The “Fight or Flight” response is defined as the response of the body to a perceived threat. When faced with danger, the body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones give us a burst of energy and strength by increasing the heart rate, slowing digestion and directing blood to major muscle groups. Although the response is helpful in cases of physical threat (such as needing to run away from a bear), it is inappropriate and maladaptive when it occurs in social or performance situations, as is the case with social anxiety disorder (SAD).
In Ephesians 6 we see that God has provided personal protective equipment (PPE as we refer to it in the public safety world), for these circumstances of perceived threat in our Christian experience. I’m sure some of us are familiar with this passage, and the ways in which God intends for His saints to be protected. But I happened to come across something that was pretty startling. Let’s read it first, and then I’ll address some of the things that were pointed out to me.
“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. 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 6:10-18, emphasis added).
So after taking inventory of the items we are to be equipped with to engage in hand-to-hand combat with the devil, I noticed something that can be detrimental to our spiritual health if overlooked. Of the six incredibly vital pieces of armor, only one offensive tool is listed that we can use to defend ourselves. One. This one item just became that much more important. And here’s why. If you don’t learn how to use this sword of the Sprit, then how pray tell are you going to defend yourself from the wiles of the devil? From what I’m reading it sounds like you will spend your entire Christian experience on defense, running away from the attacks of the devil, instead of standing, as Paul commands us in the text. Hence the title for our subject “Fight or Flight?”
“…the last bridge is down behind him and that there is nowhere to go, but on.”
So are we beginning to see the importance of a working knowledge and experience in using this lone weapon of self-defense? I sure hope so. I want to stress something early on here though. Just because we have a 5:1 ratio in the defensive to offensive items in the Armor of God, does not mean that it is less effective, or significant. In fact this one weapon is quite sufficient, as we’ll read here in a moment. I point out the ratio so that we can understand how incredibly important it is to be skillful in the use of the sword of the Spirit.
In the book God’s Amazing Grace we read some encouraging words on the sufficiency of this sword:
“The first Adam fell; the second Adam held fast to God and His Word under the most trying circumstances, and His faith in His Father’s goodness, mercy, and love did not waiver for one moment. “It is written” was His weapon of resistance, and it is the sword of the Spirit, which every human being is to use… Let the youth try to appreciate the privilege that may be theirs, to be directed by the unerring wisdom of God. Let them take the Word of truth as the man of their counsel, and become skillful in the use of “the sword of the Spirit.” Satan is a wise general; but the humble, devoted soldier of Jesus Christ may overcome him”(God’s Amazing Grace, page 35, emphasis added).
In fact I believe Martin Luther in his hymn, “A Might Fortress” said that “one little word (from The Word) shall fell him (the devil).”
So don’t fear for only having one weapon in your arsenal. It’s quite literally the most powerful weapon that this world has ever known. But again, training is absolutely vital for you to survive in battle. It says in Hebrews 4:12 that the Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword of man. It can even pierce to the “division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. That’s a pretty dangerous weapon. Typically in America when we have things that can cause great harm to someone, they require you to undergo training or instruction before being entrusted with the use of this item.
I find this interesting when we apply it to the context of 1 Samuel 17:31-57. Saul gets word of David’s offer to fight Goliath, and he tries to talk him out of it. David stands his ground (as Paul commands us), so Saul suits David up with his own personal armor and sword to fight Goliath, but look at David’s response, “I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them.” (verse 39) David had never fought with armor or a sword before. Thankfully God fought for him and took Goliath out with a divinely guided stone. Then, interestingly enough, David used Goliath’s own sword to finish him off. From that moment on David never went to battle again without a sword. He saved the children of Israel on many occasions with one, and was even given the saying “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” He now had experience with a sword, and he understood its critical importance in battle. I recall only one instance where David is in a circumstance where he is without his sword from then on: In 1 Samuel 21:8, 9, when he fled from Saul who was trying to pin him to the wall. In haste he left without his sword, and he was on the run without a way to defend himself. But because he knew it was vital for his self-defense, he got one right away when he arrived in Nob and spoke with Ahimelech the priest. Guess whose sword he was given? The first one he had experience with the sword of Goliath.
We can’t expect them to fight for the kingdom if they can’t survive their own daily battles because of lack of training or knowledge.
