This sermon is part of the sermon series "Earthy Spirituality". See series.
The movie Cinderella Man is based on the true story of a boxer named James J. Braddock. Braddock was a good boxer who lost his passion and purpose for fighting, so he quit the sport. When the Great Depression hit and his family slid into poverty, Braddock went back to boxing. He made a startling comeback, fighting with passion and focus while upsetting better, younger boxers. At one point in the movie, a stunned reporter asks Braddock, "What are you fighting for?" Braddock replied, "Milk. I'm fighting for milk for my children."
In 1 Chronicles, we meet a group of courageous people who knew how to fight for what was right. This concept of fighting well can—and should—make us nervous. We've seen enough terrorist attacks, school shootings, beatings, and lynchings—not to mention destructive gossip and character assassinations—that we cry out, "When will the violence end? We don't need any more fighting!" I am sympathetic to that plea, but I also agree with author John Eldredge when he writes: "Eventually a man (or a woman) must come to realize that there are certain things in life worth fighting for … Take anything good, true, or beautiful upon this earth and ask yourself, "Can this be protected without a fight?" First Chronicles 11:10-25 challenges us to fight well for the right things, in the right way, with the right purpose and motive.
For the next 20 chapters of 1 Chronicles, the focus is on David. Our text really begins in in 11:1: "All Israel came together to David at Hebron and said, 'We are your flesh and blood.'" This section of 1 Chronicles then ends in 12:38 with these words: "They came to Hebron fully determined to make David king over Israel." These two bookends give us the theme for this section: all Israel is united in the idea of making David their king.
The people of God, having just returned from exile, are suffering from low morale. In the midst of these discouraging times, the author appeals to the example of David. "Look at King David," he says. "David wasn't an ordinary king; he spent half of his life on the run, doing battle against evil forces. Look at his courage. It's worth it for us to lay down our lives for him—to join him in the fight for things that are right, good, and true. He inspires us toward deeds of greatness. He should bring out the best in us. Let's join together and fight for King David!" The author then points to a group that exemplifies what Israel must become: the mighty men of David listed in chapters 11 and 12.
The mighty men of David
Who were these mighty men? First, and most importantly, they were men who shared one focus: David. They were also incredibly diverse, hailing from different tribal backgrounds. Each one had a gift or a special skill; some were specialists in hand-to-hand combat, while others were skilled archers. The one thing that united them was their love and willingness to fight for David. These mighty men were loyal men.
That's the church's calling as well. We all come from different backgrounds. We're not all Americans. We don't all vote for one political party. We don't all like the same music, books, or movies. We don't have the same type of personalities. In spite of our differences, though, we are called to a life of love and unity.
The mighty men of David were a people of incredible skill, heroism, and courage because King David drew those things out of them. They did great things in response to the greatness of David. The story seems to tell us: Look at these courageous fighters: because they loved David—because David was worth the trouble—they fought.
I love the stories of the mighty men. They're earthy, gritty, flesh-and-blood stories of real people fighting for things that really matter. One of the best stories is found in 1 Chronicles 11:15-19. It's an unforgettable story of courage that unfolded during one of the darkest, most discouraging days of David's life. In the story, David is hiding in the cave of Adullam. Everyone wants him dead, including the powerful Philistine army and the elite forces of King Saul. As David hides, he is dying of thirst. In frustration he cries out: Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!
Upon hearing David's request, three of his mighty men risk their lives to break through the Philistine lines, fighting their way to get David a drink from his favorite well. When they bring it back to David, he refuses to drink it. Instead, he takes it and pours it on the ground. "Should I drink the blood of these men who went at risk of their lives?"
It was an extreme, over-the-top, daring act of devotion, but the mighty men risked their lives because they loved David. He was worth it, and he always brought the best out of them.
Are we mighty warriors for Christ?
What does this have to do with us? David was the greatest king Israel knew, but throughout the Bible, God promised a king who would be greater than David—one who would reign over God's people and offer forgiveness. In Matthew 1:1, we see that Jesus is that promised king, and we are called to courageous deeds of devotion for him.
We need to ask the following questions: Who is Jesus? Is he really my Lord? Is it true that in him "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3)? Do I believe that? If so, what does he draw out of me? If I truly understand who Jesus is and what he has done for me, it will inspire me toward deeds of courage, valor, risk, and true greatness.
Though some of us attend church, lead Bible studies, and serve faithfully and dutifully, we aren't always inspired to live for Jesus with courage and wholehearted passion. Let me ask you: what actions, attitudes, and lifestyle changes does King Jesus inspire within you?
