Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Church in Battle - Ephesians 6:13-18

Audio available here (click to stream, right-click to download)

History has shown us time and time again the importance of being prepared for battle. One of the most poignant (albeit lesser known) examples was the Battle of Buna-Gona during World War II. Although advisors had said that the troops were unprepared, General MacArthur ordered a significant deployment of Allied forces to pursue what he believed was a retreating and frail force of a thousand or so Japanese soldiers on the island of New Guinea in the late fall of 1942. Most of the soldiers had only a couple of weeks in jungle combat training, and after a month-long trek through treacherous conditions, more than two-thirds had acquired malaria, dengue fever, and dysentery. Medicine and food were in short supply, and there was no air support or heavy artillery available to assist in the battle. When the orders to begin attacking were given, Allied forces found not 1,000 weak Japanese soldiers in retreat, but 6,000 entrenched soldiers well armed, well seasoned, and ready to fight. In a short time, Allied weapons and ammunition were running out, and casualties were piling up. By percentages, this was a more deadly battle than that at Guadalcanal. Finally, after three months of battle, the Allied forces had garnered enough reinforcement to achieve victory, but not before significant casualties were sustained. But the situation could have been far different if the Allies had been prepared for battle.

In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul reminded his readers that there is a spiritual battle going on, and we are not spectators in it. We are participants; as he says in verse 12, this is our struggle or conflict. The war is being waged by the forces of Satan, his demonic spiritual mafia that is described in v12, against God. But since Satan could never overpower God, he is out to destroy us in the battle. Peter tells us that he is prowling around like a lion seeking someone to devour. Jesus told Peter that Satan desired to sift him like wheat. He is eager to destroy all those who call upon the name of Jesus because we are God’s most beloved creation, human beings who bear His divine image, and redeemed sons and daughters who bear His name and represent Him in the earth. We take great comfort and confidence in the fact that the war is, for all intents and purposes, over. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Satan is a defeated enemy. But he has not surrendered or retreated. He is still waging battles in a war that he has already lost. And these attacks are dangerous, destructive and deadly. Therefore, we must be prepared. When we discussed verses 10-12, we spoke of the need to know our enemy and his tactics, and the need to make use of the provisions that God supplies. The verses before us today overlap somewhat with those ideas. Our provisions are further described, and our assignment is defined.

I. God has supplied us with the necessary armor. (vv 13a, 14-18a)

For the second time in three verses, we are admonished here to take up “the full armor of God.” This simple phrase tells us that the armor is complete: it is full armor, not partial, sufficient for the battle we find ourselves in. And it tells us that the nature of this armor is divine: it is the full armor of God. He made the armor, He owns the armor, He has used the armor, He supplies the armor, and He is the armor. Therefore, our task is to put it on (v11) or take it up (v13).

You recall how David came to the battle lines when Israel was cowering before the giant Goliath in 1 Samuel 17. And when David offered to fight the Philistine warrior, Saul and others tried to discourage him, saying essentially that he was too young and too weak to survive. David protested, saying that the Lord had protected him against a lion and a bear, and he was confident that God would protect him against Goliath as well. So Saul relented and gave David his armor to wear, but David said, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” David did not know what he could accomplish in Saul’s armor, but he had full confidence in what he could do when he was covered in God’s armor. God’s power and protection had already been proven in his life. So David went out against Goliath armed with a stick and a sling and five smooth stones. But more important than the stones or the stick or the sling was the faith David had in the Lord. When Goliath taunted him, he said, “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts!”

Over in my office, I have five small white stones on my bookshelf that were given to me by Tillie Rice before she died. She had picked them up in the Valley of Elah where David slew Goliath. She said, “You will face a lot of giants as you serve the Lord here, but the Lord will give you victory if you trust in Him.” See, our trust is not in the rocks, not in the weapons, not in the armor, but in the Lord. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.” And this is Paul’s point here: it isn’t the armor so much as what the armor represents, and the armor represents the Lord. The language is methaphorical, and each element is paired with a divine attribute or a divine gift which must be appropriated in our lives if we will have victory in the spiritual battle against our enemy.

First, he names the belt of truth which girds our loins. To gird up one’s loins is a repeated statement in Scripture which indicates to get ready for action. The soldier would pull his robe up from around his ankles and cinch it tight around his waist with a belt and the rest of the armor would be affixed to and held together by the belt. Paul says that our belt that prepares us for action and secures the rest of our spiritual armor in place is TRUTH. Pilate asked the question that so many in our own day seem unable to answer, “What is truth?” Though today people seem unwilling to believe that there is such a thing as absolute truth, Jesus acknowledged and defined it for us. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am … the truth.” And in John 17:17, He said as He prayed to His Father, “Thy Word is truth.” So we find truth in the person of Jesus and in the Word of God. In Isaiah 11:5, the prophet saw a vision of the Messiah rising up to judge the nations, and in that vision he indicates that “righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist.” The righteousness and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus is part of His identity as TRUTH, and the assurance that His Word is Truth. These attributes are His belt, and He has now offered us to wear this belt as we do battle. So, this is at the center of our being, the piece of the armor that holds all else together – Christ and His Word are our TRUTH, and we go out girded up by Him.

Then he mentions the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is that piece of armor that covered the most vital internal organs. It covers the heart, the lungs, the stomach, and the entrails. A blow to these areas is deadly, but the breastplate provides protection. And Paul says that righteousness is our breastplate. But remember, that this is the armor of God, not our own. So we are not to enter battle covered by our own righteousness. The best we can do on our own is not enough. Our righteousness, the Bible says in Isa 64:6, is just filthy rags. We must have a perfect righteousness as a covering in the spiritual battle, and God offers this to us in Jesus Christ. Through the saving work of Jesus, not only have our sins been taken away by His death on the cross, but we are also given the very righteousness of Jesus in exchange. The theological term for this is “justification,” and refers to God removing our sins, declaring us to be not guilty, and then bestowing upon us the righteousness of Christ. This is what Paul speaks of, among other places, in Philippians 3:9, when he says that he desires to be “found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” This righteousness, that the theologians have referred to as an “alien righteousness” demonstrates itself through us as we grow in righteousness, but we are always imperfect. Christ’s righteousness is perfect. In Isaiah 59:17, the prophet saw the Lord coming forth to save His people and bring judgment, and he said, “He put on righteousness like a breastplate.” Now that breastplate has been given to us, that we might be covered in Christ’s righteousness as we face the attacks of the enemy. He is unable to accuse us before the Father, because the Father looks upon us and sees the righteousness of His very Son if we are in Him by faith.

In addition to truth which God has given us as a belt to gird us, and righteousness He has given as a breastplate, Paul next names the covering of the feet. “Having shod your feet.” Soldiers in Paul’s day wore shoes or boots called caliga. These were held together and reinforced by iron nails that protruded from the sole like cleats that served for better traction. Athletes wear cleats so that their feet will grip the ground beneath them, and so that they can push off with more power as they run. The same was true for the Roman soldier, and the same is true for us when our feet are shod with the shoes God has provided. These shoes are described as “the preparation of the gospel of peace.” Having heard and accepted the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, we are prepared for the battle, and prepared to carry that message to others. This is a gospel of peace; because of what Christ has done for us, we have peace with God. Isaiah 52:7 says, “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” So, with the Gospel as our shoes, our feet are beautiful as we bring the gospel of peace to our neighbors and to the nations, and we are immovable in the spiritual battle that rages around us.

Now Paul mentions the shield. Roman soldiers carried two kinds of shields. One was small, strapped to one arm, and used in hand-to-hand combat. This is not the shield Paul is describing. He’s referring to the large shield, about the size of a door that covered the length of one’s body, and when joined together with others, formed an impenetrable wall known as a phalanx that protected the army as they advanced. As they approached a walled city, they men on the inside of the formation would raise their shields up forming a “turtle-shell” type of protection over the entire unit. Paul says here that faith is our shield. This includes both our faith that we place in Christ as Lord and Savior, and our confident trust in God’s presence and protection. He provides us with this faith as His Spirit works in our lives. He imparts saving faith to us that we may believe on Christ and He demonstrates His trustworthiness to us as we walk with Him. Therefore, we like Abraham are able to live confidently knowing that God is a shield to us. Proverbs 30:5 says that He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. But having a shield doesn’t mean that we will not be attacked. If there was no danger of attack, we would not need a shield. Satan will attack with many evil schemes, here likened to flaming arrows. But the ancient soldiers would cover their shields in leather and soak them in water so that flaming projectiles fired by their enemies would hit and quickly fizzle out. So, Paul says that the shield of faith will extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. He will attack but as we stand in confident faith behind God as our shield, those attacks will not harm us. And like those ancient soldiers, we need each other to stand strong with us. We need to lock our shields of faith together with one another, so that when one’s faith is weak, the strong faith of another standing guard on his or her behalf will protect us.

We have God’s truth as our belt, His righteousness as our breastplate, His gospel as our shoes, faith in Him as a shield, and now we are told that we have also been given a helmet. The head is the most vulnerable place of attack, and the soldiers of ancient times wore helmets of bronze with pieces that came down and covered the sides of the face to protect them against the most fatal blows of the enemy. Our enemy the devil never gives up the fight, and though are armor is strong, he will continue to unleash fury upon us in various trials, temptations, and spiritual attacks. Finally, he sets his sights upon our destruction with the fatal blow of death, but even when this weapon is launched against us, we are protected with a great covering – our helmet is salvation. This helmet was described as part of the armor worn by God Himself in Isaiah 59, and now He has given us this salvation to serve as our helmet as well. Having been saved from sin, with our salvation as a helmet, we can face even the worst that the enemy can throw at us and know that we are protected by our God. He has saved us so that even if this life should end, we enter into His presence forever. We can endure the battle knowing that we will endure the worst the enemy can throw at us, even if it is death because of the salvation that is ours in Christ.

Now we come to the only piece of offensive armor described here – the sword. The type of sword indicated by the word Paul uses here is a short sword that would be used in close, hand-to-hand combat with the enemy. This type of sword could be wielded defensively to block an attack, and offensively to strike the enemy. But our sword is not forged of metal – it is a spiritual sword, the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says, “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” In Isaiah 11, the Messiah is said to strike the earth with the “rod of His mouth,” and when John sees the victorious risen Lord Jesus in Revelation, he said He has a “sharp, two-edged sword” that came out of His mouth. And when He brings destruction upon the wicked in Revelation 19, it is said that He strikes the nations with that sharp sword that comes from His mouth. God’s Word is a powerful weapon in our battle. It is the weapon Jesus will use when He accomplishes ultimate and final victory on the last day, but it has also been given to us for use in our spiritual battle. David wrote in Psalm 119, “Thy word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.” Jesus showed us in His own temptations how He used the Scriptures to ward off the enemy and His temptations. Therefore, we must be prepared to wage war with the Bible as our sword as well. When we set out to rescue others from the enemy’s bondage, we proclaim the Word of God to them. When Satan attacks us, we stand on the promises of God’s Word. When the battle is heated and intense, close and hand-to-hand, as it were, we must depend upon our sword – the Bible, the Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit.

But there is also one final piece of equipment that we must not ignore. We would not be able to stand in the battle for long, even with such mighty armor, without some means of communication back to headquarters. We must stay in touch with the commander, and for this reason, we have the gift of prayer. After enumerating all of this heavenly armor, Paul says in v18, “With all prayer and petition, pray at all times.” John Piper has said that “Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief. … God has given us prayer as a wartime walkie-talkie so that we can call headquarters for everything we need as the kingdom of Christ advances in the world.” But, Piper warns us that “prayer malfunctions when we try to make it a domestic intercom to call upstairs for more comforts in the den.” He writes, “It is as though the field commander (Jesus) called in the troops, gave them a crucial mission …, handed them a personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the General’s headquarters, and said, ‘Comrades, the General has a mission for you. … He has authorized me to give each of you personal access to Him through these transmitters. If you stay true to His mission and seek His victory first, He will always be as close as your transmitter, to give tactical advice and to send air cover when you need it.”

The oldest surviving work of French literature is the Song of Roland which tells the story of the defeat of the knights of Charlemagne. Roland was the commander of the rearguard, and when his men were attacked, his pride kept him from sounding a horn to call in support from the rest of the army. As a result, Roland’s forces were massacred. How often are we like Roland in the spiritual battle … confident in our own strength, too proud to call out to the Lord in prayer or to rely on the strength of our brothers and sisters, and therefore suffering defeat! We must always be armed with what God has supplied, connected with one another in the battle, and depending on the Lord in prayer.

II. God has given us our strategic assignment.

A soldier is trained for battle. One of my dearest friends is an officer in the United States Marines. After sustaining some severe injuries in Iraq several years ago, he was reassigned to what he referred to as “desk duty.” But every time we talk, he talks about wanting to get back to the frontlines. In his words, “Marines are trained to fight, not to push pencils.” So, likewise, we as the people of God have not been armed for desk duty. We are not so powerfully equipped for leisure and recreation. We have a mission, a strategic assignment that is laid out for us in the imperative words in this passage.

The first of these is to “take up the full armor of God.” The armor does us no good unless we take it up and put it on. Of course, this is metaphorical, and it speaks of us making a personal appropriation of the divine gifts of truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. It is not enough to simply know about these things, we have to apply them in our lives. And this begins by coming to Christ by faith as Lord and Savior, and then growing in our relationship with Him and living in the daily realities of His presence, His provision, His power, and His protection over us.

The second imperative in the text is to resist. Once we have taken up the armor of God, we have the ability to resist the enemy as he seeks to destroy us by luring us into sin. The armor enables us to “resist in the evil day,” a phrase that points to those critical moments when Satan’s attacks seem to be especially intense. This is where we have to be careful to base our beliefs and practices on Scripture and not folklore. You will hear people say, “The devil made me do it.” That is a foolish thing for a Christian to say when he or she sins. The devil wanted them to do it, but cannot make a Christian do anything when that Christian is wearing the armor of God and walking in faith. He is powerful, but God is more powerful and He dwells with the Christian in the person of the Holy Spirit. Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world, 1 John 4:4 says. The devil can be resisted and overcome. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” So, if we are equipped with the armor God has supplied, we can resist him – we must resist him. This is part of our assignment – put on the armor and resist.

Third, we find the order to stand firm. Perhaps you have noticed the difference in how a society looks differently upon those who fall in battle and those who flee from battle. Those who fall while in the midst of the fight are often viewed as heroes, while those who flee are viewed as cowards. We have to be careful applying the analogy to the spiritual battle. It is certainly not heroic to fall, if that means being overcome by the enemy and yielding to temptation. But it is heroic to stand firm and withstand the attack and accept whatever suffering comes as a result of standing firm and faithful. Surrender and flight however amount to failure in the battle. It is one thing to be strong in the faith here in the sanctuary on Sunday when it is relatively safe and secure, but how firmly do we stand when the battle rages? When Satan unleashes the full fury of his attack, are we willing to stand firm then? That is our assignment – to stand firm in the battle, without surrender or flight. Armed with the power that God supplies, we can stand firm when the fight rages—even beyond what we think we can bear. His strength is perfect, and is perfected in our weakness, enabling us to do what we normally could not. So when we feel like giving up and giving in, we need to remember our armor and our assignment and stand firm.

Then coming to verse 18, we find another aspect of our assignment: be on the alert. Like a watchman on guard duty, we are to keep our eyes peeled on the lookout, knowing that the battle will go on, and that an attack is likely to occur when we least expect it. How are we to be alert? Paul says here “with all perseverance and petition.” This means, first, that we must not be lulled into slumber while on duty. We must persevere as we stand guard and never forget that an attack may be imminent. Surely our enemy, the devil, knows when the opportune moments for attack are. When Jesus resisted his temptations in the wilderness, Luke 4:13 says that devil left Him until an opportune time. He knew when those moments were in Jesus’ life, and he knows when they are in our lives as well. Certainly one of the most opportune moments is when we let down the guard and think we are most safe from his attack.

Secondly, we must be alert in petition, that is, in prayer. When Jesus taught us to pray, He said that we should pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” That means we must always be prayerfully alert concerning our need for divine protection from satanic assaults. We must never get to the point that we think we will be OK on our own without the support of God. And prayer is one way we acknowledge our dependence upon Him. But Paul also says here that our prayers are not only for ourselves. As we stand guard, we are also on the lookout for one another – for all the saints. Our brother or sister’s armor may have gaps that they do not recognize. They may have dropped their guard of alertness unaware. They may be undergoing an attack that we don’t realize, or maybe we do. And in that moment when my brother’s shield of faith is too heavy to bear, or when my sister’s sword is sheathed, I have a responsibility to them to be diligent in prayer for them – to cover them with my shield, to fight for them with my sword, to place my breastplate of righteousness before them in the line of fire. And I can do this in my petitions for them. But how do we know when a brother or sister in Christ needs prayer? It’s easy – the answer is always. As we stand guard with perseverance, every fellow Christian in the body of Christ needs prayer. That is why Paul says that we are to be alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.

