The Art of Gospel Warfare

Question

Why don’t preachers say more about war and battle in their sermons? Aren’t they supposed to preach the entire gospel?

Answer

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Romans 10:15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Thanks for your question. Your question highlights why expository preaching (using the biblical text to form all three elements of a sermon: theme, main point and minor points) is so important. I can’t answer why every preacher says what they do. However, I can briefly comment on warfare as it is found in Scripture and its relationship to the gospel itself.

What’s in a Word

The gospel is the possession of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4). Most preachers claim to preach the gospel every Sunday morning. But if we’re honest gospel in many cases has just become a moniker for preaching essentially anything from psychology to popular fads — sermonettes for Christianettes – rather than something with definitive substance.

In Greek the word for gospel is euangelion meaning “glad tidings” or “good news.” It is a compound word, which means it is made up of multiple words. The prefix eu refers to something good or pleasant. It has even made its way into the English language. For instance, the effect of music, especially pleasing music, is called euphonics or euphonious music. The Greek word angelion is the word for “message.” Angels (angelos) are beings who deliver a message. Thus euangelion means “good news” or “pleasing message.”

The etymology, or the study of the origin of words, can be very enlightening at times. Gospel saw its early development as a word in the Old Testament and in other ancient literature. [1] The word was actually used in warfare for when soldiers went out to battle and the people that remained behind waited for a report from the frontline(s). Runners darted back to give them. The watchman in the watchtower(s) would be on the outlook for a runner’s dust, and they were also trained to watch the motion of the runner’s legs. They knew the difference between a survival run, which meant a bad report, and a victorious stride, which meant a good report. This is the reason why Isaiah wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news” (Isa. 52:7; cf. Rom. 10:15). Isaiah is speaking about the victorious stride of the triumphant gospel!

Indeed, an important part of the gospel is warfare!

The Theme of War in Scripture

Many in today's church have lost the understanding that we are at war. I’ve never seen a set of sermons on all the battles of the Bible, nor have I ever read a systematic theology written from the perspective of divine warfare. Prayer is seldom, if ever, taught as divine warfare. War can last for days, weeks, years or decades. How much of our prayer is over 30 minutes long? What about an hour? Hmmm...

Nonetheless, warfare remains a major theme throughout all redemptive history.

Satan ambushed Adam and Eve in the Garden and declared war against God. Genesis 3:15 makes this very clear: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” As most should know, this verse speaks about the Devil’s battle against Commander and Chief of the Christian Army, Jesus Christ. And the good news is that Jesus has already won the war. The victory stride of the gospel runner is clear and we’re just waiting for the Revelation Report to make its rounds to all the cities. Come, Lord Jesus!

From the Garden of Eden forward, warfare is seen throughout the Old Testament. Here’s a brief list of some of the wars we observe in Scripture:

