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A Prisoner of War  

 

"Hogan's Heroes", the TV sitcom send-up of a P.O.W. camp in Germany during World War II, portrayed a group of so-called prisoners who were able to inflict mayhem on the German War effort from within the prison compound, thanks mostly to the bumbling Camp Commandant, Colonel Klink and his weighty offsider, Sergeant Schultz.   However, only the completely naïve viewer would imagine for a moment that such a portrayal was anywhere near close to reality of such establishments. Prisoner-of-War camps were more often associated with deprivation of liberty and basic human rights. Prisoners could be the victims of abuse and even atrocities.  

 

Prisoner-of-War Camps on both sides of the conflict housed thousands of troops who were captured in the course of combat and incarcerated for the duration of the war – except for a small minority who managed to escape to freedom or who died in attempting to escape. For all intents and purposes, these soldiers were taken out of the battle and put where they could make no further contribution to the outcome of the war.  

 

In one of the churches where I served as Pastor, we had two men who were POW's during World War II and their stories alerted me to the very real similarities between their experiences during the war and the spiritual conflict in which we are all engaged. As is often the case, events in the natural world illustrate realities in the supernatural realm.  

 

The Bible is an account of a cosmic conflict between the forces of good and evil. From Genesis to Revelation we read of warfare between light and darkness, life and death, heaven and hell, God and Satan. Planet Earth and its inhabitants provide the battleground for this mighty conflict that is being waged relentlessly – and to the death.  

 

In the case of the two POW's mentioned above, the enemy found a way to overpower them either through head on attack or deceit and subterfuge. Having gained that advantage the POW's were then disarmed and rendered useless so far as participating further in the conflict.   For others involved in that conflict the battle simply got too hard for them. The enemy appeared to be invincible. The pain was too great. Seeing their mates die in front of their eyes was more than they could accept. They lost heart for the fight, put down their weapons and simply walked away. All the enemy had to do was to guide them through the prison gates into captivity.  

 

Regardless of how they were captured, these POW's they were still committed to their King and country. Their loyalty has never been questioned – not then and not now. They never entertained the idea of defecting to the enemy. They were simply sidelined and seemingly powerless.   But something else happened to these POW's after their capture. Lest they look for ways to escape, the enemy had strategies to intimidate and humiliate them and neutralise any thoughts of resistance and recovery. He often overwhelmed them with feelings of failure, guilt, condemnation and futility. The intent was to make them spend the remainder of the battle imprisoned in a state of passivity & hopeless resignation.   So they were taken out of the battle and played no further part in the conflict. In a sense they were of no account so far as the war effort was concerned. They were no longer a threat to the enemy and no longer an asset to their own side.  

 

I don't know about you but sometimes I feel like a prisoner of war in the spiritual, cosmic battle.          

 

There have been some seasons in my life when it seemed that I was marginalised in the conflict and the enemy, having gained the advantage, rendered me useless and ineffective. I felt like I could no longer have any influence in the outcome of the war in general and of those specific campaigns in which I am meant to fight and be victorious. During those times I felt that I was not a threat to the enemy of my soul and I was of no help to my fellow believers. Useless. Helpless.  

 

During those seasons, I realise that I am not the only prisoner in the spiritual POW camp. In fact, this sense of being marginalised is very common among the ranks of God's Army. Over the nearly 40 years that I have been a Pastor I have come to the conclusion that the majority of believers have and/or will encounter experiences of feeling like a prisoner of war – disqualified from having any further part in the battle.  

 

The apostle Paul obviously recognised this spiritual dynamic. In 2 Corinthians 2 he calls the Church at Corinth to extend forgiveness to a repentant member. One of the reasons he gives for this action is simply stated, "…in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes".   Paul's language here is filled with military imagery. "Outwit" means "to gain an advantage" (especially a military advantage). The word for "schemes" was often used to describe military strategies.  

 

The blunt truth is that, in this cosmic conflict, we confront an enemy who is skilled in the military strategy of entrapment. Any success he achieves is usually gained by subterfuge, deceit and sheer cunning. He understands human nature and has used that knowledge to infiltrate the human race and set traps to bring us down.   How does he accomplish this goal? What kind of traps does he set?  