So the marching orders for the church in battle are spelled out in the imperatives of this passage: Resist, stand firm, be alert with perseverance and prayer for one another. But this would be a suicide mission if not for the armor God has provided. So we must envelop ourselves by faith in His truth, His righteousness, His Gospel, His faith, His salvation, and His Word. We will not escape the battle by so doing, but we will endure the battle and overcome. We will become recipients and participants in the victory that Christ has secured for us in His death and resurrection. He has already won the war – handing Satan the ultimate defeat in His victory over sin and death. But Satan still fights and will until the day of sentencing, when he will be cast in to hell forever and ever. We don’t stand a chance against him unless we stand in Christ by faith. If you have never accepted Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, then you are in bondage to the enemy. Christ has come to liberate you by taking your sins upon Himself in His death and defeating sin and its penalty through His blood and through His victorious resurrection. We would invite you to call upon Him to save you. And for those who have done so, we are in the crosshairs of the enemy’s sights. We will be attacked with frequency and intensity. I would go so far as to say that if you are not under attack, you should see that as a warning that something is not right in your relationship with Jesus. But where we walk in faithfulness to Jesus, the attacks will come, but God has given us our armor, and our assignment, and our victory is in Him through Christ our Lord.

IBC Newsletter Article for March

Below is my newsletter article for the March Messenger, the monthly newsletter from Immanuel Baptist Church.

Last year, you approved the establishment of a Strategic Mission Team that would lead IBC in the development of mission efforts globally and locally that would unite the church in our strategic mission involvement. The key word we have used in our discussions is "impact." Our aim is not to see how busy we can be or how many places and people and projects we can discover, but rather that we would make an impact for the gospel and the glory of God in whatever we do. With this in view, we began meeting immediately to discuss the adoption of one of the world's 6,000 unreached people groups who have little or no access to the Gospel. After months of discussion, prayer, and correspondence with missionaries in various regions, we have decided upon the Tharu people of Nepal. Initially, our focus will be on the Dangaura Tharu (so-called because they speak the Dangali language), but this may broaden over time to include all the Tharu people. Nepal's most familiar landmark is the world's tallest mountain, Everest. But more foreboding than the heights of Everest is the mountainous proportion of spiritual lostness in the country. The country was completely closed to outsiders (including missionaries) for over 130 years (1816-1951). Even after being open to outsiders for nearly 60 years, Christian missionaries have seen little harvest in this country. Most of the people of Nepal are Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, or a confusing combination of all three. The Tharu people are devoted to a blend of animism and Hinduism, worshiping animals, deceased ancestors, and deities of the Hindu pantheon, represented by household idols to which they make regular sacrifices as the village shamans direct.

The Bible makes it clear that the Church has a mission to take the Gospel to all nations (ethne, peoples). Acts 1:8 tells us that we are Christ's witnesses to the ends of the earth, and Matthew 28:19 commissions us to make disciples of all nations. When John saw the multitudes of worshiping believers in heaven, he saw those from "every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" and they cried out, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." It is that eternal vision that fuels a passion for reaching the nations for Christ. God is worthy of the worship of all peoples. Presently, He is not receiving that worship from many of these people groups, including the Tharu. So His worship is the goal of missions, and it is the fuel of missions. We long to see Him receive the worship He is due, and this thrusts us into the harvest field. We would not ask everyone to travel to Nepal, but some will undoubtedly feel the call to go with us as we begin to plan a short term mission trip there within the next year. We would, however, ask everyone at IBC to make prayer for the Tharu of Nepal a regular, if not daily, habit. If you do not feel led to go, perhaps you will be able to send those who will go. As we plan, you will hear more about this. In the meantime, we hope you will learn all you can about Nepal and the Tharu people, and join us as we ask God to bring this people to Himself through the Gospel, and to use IBC to accomplish His task. To Him be the glory from all the peoples of the earth forever!

Monday, February 08, 2010

The Christian's Conflict (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Audio available here (right-click to download, click to stream) or on our iTunes podcast.

