While on campaign in India, Alexander and a party of his men encountered some gymnosophists, or “naked wise men,” sitting in meditation near the bank of the Indus River. Alexander’s company was pushing through the crowded thoroughfare, with everyone yielding to them except the gymnosophists. A young lieutenant of Alexander’s proceeded to chase the holy men out of the king’s path, but when one of them resisted he received heavy verbal assault from the officer. When Alexander approached, the lieutenant indicated the king and said to the yogi, “This man has conquered the world! What have you accomplished?”
The yogi opened his eyes and calmly replied, “I have conquered the need to conquer the world.” At this, Alexander laughed with delight. He admired the naked wise man, and with approval he said, “Could I be any man in the world other than myself, I would be this man here.” (3)
Alexander realized that despite his own youth, bravado, and tremendous accomplishments as a warrior from the external perspective, it was victory over the inner battles that forged one into a true warrior- one who sought peace and brotherhood first with oneself, and then with all.
In Romans 7:7-25 the apostle Paul explains the root of war within us, showing that fallen humanity’s sin-nature is in conflict with humanity’s spirit-nature: For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil that I will not to do, that I practice… But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members (v19, 23).
What, then, is to be done? Can we overcome or escape this inner war? In both anguish and thanksgiving Paul cries out to the only One Who offers a battle plan and supernatural strength to overcome: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God- through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v24-25)
Then he articulates how Christ’s Victory was won in saying, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-4).
Thus, just as Alexander had a revelation of truly stabilizing character integrity and wisdom (i.e. Christlikeness), and desired to emulate the gymnosophist, we now have Jesus Christ Himself to mirror as we, as did Paul, recognize Christ’s full Identity allowing for a personal spiritual application unavailable to Alexander, for we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in us… and if the Spirit of Him Who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, He will also give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit (8:9, 11).
The evening before the fight, Epaminondas called his warriors together and declared that he could guarantee victory on the morrow if his men would vow to perform one feat at the moment he commanded it. The men, of course, responded aye. “What do you wish us to do?” “When I sound the trumpet,” said Epaminondas, “I want you to give me one more foot. Do you understand? Push the enemy back just one foot.” The men swore they would do this.
Battle came. The armies clashed and locked up, shield against shield, each side straining to overcome the other. Epaminondas watched and waited until he judged both armies had reached the extremity of exhaustion. Then he ordered the trumpet sounded. The warriors of Thebes, remembering their promise, summoned their final reserves of strength and pushed the foe back only one foot. This was enough. The Spartan line broke. A rout ensued. (4)
In trusting their general’s wisdom and confidence toward victory, the Theban army faithfully anticipated the signal to push forward just one more foot. The anticipation generated mental toughness that manifested through physical grit which enabled ultimate victory. Epaminondas beat the Spartans at their own game by defeating them on the battlefield of the mind prior to the physical battle.
From whence comes such faithful anticipation? Just as the prophets of old received their calling and commissioning directly from the LORD Himself, and just as the Twelve apostles and Paul also received their calling and commissioning directly from the LORD Himself, so likewise we receive the same directly from the LORD Himself. For those who struggle to work out the how of this, the answer here is also simple: Prayer. Only in the untarnished and intimate presence of Jesus can one verily accept His commissioning, equipping, and sending out.
Yet, an insufferable number of “spiritual leaders” are “called” and “sent out” on assumption and self-ambition, and often well before they are spiritually, mentally, and emotionally mature enough to bear the burdens of particular offices, including the default “authority” that may come with new (premature) positions. Additionally, a prevalent mistake made is that of inferring the same approach to spiritual leadership and ministry development as one would to vocational leadership and business/commercial development. This strategy wreaks havoc on the Church (subtly and blatantly) because individuals suffer hurt and neglect at the expense of those “climbing the spiritual ladder.”
Again referencing Epaminondas’ defeat of the Spartans, we are emboldened to crush underfoot the spiritual enemy on the spiritual and mental battlefields which will result in victory over the flesh that wars against our spirit. In purposefully turning to Scripture we learn the enemy’s tactics and discover our place in claiming and walking in Christ’s Victory. In tenaciously and humbly turning to Christ in earnest prayer we receive discernment, resilience, composure, and the power to actually walk in His Victory in that we faithfully anticipate His empowerment and are able to push just one more foot in our personal battles… whereupon the enemy breaks and scatters!
Like the old knights, always in warfare, not always on their steeds dashing forward with their lances in rest to unhorse an adversary, but always wearing their weapons where they could readily reach them, and always ready to encounter wounds or death for the sake of the cause which they championed. Those grim warriors often slept in their armour; so even when we sleep, we are still to be in the spirit of prayer, so that if perchance we wake in the night, we may still be with God.
Let us, then, not lean on our own understanding and intuition but rather enable that of our soon-returning King to lead us into those battles that we must fight, and avoid those that we wrongly suppose we should fight.
1. The war in heaven of Revelation 12:7-12 is not a past event that many reckon describes the initial rebellion and casting out of Lucifer and company, though the passage does recall that tragedy; it is, rather, a future event and fulfillment of Daniel 12:1-4, the context being the “time of Jacob’s trouble,” i.e. last days judgment of Israel and the world. Moreover, this war results in Satan and his angels losing their “place” in heaven, or their “privilege” concerning access to Almighty God purposing to “accuse the brethren,” said “accusations” remaining an historical and present reality as Job 1:6-12 and 2:1-7 show, which could not occur had this privilege been barred prior to the tempting of Eve.
2. Jon Scott Birch, The Morning Star & The Melon, Signet Ring Publishing, 2016, p6
3. Plutarch, Life of Alexander; Steven Pressfield, The Virtues of War, Doubleday, 2004, p306
4. Steven Pressfield, The Warrior Ethos, Black Irish Ent., 2011, p58-59