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For almost two thousand years, the church of Jesus Christ has been summoned to spiritual warfare on behalf of the truth. Jude urges us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). This implies a violent struggle, one that will involve immense strength and determination. In 2 Corinthians 10:3–5, Paul says that we are called to a kind of warfare that is unlike any that the world’s empires fight with their physical weapons. Those weapons sever, destroy, and demolish physical things, including bodies. Our weapons are spiritual and demolish “strongholds,” which he reveals are “arguments,” “lofty opinion[s],” and “thought[s]” that the Christian warrior is called on to take captive to obey Christ.

The reason for this warfare is clear. From the beginning, Satan has steadfastly attacked the Word of God. In the garden of Eden, he employed three basic attacks in Genesis 2:1–5: (1) questioning God’s Word (“Did God actually say . . . ?”); (2) contradicting God’s Word (“You will not surely die”); and (3) employing God’s Word, but wrongly (“Your eyes will be opened”). Through the ages, Satan has mobilized his henchmen to do the same kind of work on the revealed Word of God.

We Christian warriors are called on in our generation to fight his dark efforts. Though we would like to be nothing but positive in all we do, it is essential for us to be negative as well. In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale published The Power of Positive Thinking, and many similar false teachers today want Christians to be nothing but positive. But much of our contending for the Christian faith must be negative, or it will fail. We have to tell the world what we Christians are for, but we also have to say what we are against. Of course, Peter says that we must do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15), but if we are only positive, we will fail in our mission.

We have to be willing to be reviled as Jesus was.

The Word of God gives us clear examples of this kind of negative ministry. Nine of the Ten Commandments either are openly negative (“You shall not make for yourself a carved image”; Ex. 20:4) or contain a clear negation (“On [the Sabbath] you shall not do any work”; Ex. 20:10). The only completely positive command is to honor father and mother. Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 contains a series of negatives: “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing.” Paul’s ethical commands to the Ephesians give a clear display of both the positive and negative, what we are to do and are not to do in walking in a manner worthy of our calling:

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:28–32)

The importance of the negative can be seen in many of Jesus’ miracles. Most of Jesus’ miracles were healings in which some malfunction of the human body was instantly rectified by Jesus’ wonder-working power. These miracles were literal and physical, but they were also illustrative of the saving work that Jesus came to do spiritually: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32). As we face our sin-sick culture, we do so as spiritual physicians under the Great Physician. A skillful physician studies the way that disease destroys normal bodily functions and seeks to restore health by eliminating the pathogen. Imagine a doctor who wanted only to stay positive. Such a one would have only a limited number of patients: “Doctor, I am perfectly healthy! How can I best stay that way?”

We are surrounded by ideologies and religions, philosophies and values, that are deeply sick with sin. We must be willing to address how each of them deviates from the perfect standard of truth found in the Bible and in Christ. As we do, we will be attacking some of the most passionately defended idols of our age: materialism, sexual freedom, gender fluidity, individual autonomy, pride of achievement, scientific progress, evolution, and many others. We have to analyze these diseases with the skillful eye of the Great Physician and diagnose each one for what it is. As much as we yearn to be loved and honored by the increasingly pagan world around us, we have to be willing to be reviled as Jesus was. Paul incurred the wrath of pagans by saying that their man-made gods were not gods at all (Acts 19:26), leading to a riot in Ephesus. Paul strongly warned the Corinthian church to stop seeking to be honored as kings by the unconverted pagans of Corinth and to join his Apostolic band that was considered “the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4:8–14). If we do the clearly negative work of being prophets to our age, that status will most surely come to us quickly. But without it, we cannot see people healed from the deadly diseases of sin that seek to carry them to an eternity apart from a loving God of truth and life.

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