1 Samuel 13:19-23 says that there were no blacksmiths to sharpen the swords of the children of Israel because their enemies knew that if they were properly equipped they would succeed in battle. Isn’t that exactly how Satan works? I believe many of our lay people are in danger of being in this very same position. We have to prioritize equipping our laypeople for battle in our local churches. We can’t expect them to fight for the kingdom if they can’t survive their own daily battles because of lack of training or knowledge. In fact, Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.”
We can start by having weekly or monthly trainings on how to give Bible studies, how to engage in personal ministries and how to defend our doctrines. Or maybe send some of our elders to one of our training facilities like ARISE to learn how to teach and share, and have them do it when they return. Our churches were intended to be training centers for equipping the saints. But I fear that more and more we are treating them more like a sanctified Golden Corral. We come to eat and have our own personal fill, but rarely have it in mind to share with others. This can cause spiritual obesity, which leads to lack of motivation to go out and share because we are out of shape. Exercise is the key to avoiding this problem.
In 1 Samuel 13, only the leadership of Israel’s army had swords (Saul and Jonathan). Too often we’re okay with this circumstance. “It’s the pastor’s job to advance the kingdom, so let him have a sword.” But based on Paul’s explanation we’re all in need of the WHOLE armor or we won’t be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Plus, in this passage it wasn’t just the leaders of Israel against the Philistines leaders. It was an entire armed Philistine army against an entire unarmed (with the exception of Saul and Jonathan) Israelite army. How would that make you feel as a soldier in that circumstance? I think I would choose the Flight option. Actually, many Israelites did too (1 Samuel 13:11, 22).
But look at what happens when just one person with a sword, and an unshakable faith in God, can do. Read a few verses later in 1 Samuel 14:1-23. The passage ends with “So the Lord saved Israel that day”. God did that with ONE SWORD against an entire army of enemies. Just like David’s battle with Goliath, even the enemy’s swords are used against them. Now imagine what could be done for the kingdom if we equipped and trained all of our laypeople to use their sword and to exercise a strong faith in God!
There is a quote that Dwight Nelson used in a sermon a few years ago, when he preached on this passage, that is quite profound, and I believe fitting for our reflection today:
“I believe no man can be completely able to summon all his strength, all his will, all his energy, for the last desperate move, till he is convinced that the last bridge is down behind him and that there is nowhere to go, but on” (The White Spider, page 90).
“Has the gospel lost its power to impress hearts?”
This was exactly the position that Jonathan took. He chose Fight.
I’m fully convinced that we find ourselves in the “last desperate move” that the writer of The White Spider mentions. His is in the context of climbing mountains. Our context is the closing scenes of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. We need to be training Jonathans to finish this work, and I believe a sword sharpening is in order across our ranks. God has raised up invaluable resources across this nation to achieve this task, and we would be unwise to not tap into these divinely appointed institutions. ARISE was, by far, the most empowering experience I could have going into ministry, and it’s value exceeds the price of tuition and time away from other responsibilities. Bible Boot Camp is fittingly named, and this concept will ensure that our members are equipped to finish the work. Too many members feel powerless in sharing the gospel because they have no formal training.
I’ll close with a quote from The Upward Look:
“Look up, my brethren. Has the gospel lost its power to impress hearts? Is it because the regenerating influence of the Spirit of Christ has died away that hearts are not purified, sanctified, and prepared for the Holy Spirit? No; the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of the living God, is with us yet; but it must be wielded with earnestness. Let us use it as did God’s sanctified ones of old. By its living, quickening power it will cut its way to hearts… The Lord calls for a reformation all through our ranks… When the church is awakened [*and trained], decided changes will be made. Men and women will be converted, and so filled will they be by the Spirit of God that they will pass from country to country, from city to city, proclaiming the message of truth. With hearts filled with earnest love for souls, they will open their Bibles and present the Word” (The Upward Look, page 16, emphasis added).
We have two choices on this battlefield; Fight (Like Jonathan in 1 Samuel 13) or Flight (like those in Israel’s army in 1 Samuel 13:11, 22). What will your choice be? I pray that we follow the counsel to awaken and train a generation of Jonathans who will pass from country to country, from city to city, with hearts filled with earnest love for souls, who will open their Bibles and present the Word.
Dee is a graduate of the 2010 Cornerstone Program and is currently working as the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator at The Old School Community Center, he is a trainer for ACTS World Relief, and he preaches and teaches at the Carbondale Seventh-Day Adventist Fellowship in Carbondale, Illinois.