It was when our three oldest sons were still quite young, and we had a baby as well. It was overnight from a Saturday evening / Sunday morning. About 3:00 in the morning, suddenly everything in the house seemed to jump at the same time. The baby began crying and our oldest son was in his bedroom throwing up on the floor. The dog was freaking out barking. Diana went to deal with our sick son while I got the baby. This was in the month of March, and I could feel a cold wind blowing through the house. Going downstairs with the baby, I found that the door to the house was blown wide open, though I was sure I had locked it earlier. Closing it, I returned to settle the baby while Diana cleaned up the other mess.
After getting back to bed ourselves, Diana said what I was already thinking and praying about. It was a demonic event. She said that our son told her that “Satan was in the room, and every time he came closer to the bed, I threw up again.”
Triggering my awareness of the nature of things was the realization that the sermon theme for later that Sunday morning was on dealing with the reality of the Kingdom of Darkness. Praying out loud to rebuke any authority the demonic realm had, instant peace came over our household.
That is part “A” of the story.
Part “B” involves what happened earlier in the evening. We had an all-church fellowship at the church. While it was happening, the church phone rang (this was long before cell phones) and I answered it. It was a woman inquiring about our service times and details, saying that she and her husband would be attending the next morning. She further confided that she was a Christian, though her husband was an unbeliever; and she wanted to let me know that this might be a one-time opportunity for him to come. It was her hope that I had a uniquely evangelistic message in store, so she was not encouraged to hear that it was about Satan and the demonic realm. They did continue to both come to the church, though I remembered little about his spiritual condition, merely that he made some friends and seemed to enjoy being there. As a military guy, before long they had to move to a new place.
Part “C” – Diana’s mother, along with her sister and our brother-in-law, live in Yakima, Washington State. They are involved in a church there and were serving as hosts in a ministry to welcome new attenders. On one occasion, as some new people were sharing their story, a couple recounted how they lived in New Jersey over 20 years prior, the husband saying that he was an unbeliever who resisted going to church. At last, he gave in, and he told the story that the first day he attended, he trusted in Christ – this forever changing his life. Finding out the church was in Phillipsburg, NJ, my sister-in-law asked who was the pastor … yes, her brother-in-law, me! I never knew of his conversion that day, until hearing this story.
So, you think there might have been some spiritual warfare going on in the non-material world that weekend in New Jersey? I have only ever had a few of these sorts of situations of which I was keenly aware, though I surely presume – accurately – that they are very common, though out of sight and distinct knowledge.
The Scriptures do teach us that spiritual warfare is a reality. We tend to think that our major problems and difficulties in life are the things we can see and that we wrestle with daily. Yet the true and bigger enemy – the source of so many of our problems and the instigating and agitating force behind it all – is the dark world of Satan and his demonic legions who are at war against us as members of the Kingdom of Light.
And thinking this way is certainly another example of something that is “counterintuitive.”
Here is a summary idea today as we turn to Ephesians chapter six: Though it may seem that our fight is against flesh and blood, the real battle is an unseen spiritual conflict.
There are many churches and denominations that have a very great emphasis upon the spiritual warfare component, and we might think of the more Pentecostal churches in particular, as well as many African-American congregations. And I see this in the black churches with whom we’ve entered into ministry partnership in the past year.
They have a category of servants called “armor bearers,” … men who often stand along the walls while the service is ongoing. This harkens back to the Old Testament times of kings who went to war, and they see the pastor as “at war” spiritually. Some of these churches have “flaggers,” … people who wave colorful flags with Christian symbols during the worship session. This too has Old Testament allusions to banners and warfare, with the thought also being that this confuses the demonic enemies that may be present. And much of the communications and prayers during the service reference powers of spiritual darkness.
Are these folks over-emphasizing this element, as compared to our more academic and teaching modalities, thus giving Satan more credit and attention than he deserves? I think there is truth in that. But I also think that we are as guilty on the other end of being insufficiently cognizant of the grand picture of true realities beyond the visible world – hence we are guilty of perhaps being too self-sufficient and independent of trusting God.
The Apostle Paul acutely knew that spiritual warfare was very real. As we turn to Ephesians we recall that this is one of Paul’s prison epistles. He is literally writing while chained to a Roman soldier. And surrounded by soldiers, he is able to see the elements of armor and think about how the Christian soldier is to be also outfitted.
As Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians, let’s think about the pictures he gives them as to how they are to stand and contend in the spiritual battle we face…
- We are to take an active role in the conflict. (10-12)
This is not a spectator sport and not a fake conflict. It is real and you’re on the battlefield. There is no success in denial, and certainly no success in curling up in a ball. There is a battle to be fought, though there is every resource for confidence and success.
Ephesians 6:10 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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.
You are in the battle, so get yourself outfitted for success. Yes, this is real; and there is a need to take it seriously, as the enemy is very organized and active. Yet, there is no need to fear. Satan wants you to be afraid and to paralyze you into inaction. He would like you to be a spiritual hypochondriac.
We could compare it to germs seeking to get into your body, looking for a dirty and exposed area in which to enter and grow. But the best thing to do is to stay healthy and fit. And even if there is a sickness, you take action to deal with it and move on.
Our resident strength is in the Lord – verse 10. There are three very cool Greek words here – strength, power, might – that speak of both a residual strength and a resourceful power to overcome anything.
Verse 11 – Get dressed and get fully prepared. The enemy is sooner or later going to be coming at you with his “schemes” (methodias in Greek). Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11 – For we are not unaware of his schemes. In professional baseball of our day, teams deploy a wide variety of defensive shifts – moving players dramatically to parts of the field as never seen before. This is because a whole series of metrics have informed teams as to the exact patterns as to where a batter hits the ball most frequently. They are “familiar with his schemes … his methods” and are therefore defensively prepared. And this is how we can be relative to the long history of Satan’s career.
Verse 12 – We face an organized enemy. We know there are ranks and layers of the kingdom of darkness – the one-third of angels who rebelled against God in following Satan. These are real beings, not just forces of evil in some generic sense. And though these powers may use the material world for their purposes, ultimately the struggle is a spiritual one. We may think it is evil people or sinful places and things, but ultimately behind any of that is a greater spiritual reality. It is easy to forget that … to discount that and merely see the conflict as material or physical.
- Our spiritual armor outfits us for a defensive struggle (13)
The elements of the full armor of God – known as the panoply – are almost completely defensive in nature.
Ephesians 6:13 – Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Again, note that there is no doubt that a day of conflict will come; but again also, you can be successful as fully outfitted in defensive posture. This army is not an outfit where you get to be in the army but never get to the battle lines. It is not a situation where people above you – like pastors and missionaries and church elders and the sort – fight the battle on the front lines. No, the front lines ARE going to come to you.
But don’t be undone, you are outfitted well to ward off the attacks of Satan and his spiritual mafia.
Three times it says to STAND. Actually, the first of these – you may be able to stand your ground – is a compound word, whereas the next two times are the simple word for standing firm. You may recall from childhood memory with the KJV that it says to “withstand in the evil day.” And that is actually a good translation. In Greek, the word is anthistemi … and you can maybe hear the English word “antihistamine,” which you know is a drug to fight off/resist/withstand reactions from something like an allergy attack.
So it means to absorb an attack, and at the end to be seen standing, not knocked down or out. And here now we see some details about this armor …
- Three armor elements come to us at the time of salvation. (14-15)
It is great to know that we have resources that come with enlistment in the Lord’s army, we don’t have to find our own …
Ephesians 6:14 – Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
The pieces of armor are mentioned in the order of which they would be put on by soldier, surely witnessed by Paul on hundreds of occasions.
The first piece is the belt of truth. This belt around the waist was for the purpose of the preparation for which all other pieces would be connected. It was indispensable. Nothing would work without it; the pieces would fall off and not be useful.
And so it is when truth is absent. We see this in our world today. When every truth is equal and anyone can have whatever truth they want … this simply does not work.
So there needs to be an objective foundation.
The second piece is the breastplate of righteousness. As with the previous item, commentators do not believe it to be speaking of objective truth and imputed righteousness, but rather truthfulness and righteousness in living. Well … yes … but where does this come from other than the truth of the Word of God and the character of righteousness that come from relationship with Christ?
Even if arrows, or the blow of a sword, were to get past outer defenses held in one’s hands, here this breastplate shields the soldier from ultimate penetration … for example, the arrows of accusation from the Evil One.
