Monday, February 08, 2010

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

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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.

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