This Matthew 11:12 line according to some Bible versions, is a favourite quote of many prayer warriors. It is usually followed with belligerent praying as if in a spiritual fight with the devil and its demons. I have had to ask someone why they put themselves through so much stress when they could just hand over all their troubles to God in faith. [I understand that feelings can determine your attitude when praying, but they also reflect your intensions and understanding of your faith.] And the response was, “You don’t know anything. You don’t know how wicked evil people are. You better engage in a spiritual battle to fight and destroy them or they will deal with you” something like that. “But God is greater than all evil together.” I responded. And she continued, “Heaven helps those who help themselves. The kingdom of God suffereth violence and only the violent taketh it by force!”. “Wow!” This was many years ago and I still continue to hear it as a favourite Bible quote of people seeking deliverance. So, I decided to search where it is written in the Bible and the story around it, so I could get its context; behold my understanding below:
Jesus spoke proudly of John the Baptist. John lived in the desert in preparation for his single duty on earth: to prepare the way for Christ. It was not an easy life but he embraced the isolation, choice of food and abstinence for holiness and fortitude for this vocation. Despite this self-depriving monastic lifestyle and work, the least in heaven is greater than John, “whom no one greater than he has come forward among the sons of women” – Matthew 11:11. And Jesus continues, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is something to be conquered and the unyielding seize it.” – Christian Community Bible version of this Matthew 11:12.
Do we see what I see in the surrounding event of this line? It is not easy to enter the kingdom of heaven. In spite of all John’s sacrifices in living an economical life [not living comfortably like others were in their homes], the least in heaven is still greater than he is. And he is greater than us all. It shows that the journey to heaven is not an easy race. It suffers violence because it is a place to conquer. And we do not conquer it by matching hard on the ground or hitting the air in battle with the devil and evil men we think are the source of our misfortunes; NO! The violence it requires is that used by John the Baptist, to resist temptation and sin and do the work we are called to do. Jesus said in Matthew 5:26 and Luke12:59, “… I tell you, there you will stay until you pay the last penny of your fine.” Revelation 21:27 says, “… But nothing that is impure will enter the city, nor anyone who does shameful things or tells lies.” So, this means, if you want to make it to the Kingdom of God, you must ensure purity of body, soul and spirit, because nothing impure will enter heaven. Therefore, it is not a task or choice or lifestyle to slack on because it is only the unyielding – the obedient and the persistent in God – that will seize it. Exercise the violence of resisting sin and that force will open the gates of heaven wide for you.
Can anyone of us withdraw to live in a desert and eat just honey and locust as John did? Can anyone of us come out to proclaim the gospel and speak the truth in the face of impending death as John did and as Christ commissioned us to during His ascension? Can anyone be so humble as John to give up his life in order to point others to the true Anointed – Christ, rather than take that glory for himself whom people were already looking up to as the expected Messiah? Yes, how many of us can make like sacrifices of our lives in our present comfort? Indeed, it appears difficult for the human flesh that is surrounded with worldly pleasures that it works and looks forward to enjoy daily. But some people have tried to live this life and did as much as they could to eschew all forms of sins from their lives and give themselves to the service of mankind and God. It took a simple decision but a firm resolve to embrace and live the new life of the Trinity in order to be in union with Him. This is the violence required to seize heaven; violence to follow good causes and vocations, violence to not yield to temptations, violence to resist pride and unholy desires, violence to resist envy, gluttony, sloth, greed, avarice and lust. It is the violence to not yield to these sins that matches against the force of the violence of the temptations and sins. So, it is only the unyielding [or the violent] that can seize this kingdom of God, like John the Baptist.
As we can see, it is not a physical violence of fight, but one of conscious decision and efforts towards holiness for love of God and neighbour and for heaven’s sake. The battle against sin is not an easy one, hence, we must pray to God for help in this regard. Christ came to make His Father’s will clearer to us and also let us know that in our bid to obey God and be holy, we may not please our loved ones – Luke 14:26. So, we see this violence in our virtuous temperance to be obedient to God and in our decision to follow the cause or vocation God has inspired in us irrespective of sentiments and worldly expectations of us. We also see it our attitude towards God’s work, by zealously and astutely carrying out our commission to spread the Gospel in our daily living and professions as children of light, like the worldly do concerning what is worldly – Luke 16:8.
Let us also examine the apostle’s inability to cast out a demon in a child and Jesus told them in Matthew 17:20-21 how faith, even the size of a mustard seed, could have done the job, and that they also needed prayer and fasting. We must have faith that God hears and answers our prayers when we ask Him to deliver us from evil. All we need are prayer and abstinence from sins, as well as from food, at times, for spiritual upliftment and fortitude. We do not need the physical exaction we show in fighting what we do not see, unless we just want to exercise for fitness. Instead, we need to live a holy life to merit God’s listening ears. We need purity of mind, spirit, goodwill and intensions, love and faith while we pray, and God will hear and answer us; for the prayers of a sinner are abominations to Him – 1 Peter 3:12.
In praying, violent fight with the invisible devil can be enhanced with simply asking God, Who Can, to deliver us from all evil as Christ taught us in His prayer – Matthew 6:13. So, cast your burden unto God and He shall sustain you. But you must endeavour towards a righteous and virtuous life; it is the violence He requires of you to be. The battle against evil is God’s, we are only called to love Him above all things and our neighbour as ourselves. These 2 simple callings cover all actions of obedience to God, virtues and charity; and God, in His own way, is always faithful to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from all evil and troubles whenever we ask Him to. He promises that weapon formed against us shall not prosper in Isaiah 54:17. And even when troubles come our way, we should ‘give thanks because all things work for good for those who trust in God’ – Romans 8:28. Our journey does not end here on earth, He has a room for us in His kingdom, His heart, in Him. Our hope here is in this Kingdom. Let us live holy and pray without ceasing, but with complete faith that God has heard and will handle the situation. I cannot tell you how many times I have fretted and wasted good health even while praying and after prayer, yet my ever-faithful Father solved/solves my troubles ahead of me.
And we all know that – What the Lord has done for us, we cannot tell it all… He saved us and washed us in His blood. So, we can shout Alleluia! … We can shout – Praise the Lord! I just had to put this song here. Anyway, I write to encourage you and I to have faith and live firmly and steadily in holiness and charity. God sees our efforts and He strengthens us and crowns us with His fruits of joy, peace, love, gentleness, patience, kindness, and so on. You will know these fruits if you have faith, hope and LOVE.
Thank you and tell me what you think of this article at below comment area. I am sure you have your interpretations too.
By IfeanyiChukwu Oluwafemi Chukwudi, 28th of April, 2020