Passage(s)
God’s People
Enemy
Win or
Loss
Gen. 14:1-20 Abraham Nations near Sodom Win
Gen 34:1-34 Simeon and Levi Hamor and his son Shechem Won
Exod 17:8-15 Israel Amalekites Win
Num 14:39-45
(Deut 1:41-46)
Commanded not to fight Amalekites (Amorites) Loss
Num 21:1-3 Israel Canaanites Win
Num 21:21-35
(Deut 3:1-6)
Israel Amorites, Bashan Win
Num 31:1-8 Israel Midianites Win
Josh 6:1-27 Israel Jericho Win
Josh 7:1-12 Israel Ai Loss
Josh 8:1-24 Israel Ai Win
Josh 10:1-13 Israel Amorite kings Win
Josh 10:28-43 Israel List of cities Win
Josh 11:1-23 Israel Coalition of kings Win
Judges 1:1-5 Judah Canaanites
Perizzites
Win
Judges 1:8-2:3 Israel List of battles
List of nations
Mixed
Judg 3:8-10 Othniel Aram Cycle [2]
Judg 3:12-30 Ehud Moabites
Ammonites
Amalekites
Cycle [2]
Judg 3:31 Shamgar Philistines Cycle [2]
Judg 4:1-24 Deborah
Jael
Canaanites Cycle [2]
Judg 6-7 Gideon Midianites Cycle [2]
Judg 9:22-57 Evil spirit Shechem Win
Judg 10-11 Jephthah Philistines
Ammonites
Cycle [2]
Judg 12:1-6 Gileadites vs
Ephraimites
Civil War
Judg 13:1-25 Samson Philistines Cycle [2]
Judg 18:1-31 Danites Laish Mixed
Judg 20:1-48 Israel vs
Benjaminites
Civil War
Judg 21:1-25 Jabesh-Gilead Civil War
1 Sam 4:1-11 Israel Philistines Loss
1 Sam 7:3-11 Israel
Samuel
Philistines Win
1 Sam 11:1-11 Israel
Saul
Ammonites Win
1 Sam 13-14 Israel
Saul
Philistines Win
1 Sam 14:47-48 Israel
Saul
Many cities Win
1 Sam 15:1-35 Israel
Saul
Amalekites Win
1 Sam 17:1-58 Israel
David
Philistines Win
1 Sam 18:1-19:8 Israel
David
List of cities Win
1 Sam 23:1-5 Israel
David
Philistines Win
1 Sam 27:1-12 Israel
David
Geshurites
Girzites
Amalekites
Win
1 Sam 30:1- Israel
David
Amalekites Win
1 Sam 28-29, 31
1 Chron 10:1-14
Israel
Saul
Philistines Loss
1 Chron 11-12 List of warriors List of battles Win
2 Sam 2-4 David Benjaminites Civil war
2 Sam 5:6-10 Israel
David
Jebusites Win
2 Sam 5:17-20 Israel
David
Philistines Win
2 Sam 5:22-25
1 Chron 14:9-17
Israel
David
Philistines Win
2 Sam 8:1-14
1 Chron 18:1-17
Israel
David
List of enemies Win
2 Sam 10
1 Chron 19-20
Israel
David
Ammonites
Arameans
Win
2 Sam 11-12 Israel
David
Ammonites Win
2 Sam 13-18 David vs
Absalom
Civil War
2 Sam 20:1-26 David vs
Sheba
Civil War
2 Sam 21:15-22 Israel
David
Philistines Win
1 Kings 11:1-25 Solomon Hadad
Rezon
Loss
1 Kings 11
2 Chron 11
Rehoboam vs Jeroboam Civil War
1 Kings 14
2 Chron 12:1-12
Israel Egypt Loss
2 Chron 13:1-22 Judah Israel Win
2 Chron 14:10-14 Judah Cush Win
1 Kings 15
2 Chron 16
Judah Israel Win
1 Kings 20:1-34 Israel Aram Win
1 Kings 22
2 Chron 18
Israel
Judah
Aram Loss
2 Kings 3:1-27 Israel
Judah
Moab Win
2 Chron 20:1-37 Judah Moabites
Ammonites
Meunites
Win
2 Kings 6:1-33 Israel Aram Win
2 Kings 6:24-7:16 Israel Aram Win
2 Kings 8:20-22
2 Chron 21:4-10
Judah Edom Loss
2 Kings 8:28-29
2 Chron 22:5-8
Israel
Judah
Aram ?
2 Kings 9-10
2 Chron 22:8-11
Joram vs Jehu Civil War
2 Kings 10:32-33 Israel Aram Loss
2 Kings 13:1-5 Israel Aram Cycle [2]
2 Chron 24:23-24 Judah Aram Loss
2 Kings 14:7 Judah Edom Win
2 Chron 25: 5-13 Judah Seirites Win
2 Kings 14:8-14
2 Chron 25:17-24
Israel Judah Win
2 Kings 14:25-27 Israel Aram Win
2 Chron 26:6-8 Judah Philistines
Meunites
Ammonites
Win
2 Kings 15:16 Israel Tiphash (?) Win
2 Kings 15:19-20 Israel Assyria Treaty
2 Kings 15:29 Israel Assyria Loss
2 Chron 27:2-6 Judah Ammonites Win
2 Kings 16:5-6
2 Chron 28:5
Judah Aram Loss
2 Chron 28:5-13 Israel Judah Loss
2 Chron 28:17-19 Judah Edom
Philistines
Loss
2 Kings 17:3-23 Israel Assyria Loss
2 Kings 18:8 Judah Philistines Win
2 Kings 18-19
2 Chron 32
Judah Assyria Win
2 Chron 33:9-13 Judah Assyria Loss
2 Kings 23:29
2 Chron 35:20-24
Judah Egypt Loss
2 Kings 24:1
2 Chron 36:6-8
Judah Babylon Loss
2 Kings 24:2-4 Judah Chaldeans
Arameans
Moabites
Ammonites
Loss
2 Kings 24:7-20 Judah Babylon Loss
2 Kings 25
2 Chron 36:16-21
Judah Babylon Loss

This list above is far from complete. It doesn’t list individual conflicts like that of Cain and Abel, which was also warfare. It doesn’t list every war during the Old Testament era of redemptive history that isn’t in Scripture. However, I believe it is safe to say that warfare is a major theme within Scripture.

It's good that theologians and pastors enjoy talking about love, covenants, salvation, and family. Indeed, they are each very important major themes in the Bible. But war is a neglected theme. The easiest opponent to overrun is the one that is not expecting an attack and unprepared. If Christians don’t understand that they are in a literal war, they will have many defeats on this side of eternity.

Learning Warfare from General Revelation

Warfare is all around us. We witness it daily in the animal kingdom. Just today a friend pointed out how a large crow was attacking a smaller bird’s nest. That smaller bird was bold and chased the larger crow away from the eggs in the nest. They were at war. And the little bird won, at least at that moment.

I grew up in a military family. I attended a military college. I became a U.S. Army officer. In officer basic training I learned how to do essential warfare, which is such things as being physically fit, teamwork, hand-to-hand combat, marksmanship, survival skills, escape, evasion. I went to advanced training and learned particular job sets that furthered my effectiveness at warfare. Beyond this, there is the U.S. Army War College or what we call the "Think Factory" for commanders and civilian leaders so they may even further excel at warfare.

