with a passion to worship God,
who care for one another
and bring God’s love into a broken world”
I am moving in my third message on ‘God at War’. In 4 messages I look at ‘the reality of evil’ from a biblical and kingdom perspective. And by doing so, I hope and pray that it will equip and empower us to take our position as Christians, in a world that is filled with evil.
The emphasis in the previous 2 messages was on ‘the reality of evil’ as a general force at work among us. The focus on our response to evil was primarily to be on the ‘offensive’. In the first message I spoke on Ps. 74 and God’s victory over Leviathan; Satan who is the source of all evil and satanic power. Last week I spoke on Math. 16 in which Jesus tells about the ‘power’ and ‘authority’ that He has given His church over the powers of Hades, which is the whole of the satanic realm. From these two passages we’ve learned that our response as Christians and as church is to join God in the warfare against evil through ‘prayer, proclamation and demonstration’. Seeking the heart of God, Speaking the truth of God and doing the works of God.
Today I will emphasize our response to evil when it hits us on a personal level. The focus on our response will mainly be ‘defensive’. What do you do when you are confronted with temptation? Or when your colleague at work speaks bad about you because you’re Christian? Or when destructive and depressive thoughts are spinning around in your mind? What do you do when you’ve come under the power of sickness – like Andrea? I would like to look at these sort of battles from Eph. 6:10-18.
Reading: Eph. 6:10-18
The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Churches in the region of Ephesus [West-Turkey] and at least had two things in mind. In the first three chapters Paul lays a theological foundation about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to belong to the [new] people of God [the Church]. And then in the second half of his epistle, the last three chapters, Paul teaches what it means practically to live out their followership to Jesus on a day to day basis.
The passage that we’ve been reading now, is all about the Christian’s response to the struggle against evil. In chapter 2:1-7 Paul already explained that Jesus has rescued us from the ‘ruler of the kingdom of the air’, which is Satan, and under whose dominion we lived.
We we’re dead in our transgressions and sins because we followed the ways of the Satan (2:1-2). But now that you’ve been saved from him, you’ve entered a spiritual battle with Him. It’s a practical consequence of your salvation in Jesus Christ! Now that we belong to Jesus; Satan is out to ruin our lives (1 Peter 5:8-9). It’s not the greatest news, but a tough reality. And how do you respond to this enemy?
In Eph. 6, Paul uses military language as to explain our response to evil. He basically says:
Let me briefly share a few thoughts over these three points.
Be strong in the Lord
First, Paul urges us to ‘be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power’. Why do we need to be strong in the Lord? Because our lives involves a spiritual battle. And this battle is not to be taken light.
Our present reality is that we live in the dynamic tensions between the ‘already / not yet’ of Jesus victory. And to stick with Pauls military language: our present experience is living between ‘D-day’ and ‘V-day’. The day of Decision in which Satan in principal is defeated, is the day of Jesus death on the Cross. In his death, Jesus ‘dethroned the prince of this world [Satan]’ (John 12:30) and triumphed over the powers of evil (Col. 2:15). But the full Victory will be claimed on the day when Jesus comes; the day of the Lord (Is. 27:1-2)! And in this tension, of the victory of Jesus that is already accomplished but not yet fully claimed, ‘there are battles yet to be fought’ (G. Boyd. God at War. Page 269).
In other words: the spiritual warfare is a reality and a major part of our experience in our Christian lives! And so, when you come to Christ, live doesn’t get easier. It gets better, for sure, for Jesus invites you into a life of fullness (John 10:10). But easier, no. Paul says in vs. 12 that we still live in a ‘dark world’; the earth is a domain filled with darkness (vs. 12). In Gal. 1:4 Paul refers to this era as ‘the present evil age’. We live on an earth that is a battlefield – where satanic powers are at work. And although we’ve been rescued from this present evil age, we still live ‘in’ it and will be confronted by evil powers.
In verse 11 & 12 we see how these satanic powers are at work among us. Paul explains that there is a huge hierarchy of spiritual evil forces in the heavenly realms, who manifest their attacks on earth. Now, this is not a medieval worldview. This is the biblical worldview of how the spirit world looks like. Paul speaks about spiritual ‘rulers’, ‘authorities’, ‘powers’, ‘forces’. They’re not the same; but they’re all distinctive evil, spiritual entities [like (groups of) angels and demons] working under their captain: the devil. Now, the bible has a lot more to say about this, but I won’t go into that now. What you and I need to realize is that our battle is ‘spiritual’ because we fight against a well-organized army of satanic forces!
