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Aerial combat

August 2005 | by Martin Yarde

I don’t often watch films, but when I do I find that God sometimes gives me unexpected analogies. This was the case when I watched the 1970s film Zeppelin, starring Michael York.

I have always been fascinated by airships. In this film the hero, a British secret agent, reluctantly finds himself on board a First World War German Zeppelin which is under attack by British SE5 fighter planes. The large, slow-moving airship is a sitting duck, especially as the hull is already damaged by enemy fire.

However, the Zeppelin has one crucial advantage over its attackers – its ability to fly much higher than the fighters can.

At first, the crew try to fight it out. Their machine guns bring down one or two of the fighters but at enormous cost, as the gunners are picked off like flies by fire from the British planes. Drastic action is clearly needed.

Suddenly, Michael York shouts, ‘Jettison all surplus weight!’ Quickly everyone throws everything out of the airship that is not absolutely necessary. Numerous heavy items tumble into the sea, including the airship’s machine guns.

Eventually even the dead have to be thrown out. Only then can the Zeppelin gain the necessary height to escape its attackers.

However, the initial decision to fight their enemy (rather than recognise that fighting in their damaged condition was futile) proves costly. The ship escapes the fighters but because it has been punctured by so many bullets it has to ditch in the sea – where the occupants escape before it bursts into flames.

Fighting God’s way

This aerial combat scenario has a great deal to teach us about the Christian life. So many scriptures compare our walk with the Lord to a combat situation. We face an enemy – Satan – who will stop at nothing to defeat us and will not hesitate to take advantage of our weaknesses.

When the forces of the world, the flesh and the devil attack, our first instinct (like those in the film) is to do it our way – to fight in our own strength rather than doing things God’s way.

Like the crippled airship, however, we are damaged – by sin and the weaknesses of our natural temperaments. We are simply not strong enough in our own strength to withstand when the forces of hell attack, however much we (in our pride) like to think we are.

But Christians – praise God – do not have to be ashamed of their weaknesses. On the contrary, as Paul says, ‘I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me … For when I am weak, then I am strong'(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Overloaded

Trusting in our own strength can be as simple as failing to pray when an irritating problem strikes. I am often amazed at the length of time I sometimes go without bringing a frustrating situation to the Lord – but am equally amazed at how quickly he answers when I eventually do!

One ‘weight’ that will drag us down quickly is bitterness and unforgiveness. The human heart is ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17:9). We can easily justify resentment towards other Christians – and behave like the unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable – but this doesn’t justify our behaviour before God.

Another needless weight is fear. I don’t wish to lay a burden on those who are of a fearful disposition, because the Lord clearly has great compassion towards those (like myself) who are susceptible to fears.

Nevertheless, fear is often rooted in a lack of trust in God and his promises. This lack of trust is sin – indeed it is unbelief. Fear (of all kinds) keeps many from being the effective Christians they are meant to be.

Carnal weapons

Among the items that went tumbling earthwards from the Zeppelin were the guns with which they have been fighting. If you have been fighting against spiritual enemies with carnal weapons, it is time to throw them overboard: ‘for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4).

Don’t misunderstand me. It is sometimes necessary for a Christian to assert his rights in this world. Paul exercised his rights as a Roman citizen when accused by the unbelieving Jews. In appealing to Caesar he was obviously within the will of God.

But Christians who become abusive, aggressive or threatening when the people of the world attack are trying to fight with the devil’s weapons – and he knows how to use them far better than we do.

Our attitude should be the same as Christ, ‘who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return … but committed himself to him who judges righteously’ (1 Peter 2:23).

Even the dead have to be jettisoned in order for the Zeppelin to survive. What does this remind us of? Jesus advised one of his prospective followers to ‘let the dead bury their own dead’ (Luke 9:60). If relationships with unbelievers become entanglements that drag us away from God, those friendships have to go.

Sometimes, for the spiritual safety of the whole church, it may even be necessary to sever relationships with other professing Christians if they are blatantly and unrepentantly sinning (1 Corinthians 5:9-11); but this is clearly a last resort.

False doctrine

False doctrine (now rife even in many professing Evangelical churches) needs to be jettisoned. Several years ago I was attending a Charismatic church where there was little discernment.

The minister said that false prophets are people like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, not people within the church, so no one needed to worry. What could be more subtly dangerous and unscriptural than that?

The New Testament clearly warns that there will be false teachers amongyou (Acts 20:29; 2 Peter 2:1). Any teaching that puts spiritual experience above the Word of God or exalts the doctrines of men above those of Scripture is a weight that needs to be jettisoned.

Spiritual laziness

The airship crew escaped total destruction but their ship was nevertheless brought down by its enemies. This reminds me of Christians who are brought down by their besetting sins because they do not deal with them promptly before the Lord.

Such spiritual laziness can be costly. Consider Samson, for example. There is no doubt from Scripture that his salvation was secure (as is the salvation of any true believer) but his life could have been very different had he faced up to his weaknesses and dealt with them.

There have been high-profile Christians in our own time whose witness has been wrecked by open sin – especially financial or sexual sin. Satan cannot resist such opportunities to drag the Lord’s name through the dirt.

Jettison surplus weight

Sinless perfection is impossible in this life, but we can rise above the temptations of the world, the flesh and the devil if we jettison all surplus weight. We need to be prayerful and vigilant, seeking to recognise the ‘weights’ that the Lord would have us discard from our lives and our churches.

‘Therefore … let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith’ (Hebrews 12:1-2).