Evidence of malevolence

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If you wanted evidence of the cruel intelligence and brutal vindictiveness of the Adversary, ask a preacher about the coincidence of his preparations and temptations. You will begin to understand why it was that Luther flung an inkpot at the devil while seeking to translate the Scriptures.

Is he seeking to preach on humility? Opportunities for pride will present themselves. Is he seeking to demonstrate that the true believer's assurance lies, in part, in a development in vital piety and progress in the battle against sin? Be sure that he will be battered with temptations to sins new and old which would rob him of his own sense of peace. Self-control? He will fight with lusts within and without, with gluttony and with laziness. Family life? He will argue with his wife. Patience? Other drivers will prove particularly incompetent on the roads. A peaceable spirit? Annoying people will get involved. Love for the saints? Someone will be obnoxious. Vigour in service? He will fall sick or be tempted to fritter away his time, leading to battles against doubts and despondencies legitimate and illegitimate. Often in the very act of preaching he will be assaulted by blasphemies, lusts, distractions, the very presence of which are calculated to rob him of his assurance, his power, his concentration, his credibility - real temptations to real sins which, if even the temptations and his struggles against them could be seen for a moment, might seem entirely to disqualify him from his office. And if things seem at any point to improve, the voice of pride is quick to suggest that this is down to his plans, his labours, his gifts: "Didn't you do well?"

Alongside of this, in a more generic sense, every effort to reform his own life or to promote increased holiness or zeal in the church will be met with countless distractions and intensified opposition against him and against the church as a whole.

Every high point he seeks to conquer for the Lord Christ he finds more stoutly defended than he ever imagined, and the more intently he pursue his goal the hotter the battle becomes.

In part, this is due to a heightened awareness of sin. As he unpacks the issues, as he studies the strategy and tactics of the enemy, he becomes more conscious of the ways and means employed to contend with the saints. He finds increasing evidence of certain sins in his own life because he is increasingly aware of what to look for; he finds exposed his lack of holiness in a particular area because he is more attuned to what ought to be present. He becomes more conscious of outcrops of sin and lacunae in holiness among the congregation precisely because he is increasingly sensitive to the contours of godliness that ought to be present.

However, this is also because of heightened aggression. Whether in himself or in others, he finds that there is a real battle taking place in the life and service of the Christian, a battle in which he himself is called both to take a prominent part and to set an example. He finds in his own experience as both sheep and under-shepherd the evidence of malevolence, the marks of a cruel will opposing every effort to press on in order that he might lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of him (Phil 3.12). He is left in no doubt that "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" (Eph 6.12).

So, let us not underestimate the reality of this spiritual warfare, nor its specific and aggressive manifestations, not least in the life of the man whose particular duty it is to explain, apply and model the godliness which God requires, personally and corporately.  Do not expect the ministry to be a life of ease, but a life of perpetual and increasing striving against sin and for godliness. Pray for your pastors and teachers, that they might withstand in the evil day, and having done all, might stand (Eph 6.13), and so help you to stand also.

Amidst all this evidence of malevolence, where is the evidence of grace? It is right there, in the fact that the preacher is still wrestling, still preaching, still striving, still standing and even renewing his strength so that - contrary to all he deserves and all he might expect and despite all the opposition he faces - he mounts up with wings like eagles, he runs and is not weary, he walks and does not faint (Is 40.31).
Posted March 21, 2012 @ 2:48 PM by Jeremy Walker

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