It has been commonly said that war is good for a nation’s economy. After all, a war produces jobs in both government and industry and increases manufacturing, and those are positive things for the economy. The most commonly cited evidence used to prove that war is good for the economy is that World War II brought America out of the Great Depression. But, today, America finds itself at war on two fronts (as was the case in World War II), but our economy is in ruins. What is the difference between war and economics today and 65 years ago? One simple difference that I see is that during World War II, almost all Americans lived under the reality that a war was going on, and almost all of us do not. Some of you remember those days of rationing and shortages, and the noble idea of “going without” for the sake of the country’s war effort. There were victory gardens planted, and changes made in the availability, production, and purchase of consumer goods. I have a number of books that were printed in the 1940s in America and Britain, and there is a difference in the quality of paper that was used in wartime. This is not happening in the printing industry today. There is no rationing, no “going without,” no planting of victory gardens. So, whether war has ever been good for the economy is something that economists and sociologists must ultimately decide. But war is certainly not helping the economy in our own day, and that may be because people are by-and-large not living like it is wartime.

And this is true in the spiritual realm as well. We are, by-and-large, not living like we are at war, but we are! We have, by and large, ignored, forgotten, or never realized that there is a cosmic struggle going on around us and we are caught up in it. When we came to faith in Christ, we did not win a deluxe vacation on a luxury liner; we were drafted to serve on a battleship in this war. As John Piper has written, “Life is war. That’s not all it is. But it is always that.” Leading up to this passage, Paul has been talking about the blessings of a Spirit-filled life – how the Holy Spirit transforms our relationships with others and brings joy to the church, the home, and the workplace. But now he moves us out to the battlefield. Oh sure, we’d like to stay inside, surrounded by our loved ones where it is safe and warm and everyone gets along, but we must never forget … there is a war going on. In verse 12, Paul makes mention of “our struggle.” This is the only time in the New Testament that the Greek word we translate here as “Struggle” is used. Sometimes the word was used to refer to the sport of wrestling, which was popular in and around Ephesus in Paul’s day. But in much of the literature of that day this word carried a broad sense of “conflict.” And Paul says that not only is there a conflict going on, but that it is OURS. We cannot be spectators. We cannot ignore it. It is a conflict that involves every Christian. So we need to be informed about it and become active in it. And our text here gives us our directives: Know your enemy; learn the enemy’s tactics, and make use of your provisions.

I. Directive #1: Know Your Enemy (v12)

Those who have studied the history of warfare note that following the era of the American Revolution, war changed. One noticeable change was the increased usage of guerrilla warfare. Prior to this time, most commonly, armies dressed in matching uniforms with bright colors and big flags and drums, and they marched in lines and stood face to face with the people they were fighting. But in guerrilla warfare, soldiers actually hide from their enemy, and try to blend in so that they aren’t recognized. So a soldier may not know exactly who they were fighting against because they can’t see them and when they can, it may be hard to tell them apart from ordinary citizens.

Well, in our spiritual struggle, this is often the case as well. We have an enemy, but many are confused about who the enemy is. So, Paul says here, “Our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood.” Understand this … people are not the enemy. If you think that a person, a nation, an army, a party, or anything else that is merely human is what we as Christians are doing battle with, then you are sorely mistaken. The enemy is not a human being or human institution, though these may be utilized as pawns sometimes by our enemy. And if our enemy is not human, then neither are our weapons. Paul says in 2 Cor 10:3-4, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.” The Kingdom of God will not advance by bombs, bullets and bloodshed. Those are human weapons. Our enemy is not human. So who is our enemy?

Paul identifies the enemy in verse 11 as “the devil.” When C. S. Lewis introduced the subject of the devil in Mere Christianity, he wrote, “I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?” To this question, Lewis responds, “Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’” And surely in our day, people are perhaps even more reluctant than in Lewis’s day to entertain the notion of a real devil who is at work in the world, but we must not be so na├»ve. This is our enemy, and as 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

The devil, or Satan, is an angelic being whom God created, but whom, the Bible tells us, rebelled against God and turned to evil. He is not of equal power or like nature with God. Unlike God, Satan is not all-powerful, nor is he omnipresent. He can’t be everywhere at the same time. But, he does not work alone. In Revelation 12, we read an apocalyptic account of his fall from heaven which says that he “swept away a third of the stars of heaven.” I understand this to mean that he took a third of the angelic beings with him in his fall. These are the “spiritual forces of wickedness” described here in verse 12. Harold Hoehner refers to these as the “Spiritual Mafia.” The “spiritual forces of wickedness” is an umbrella term that includes the “rulers, powers, and world forces of this darkness,” listed here.

