As we approach our passage today, it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes. Whenever I mention “spiritual warfare,” some Christians seem to be obsessed by it and see virtually everything that happens to them as related to it. Others seem to live in denial, thinking that since “Satan is a defeated foe” that there is no battle at all. Today, I’d like to take a thoughtful middle ground and say that spiritual warfare is a reality, that’s why God gives us the spiritual armour we’re going to read about shortly. At the same time, we need not fear defeat in this battle, precisely because God gives us the spiritual armour we need to be successful. Of course, it is up to us to pick it up and use it.
As I read the New Testament the reality that we are in a spiritual battle is hard to miss. We will be in this battle until the end of our physical lives. I suggest to you when it seems we are not engaged with the enemy, it is not because we have won the battle, but that we have compromised sufficiently with him that he doesn’t waste his time on us.
Ephesians 6:10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,”
This time, I’m going to look at the passage in a more sharply focussed way, looking at the ideas we find in each verse, thinking about and applying them to our own situation. We’ll pick up with verse 10 where we read: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. This tells me that this spiritual battle in which we find ourselves is too much for us to handle on our own. We have no option other than depending on God’s strength. Most Christians face moments when every fibre of their being tells them to give up and get out. But surrender to the enemy is not the answer; surrender to God is. Submit yourself to Him and ask for the resources you need to do what He has called you to do.
Verse 11 begins, “Put on the whole armour of God.” This isn’t too difficult. If my neighbour asks me to come and bring my tools, I know we’re going to be working. If he asks me to bring my musical instrument, I know we’re going to be playing together. If he asks me to bring my appetite, I know we’re going to eat. When Paul says “put on the whole armour of God,” it’s because we’re in a fight – a dangerous one. We could get hurt.
In the same verse, he goes on to give the reason. It is so that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. This suggests to me that the fight is mostly a defensive one. If you consume much sports programming on the media, you will have heard: “The best offence is a good defence.” How many prominent preachers have been brought down by their neglect of their own spiritual health? They were onstage fighting Satan, but crashed in defeat when Satan sent a sexual temptation to their hotel room a couple of hours later. Our temptations will always be where we are weak, but we are likely to fall in one of the areas of power, money or sex.
Verse 12 reminds us of who the enemy is. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This fight is not against people no matter how much they annoy us. They are merely agents in the hands of the enemy, just as we are agents in the hand of God. We don’t waste our time attacking people for their godless positions. We stand firm in the truth and serve as beacons to those who are looking for it. The fight is not in the physical world – it is a spiritual one and thus largely takes place in the mind of the believer.
One of my favourite authors, C. S. Lewis, wrote a delightful little book called “The Screwtape Letters” in which he imagined the letters of an older demon, named “Screwtape” to his young nephew, named “Wormwood.” This book is a powerful reminder of some of the ways Satan and his demons distract us from the voice of God. Here’s a brief excerpt:
“I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line for when I said “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle it at the end of a morning”, the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind”, he was already half way to the door. Once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a No. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of “real life” (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all “that sort of thing” just couldn’t be true. He knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about “that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic”. He is now safe in Our Father’s house.” (The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis) By which, of course, he means Hell.
Sometimes we think of spiritual warfare only in terms of temptation to sin, but as Lewis points out, Satan also distracts us and promotes doubt as well as presenting opportunities to sin. These may arise without demonic intervention of any kind.
Given what we’re facing, Paul challenges us to “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. If there were any doubts before, these words convince us that our fight is DEFINITELY a defensive one. Satan has nothing to offer for which we would be prepared to do battle. All he offers is sin and death and hell. It is God who has all the good things we might want. In Christ we have things which Satan would like to take away from us – things like the fruit of the Spirit and effective ministry, for example. We arm ourselves to be able to withstand the onslaught of the evil one.
In verse 14, Paul begins with the command “Stand therefore.” I have been really impressed with the repetitions of this command. Apparently, it’s not our job to make advances. Victory for us is not letting Satan gain ground. In various parts of the world, you’ll find old forts and castles. These were designed to keep the enemy out. They were for defensive purposes only. Our job, as far as our faith goes, is to “hold the fort.”
Then, right away, Paul begins mentioning specific items of armour which we can use in this defensive battle. The first he mentions is “the belt of truth.” The truth is essential to hold everything together just as a belt does. We cannot respond properly to temptation if we don’t know what God says about things. We might think that cheating other people out of what we have promised to give them is OK, if we didn’t know what God says about justice. We might think that hating our enemies is OK, if we hadn’t read what the Bible says about loving them. And so on. We need the truth. We find that in the Bible.
Next on the list is “the breastplate of righteousness.” It is interesting that Paul mentions righteousness in connection with the piece of armour which protects our heart from attack. There is perhaps no deeper wound than the one we feel when Satan accuses us accurately of a sin we have accepted and harboured for a long time. It is ironic that after we have hardened our heart against the gentle reproof of the Spirit, we will fall not in repentance to God, but in defeat to the sharp thrust of Satan raising the same issue.
We need to do two things in regard to this. Firstly, we live as righteously as we possibly can so that Satan cannot accuse us of sin. Secondly, because we all fail, we need to embrace the righteousness of Christ, which we receive through His death for us. Remember, God puts our sin on Him and puts His righteousness on us. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
And now, the clock tells me we have to stop for today. I’m sorry to leave you in the middle of a passage without getting to its conclusion, but to give adequate time to Paul’s comments about spiritual warfare and the armour God gives us to defend ourselves, we have to take a break until next time.