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Change is difficult to achieve in relationships. In fact, it’s a fight.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul teaches about relationships. He ends his letter with a discussion of the Armor of God. Why? Because healthy relationships in our physical world are first developed by fighting in the spiritual world. He even says it himself.
Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) 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.
The Five Fights are a process by which God uses challenges in your relationships to show you the changes He wants to make in you. We call them fights because each of these actions Paul instructs is an internal struggle of submission to God and denial of your desires for a time. If you commit to the entire process, you will find more fulfillment in relationships and find that your expectations of God are soon met. An important thing to note is that these fights are not steps, tips, or spiritual advice. They cannot be isolated from each other and expect to be effective. They are a process that is ongoing at all times. Paul’s first command concerning the Armor of God addresses how to use this information.
Ephesians 6:11 (ESV) Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
We are to put on the “whole” armor of God, meaning that all of this information goes together even though we have to talk about it separately. Armor is not “armor” if you only wear the belt. You are not considered to be wearing the whole armor if you are only brandishing a helmet. You are considered to be wearing armor when all of the pieces of the armor are on your body. This being said. You must address each piece individually to put it on. But, you have not put on the “whole” armor unless you have put on each piece. The Armor of God is about a way of thinking that brings Godliness both in you and in your relationships.
The Fight To Stay In Agreement
Ephesians 6:14a (ESV) Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…
Paul begins his discussion on the armor with the Belt of Truth. Truth is only found in God’s Word. Our first response to relationship difficulty is to seek God through His Word and to see what the Bible says about our situation. Keep in mind, you are not likely to find Scripture that expresses a specific action or resolution. God teaches foundational attitudes and perspectives that help us determine how we are to act in a relationship. When you find someone in a relationship that you do not feel is acting according to the Word of God, your first action is The Fight to Stay in Agreement. Bring your frustrations to God. Detail them to Him extensively. David is a tremendous example of this when you read his psalms. He cries out to God how the whole world seems against him. Aren’t there times that you feel this as well? Tell God about it. Don’t be afraid to make accusations and find fault with other people when talking to God. This is the outlet He designed for you. It is far more effective and healthier to do this with Him than with other people. It is even worse for you to bottle up all these emotions and try to pretend they are not there. Being a disciple of God is not how you feel about things in your life; it is how you respond in obedience to God when you bring these things to Him. Jesus is ready to speak when we come to humbly, even if we are angry with someone else or even Him. And this is what He does when you bring your pain to Him. He will respond with Scripture. Sometimes you hear it in your innermost being, sometimes a friend brings up a verse, or it could happen sitting in church. The Holy Spirit will bring you Scripture that responds to your situation. Be prepared. The Scripture God brings will not appear to be true. Your circumstances are likely to be the opposite of what it says. This is why it’s a Fight to Stay in Agreement. You will struggle internally believing what God has said over what your situation looks like. Don’t be dismayed. Respond both inwardly and outwardly with Scripture. Say it, write it, think about it. Stay in agreement with the Word of God. When your feelings want to start complaining about a person, respond with Scripture and say nothing else.
The Fight To Do Less
Ephesians 6:14b (ESV) …and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
Secondly, Paul instructs us to put on the Breastplate of Righteousness. Righteousness is about obedience. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were taught sacrifices by which the bold of animals would cover their sins, and they would be able to present themselves righteous before God. But God tells Samuel what all these sacrifices really mean.
1 Samuel 15:22 (ESV) And Samuel said, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
Samuel explains that most of the significance in offering animals to the Lord is that the Israelites were obedient. The blood of the sacrifices then covered the sins for a short time. When Jesus, a man, was obedient up until the point of dying on the cross, He shed His blood to atone for all humanity. Now, sacrifices are not needed, only obedience. The Fight to Do Less is that step of obedience. Once you’ve engaged The Fight to Stay in Agreement and God gives you Scriptural responses to your situation, He will provide you with a step of obedience. Often, it is something that we already knew we should be doing but do not want to do it. Keep in mind this step is not designed to change the other person. You may see them respond differently to you, but that is not the goal of The Fight to Do Less. The Fight to Do Less works on us. The action God gives us will require you to submit to His way of doing things rather than the attempts you have failed at previously. Your attempts to resolve your relationship’s struggle or change the other person have been an effort to prove your own righteousness. God is the only one that brings change. When you try to dominate someone else by forcing them to do it your way, or manipulate them but tricking them into doing it your way, or you give up and capitulate to their selfish desires, you are putting yourself in the place of God as if you are the one who holds all truth. You are not God, and any attempt outside of God’s specific direction will be tainted by your own selfishness. This is why it is the Fight to Do Less. Being obedient to God will require you to do less than what you think needs to be done. Why? Because you are less than righteous. Doing less opens the space for you to receive God’s righteousness on your behalf. Doing less will allow you to see the change you need to make irrespective of the other person.
