Monday, 14 May 2012

Ephesians 6:10-20 Spiritual Warfare

Tonight I want to talk about a topic that we don’t very often discuss in church, but it is an important topic, and one that we must not ignore, spiritual warfare.

Paul in Ephesians writes “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.” (Ephesians 6:12)  And the apostle Peter warns us “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Many Christian’s are uncomfortable about talk about the devil and spiritual warfare. There were two 6 year olds who struggled with the problem of the existence of the devil. One boy said, "Oh, there isn't any devil." The other, rather upset, said, "What do you mean, there isn't any devil? It talks about him all the way through the Bible!" the first replied, "Oh that's not true, you know. It's just like Santa Clause, the devil turns out to be your dad." 
But if we are serious about following Jesus, we also need to recognise that the devil is real and that we are on the front line of a spiritual battle.  Pope Bennedict wrote “the devil… is a puzzling but real, personal and not merely symbolical presence.”  He goes on to write “The more one understands the holiness of God, the more one understands the opposite of what is holy, namely, the deceptive masks of the devil.”

Jesus was fully aware that he was involved in a spiritual battle, and a significant part of his ministry was devoted to delivering people from unclean spirits.  When he sent out his disciples he gave them this instruction “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE ENEMY

British troops surrendering to the Japanese in Singapore in 1942

When going to war, it is important not to underestimate your enemy. Winston Churchill described the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942 as the "worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history". The fall of Singapore came about because the British underestimated their enemy. British troops stationed in Singapore were told that the Japanese were poor fighters, and would never be able to take Singapore.  But when the Japanese attacked, it took everyone by surprise, both because of the speed of the onslaught which didn’t give the British forces time to re-group, and also because they attacked from the land, through the jungle and mangrove swamps of the Malay Peninsula, and not from the sea as the military planners had assumed. 
As Christians we must not underestimate our enemy.

One of my favourite Christian books is the Screwtape Letters, written by CS Lewis.  In this book a senior demon Screwtape writes letters of instruction to his nephew, a junior demon called Wormwood. In the introduction to the book CS Lewis writes: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.  One is to disbelieve in their existence.  The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.  They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.”

As Christians we have to recognise the reality and existence of the demonic, and recognise that there is a battle taking place over our souls.  The devil is the absolute opposite to God, and he wants to destroy our relationship with God.  Jesus likened the devil to a thief who comes "to steal, kill, and destroy" (John 10:10). 

The devil is the great deceiver and tempter, who twists and distorts things.  We see this in the Garden of Eden, where he tempts Adam and Eve.  When God placed Adam and Eve in the garden, He instructed them not to eat from the fruit of the tree that was in the middle of the garden.  But when the devil comes along, in the form of a serpent, he twists what God had said by asking “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The devil plants seeds of doubt in the mind of Eve, and he tempts her to take a bite from the fruit.  This is how the devil often attacks us, he knows what our weaknesses are, and he knows how to exploit them.  He subtly tries to plant seeds of doubt in our minds, and as soon as we give in to the temptation, he immediately condemns us. Satan uses deception and darkness to bring about confusion and doubt, whereas Jesus uses truth and light to direct us and guide us.

What the devil wants to do is to undermine our faith and trust in God.  He wants us to start doubting ourselves and God, and if we start to drift away from God, if we allow our relationship with God to grow cold, then the devil has succeeded. 

As Christians we should not be surprised if we come under attack from the devil.  Rather we should be surprised if we don’t come under attack.  Spiritual battles can manifest in our daily lives through relational conflict, temptations to sin, persecution, financial pressures and illness.  In these and other situations, our enemy wants us to turn from God in fear or frustration, instead of drawing near to God and waiting on Him. 
I believe that as we have been seeing God doing great things here at St Martin’s, and moving in people’s lives, we have also experienced an increase in spiritual attacks.  Because the devil doesn’t want to see a thriving flourishing church, and if he can undermine that in any way he will.

So what should our response be to all of this?

BEING PROPERLY EQUIPPED FOR BATTLE

When going into battle, it is important to go in properly equipped. 

Battle of Rorke's Drift

In the battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879,150 British and Colonial troops successfully defended a garrison against an intense assault by 3 to 4 thousand Zulu warriors.  The reason the assault failed, was because the Zulu warriors were poorly equipped with spears and antiquated rifles and muskets, which was no match to the weapons or training that the British soldiers had. 

We need to make sure we are properly equipped for battle against the devil.  We need to equip ourselves with the spiritual armour of God. 


So what is the armour of God? The armour of God is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit.

BELT OF TRUTH

The first part of the armour of God is the belt of truth.  When preparing for a battle, a soldier would put on his belt first, because it was designed to keep the other pieces of the soldier’s armour in place. 

Satan is the great deceiver, who often attacks truth with lies.  One of the enemy's common tactics in telling us lies is to put the lies in the first person. For example, the thought may come: "My life isn't worth living." Or, "God doesn't care about me." The devil knows we are far more likely to believe his lies if we acknowledge the thoughts as our own and start speaking them out of our own mouths. But we mustn’t fall for it.
We need to put on the belt of truth. We need to be firmly established in the truth of God’s word, so that we can resist Satan’s lies and deceit.   Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

This is why knowing God’s word is so important, so that we can resist the attacks of the enemy.  As followers of Christ we are called to abide in the truth, walk in truth, and speak the truth.  If we do that, we are spiritually ready in every circumstance.

BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

Next is the breastplate of righteousness.  The breast plate protected the vital organs, if a soldier failed to wear his breastplate an arrow could easily pierce his heart or lungs.
The breastplate of righteousness protects our heart, which is susceptible to spiritual damage.  Righteousness simply means right standing before God, which is achieved by having a good honest, and open relationship with Him. So putting on the breastplate of righteousness is achieved by spending time with God, and then walking in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit and in accordance with Scripture

SHOES

We are then called to have our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace.  In the imagery that Paul uses, there is the idea that we have to go out and face the enemy face on.  And as Christians the way we do that, is to always be ready to carry the message of God’s love to the world. As Paul instructed Timothy, be ready to "preach the word; in season & out of season" (II Timothy 4:2).  To carry the Gospel of peace to others, we must first be at peace with God. 

As the followers of Christ by taking the Gospel of peace out into the world, we are participating in the mission of Jesus, we are building the Kingdom of God, and tackling head on the forces of darkness in the world, that would seek to kill and destroy.

SHIELD OF FAITH

Next comes the shield of faith.  For a Roman soldier, the shield was specially designed to deflect any missiles thrown at them. 

When Satan attacks us through insults, setbacks and temptations, the shield of faith protects us, and with God’s perspective we can see beyond our present circumstances and know that ultimate victory is ours. 

Carrying the shield of faith is about placing our faith, trust and confidence in God.  It is important that we have a proper perception of who God is and what He is like, because our enemy will try to attack and distort our perception of God, in the hope of diminishing our trust in God. The devil tries to create a credibility gap between what the Word of God says and our actual experience. Satan may point his accusing finger at God while planting doubts in your mind such as, "What if God has forgotten about you?" Or, "If God really loved you, He wouldn't have allowed this." If the doubts go unchecked, they will tear down your confidence in God and bring about worry, uncertainty, fear, and unrest in our relationship with Him.

This is why, rather than allowing life’s circumstances to dictate our perception of God, we need to allow God’s Word to tell us the truth about Him. 

HELMET OF SALVATION

Satan wants us to doubt Jesus and the salvation that he has won for us on the cross, which is why the next piece of armour is the helmet of salvation, because this protects our minds from doubting God’s saving work for us. 

This helmet can also be called the "hope of salvation." Because hope is the confident expectation that God will keep His promises, and that whilst the battle may rage on, the war has been won, through Jesus’ victory on the cross. 

Wearing the helmet of salvation is also about the conscious decision to focus our minds on God, because many of Satan's battles against us happen in the mind. Whether that be lewd thoughts, lies and doubts, or anything else to discourage our faith.  Which is why Paul tells us to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

The final piece of the armour of God is the sword of the spirit, which could be used both for defence and also offense.  This is a reminder that we are called to take the attack to Satan.  The sword of the spirit is the Word of God spoken with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Any soldier, before entering into battle, first has to learn how to use their weapon.  And so we need to know how to handle God’s Word properly, because it is a powerful tool. The Word of God is described as living and active, and sharper than a two edged sword, so it has the power to penetrate the heart, and lay open the motives and feelings of those it touches.  The more we know and understand the word of God, the more effective we will be in standing against the enemy of our souls.

THE WAR IS WON

Allied troops on D Day

On June 6th 1944, allied troops landed in Normandy.  It marked the beginning of the end for Hitler, but it took another 10 months before the fighting in Europe finally came to an end. 

Whilst the spiritual battles may rage on, the war against Satan has also already been won.  Satan was defeated when Jesus died on the cross, and Satan knows he is defeated, and as Christians we have nothing to fear. 

A man went to visit a wildcat in a zoo, as he stood there an attendant entered the cage through a door on the opposite side. He had nothing in his hands but a broom. Carefully closing the door, he proceeded to sweep the floor of the cage. He observed that the worker had no weapon to ward off an attack by the beast. In fact, when he got to the corner of the cage where the wildcat was lying, he poked the animal with the broom. The wildcat hissed at him and then lay down in another corner of the enclosure. The man said to the attendant, "You certainly are a brave man." "No, I ain't brave," he replied as he continued to sweep. "Well, then that cat must be tame." "No," came the reply, "he ain't tame." "If you aren't brave and the wildcat isn't tame, then I can't understand why he doesn't attack you." Then the attendant chuckled, then replied with an air of confidence, "Mister, he's old--and he ain't got no teeth."  That is the devil, his got no teeth, and the only power he has over us, is the power that we give him. 

We mustn’t ignore our enemy, but at the same time we must always remember that Christ has won the victory for us, and we have nothing to fear from Satan, as the apostle James wrote “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) 

Jesus told His disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  (Matthew 10:16). Spiritual struggles and attacks of the enemy are inevitable for the Christian, but God has provided His protection. Indeed, "We are more than conquerors though Him who loved us"
(Romans 8:37).

The application of the whole armour of God is not a one-time lesson; it is a way of life. By learning to wear and wield these powerful armaments, we can resist the tactics of the devil, and, when the fight is over, still be standing.