Spiritual Warfare 1
The Christian Life As Warfare: Background
Illustration: A person owned a hummingbird feeder with four feeding stations. It became popular with the hummingbirds living in the area. Two, three, or even four birds would feed at one time. The feeder was refilled at least once a day. Suddenly, the usage decreased to almost nothing. The feeder needed filling only about once a week. The reason for the decreased usage soon became apparent. A male bird had taken over the feeder as his property. He became the only hummingbird who used the feeder. He would feed and then sit in a nearby tree, rising to attack any bird that approached his feeder. Guard duty occupied his every waking hour. He became an effective guard. The only time another bird gets to use the feeder was when the self-appointed owner was momentarily gone to chase away an intruder.
By choosing to assume ownership of the feeder, he forfeited his freedom. He was no longer free to come and go as he wished. He became tied to the work of guarding his feeder. He was possessed by his possession. His freedom of action is as circumscribed as if he were in a cage. He was caged by the situation he created.
When we entangle ourselves in sin, we become captives to our situation.
Spiritually, we are living in a cage.
God desires us to "soar" on wings like an eagle's (Is. 40:31), but instead, we become entrapped to sin, unable to live in freedom as God desires.
Our enslavement is cause by one thing: Deception by our enemy: Satan.
When you take away the devil's "power" to deceive, he is then rendered powerless.
Indeed, Satan is engaged in a full scale war to deceive us, so that we will spend eternity separated from God.
Because Satan is waging war against us, we are daily involved in spiritual warfare.
Yes, we are in a battle -- we are soldiers -- drafted into this spiritual warfare, whether we want to or not.
Therefore, I would like to present a series on "Spiritual Warfare," that will help us to defeat Satan in battle and to live a victorious Christian life.
In this first sermon, I will set the stage, by looking at Ephesians as an orientation about the Christian life as to why spiritual warfare is essential.
Then, in the next three sermons, I will present our spiritual weapons and equipment, that we, as good soldiers can equip ourselves and take into battle to enable us to defeat our enemy.
Finally, I will talk about the "payoff," that is, what is our destiny -- our reward for winning this battle, and what is the destiny of those who loose the battle.
Theme: In this message, I will cover three areas that provide a background to Spiritual Warfare.
The text I will be using is Ephesians 6:10-18.
Let's read all of it to get an overall picture, then go back and look at verses 10-12.
Eph 6:10-18: 10 "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 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." (NIV)
I. City: Ephesus
Ephesus was the capital city a population of at least a quarter million people.
It was a religious center and had strategic influence over all of Asia Minor.
It had also been Paul’s base of operation during his nearly three-year stay in the province.
Ephesus: Had a reputation for being a center for magical practices.
Ephesus was also a city famous for its patron deity, Artemis of Ephesus.
The Ephesian Artemis was worshiped as a goddess of the underworld.
She was also believed to wield effective power over the spirits in nature and wildlife.
The signs of the zodiac on her cultic image reassured her worshipers that she was a cosmic deity who had influence over the astral spirits who controlled the unfolding of fate.
Ephesus was not only the city of Artemis; at least forty-four other deities were worshiped in this city.
It was precisely these kind of people -- magical practitioners and worshipers of Artemis and countless other gods -- who were becoming Christians and joining the churches in the area.
It is too easy to read the book of Ephesians through our own cultural lenses and fail to grasp the nature and magnitude of the issues facing these young first-century Christians.
Although the Ephesian Christians would have longed to give their devotion to Christ, the pull to syncretize their Christianity with other practices and beliefs would have been intense.
With regard to the issue of the demonic, the Ephesian readers had far more in common with non-Western cultures than they do with those in the West.
The basic issues were the same throughout these western Asian churches.
These new believers needed help in developing a Christian world view.
They especially needed to know how to respond to the gods and goddesses they had formerly worshiped and the various astral, terrestrial and underworld spirits they had feared.
Paul wanted his readers to entertain no doubt that Christ is superior to the powers they feared and had once served.
Knowing that his readers would be tempted to doubt the superiority and all-sufficiency of Christ,
Paul prayed that God would open their eyes so they could see the incomparably great power of the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.
His prayer became an elaboration on the mighty power of God: “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” (1:19b-20)
Paul did not stop here.
He went on to draw the implications of the exaltation of Christ to the status of the powers.
Christ is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (1:21)
The powers are especially in view when Paul says, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph 1:19-22).
II. Conquest: Christ is exalted and we are able to have conquest over the enemy.
Anticipating his summons to spiritual warfare, Paul prayed for God’s strength to be imparted to all of his believing readers.
He prayed that “out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph 3:16).
Having prayed for them, he can then admonish his readers at the end of the letter to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph 6:10).
God’s power is essential not only for resisting the influence of the powers of Satan, but also for manifesting love in the Christian community and living according to the ethical standards that Paul laid down.
The mighty resurrection power of God is available to believers.