The third item is footwear of peace. Roman footwear was made for action and stability. They were outfitted with hobnails for traction. One of the great treasures of salvation is the sense of peace that comes with it. We know in the gospel message that we are right with God. We have the ability to have peace also with others and we know that this truth ultimately prevails. So this keeps us from being knocked off our feet, even in times of difficulty and spiritual conflict. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians at the end of his discourse on the resurrection… Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
4. Three additional elements are needed to assure victorious conflict. (16-17)
It is good to know that there is more we can do to help in the day of battle. These are items to be picked up and used especially when attacks arise…
Ephesians 6:16 – In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The first is the shield of faith. The Roman shield was about 2.5 feet wide and 4 feet high, made of wood and overlaid with linen and leather so as to catch the enemy’s arrows and extinguish the fire. This is a shield of faith, speaking of our trust in God. When the flaming arrows of doubt, temptation, fear, disappointment, selfishness or accusation hit the truth, the truth is able to extinguish them from burning us. Again, growing in faith and understanding of God will expand the effectiveness of our shield. It is also interesting to know that the Romans had a way of interlocking their shields together – this being a beautiful picture of our mutual strength in the army and family of faith, the church.
The second additional element is the helmet of salvation. The idea is that this provides a critical defense. Knowing we are saved and cannot be destroyed by the enemy is like the helmet that protected the soldier in conflict. Just as a soldier would be exposed without it, we are not safe without taking daily with us this saving truth into spiritual battle. Our minds need to be right and safe – focused upon the truth of salvation; because right thoughts lead to right attitudes which lead to right actions which lead to right habits.
Finally, the last element is the sword of the spirit. This is the only offensive item that is listed, though it is seen as a tool to also be used defensively. Here it is not speaking about the written word (the logos) but rather the spoken word (rhema). As the Spirit of God leads to speak the truth of God’s word, it is an effective defensive tool. The most amazing illustration we have of this is the pattern that we observe in Matthew 4 as to how Christ dealt with Satan’s attacks by the speaking of God’s word. (Of course, to be able to speak it, one has to know it.)
But at those moments of Christ’s temptations, we also know that – like every other moment in his earthly life – they were infused with prayerful dependence …
- Prayer is the surrounding element for successful empowerment. (18-20)
The element that surrounds everything with connection is that of prayer, yet it is so often the forgotten element …
Ephesians 6:18 – 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 Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Prayer is both the easiest thing both to do and the easiest thing to forget or ignore doing.
It should be done in the Spirit – the HS enables us to have that conduit of connection to God and enables us to pray with diligence.
And it should be consistent and continuous – be alert and always keep on praying – which iterally means “in all persistence” … meaning to not let down.
On all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests – This speaks of all sorts of prayers – in personal need, spiritual conflict, on behalf of others, seeking wisdom, whatever.
As he finishes, Paul asks for their prayers for him in his unique circumstances. He will be going before Roman authorities who see him as an enemy of the state. The Jews saw him as a heretic. Paul seeks clarity in proclaiming the mystery of the gospel – this new thing that had come to the world through Jesus Christ. He wants to have both clarity and boldness, and these are assets at all times!
And finally, again, we see how Paul had the bigger, spiritual battle picture in mind – seeing himself as an ambassador, though even now in chains.
Indeed, prayer sustained Paul and sustains us as warriors in a vast spiritual conflict that is often beyond our sights.
We’re in an army, where there is a common saying that “an army marches on its stomach.” A good general needs to be aware of his lines of supply, and it is a never-ending burden of command. At times, especially in wars such as the American Civil War, armies would sometimes “outmarch their line of supply.” And then they had to “live off the land” which put them in very perilous conditions. That pretty much is what was happening at Antietam with the Confederate Army. What we do is trust God in dependence upon his resources through prayer, not “outmarching” that source of supply.
There surely would have been a lot less stress in my life as an athlete in earlier years and then as a high school coach in latter years if I knew before the game or the race that there was no possibility that my team could lose!
And that is how it is through our connection to Christ and the army of the Kingdom of Light. The struggle is real, the enemy hates us, we are targets. But there is nothing to ultimately fear. The way to be hurt in the conflict is to ignore it or to fight it with the strength of alleged independence, and that never works.
So join the fight, taking up the full armor of God. You can’t lose!
Great sermon on Sunday, very timely for me. Really appreciate the opportunity to review it.