 

In the passage above, Paul gives a classic example of just such a trap. An unwillingness or refusal to forgive another person will spring the trap and render us powerless. While we maintain an attitude of unforgiveness, we get locked away in a POW Camp. Jesus Himself used this imagery of imprisonment with regard to an unforgiving attitude."Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. (Matt 18:32-34)  

 

Lack of discipline is another trap. Imagine an Army where each member of the unit chose to do what they considered right and comfortable, regardless of what the Commanding Officer ordered and regardless of what the other members of the unit needed.   Yet another trap involves the ready access we have to so many sources of pornographic material today. Is it any wonder that the enemy has initiated and utilized this particular trap so effectively?  

 

Remember those soldiers who just found it all too hard so they laid down their weapons and just walked away? There are people in our Churches (or who once were in our Churches) for whom life's experiences have brought pain and heartache, struggle and bereavement, discouragement and disillusionment. They have become disorientated and confused. For them, it feels like God is their enemy for having allowed so much pain into their lives. So now they walk away from it all: God, the Church, fellow Christians, faith etc.   How many people do you know who once were on 'active duty' but who now have retreated to the 'back pews', so to speak, or who have walked past that back row and right out the door never again to show their faces in the Church community?

 

The list of possible traps is seemingly endless. No wonder the Scriptures call us repeatedly to "Watch Out!" and "Be on guard!"   But perhaps the most effective strategy is the one that convinces us that there is no war or, if such a conflict is real, there is no need for us toget involved. That's for others to undertake. In other words, there are those in the Church who are desperately trying to remain civilians when the battle is going on all around them. Given the opportunity, they would declare themselves to be residents of a spiritual 'Switzerland' and, living in that state of neutrality, await the outcome of the war.  

 

However, there is another kind of spiritual POW Camp. During WW II and following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, there were many US residents of Japanese ethnicity who were "detained" by the U.S. authorities for the duration of the war in case their loyalty to their adopted country of the U.S.A. was superseded by their loyalty to their original homeland of Japan.   Regardless of their protests, they were deemed to be too much of a risk to be allowed any kind of freedom. Some of these detainees had previously held positions of authority, responsibility and leadership but such credentials now counted for nothing.  

 

I suspect that there are people in our Churches who find little or no acceptance among the people of God not because they themselves have behaved badly or believed wrongly but because they have associated in the past (or in the present) with those whose beliefs and behaviour now sees them regarded as some kind of 'enemy'; an enemy who themselves have long since been deprived of acceptance and freedom in the Body of Christ. The fact that these same people once were trusted with positions of responsibility no longer counts for anything. To be held captive by the real enemy is bad enough. To be held captive by one's own army is so much harder to accept.  

 

My brother or sister in Christ is never my enemy. Sometimes I may think he/she is acting like my enemy but my real enemy is elsewhere and is all the time trying to get me to believe that my fellow believers are not to be trusted. This is just another of his schemes to gain the advantage in the battle.   How can we find freedom from these spiritual Prisoner-of-War experiences?   By being liberated by the One who still sets the captives free – Jesus Christ.  

 

Hebrews 2/14-15 reminds us of Jesus' power and purpose to liberate those who all their lives have been held prisoner by the fear of death.   "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death".   What Jesus does regarding the fear of death, He also does with every other form of slavery and imprisonment. Most often this liberation takes place in the context of the Body of Christ. In other words, I will need the involvement of others. I can't do this on my own; I need the power of Jesus mediated throughthe ministry of others.   But here's the rub.

 

This next statement is true in both its individual and corporate expression. Here it is in its corporate sense.   When any Church begins to understand the reality & significance of spiritual warfare, it will begin to understand why it cannot remain as a civilian audience in time of war. That Church is then faced with a choice. It can choose to become an empowered, authorized army under Jesus Christ as its Commander-in-Chief OR it can surrender itself to become a prisoner of war – effectively neutralised and robbed of its authority and power for the duration of the conflict.   That is a choice we make every day.  

 

The battle is on. The enemy has been engaged. The death & resurrection of Jesus has delivered the enemy a mortal blow. The outcome of the conflict is guaranteed. We are part of the army of liberation. We win!!   But at the end of the fighting, will we be those who served as soldiers on active duty or will we be among those side-lined and rendered ineffective for the battle?  

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