliore, confirms that “There have been more Christians martyred in the past century than in all the previous centuries,” and the trend is not diminishing.
I hope the tide turns. But I want us to think through our strategy here. I don’t know if you’ve thought this through much, but the Enemy does not like what we’re doing here. Every name in the Lamb’s Book of Life is on the Devil’s Enemies List. He has it in for us. The old saints tell us that a man of the world won’t be troubled much by the devil, since he’s a servant in the kingdom of darkness, he’s a nobody. But a praying person like you is going to attract the devils because you’re a beacon shining the kind of light that overcomes the darkness. You are a person of interest for the hordes of Hell. Satan has it in for you personally — but you are more than a conqueror through Him who loved us.
When the hour of trial comes your way, what are you going to do? Are you going to choose fight? Flight? Or like David, is there a path to take that is above and beyond fight or flight — the path of what’s right? What is the right path through these kinds of trials?
There is a story that is surprisingly little known among today’s Christians. The first Christians in Jerusalem, as we know, were persecuted by the synagogue and the state. Their gatherings were illegal — but they kept on meeting anyway, which raised the stakes. They used the Jesus fish symbol as a way to covertly show where they were secretly meeting — sometimes in each others’ homes, but as the persecution wore on, they literally went underground, even into the catacombs.
St. Paul encouraged these people, saying “Fight the good fight of the faith.” This is indeed a war, he said. But “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.”
This is indeed a war, but, “we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
This is the good fight. The great grandfathers of grandmothers of the Church fought the good fight of faith in Jerusalem in this way for decades, nearly a generation after Christ’s resurrection, until one day the armies of Rome surrounded the city. The Romans were armed with weapons of war, and the Zealots of Israel were too, ready and waiting to fight back.
But the Christians were armed with something different — the Word of the Lord. 40 years before the Romans circled the walls of their city, Jesus had told them, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written [by the prophets].”
And they listened. The Church’s first great historian, Eusebius, tells us that “the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by the Revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men…
“…All the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city.”
They had the help of scripture; the help of Jesus; and they even had the help of an angel. God was on their side, and He had armed them with His Word.
“But they evacuated the city — didn’t they choose flight over fight?” No more than a strategic retreat to trap your opponent is flight. Because they were not fighting any average fight, this was no average flight. You think they moved to Pella and just stopped “tearing down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God” or “taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ?”
Do you think they just stopped being Christians? No way!
“Ok, so they kept fighting the good fight — but doesn’t that mean they chose fight over flight?” No way! They chose right. Paul made it very clear that the good fight is spiritual. Not against flesh and blood, but powers and principalities. Spiritual warfare. The good fight is not your average fight. It’s spiritual. When God is working in your life, you’re in a realm beyond fight or flight — but you don’t just transcend fight or flight. When you choose to do what’s right, God is going to transform fight and flight from the worldly to the spiritual.
He’s not just going to give you a new perspective, he’s going to give you a new position: he’s going to put you in the spiritual high ground.
Now, there have been other times in our Church’s history when Christians, in order to fight the good fight, also fled the great cities of other civilizations that were beginning to decay. The first Christian monasteries were founded in the deserts of Egypt by Christians who recognized that the lavish excesses and fashionable immoralities that thrived in the cities were the signs of spiritual death. The cities were already spiritually dead, and they were becoming bloated with immodesty and injustice, the fruits of lost faith, and history proves that not long thereafter they did utterly collapse.
But these Christians weren’t fleeing the cities for better worldly opportunities. The deserts were not exactly promising real estate.
But spiritually, the deserts were the high ground. The saints were repositioning themselves in the battle for the world’s soul. They had determined that their spiritual life could not thrive in the city, so they shook off the dust of the city from their feet, and headed to the desert to stake out territory for the kingdom of God.
God was reassigning them and restationing them for the good fight.
There is a great book called “How The Irish Saved Civilization”. As the Roman empire was collapsing, monasteries in Ireland were thriving. The hard-headed Irish had insisted on building their own local seminaries and schools rather than sending prospective Christian leaders to Rome for training. For generations, Irish bishops and priests and deacons received the highest level of education all from the comfort of their own communities. Ireland, which was once a land of warrior-poets, also became a land of priestly farmer-scholars. To this day, most any Irish farmer over the age of 60 is going to be able to recite some Ovid, some Cicero, and plenty of Bible verses – in Latin.
Hundreds of years ago, while the Roman Empire were collapsing around them, the monasteries of the Irish were standing up. The monastics had preserved everything good about Rome: its laws, its history, its sciences, its arts, its philosophy, its poetry – not for Rome’s sake, but for the sake of Christ. As Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”
What do you think, people of Martha’s Vineyard – can a small Island in the Atlantic make a difference in the history of the world? Yes, it can. We see that’s what happened with Ireland. As He always does, God cast down the exalted and He raised up the lowly. While Rome was crumbling, Ireland was coming up. The Irish had taken spiritual high ground, and God vindicated them.
This is serious food for thought for our church in these times. The world is being shaken right now. We all feel it. Just the other day I heard someone say, “This whole year I’ve been in fight or flight mode, and it’s paralyzing me.” You don’t need to feel paralyzed. You don’t need to choose either fight or flight — you can choose right.
What is your spiritual high ground? What is the Lord calling you to right now? What gifts has he entrusted you with to pass on to your loved ones and neighbors?
My friends, it is simply impossible that God has not equipped His church with all that is needed for her mission today. In each and every one of you is a piece of the puzzle of this vision of God’s Kingdom on Earth. When Jesus said “The Kingdom is among you,” he meant all of you – everybody — together. If you have the faith of a mustard seed, you’ve got the world on a string. And if we stick together – we have the promise of the Son of God that the gates of hell will never prevail against us.
We’ve got to stick together! “Forsake not the gathering together, as is the habit of some, but exhort one another…Address one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit…Rejoice always.” This is all in the Bible! In the words of Bob Marley, “let’s get together and feel alright.” That’s our good fight. That’s what is right. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
That is what spiritual high ground looks like.
If the shaking we’re going through should cause the world to fall down, we will still be standing. Our Kingdom is not of this world. Repeat after me: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” These are the words spoken by Jesus. But they are true words for each and every one of you, since each and every one of you is more than a conqueror through Him who loved us. The one who said these words lives within us, empowering us to say these words truly. Now turn to your neighbor and say it again to one another, this time with real feeling: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Amen! It’s true. When everything is shaking, we are not alone. “If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall, and mountains should crumble to the sea – no I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid – just as long as you stand, stand by me.”
Divided we fall, but united we? “Stand!”
Do not flee from one another. Do not fight with one another. Fight the good fight together. And in whatever challenges you face, remember you never face them alone. You have God and His overcomers on your side. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders.”
We fight the good fight together. This is what’s right. And you have God’s promise that when you do what’s right, everything is going to be all right.
Let us pray.
O Lord, our redemption. Be our protection. Direct our minds by your gracious presence. Watch over our paths and guide us with your love through the hidden snares of life.
Fix our hearts on you as we go forward, and following in faith, arrive at your goal;
O Lord, enlighten our hearts by your holy radiance, Jesus Christ, that we may serve you without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.
In him may we survive the storms of this world, and by his guidance reach the land of eternal brightness; through your mercy, O blessed Lord, you live and govern all things, now and forever. Amen.