who care for one another and bring God’s love into a broken world”
Maurits Stevens, February 28, 2016
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:
- Be strong in the Lord
- Put on the full armor of God
- Pray at all times
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:
- The Belt of Truth: the belt would hold the tunic of the soldier together so that he would be free to move. It basically means that you’re to live in the ‘freedom of the gospel’; Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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). Live out the gospels; be fully authentic, real towards yourself and towards others; don’t pretend, don’t be religious but fully live in the freedom of Jesus. A weak Christian is a religious Christian, and Satan loves us to be religious. Jesus seeks followers, for they are the ones who live in the purposes of God’s kingdom!
- The Breastplate of Righteousness: the breastplate would protect a soldiers’ most vital part; his heart. Satan is ‘the great dragon’ (Rev. 12:) out to ruin, or ‘the thief’ (John 10:10) and ‘the wolf’(John 10:12) looking to steal. And one of his major strategies is to ruin and steal your heart, for the heart is the center of your whole being. It’s the seat of your emotions, your will, your feelings. Corrupt the heart and you corrupt one’s life. Paul calls us to ‘not give the devil a foothold’. Sin, depression, anger (Eph. 4:26-27), bitterness, they all can be or lead to a satanic foothold (Eph. 4:27) in the center of your whole being. The breastplate of righteousness is the breastplate of ‘faith and love’ as Paul says in 1 Thess. 5:8. And by putting on the breastplate of faith and love, you not only live in the righteousness of God (e.g. Phil. 3:9), but also seek to do right and do just to others (Is. 59:17). In other words; the defense against depressive emotions is to fully accept and stand in the fact that God has put you in a right relationship with Himself; there is no one other than Satan, who accuses You don’t have to earn approval with God. You are made right with God and approved by God (Col. 1:22). And therefore you can live in a right relationship with others and do good to them! ‘Love God with all your heart…and love others as yourself’ – said Jesus (Math. 22:37-39).
- Shoes of the gospel: The feet speaks about your readiness to give testimony of Jesus. As we’ve seen in the previous message, Satan is as a devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8-9), out to ruin the Church. He tries to weaken the Church testimony of Jesus. The persecution of our fellow brothers and sisters is a sad example of it. But we should not be intimidated by Satan’s aggression. Instead, in a world that is filled with satanic evil we have great news to tell: ‘the gospel of peace’! It’s the message of ‘wholeness’ – the message of the Kingdom! You should always be ready to bring that news of peace into this world – especially in the darkest places (Eph. 5:8-17).
- The Shield of Faith: the shield was one of the most crucial defensive parts of a soldier’s equipment, for the shield would protect everything. ‘In addition to this…’ Paul lays emphasis on the shield of faith. Faith is the most important part of your garment. It’s by ‘faith that you will move mountains’ said Jesus to his disciples after he had healed a demon-possessed boy’ (Math. 17:20-21). Peter says it like this: ‘resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith…’ (1 Peter 5:9) and James add to this ‘…and he [the devil] will flee from you’ (James 4:7). Faith is your trust in the unlimited power and sovereign authority of Jesus – it means to ‘be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power’ and act upon that. Resist the devil through active faith in Jesus Christ!
- The Helmet of Salvation: the helmet would protect the head. Practically it means the ‘protection of your mind’. Our mind [with the heart] is another major battlefield. Satan tries to set up strongholds in our thinking (2 Cor. 10:4-6). He is the ‘accuser’ (Rev. 12:10) and ‘deceiver’(John 8:44) . He tries to ‘blind us’ for the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). Low self- esteem, or self-condemning thoughts are such strongholds. Or temptation is Satan’s deceiving whisper to lead you away from the life of fullness in Jesus. And how do break down these strongholds or defend yourself against Satan’s deceiving whisper? Paul says in 2 Cor. 10:5-6: ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience…’ In other words; strongholds are demolished by placing the truth of God over your life and sin is conquered by making Jesus Lord over your life.
- The Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God: the only offensive weapon in the soldiers garment is his sword. The author of Hebrews refers to the Word of God as ‘sharper than a double-edged sword’, for ‘the word of God is living and active’ (Hebr. 4:12). There is much power in the word of God! Paul uses the Greek word ‘rhema’ that is translated as ‘word’. And ‘rhema’ is the spoken word of God; the word of God that is made active and alive by the holy Spirit. I already talked about ‘proclamation’ as part of spiritual warfare. Proclamation is using the word of God as ‘rhema’. You speak out the truth of God in the power of the holy Spirit. And because it’s the living and active Word of God, you need to practice yourself in the Word of God! You need to learn to read your bible, not as a book filled with ‘dead words’ or filled with ‘doctrines’. But active and made alive, by God’s Spirit– and filled with God’s presence!
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].