My wife and I once stopped at a local Starbucks. The guy next to me in line kept asking me questions about my Starbucks experience: "Hey, how do you like the coffee here? Is this your favorite Starbucks? What keeps you coming back to Starbucks? How long are you willing to wait to get your coffee?" He was fascinated with all things Starbucks! The guy finally confessed that he travels around New York, opening new Starbucks stores. After he left, my wife said, "Wow, that guy's passionate for the kingdom of Starbucks!" I replied, "I think he has more passion for Starbucks than I do for Jesus." Here was a guy willing to lay down his life to give us bitter coffee at outrageous prices. My brothers and sisters in Christ, there's something tragically wrong when the world has more passion for coffee than the people of God have for King Jesus.
What does it mean to be a mighty warrior for Christ? I'm not going to give you simplistic answers, because we live in a complex world. We can't just get out our swords and start hacking away at the "infidels." There are big issues that we fight for. We fight for justice and against world hunger. We fight against the sexual abuse of children and for the healing of those who have already been abused. We fight for our community—that they might have the chance to know the excellence of Jesus. We fight for freedom. These are the big things we fight for in our lives. But how do we fight well in the midst of these overwhelming issues? It's not easy. It requires passion, reflection, and discernment.
A little while ago, I was at the Se-port Deli, buying a cup of mushroom and barley soup. An article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. Thanks to the technology provided by General Electric, expectant parents in rural India can get an ultrasound for $8. Many of these poor families want an ultrasound to reveal whether or not the baby is going to be a girl. If indeed they are having a girl, many will then choose to abort the child. What would it mean to be a mighty warrior in that situation—to protect life? The Bible has much to say about the shedding of innocent blood—and this is certainly what is going on in India—but how do we fight to protect the unborn in this instance? Do we boycott General Electric? Do we write our senators? These are complex questions. But as the church of Jesus Christ, we can't say, "That's too complicated—too messy, too big. It's not my problem." If Jesus means anything to us, we have to respond as the church with justice and compassion. We must commit ourselves to fighting well.
Most of us, though, need to start with the little issues right in front of us. There's a key word that runs throughout this chapter of 1 Chronicles: "help." Some of the names mentioned even have to do with the idea of help. David's prime supporter from the Gadites was Ezer, which means "help." Ahiezer, chief of the Benjamites, means "helper." What does it mean to fight well? It means to be a helper. Helpers show up and say, "Jesus, we're here to help." A helper shows up everyday and says, "Lord, I'm alive and well. How do you want to use me today? Who can I touch today? Where do I get to serve today? I'm reporting to duty—at church, in my school, here at home, in my marriage, at my job, in my neighborhood—just show me where to help."
Things worth fighting for in life
There are many things worth fighting for in life. A church is worth fighting for. Some of us take church for granted. We show up and expect certain services, but we don't want to help out. I say this not with an angry heart, but with one that grieves. A church is worth fighting for, and we need you to fight well—to get involved in service and to pray for the leadership of this church.
Your marriage is worth fighting for. Marriage requires us to fight well or else we will drift apart and die as couples.
Your kids are worth fighting for. We must fight for their health and future success. More importantly, we must fight for their spiritual lives. Fathers and mothers, do you fight for the spiritual health of your children?
Your neighbors who don't know Christ are worth fighting for. Once, while trying to take a nap before my son's soccer game, another parent approached me and said, "Hey, Matt. Would you like to go for a ride in my Corvette?" "I'm kind of tired right now," I replied. "But how are things going?" The man hesitated for a moment before he said, "I had another good friend die this week—the third friend this year—and I just wanted to drive and talk." Who are you fighting for, in order that they might be in the kingdom of God?
We must fight well for the right things, in the right way. But how do we fight well and not become mean, self-centered, or even violent? We fight with a different spirit, because we fight in, through, and because of King Jesus—who was a different sort of warrior himself. He fought for the world by dying on a cross to make peace with God.
A hint as to the kind of fighting we must engage in is found in 1 Chronicles 12:18. The Holy Spirit comes upon one of David's mighty men, Amasai, and the first thing Amasai does is declare his loyalty to David: "We are yours, O David! We are with you, O Son of Jesse!" He is saying: We belong to you, and we owe you our lives. Amasai then prays for peace for David. The word typically translated as "success" in the NIV is the Hebrew word shalom, which means "peace." Amasai is praying: Peace, peace to you, and peace to those who help you, for your God will help you." In his prayer, Amasai is also making a prediction of peace that will be found in Jesus.
A true warrior doesn't just want to win, even if the cause is 100 percent right; every warrior wants peace. Our battles are about winning the hearts of people. If I win the battle but trounce and wound my brother with my anger and self-righteousness, what have I accomplished? We fight because of Jesus, and we fight under the overarching theme that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and that his kingdom will come.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, King Jesus has fought for you. He bled and died to set you free. Are you fighting well for him? Does he inspire you toward deeds of greatness and courage and risk? Let's pray for the spirit of a mighty man or a mighty woman to descend into our hearts.
Matt Woodley is the pastor of compassion ministries at Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois.