Never bring a knife to a gunfight.
That saying … the origin for which appears to be unknown … speaks to being properly equipped for battle. As we enter this new year of 2015, do any of us need reminding that spiritually-speaking there are battles to which we are subject all the time? In a physical setting, this past week provided a bit of an ironic illustration of the comment. Actually, it was a bit humorous, but not until afterward.
As we were on a hunting trip with three generations of Rodriguez men … my dad, our son Jared, and me. In the afternoon of our first day we dropped off my dad, without his very much needed glasses, at his deer blind. Because he unsuccessfully tried to find his blind at “O dark thirty” that morning, he was so focused on finding the blind I had to call him on our walkie-talkies to remind him that he had left the car … WITHOUT HIS RIFLE. He had a knife and all sorts of other gear, but nothing that would actually have been useful in the particular battle he was about to enter. In his own uniquely special way, he was about to take only a knife to the gunfight.
My reading through this first week carried me through Matthew 1 – 4. In Matthew 4, I was moved by the idea of not bringing a knife to a gunfight as it relates to our spiritual life. Let me explain.
Matthew 4:1-11 tells of a time when Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness …
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.
What these verses tell about is a time when Jesus himself was embroiled in a real spiritual battle over which He was ultimately victorious. The nature of the battle was similar to one that we combat with all the time. Jesus was subjected to substantial temptation, and overcame it, for a multitude of reasons … in part, to help us overcome as well. How? By not bringing a knife to a gunfight.
Without going overly into depth in this incredibly rich passage, a few things are quite clear. First, Jesus was actually tempted during his time in the wilderness. He was actually put in a situation where His humanity was exposed to temptation in precisely the same ways we are. Hunger, prominence, and pain-free supremacy were put before Him in ways that would have amounted to sinfulness had He taken the devil up on his tempting offers.
But Jesus brought not only a gun to this fight, He brought THE gun … and it was fully-loaded. In each case when Jesus was offered temptation how did He respond? In each case, He used God’s Word … He said, “The Scriptures say …” Now, in fairness, so did Satan, but Satan used Scripture incompletely and inconsistently. Jesus used Scripture fully and effectively. By doing so, He drove Satan away in defeat.
So can we. Look, we battle temptation every day. Temptation to do or say things dishonoring to God. I think we can all relate well … we’re ALL regularly embroiled in a gunfight. How do we ensure victory?
First, don’t bring a knife. That is, we think we can handle ourselves by ourselves through situations like these. We think either we have good will-power, or that we can be strong if only we put our mind to it, or if we just follow our heart. The problem is, our will-power often will drive our will to the wrong power. Our nature would most frequently prefer to do the wrong things than the right things. In Jesus’s case, His hunger, His human desire for notoriety, or His desire to avert the scourging He knew He would eventually have to endure probably could have led Him humanly to see Satan’s offer as enticing. So would we.
Secondly, bring a gun. Have the proper weapon for the proper fight. Jesus’s battle … and ours on a daily basis … is inherently a spiritual one. When we battle with temptation to do right and wrong, it’s a battle of desiring obedience to God. So, it’s a lethal battle. Getting wounded would be fatal … it’s a gunfight. Spiritual battles require spiritual weapons. The Bible is the weapon we need.
Finally … bring ammo. God’s Word contains THE ammo we need in hundreds and hundreds of passages. It never runs out, and it always flies true. Its range is unlimited. But like my dad nearly forgetting his rifle on the way to his deer blind, you need to actually HAVE the ammo. What’s more, you need to USE the ammo.
The ammo we have at our disposal is each passage of God’s Word, just as Jesus had at His disposal various passages to combat the temptation floated to Him by Satan. If we want to have hope of successfully combatting the enemy, we need to be equipped with ammo. Having a Bible alone is like bringing an unloaded gun to a gunfight. You may as well have a knife. Having a Bible, knowing what it says, and having passages committed to memory … THEN you have a weapon loaded with the ammo necessary to prevail. Every time.
If we’re going to have any hope in this fight, we need to take seriously the need to have the right weapon, along with the proper ammo. The fight is constant, not at times of our choosing. That’s why having a Bible, reading it, and knowing it to the greatest extent is so important. We all know people who HAVE a Bible … somewhere on a coffee table, or covered in dust in some obscure cabinet or on a random bookshelf. That’s an unloaded weapon. Let’s ask God to give us the strength and faith to prepare for the constancy of the battle by loading the weapon … by making a regular habit of reading His Word, dedicating the effort needed to know it better. Then, and only then, we will have the proper weapon for the battle.
Otherwise, we’re just taking a knife to a gunfight. And we’ll be mortally doomed.
Ready for the fight,