The Fight To Stand A Chance
Ephesians 6:15 (ESV) and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
In the days of hand-to-hand combat, the soldiers’ shoes were designed to keep them stable on rocky, unstable ground. The Fight to Stand a Chance requires patience to maintain your obedience to the action God gave you in The Fight to Do Less. Remember that The Fight to Do Less is about a change in you that God wants to reveal and less about getting the other person to change. So in the Fight to Stand a Chance, you will unlikely see your expectations met. In fact, you will find that your expectations change. When we enter relationships, we have a specific picture in our mind of what that relationship is supposed to look like. Although these desires are not entirely wrong, they are influenced by our own selfishness. God will change them if allowed to an expectation that does meet your needs and desires but excludes your selfish control. This is what happens in The Fight to Stand a Chance. Often, when you have employed The Fight to Do Less, your heart starts to change, but the other person does not. At least not in how you expected them to be when all this started. Seeing this causes you to question what God has said and what He told you to do. The Fight to Stand a Chance is about developing stability through patience. You learn to trust God and follow him through obedience when situations do not appear as if they are going the way you want. In addition, you begin to see the fallacy in your expectations. The selfish aspects you hold to maintain control become more apparent. You can repent and work to submit these desires to God. In place of those old expectations, you begin to see how God sees that person. The walk of Christ is about faith. Faith requires you to trust His guidance even when it appears that He is not doing what He said He would do. The Fight to Stand a Chance is the first place you truly employ faith in its rest sense. You will spend a notable amount of time being obedient to God with no measurable amount of change in your situation. The only difference will be your strength of patience. If you do not learn patience, you cannot exercise faith. Without faith, you don’t stand a chance of seeing God work in your relationships.
The Fight To Keep Your Promise
Ephesians 6:16 (ESV) In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
Once submitted to Christ, you enter into the New Covenant with Him. On one side of the covenant, He supplies the needed atonement for sin and the righteousness you need to walk in His presence. God also promised that He would put His Spirit inside you and teach you to think like Him (Jeremiah 31:33). This is His promise to you. You also made promises. You promised that He would be the Lord of your life. You would no longer take over as the primary leader in your life. The Fight to Keep Your Promise is about those two promises. After an extended time in The Fight to Stand a Chance, you will find your expectations align with God’s expectations. This still often does not change the circumstances of your relationship. You will see your relationship like God sees it, and it will be infinitely better by that measure. Still lingering, though, will be the desire for the fulfillment of the type of relationship God would want you to have. At this time, it can feel like God is not going to answer the desires of your heart. Now is the time to actively keep your promise by maintaining faithfulness and obedience. Don’t lose heart, for, at the right time, God will begin to respond with the type of relationship that brings fulfillment. Also, during this time, you will face weariness, and your desire to regain control will tempt you once again. This is your time to maintain faithfulness and keep your promise that Jesus is the Lord of your life, whether or not the other person ever changes. This fight is a bit like the internal struggle of The Fight to Stay in Agreement, except with a fresh new perspective. You are also consciously making the changes God has asked you to make. They are cementing into new habits and becoming a part of you.
The Fight To Change Your Mind
Ephesians 6:17 (ESV) and take the helmet of salvation…
Remember that The Five Fights is the way to learn how God thinks about relationships. If you learn to think about relationships how God thinks about them, you will pursue, build, and respond to relationships as God does. The Fight to Change Your Mind begins when you move from consciously making an effort to be obedient to God and by laying down your own expectations and replacing them with Godly expectations. You begin to see people naturally with their relationship with God rather than how you hope their relationship with God is. Their lives become a series of their own decisions rather than you trying to make decisions that you think they should. No longer do their success or failures reflect your identity. Your concern surrounds what God has you doing. The Fight to Change Your Mind is when change has actually happened. The change, though, is in you. Truthfully, it is possible that the other person in the relationship has not changed and may never change their actions. You, though, can walk in what God has you to walk in whether or not the other person does. If they do change, you see it as a by-product of God working in them rather than some success of your own making.
This is the way to live and the way to have the best relationships you can have. Fighting these fights keeps you focused on things in your life you can actually affect and allows you to give grace to others when you disagree with their actions.
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