And because the battle is spiritual, we need to be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Here comes the gospel: God ‘raised Him [Christ] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.., not only in the present age but also in the age to come’ (Eph. 1:20-21). Yes! The powers of Satan seems to be impressive, strong and intimidating…but…Jesus is given all authority over Satan and his allies!!!
But there is more…Eph. 2:6 continues: ‘And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…’ Do you hear that? Why can we stand against Satan? Why should we be strong in the Lord? Because Jesus has absolute authority over Satan and his kingdom and we are seated in Christ – far above Satan and his well-organized army! That’s why we can stand against Satan and his evil plans. Now, that’s really good news, isn’t it?
And yet, it’s pretty obvious from the bible that ‘evil’ is expected to happen. ‘When the day of evil comes’ (6:13) says Paul. It’s never the question ‘why’ God allows us to suffer or to face evil in our lives. Instead; God is at war against evil and sent his Son Jesus Christ to dethrone the prince of this world, to judge all evil and to rescue us into His Kingdom of light – and that’s the good news we have! And in Christ you’re seated above the satanic powers – therefore you’re able to stand your ground and to be on the offensive and defensive!
But how do you do that, practically?
Put on the full armor of God
‘Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes’ (vs. 11, 13).
Paul uses a picture of a Roman soldier to explain practically how you can take your stand against the devils attacks. In these days it was the Roman empire that was in control and the Roman soldier was familiar to everyone. In fact, Paul wrote this letter while he was taken in prison in Rome and each day a Roman soldier was with Paul to guard him (Acts 28:16).
So, using the picture of a soldier really spoke to the first readers of this epistle. But with a bit of effort, it will speak to you as well. Let’s briefly look at the picture.
First, Paul says that you are to put on ‘the full armor of God’. Not just parts of it, but all of the equipment. Putting on the full armor of God in fact is a different way of saying: fully position yourself in your identity in Christ. In Rom. 13:14 Paul says it like this: ‘clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ’. Now, the uniform would declare the soldier’s identity. In other words; you are to fully position yourself in Jesus. Put Jesus on; all that Jesus is and all that you have received in Jesus, is what you need to put on and what you would need in order to be successful in your spiritual battles. But what is your equipment? Paul names 6 different parts of your equipment as a soldier of Christ:
To summarize: A Roman soldier had to be the kind of man who could be relied upon and under severe pressure, to stand fast and not give way. Paul makes clear that the same quality and attitude is necessary in the spiritual warfare. In the picture of a Roman soldier Paul gives us 6 spiritual weapons, 5 defensive and 1 offensive that we should use in order to take stand against the devil’s attacks. Putting on the full armor of God is all about: positioning yourself in your identity in Christ, in your readiness to witness Jesus, exercise faith and knowing how to handle the active and living Word of God.
Prayer: a strategy for warfare - Closing
I will close off with ‘prayer as a strategy for warfare’. Paul ends his instruction by saying: ‘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’ (vs. 18).
Prayer is extremely important in spiritual warfare. On all occasions and always pray! It’s our connection with our commander-in-chief: Jesus Christ! As I said in my first message; it’s through prayer that we join with God in the warfare!
And your prayers are to be ‘in the Spirit’; that is ‘Spirit-led’. Spirit-led prayers are non-religious and no routine prayers. Instead; they are fuelled by the holy Spirit – it’s the Spirit praying in and through you (Rom. 8:26-27)! Therefore, I encourage you to always welcome to holy Spirit as you pray – and allow the holy Spirit to lead you how to pray!
But, and I end with this, you’re not alone in the battle. We are in the battle together. That’s also what it means ‘to be church’. Paul had the church in mind, he never thinks about Christians living in isolation from other Christians. And on the battlefield, there will be victims. You will not always ‘stand your ground’; you will fall, many times. I will fall, many times. But in the grace and forgiveness of God you will rise again (Proverbs 24:16)! The church is a community of grace and forgiveness; of second, third and seventy-seven times chances (Math. 18:22). You aren’t to fight your battles on your own. And we, as community, should not let others fight their battles on their own.
Instead; we are to watch each other’s backs! ‘Be alert, says Paul, and keep on praying for all the saints’. The only part of the Roman’s soldier that wasn’t protected by his equipment was his back. It was the task of the soldier standing behind or next to him to be alert and protect his back. We are to look out for one another, support and help each other. And a simple way to watch each other’s back’s is through prayer. I need you to pray for me; and you need me to pray for you. Always. At all times. As Jesus taught us to pray: ‘deliver us from the evil one’ (Math. 6:13). [also: Paul’s prayer in Eph. 3:16].