Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spiritual Warfare

Part 34 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. 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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (6:10-20).

An Unseen Battle

Within our human bodies, a battle is raging. Antibodies are fighting against bacteria in order to prevent sickness and disease. This battle can’t be seen with our eyes. Before the discovery of antibodies and bacteria, people would have been totally unaware of its existence. Whether we realize it or not, we are engaged in a spiritual battle. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,” but against the devil and his forces (vv. 11-12).

Be Strong in the Lord! 

In this battle, we must remember two truths.

1. Our strength comes from God. 

We are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (v. 10). “Be strong” is a passive verb. We are to be made strong. It is God who makes us strong (like a solider is made strong by being in a tank). God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9; cf. Deut. 31:6).

2. Our enemy is dangerous but defeated. 

The devil has many “schemes” (v. 11; cf. 2 Cor. 11:14; James 1:14-15). “Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap” (Kylne Snodgrass, Ephesians, p. 339). Peter writes, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Two of the devil’s favorite areas of attack are marriages and church unity.

We should be careful to not fall for the devil’s traps, but we don’t need to fear him. He is a defeated enemy. His defeat is sure because of the death and resurrection of Jesus (cf. Eph. 1:20-21).

Stand Firm! 

Paul emphasizes the word “stand.” It occurs three times in this passage (vv. 11, 13, 14). How can we stand against the enemy’s attacks and not fall to temptation? There are two keys to victory.

1. Resist the enemy with the word of God. 

In verse 13, the Greek word for “withstand” (anthistemi) can also be translated “resist” or “oppose.” When Jesus was tempted by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11), he resisted the enemy by quoting Scripture (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). After resisting the devil three times, the enemy “left him” (Matt. 4:11). James tell us, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7; cf. 1 Peter 5:9). If we don’t know what God’s word says, we won’t be able to effectively resist the enemy (cf. Eph. 4:14).

2. Always be alert and pray. 

We must not be complacent. We need to be “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” (v. 18). Jesus told his disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). It’s sometimes said that God’s word is our only spiritual weapon, but prayer is also to be used as a weapon in our spiritual battles. Prayer demonstrates our dependency on God and releases the power of God.

We must not only pray for ourselves but also for one another. Paul asked his readers to pray for him (vv. 19-20). (Notice that Paul’s prayer request was that he would proclaim the gospel boldly, not be released from his “chains.”)

Don't Neglect Bible Study and Prayer 

Imagine a solider going into battle without his gun. That’s like a Christian going through life without knowing the Bible. Imagine a solider being surrounded by the enemy and not radioing for help. That’s like a Christian not spending time in prayer. If we are to have victory against the enemy, we must not neglect Bible study and prayer.

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