Illustration: In his book Forever Triumphant, F.J. Huegel told a story that came out of World War II. After General Jonathan Wainwright was captured by the Japanese, he was held prisoner in a Manchurian concentration camp. Cruelly treated, he became "a broken, crushed, hopeless, starving man." Finally the Japanese surrendered and the war ended. A United States army colonel was sent to the camp to announce personally to the general that Japan had been defeated and that he was free and in command. After Wainwright heard the news, he returned to his quarters and was confronted by some guards who began to mistreat him as they had done in the past. Wainwright, however, with the news of the allied victory still fresh in his mind, declared with authority, "No, I am in command here! These are my orders." Huegel observed that from that moment on, General Wainwright was in control.
Huegel made this application: "Have you been informed of the victory of your Savior in the greatest conflict of the ages? Then rise up to assert your rights. Never again go under when the enemy comes to oppress. Claim the victory in Jesus' Name." Huegel observed, "We must learn to stand on resurrection ground, reckoning dead the old-creation life over which Satan has power, and living in the new creation over which Satan has no power whatever."
Paul encouraged Christians to draw on this power for daily living -- to stand on resurrection ground and live a life where Satan has no power!
In Asia Minor the believers had to develop an entirely new perspective on divine power.
Their perverted understanding of the supernatural needed to be purified by growing in the knowledge of the one true God and why He would impart His power to people.
First, the source of this power is new.
They have been reconciled to Yahweh, the “one God and Father of all” (Eph 4:5).
He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is supreme and has no competitors.
All the former deities they once served must be forsaken and regarded as the manifestations and work of the evil principalities and powers.
Second, these believers were directed to a new and unique means of access to divine power.
A magical formula will not manipulate God.
He is a personal God who communes with His people and seeks a relationship with His own.
This fellowship with God does not come through some mystical absorption into a deity and through a mystery ritual or any other means.
It comes by the access made to God through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Eph 2:18).
Believers have been brought into a very close union with the Lord Jesus Christ, which Paul most commonly refers to as being “in Christ.”
Such is the closeness and solidarity of this bond that believers can consider themselves to have been co-resurrected and co-exalted with Christ (Eph 2:6).
This is the basis for the new identity of believers and the foundation for their sharing in Christ’s authority over the powers of evil.
Third, there is a new purpose for imparting divine power to people.
No longer are believers to use supernatural power to inflict harm or for self-centered ends.
God’s power is imparted to believers to enable them to lead selfless lives.
Believers are called to exercise the kind of sacrificial love that was modeled on the cross (Eph 5:2).
In the eyes of the world, this is impossible.
And, although Satan and his powers will seek to prevent it, God’s power strengthens believers even to love selflessly.
In Ephesians, Paul was at pains to point out that people cannot respond to life’s decisions neutrally.
They are deeply affected by a set of evil, determining influences.
These influences led people on a path that is directed toward death—life apart from God.
In Ephesians 2:2-3, Paul described these influences in terms of the environment (“the age of this world”), an inner inclination toward evil (“the flesh”) and a supernaturally powerful opponent (“the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit”).
By drawing attention to these three forces, Paul established the inescapability of death for non-Christians and their resultant need to experience God’s redemptive work.
But an understanding of these three evil influences is also important for Christians as they seek to spread the gospel and live according to its ethical standards.
These influences continue to make themselves felt even after someone is saved.
A Christian is not automatically immune to temptation, the world’s influence or Satan’s direct assault.
Although these three influences continue to operate, there is a decisive difference for the Christian.
The believer lives in union with the risen Christ and may draw on Christ’s power—his victory over temptation, his resistance to the world’s allurements and influences, and, above all, his victory and resultant authority over Satan and the powers of darkness.
This passage thus forms the essential background to an appropriate understanding of why an orientation about the Christian life as warfare is essential.
The spiritual warfare passage we read about in our passage in Ephesus, represents the church as facing intense attack by the devil and his powers of evil.
Paul used an extended metaphor of a soldier who puts on the appropriate pieces of armor to heighten this image.
In this case the soldier puts on a belt, a breastplate, footgear, a shield and a helmet, and then takes up a sword.
The main point of this imagery is that Christianity should be understood as warfare and believers should prepare for this warfare just as any soldier would prepare for baffle.
Illustration: The United States President’s Armored Car
The President of the United States rides in an automobile valued at well over a 1/2 million dollars, and designed to withstand small-scale military attacks. It has:
—a fighter plane canopy and over two tons of armor. The shielding is designed to stop a 30-caliber rifle bullet, a barrage of molotov cocktails, or both.
—window glass and plastic bubble top which are thicker than the glass and plastic used in Air Force fighter planes.
—four specially designed tires. Within each tire is a hard steel disc with a hard rubber tread which would allow the car to be driven up to 50 miles an hour at top speed with all four tires flat.
The secret service is prepared for an attack against the President, even his armored car he rides in.
In the same way, or even more so, we need to prepare -- and prepare well -- for spiritual warfare against the enemy.
In regards to the metaphor that Paul is using, it is really unimportant to decide whether Paul has a Roman, Greek, Jewish or Persian soldier in mind, as most of the imagery comes straight from the book of Isaiah (see Is 11:5; 52:7; 59:17).
Furthermore, one needs to exercise caution in reading too much into each of the material images, such as emphasizing that the helmet protects the brain and the breastplate the vital organs.
Paul felt free to vary the spiritual truths he attached to military imagery.
For example, whereas the breastplate represents righteousness in Ephesians 6:14, it represents faith and love in 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
In verse 12, the use of the word struggle describes a scene of conflict.
In the first century this word was commonly used, not in the context of warfare, but as the typical term for the sport of wrestling.
It even occurs on inscriptions in western Asia Minor in reference to the wrestling event of the various games held in the regional cities.
As such, Paul probably used it to heighten the closeness of the struggle with the powers of evil.
The use of the words evil and darkness also indicate the character of spiritual warfare.
III. The Character, or Nature of Spiritual Warfare is the third area that we will look at.
The world rulers (kosmokratores) are depicted as ruling over “this darkness” and as being “evil.”
The whole setting is cast “on the evil day,” which probably refers both to the fact that “the days are evil” (Eph 5:16) and that there will be intense times of demonic attack.
Finally, the devil is depicted in extremely vivid terms as launching flaming arrows at the church (Eph 6:16).
The whole tenor of the passage is designed to convey the feeling of extreme danger.
The danger posed to Christians by these organized powers of darkness can be overwhelming --left on our own.
Christians, however, are not alone.
They are united to the exalted Lord who defeated the forces of evil and now imparts His power and authority to the church.
Throughout the letter the apostle has emphasized God’s power and its availability to believers.
This emphasis now reaches a climax when Paul says “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph 6:10).
He strung together three power-denoting terms: "be strong," "power," and "might" (endynama, kratos and ischys) that have a combined effect of bringing the almighty power of God into bold relief especially in contrast to the weaker powers of darkness.
We can be strong and stand against the enemy in the power of God -- in the might of God!
As we faithfully serve the Lord through the power of His Spirit, the devil's hosts will begin to attack us with all their might.
As a result, we may be called upon to suffer for Christ's sake.
Illustration: One time, a veteran missionary (Russell Ebersole) was once greatly encouraged by the beloved Bible teacher (William Pettingill). After the missionary told his teacher of the disappointments and trials he had faced on the foreign field, his teacher exclaimed, "Brother, that means you're on the right track. If you never experience any opposition or setbacks in the Lord's work, you ought to get down on your knees and ask Him to show you what you're doing wrong!"
God wants us to stand firm and withstand the onslaught of the enemy.
And so four times in the Ephesians 6:10-18 passage Paul used the word stand/withstand (same root in the Greek: Eph 6:11, 13, 14).
In the larger context of Ephesians, it is clear Paul did not want believers to “give a place to the devil” with excessive anger, lying, stealing or succumbing to any other temptation to moral impurity (Eph 4:27).
Paul described the devil and his powers as working in concert with the flesh and the world (Eph 2:2-3) to promote sin among Christians and hinder the progress of the gospel.
For this reason the Christian needs to appropriate God’s enabling power in order to live with moral integrity.
Spiritual warfare is therefore resistance.
It is a defensive posture.
It involves recognizing the supernatural nature of temptation and being prepared to face it.
It also implies appropriating God’s power to progress in eradicating moral vices that already have a place in one's life.
Illustration: One of the things that impresses me is that when Abraham Lincoln went off to the Black Hawk War he was a captain and, through no fault of his own, when he returned he was a private. That brought an end to his military career. Then his little shop in a country village "winked out" as he used to say, marking his failure as a businessman. As a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, he was too impractical, too unpolished, too temperamental to be a success.
Turning to politics he was defeated in his campaign for the legislature, defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress, defeated in his application to be Commissioner of the General Land Office, defeated in the Senatorial election of 1854, defeated in his aspirations for the Vice Presidency in 1856, defeated again in the Senatorial election of 1858.
Then 1861, over 100 years ago, found him in the White House as President of the United States. How did Lincoln interpret this strange succession of failures and frustrations which finally culminated in terrific personal victory? He said, "That the Almighty directly intervenes in human affairs is one of the plainest statements in the Bible. I have had so many evidences of His direction, so many instances when I have been controlled by some other power than my own will that I have no doubt that what this power comes from above." -- William Franklin Summerour
Abraham Lincoln had failures, but he very well knew that God intervened in his life -- that God's power was available.
As with Lincoln, our power comes above, so that we can appropriate God's power in our lives to defeat the enemy and live victorious Christian lives.
These sets us up in our next sermon to look at the offensive weapons we may use to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
Invitation: If you don't know Jesus, now is the time to come to Him and commit your life to Him. - His power is greater than the enemy -- He is ALL-POWERFUL
He gives victory in our spiritual battles. -- Won't you come to Him?