Satan has declared war on God. It is a war he cannot win. He is outnumbered, outwitted, and overpowered. In fact, he has already been defeated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His final defeat is imminent, when the Bible tells us that he will be thrown into the lake of fire to endure torment forever and ever. Satan is not in hell now, but he will be for good one day. It has already been decided. But for this short time, he and his spiritual mafia are out to cause as much collateral damage as possible. Having failed to defeat God and His Messiah, the Lord Jesus, Satan’s forces now wage war against that which is most precious to God – humanity in general, the bearers of God’s image in the world; and the church in particular, the people whom God has redeemed for Himself. Thus you and I are strategic targets in his cross-hairs. He is our enemy. He is a defeated foe, but he has a temporary liberty to operate in this world, and until his eternal sentence is actualized, the war goes on.

If we forget that our enemy is Satan and his Spiritual Mafia, we will be tempted to wage war on human beings and human institutions. And Christians have done this all too often, even turning on one another in tragic cases of friendly fire. And this just brings delight to the real enemy when he sees us making enemies of each other. No, the real enemy is a spiritual one – the devil and his demonic forces. Sun Tzu, who wrote the classic Art of War in the sixth century before Christ, said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” So, our first directive in the conflict is to know who our enemy is.

II. Directive #2: Learn The Enemy’s Tactics

In v11, Paul refers to the devil’s schemes. The Greek word would be familiar to us even if we don’t know the language. It is the word methodeia, from which we get our word “method.” It is sometimes translated as “procedure, process, method, strategy, or scheme.” Football fans recall the Spygate incident of 2007 and 2008 when it was discovered that the New England Patriots had been videotaping their opposing teams’ practices. Why did they do this? In order to know their signals and their plays and how to strategize against them. Obviously no one wants their team’s playbook to fall into the hands of their opponents. Even more seriously, no one would want their military strategies to be revealed to the opposing forces in battle. But our spiritual enemy the devil really doesn’t want us to know about his strategies and methods. Knowing the enemy and knowing his tactics would enable us to do battle more effectively.

We notice here that Satan has more than one strategy. Paul refers to his schemes, plural. This indicates that he is relentless—where one scheme fails, he will employ another. It also warns us that we may never have him completely figured out. Though we uncover a hundred of his schemes, he may have 101 or more. But we know enough from God’s word to know where to expect the attacks to occur in our lives and what tactics he may utilize. In his first epistle, John warned his readers against the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the boastful pride of life. When we consider the temptation that Satan used to deceive Eve in the Garden, we see him appealing to these things. Genesis 3:8 says that Eve saw that the tree was “good for food”—that’s the lust of the flesh, she saw it as something that would satisfy her natural hunger and desire. Then she saw that it was a delight to the eye—that’s the lust of the eye, it looked appealing to her. Then she saw that the tree was desirable to make one wise (even, to make one become like God, as the serpent had promised)—that’s the pride of life. We see the same things when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Jesus was hungry, and Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” That’s the lust of the flesh; the satisfaction of natural desires. Then he took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down,” suggesting that the angels would rescue Him and everyone would see and be amazed at Him. That’s an appeal to the pride of life. Then he took Jesus to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said, “All these things I will will give You if You fall down and worship me.” He’s appealing to the lust of the eye, displaying something visually attractive and appealing.

Now, if the two greatest temptations in the history of humanity took place according to this strategy, isn’t it safe to think that the devil may very well use these same tactics against you and me? He will present things to us that are visually attractive to us; that promise instant satisfaction to a sensate desire of our human flesh; that offers us an opportunity for greatness. These temptations may come in many forms or fashions, but we must be alert to them. We must be on guard against things that are paraded in front of our eyes or which promise instant gratification or which promise to elevate us in status in this life only. As one commentator notes, “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.”

