Monday, July 25, 2016

Proverbs 21:31 --- Don't Fight Without the Lord

Proverbs 21:31 --- Don't Fight Without the Lord
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but the victory belongs to the Lord.

If verse 30 teaches us our need of the fear of the Lord, verse 31 teaches us our need to trust in the Lord.  Fearing the Lord and trusting the Lord are intimately connected.  Derek Kidner summarizes verses 30 and 31 this way:  "If verse 30 warns us not to fight against the Lord, 31 warns us not to fight without him.  It condemns, not earthly resources, but reliance on them."[1]

While the literal meaning of this passage concerns war, and while there are many examples of how the Lord defeated flesh and blood enemies for his people in Old Testament times despite overwhelming odds, I believe the real battle in view in verse 31 is the spiritual battle every believer fights with the world, the flesh and the devil, in his pursuit of righteousness and love (see 21:21).  Just as Paul interpreted the verse about muzzling the ox in Deuteronomy 25:4 as being really about the support pastors who preach and teach the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 9:9ff), so this verse is really about trusting the Lord and relying on him in the spiritual warfare each believer (and church) is involved in.

Spiritual progress and character are not developed ex opere operato (by the work performed).  This is the view of Roman Catholicism, that just taking the sacraments of the church convey grace regardless of whether one has faith.  But Reformed and Lutheran churches denied this view, and held that faith must be present if the Word, the Supper, and our baptism are to function as means of grace.  It is faith that unites us to Christ.  Faith is the hand that receives Christ and his blessings.  We need more than instruction to walk with our heavenly Father and his Son each day, although instruction is vital.  We also need the Father's grace and strength in Christ.  And so we live not only for Christ, but also through Christ.

In practical terms, each day we must offer ourselves to our Lord in view of his mercies:  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Romans 12:1).  For, as the apostle says in another place, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20).  In other words, each day we must meet with the Lord to both receive his mercies and strength, and to offer bodies to him for the spiritual warfare of the day.  He is our Lord, our General, our Savior, and the One who commands us for our good and his glory.  But the battle is fierce and we are only wise if each day we put on the armor of the Lord in this fight with the spiritual forces of wickedness (see Ephesians 6:10-18).

It is a great mistake to fight against the Lord.  But it is also a great mistake to fight without him!  Let us not make that mistake in our daily struggle against sin (see Hebrews 12:3-4).  Instead, let us trust and rely on the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving his grace, so that we might offer ourselves to him completely every day.  Then sin will not have dominion over us (Psalms 19:12-13 and 119:133) and we will live lives that please and honor him.  Amen.


[1] Kidner, Proverbs, 138.                                          

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