by Rev. Doug Gray
Occasionally I come to passages that are very difficult for me to preach from. Today’s is one of those, not because the passage itself is difficult, but because the topic it addresses is so enormous and so filled with peril. As your pastor, however, I feel compelled to talk about spiritual warfare because I want you to be forewarned and forearmed. This morning we will cover some of the basics about spiritual warfare, watch for some dangers in looking at the shadow instead of the light, and lastly, delight in the ways in which God guards and arms us for the battle.
Basics — Now to the basics:
1. God is love. In John’s first letter, 4:7–8, he writes, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Love is the only concept large enough to encompass everything God is.
2. Evil is by nature against life and liveliness. M. Scott Peck, recounts how his young son defined, “That’s easy, Daddy. Evil is live spelled backwards.” Any act which seeks to destroy life and liveliness for destruction’s sake is by definition evil.
3. Satan exists, though I’m pretty sure he doesn’t run around in a red suit with horns, a tail and a pitchfork. Jesus believed Satan existed and spent a fair part of his ministry casting out demons.
4. Evil, then, comes in two shapes: human and demonic.
The story is told that one bright, beautiful Sunday morning, the townspeople were in church, listening to the organ play. Suddenly, Satan appeared at the front of the church. Everyone started screaming and running for the front entrance, trampling each other in a frantic effort to get away from evil incarnate.
Soon everyone had evacuated, except for one elderly gentleman who sat calmly in his pew, not moving, seemingly oblivious to the fact that God’s ultimate enemy was in his presence.
Now this confused Satan a bit, so he walked up to the man and said, “Don’t you know who I am?”
The man replied, “Yep, sure do.”
Satan asked, “Aren’t you afraid of me?”
“Nope, sure ain’t,” said the man.
Satan was a little perturbed at this and queried, “Why aren’t you afraid of me?”
The man calmly replied, “Been married to your sister for 48 years!”
Our world has both human and demonic evil, and it is often difficult to tell them apart.
5. Spiritual warfare is the battle to which Paul refers in verse 11, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Followers of Jesus Christ can take to the battlefield with a confidence, power and protection that no one else can.
Evil is so corrupting, that studying it is spiritually hazardous. What are some of the clearest dangers?
1. That we think Satan is God’s equal and opposite. Satan is a fallen angel, so if Satan has an opposite, it’s really Michael, the archangel in charge of God’s heavenly armies. God is sovereign, and Satan cannot compete when God takes the field.
2. That we start to blame everything that goes wrong on demonic powers. My experience is that people are fully capable of making awful choices and doing horrific things all on their own.
3. That we will focus so much on the shadows around us that we turn and forget about the light. More on this later.
4. That we will call something evil just because we don’t like it or don’t understand it. Down this path lies the madness of the Inquisition, witch hunts, slavery, the Crusades, Communism and Nazism. We must look into our own hearts and see our own capacity for evil before we can examine anything else.
God’s Sure Defense
At last, we have the foundations necessary to explore the wondrous armor and weapons God gives us to face whatever may come.
1. Belt of Truth. Protecting our most vulnerable parts is the belt of truth. If evil is a cockroach, then the truth is the light that makes it run for cover. The Bible says that Satan is the “father of lies” so honesty and truth always upset his plans. Living in the light of God’s truth is our sure protection.
2. Breastplate of Righteousness. Guarding our spiritual vital organs is the breastplate of righteousness. In the Bible, righteousness is literally, “being in a right relationship with God.” When we are in a right relationship with God, the deadliest attacks bounce right off. Indeed, we may even be unaware of them, so secure are we in our walk with God.
3. Feet with Readiness. Next, we are to fit our “feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” Roman soldiers wore hobnailed sandals or short boots. They were unbelievably tough, could walk through or over anything, and could keep going when the soldiers of the other side were quitting. One Roman legion is said to have marched 100 miles in a single day! We, too, are equipped for the long haul, ready to march through or over anything because of the Good News of peace we have.