Sometime after 9/11, an email was circulated that had a photo of the Twin Towers on the front with plumes of smoke coming from them that some claimed showed the face of Satan. The problem with that kind of thing is that Satan never shows his face in his attacks, but he always leaves his fingerprints. The Bible tells us that he is a liar, a deceiver, a thief, a murderer, and a destroyer, and where we find those things happening we don’t have to wonder if he is attacking. Those are his calling cards. God is at work in the world establishing truth, so Satan attacks with lies and deception. God is building His church, His Kingdom, the lives and families of His people, so Satan seeks to destroy those things. God is at working bringing people into new life and eternal life, so Satan attacks with death. And death is the worst and last thing he can throw at us, but thanks be to God, even this attack will backfire on him. Jesus Christ has conquered death and offers His victory over death to all who call upon Him as Lord and Savior.

Through God’s Word, we have access to a good number of our enemy’s strategies. We must learn them and prepare ourselves for them. He will attack, and we must not be caught off guard when he does.

III. Directive #3: Make Use of Your Provisions (vv10-11)

During the days of the American Revolution, most who fought for the colonial militias were not issued uniforms or weapons. They wore their everyday clothing and carried their own rifles and muskets into battle. This was a contributing factor to the inclusion of the 2nd Amendment in the bill of rights, which preserves the right to keep and bear arms so that if a militia needed to be established, the civilians would be armed. But these days, if someone volunteers service in the military, they aren’t expected to bring their own clothes and guns to boot camp. Those things are provided for them. In the same way, Paul tells us that our supplies for the spiritual battle are provided for us by God Himself.

Notice the emphasis on divine provision here: Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God. We are outfitted with His strength, His mighty power, and with His armor. Even the command to “be strong” is passive in the Greek text, meaning that we are not merely to muster up our own strength, but rather to be strengthened by the Lord Himself. So, we are strong in His strength, empowered with His power. His mighty power is that which raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and exalted Him above all rule and authority, as Paul said in Eph 1:19-21. This is the power that Paul prayed for God’s people to be strengthened with in Eph 3:16. And now this power is made available to us and we are commanded to lay hold of it and allow the Lord to manifest it through us. If this power has already been shown to triumph over death, what could we fear if we are engulfed in this power in the battle?

And we are given a provision of armor for the battle – the full armor of God. He supplies with all that we need for offense and defense in the conflict. Now, what does this phrase “armor of God” mean? Does it mean that it was made by Him? Does it mean that it belongs to Him? Does it mean that He Himself is the armor? In short, yes. It means all of that. When Paul speaks of the armor and describes it in the verses that follow this text, he is borrowing phrases from Isaiah in which God and His Messiah are depicted as fighting on behalf of His people arrayed in this very armor. It belongs to Him, He has worn it in battle already, and He is the armor. The armor is described in the verses below as truth, righteousness, salvation, all of which are the attributes of God Himself. So we arm ourselves for battle by taking up God Himself by faith, depicted in these various images of pieces of armor. God is our defense and He is our offense in the war. Our confidence is in Him, our strength is in Him, and our victory is in Him!

And having been thus equipped, here is our task: STAND FIRM (v11). The only thing in this entire passage which is ours is the struggle and the stand. The rest comes from God. God has supplied all we need to stand against our enemy the devil and all the various schemes by which he and his mafia seek to attack us. It is up to us to stand. If we try to stand apart from what He supplies, we will fail. Even arrayed in such sufficient armament and strength, if we flee or fall, we fail. We have all we need to stand, and the stand will be ours to take. It takes confident faith that God’s supplies are sufficient and that Christ’s victory is sure. It takes courage and commitment that we will persevere by His grace in the struggle and not give up. It takes vigilance to be on guard for the attacks that will surely come. But thanks be to God we are well equipped to stand.

Martin Luther understood that we were in a war. He once said that he fought the devil with ink. A friend said he toured the Wartburg Castle and was shown a dark spot on the wall and the guide said, “See here is where Luther threw the bottle of ink at the devil.” No, that’s not what Luther meant. He meant that he fought the devil by writing the truth: translating the Bible into the tongue of his people; proclaiming the gospel on the printed page; revealing the errors of false doctrine; and refusing to recant his position when he was faced with severe opposition and danger. Luther faced his critics and pointed to his writings and to the Scriptures and said, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” And Luther stood. Luther knew what it meant to stand in God’s strength and God’s armor and experience victory in the battle. In his most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” Luther wrote:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Background Study of 1 Peter

Being fairly confident that no one would want to scroll through 21 pages of background information on First Peter here on this blog, I have uploaded it as a .pdf to our website. You can find it here: http://ibcgso.org/MP3s/1%20Peter%20Background.pdf