Within the Army are some specialized units such as Rangers and Airborne units. These are well-trained elite fighting forces. There are others trained in communication, transportation, infantry, armor, as Army physicians and even as helicopter pilots, etc. The job skills are very diverse and yet they are each integrated in such a way to make the U.S. Army one of the greatest military powers on the face of this earth.

How is any of this relevant? Well, Jesus has an army. It's the church. And it too needs to always be ready for combat (Eph. 6:10:18; 1 Pet 3:15). Christians need continuous training in theology, and they need advanced training in apologetics and other fields such as philosophy and the proper way to make a point.

The church also has diverse gifts among its members. A few of those are mentioned in Scripture (Isa. 11:2-3; 1 Cor. 12:8-10; Eph. 4:7-13; Rom. 12:3-8). It has its elite fighting forces who attend seminaries. But unlike the U.S. Army which has budget constraints, the church has been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" (2 Pet. 1:3). The church has everything it needs to excel at warfare but must learn how to use what it has been given and employ it.

But make no mistake about it. Christians in faithful churches must know that when they learn and use God’s skill craft, they are entering warfare. And if they don’t train, they're going to be overrun. And if they do train, they're going to fight. It’s messy on the battlefield of life.

Preaching the Gospel is War

When Christ's gospel is shared, spiritual war intensifies. There is a war going on in heavenly places that we can’t see. Daniel informs us about such places. He was in mourning for three weeks (Dan. 10:2-3) and then saw a vision (Dan. 10:4-8). The angel in his vision spoke to him (Dan. 10:9-11). This is what he said:

Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia (Daniel 10:12-13).

The prince of the kingdom of Persia was an evil spiritual power. There was conflict (warfare) in the heavenly places. The good guys won, but it still affected things on earth for Daniel; he waited 21 days for an answer to his prayer. So, here you can see that the spiritual realm is closely connected to the physical realm.

There are spiritual battles taking place all around us all the time (e.g., 2 Kings 6:15, 16, 17). The spiritual world is very real. I can’t see air, but I breathe it. Air exists and so does the spiritual realm. As the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We have to be continually on our guard (cf. 1 Pet 5:8).

Because the Christian is holy and separate from the world, the world and Satan are naturally opposed to him. Paul says to "wage the good warfare" (1 Tim. 1:18), and in Ephesians 6:10-18 we're shown our battle gear: the defensive belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, gospel shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and prayer, as well as the offensive sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith and prayer as weapons. And yes, though a shield may be mostly thought of as defensive, I could also hit you repeatedly with it.

We don’t go to church just to learn, but to also learn to use what God has given us. USE, USE, USE! Those gospel shoes are meant for walking, so GO, GO, GO! In the military I learned that if all you do is defend your position, you will die. We can’t just depend on our defensive weapons. If we are to win, we must be on the assault and keep advancing forward and using our offensive weapons too. [3]

During World War II, a Japanese machine gun had pinned down a Marine advance and Marine Captain Henry P. Jim Crowe stated, “… you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!” James says it a little differently, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? … So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:14, 17). In context with Captain Crowe, James could be interpreted as saying, “It’s better to have a purple heart than no heart at all.”

There is much about kingdom warfare that I don’t have the time and space to comment upon. It is such an important but untapped topic. I hope you will read the Scriptures with an eye on warfare.

Footnotes

[1] The Septuagint (Greek translation of the O.T.) uses the word in 2 Sam. 4:10, “when one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news [euaggelizomenos], I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news.”

The word is used often in ancient literature. Some examples follow: The plural of the word is used by Aristophanes (5th century BC) in The Knights line 647, “You! You… Councillors! I’ve got good news [euaggelia] for you!” I said to them. “News that are so good, I want to make sure that I’m the first to announce them to you. It’s the price of sardines, folks! It’s the best it’s ever been since the outbreak of the war!”

Josephus (1st century A.D.), in Jewish Wars 2.420 states, “Now this terrible message [that a rebellion was brewing] was good news [euaggelion] to Florus; and because his design was to have a war kindled, he gave the ambassadors no answer at all [to their request for assistance in stopping the sedition before it grew]. Also see Jewish Wars 4.618 and 4.656.

[2] Battles labeled ‘Cycle’ are cycles that involve: (a) Israel forsaking God; (b) God turning Israel over to be conquered by an enemy; (c) Israel returning to God; and (d) then God advancing to rescue them.

[3] On April 11, 1986, eight FBI Special Agents fought against two armed felons in a shootout in Miami, Florida. The gunfight resulted in the deaths of both felons and two agents and left three other agents with serious injuries. While being a former homicide detective myself, I don’t mean to glorify the bad guys, but rather to learn from them. So, I ask, “How did two felons defend themselves against eight very well-trained FBI agents?” As it turned out, the two felons were trained also, however with different tactics. One was a former Army Ranger and the other an Army MP of the 101st Airborne. Even with sustained fatal wounds, they continued to bring the fight to the agents. They kept advancing. Why? Because it was in their training. It was part of their DNA. The church needs to learn to do the same. They need to be trained to continuously and lovingly bring on the fight to a lost world. It should be part of our DNA!

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).