4. Shield of Faith. The shield of faith, like it’s Roman likeness, is not a small shield, but a full, body-length shield that completely protects the bearer from all airborne attacks. When we have faith, we trust. The more we trust, the less fear operates in our lives. A few verses later (v. 18) in John’s first letter, John writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” Trust reminds us that ultimately what matters is not what we want, but what God wants. The night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane one of the most perfect prayers ever prayed: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Do you hear the agony? He wants one thing, but even in the face of this terrible future, his great trust in God is greater than his own desire.
5. Helmet of Salvation. The helmet of salvation, like a battle helmet, protects our head—our clear seeing, hearing and thinking—from attack. If we know that Jesus loved us so much he was willing to die for us, we will not be distracted or confused by any evil we encounter. If we belong to God, no one has the strength to take us from God’s protection.
6. Sword of the Spirit. God also gives us the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Where the other pieces Paul lists provide strong defense, the Word of God becomes one of our sure weapons. If we are living in the Word, spending time regularly reading the Bible, then God’s Word will help us cut through all the temptations, trials and attacks we might face. When Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, Jesus responded to each temptation with scripture. The more we are steeped in the Word of God, the better prepared we will be.
7. Prayer. Finally, Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” Prayer is one of the essential elements of our spiritual arsenal. Why? Because prayer keeps our spiritual armor and weapons in good condition. Prayer keeps the rust from making our armor vulnerable to attack and sharpens and oils the sword of the spirit. Prayer is one of the ways we open ourselves to the working of God in our lives. Prayer invites God in and transforms us into God’s image. Prayer is so vital that Jesus prays often and with such power that the only thing the disciples ever asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray. Prayer is important for keeping us in good spiritual condition, ready to face whatever God, our Commander-in-Chief, asks of us. Prayer reminds us that ultimately, the most important spiritual battles are within us.
The story is told that one day, Jesus and Satan were having an ongoing argument about who was better on his computer. They had been going at it for days and God was tired of hearing all of the bickering. Finally God said, “Cool it. I am going to set up a test that will run two hours and I will judge who does the better job.”
So Satan and Jesus sat down at their keyboards and typed away.
They did spreadsheets.
They wrote reports.
They sent faxes.
They sent e-mail.
They sent out e-mail with attachments.
They did some genealogy reports.
They made cards.
They did every known job.
But ten minutes before their time was up, lightning suddenly flashed across the sky, thunder rolled, the rain poured and, of course, the electricity went off. Satan stared at his blank screen and screamed every curse word known in the underworld. Jesus just sighed.
The electricity finally flickered back on, and each of them restarted their computers.
Satan started searching frantically, screaming “It’s gone! It’s all gone! I lost everything when the power went out!”
Meanwhile, Jesus quietly started printing out all of his files from past two hours.
Satan observed this and became irate. “Wait! He cheated, how did he do it?”
God shrugged and said, “Jesus saves.”
In the end, our confidence does not come from our faith or our great spiritual prowess, but from God and God’s strength. Paul writes in verse 10, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” The battle is really not ours in the end. The battle is between God’s forces and Satan’s. The battle belongs to the Lord. And we know who is going to win.
Why is this something for today? To be sure, when we say that we stand for God we are saying we stand against evil. Because to say that we will do what God wants before we do what we want, drives Satan nuts! Satan hates it when we enjoy each other, when we delight in God’s Presence, when we experience joy and purpose together, when we share between us, and follow in Christ’s footsteps. So I know Satan is not going to like it one bit what we are about to do together. We are coming into a time in this church’s life when we are setting ourselves up to do some colossally wonderful things with God, things that have the potential to make our fellowship incredibly strong in faith, tenacious in love, joyful in sacrifice. Satan is going to hate what we are doing. But God is going to smile! By God’s grace and with his power, we will move into the glorious future God has planned for us together