The Battle Lines Are Drawn - Are You Ready for Action?
The Church of God is locked in a titanic struggle with the forces of Satan. But our victory is assured — if we will only follow these steps.
December 13, 1939, dawned clearly in the mild, ruffling swells Of the South Atlantic. H.M.S. Exeter, with her sister cruisers Ajax and Achilles, were patrolling vigilantly as part of the British Royal Navy forces guarding key shipping lanes between Argentina and Britain. World War II had been declared only three months earlier. At 6:14 a.m. the small flotilla spotted a dark smudge of smoke on the horizon. Bearing down toward them in the morning sunlight was a veritable floating mountain of armor — the dreaded German pocket-battleship Graf Spee. In 1939 Graf Spee was one of the most potent ships afloat. Her diesel engines, formidable 11-inch guns capable of lobbing 670-pound shells more than 15 miles, her electrically welded hull and dashing speed made her the terror of the Atlantic shipping lanes. She had preyed, wolflike, on defenseless merchantmen and tankers. Now her highly trained crew identified the Exeter. Distance was closing fast. Commodore Harwood on the Ajax and Captain Bell on Exeter coordinated plans. Exeter tore away to the west as a decoy to allow Ajax and Achilles an opportunity to get in close to the Graf Spee. Battle was offered and taken. Exeter faced the mightiest ship afloat — egg-shell hull against Krupp steel, 8-inch guns against II-inch guns, cruiser against battleship. At 6:20 a.m. an 11-inch shell from Graf Spee exploded on Exeter. Splinters killed or wounded dozens. Five minutes later another shell tore through her sick bay. The German gunners were finding the mark! Sailors on Ajax and Achilles, maneuvering their ships for position, watched the unequal fight. Even though Exeter was burning amidships, the White Ensigns still streamed proudly from her fore-and-main mastheads. No surrender! By 6:26 a.m. Graf Spee's powerful salvoes were straddling Ajax. Exeter was shrouded in smoke. All forward guns were cut. All bridge personnel except the captain were killed. The wheelhouse was wrecked — there was no power, no communications. The gallant Exeter began to list. Then, unexpectedly, at 6:36 a.m. the German battleship, accustomed like a wolf to easy prey, retired from the battle, a battle in which she was still superior. The reason? Her captain now knew that Ajax and Achilles were cruisers, not destroyers, and he assumed, wrongly, that Exeter would never dare engage his capital ship unless a superior British force lay nearby. So the fateful decision was made to head for neutral port. Only at 7:40 a.m. did the wounded Exeter retire from pursuit. She suffered more than 100 hits, three of her six guns were out, 60 officers and men lay dead and even her dauntless captain suffered facial wounds from shell splinters. For four days Ajax and Achilles hounded the Graf Spee to neutral Uruguay, until the most powerful battleship afloat scuttled herself in the Montevideo, Uruguay, harbor! Graf Spee's captain committed suicide. The heroism and sacrifice of the battered Exeter was not in vain. The "superior British force" that Graf Spee felt must be supporting Ajax and Achilles was still a thousand miles away! Exeter's dash and daring had tilted the scales in a deadly encounter. Captain Bell and his battered ship limped home to a hero's welcome in London, England, arranged by the First Lord of the Admiralty himself, Winston Churchill, and attended by King George VI. An overjoyed Mr. Churchill recorded that the Exeter "fought one of the finest and most resolute actions against superior range and metal on record." Courage, daring and skill had given Britain a stunning victory.
The Christian fight
The daring stand of the Exeter and the ignominious demise of the Graf Spee thrilled the Allied nations. It stiffened their resolve to fight on against fascism. There is a major lesson in this incident for members and co-workers of God's Church.' James, the physical brother of our Captain, Jesus Christ (Heb. 2:10), crisply states our battle orders, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Jas. 4:7)! Satan, our relentless adversary, cunning and brilliant, can be defeated. There is overwhelming power available to us through the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ (II Tim. 1:7). Graf Spee turned and broke off in the heat of battle. Just so, we as Christian soldiers (II Tim. 2:3) can savor the joy of withstanding Satan's most devastating assaults and coming out winners, "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13). How? As the apostle Paul admonished, we must arm ourselves with God's armor. Satan is clever, subtle, cruel, relentless and experienced. He has many trophies and "battle honors" to his credit. He has overthrown many hapless victims — Cain, Balaam, Korah, David on occasion, Solomon, Judas and sometimes the apostle Peter. He is a foe who works through attitudes of doubt, despondency and negativism. He attacks swiftly and at the most unexpected, inopportune moment, precisely like the "serpent" he is codenamed (Rev. 12:9). He will exploit and intensify every rationalizing excuse and every compromising, devious twist of our carnal minds (II Cor. 2:11). Let's never underestimate our adversary (I Pet. 5:8). But let's not overestimate him either.
Take the offensive
As the Graf Spee's experience showed, superiority of armor and firepower is useless without the proper offensive spirit. God has not only equipped us with the weapons necessary to do successful battle but has "briefed" us on the importance of an aggressive spirit (Deut. 28:1-2). God encourages us to take the offensive. We need not convulse in panic; we have God's express assurance that we can win, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19). When Exeter drew upon herself the superior firepower of Graf Spee, it was in accordance with hundreds of years of British naval prestige and strength. Her sister ships were close at hand. Stronger forces would soon be alerted. Her job was to engage the enemy at all costs, to buy time for the Royal Navy's more powerful forces to assemble. Exeter's marvelous offensive spirit succeeded beyond Mr. Churchill's wildest dreams. Pluck and gall threw the enemy off balance psychologically, which led first to flight, then self-destruction. Similarly, God has promised us battle (I Tim. 1:18). He summons us to combat with rousing action verbs: "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life" (I Tim. 6:12). "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Tim. 2:3). "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds" (II Cor. 10:4). God knows — and Satan knows — that standing available to Christians at any time is the most powerful force in this universe, the Spirit of God! God Himself infused us with it the day we were baptized (Acts 2:38). Our task is to increase and maintain our supply lines leading to the Holy Spirit (Phil. 1:19). This is why the veteran soldier, Paul, counseled Timothy, "Stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands" (II Tim. 1:6). Satan tries to discourage us with attitudes opposed to God's way. But the Holy Spirit is identified with three most positive attributes, just as the White Ensigns identified Exeter in the midst of battle. What are these insignia? Power, love and a sound mind (II Tim. 1:7). Depression, defeat and despair do not emanate from God or His Spirit. Rather, these are "thought bombs" from Satan that are landing too close for comfort. When we slip into depression, hostility to authority, critical thinking or even the blahs, it is high time for us to reload with God's Spirit. God's Spirit stiffens our resolve to control our thoughts: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ... That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man" (Eph. 3:14-16). God's marvelous power works on our minds from the inside out (II Cor. 4:16), boosting our confidence that ultimate victory can be ours (Eph. 3:12). And we can have more of that precious Holy Spirit of power for the asking (Luke 11:9-13).
Part of a team
How good to know that we have help in this battle! Along with the spiritual weapons available through our intense personal relationship with God — through prayer, Bible study and fasting — comes the morale-boosting esprit de corps of being part of the same veteran fighting force as Peter, Paul, James and John — the Church of the living God! Just as Exeter's heroic stand was pointless without the close support of her sister ships, so isolated Christians cut off from the main body are fighting a losing battle. Graf Spee feared the Royal Navy. Two centuries of gallant naval tradition did its part in making the Graf Spee turn tail. Though outgunned, the little Exeter had the psychological edge in the bitter engagement. Similarly, Satan must know in his heart of hearts that he can never defeat the Church of God (Matt. 16:18). Decisive victory eventually belongs to us (II Cor. 2:14). Shouldn't we, then, as individual Christians, seek to identify ourselves with the main body as much as possible? Our baptism plunges us all into a group as God's own people (I Cor. 12:13-14). The Exeter, in her gallant stand, was not alone. Neither are we. True Christians can be bolstered through the chain of command God has built into His Church: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). The counsel, direction and support of Christ's ministry plays a big part in helping us overcome Satan's clever tricks. Powerful sermons and articles from God's modern-day apostle help galvanize God's people. Encouragement from the pulpit and on personal visits stirs us to renew our effort. Faith is essential; it deflects the doubts and rumors that fly around like deadly darts (Eph. 6:16) in the thick of battle. Yet "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Christians sliding in church and Bible study attendance should get back into harness! Preaching has always been one of God's main tools to intensify the morale of His people (I Cor. 1:21).
Exeter's exemplary heroism only made sense inside the wider context of the global tasks of the Royal Navy. Why did Captain Bell and his crew risk death to bring a stronger foe to battle? Their job was to gain time for the rest of the fleet to assemble. In the splendid fighting force known as the Church of God our individual growth takes on vital meaning in the context of God's supreme purpose. We have been called to warn an unheeding, lethargic world of imminent judgment from God while at the same time proclaiming the thrilling news of mankind's only hope — the restoration by Jesus Christ of the government of God to this earth (Matt. 24:14). The immensity of the task given so small a group (Luke 12:32) requires a relentless determination to persevere in spite of all the attacks Satan may inflict upon us. Growth has been defined as a successful response to a challenge. We have surely been challenged by the great commission. We must respond even more — now and in the immediate future. Jesus Christ promises that if we submerge our personal goals to the staggering global mission we are collectively assigned, mighty forces come into play, (John 14:12, Phil. 4:13). Strength will be provided as we near the climax of this Work. The spiritual skirmishes will intensify, but they should draw us even closer together. When Graf Spee turned for a neutral port the Atlantic and Mediterranean elements of the Royal Navy's global forces came into play. Powerful forces steamed toward Uruguay to bottle up the dreaded battleship. Similarly, the Church of God will be at its fighting peak as we near the end of our great worldwide effort. Revelation 8:3 pictures the prayers of God's people — concentrated and united as never before — filling God's throne room. Unity and intense effort will help put us over the top in our struggle with Satan. The apostle Peter showed how Satan's cleverest assaults only succeed in drawing truly active members of Christ's Body together in an invincible brotherhood, "Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world" (I Pet. 5:9).
Gaining the upper hand
A Christian wrapped up in himself makes a small package. When our minds focus on the invincible power available to us — when, we see our personal problems in the perspective of the colossal stakes involved — Satan is stymied. He is thrown off balance when God's people unitedly give their time, concern and efforts to the matchless ideals and purposes of the Worldwide Church of God. This is why Herbert W. Armstrong has said for years that only those people whose hearts and minds are immersed in the Work of God grow. Graf Spee's rusting hulk at the bottom of Montevideo harbor testifies to the power of the offensive spirit and the unified teamwork of small forces (Zech. 4:6). We, though tiny and helpless compared to Satan's cruel, refined brilliance, can gain the upper hand. We should fight the good fight — upon our knees — drawing eagerly upon the infinitely greater power and might of the One who has drafted us to mortal combat (I Tim. 6:12). The stakes are titanic. A far greater reward awaits us than a reception in wartime London attended by the king of England. We can hear the words of the conquering, resplendent King of kings citing us for gallantry, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21). God's bold promise through James is ours to claim, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (Jas. 4:7).