spiritual warfare

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

Your Body Follows Your Mind (2 Corinthians 10:36)

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“I went to high school on the other side of town—to the Booker T. Washington High School. I had to get the bus in what was known as the Fourth Ward and ride over to the West Side. In those days...whites were seated in the front, and often if whites didn’t get on the buses, those seats were still reserved for whites only, so Negroes had to stand over empty seats. I would end up having to go to the back of that bus with my body, but every time I got on that bus I left my mind up on the front seat. And I said to myself, ‘One of these days, I’m going to put my body up there where my mind is.’”  - from The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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In an article entitled “Ironman champ: Train your brain, then your body,” Chrissie Wellington, a four-time World Ironman champion, noted: “If we let our head drop, our heart drops with it. Keep your head up, and your body is capable of amazing feats... All the physical strength in the world won't help you if your mind is not prepared.” In order for Chrissie to keep her head up, she does a number of key things.

  • She has a mantra and/or a special song to repeat, because what you repeat you believe. She has “Never Give Up” on her water bottle and on her race wristband; she carries a copy of Rudyard Kipling's famous poem ‘If’ everywhere she goes.
  • She keeps a bank of positive mental images, because what brings you joy or hope matters. For her it is family and friends, previous races, of beautiful scenery, or a big greasy burger. These help when she thinks,  "I am tired. I want to stop. Why did I enter this race? I must be mad!"
  • She run the race beforehand, because thinking about her game plan matters. She goes through each stage of the race one step at a time -- mentally imagining performing at her peak and overcoming potential problems.
  • She break the race up into smaller, more manageable segments, because believing she can succeed matters. She thinks only about getting to the next aid station, or lamppost or Porta Potty. Once she achieves it, she sets another goal.
  • She trains until it hurts, because she needs to know she can handle adversity. She pushes her physical limits in training sessions so she knows she can successfully endure pain and discomfort.
  • She gets people to support her, because she needs to believe that other people are for her. She advises: “Invite friends, family or pets to come and cheer you on. Have them make banners, wear team T-shirts and generally behave in a way that would get them arrested under normal circumstances.”
  • She remembers inspirational people, because she needs to remember that transformation awaits on the other side. She recalls people who have all fought against adversity to complete the Ironman. They prove that anything truly is possible.
  • She races for a cause that is bigger than yourself, because knowing her role in the bigger picture matters. She runs for charitable causes. It puts the race in perspective and inspires her.

Our bodies follow our minds. What we think matters.

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The Apostle Paul recognized this mind/body connection. In Chapter 10 of 2nd Corinthians, Paul begins talking about a battle taking place in our minds. It’s what we often call a battle of worldviews: ideas, opinions, and philosophies opposed to God.  It's a battle for truth in the minds of people – and because the mind is so important, it’s also about hearts, souls, and lives.  Some false teachers are lying about Paul, but that’s not Paul’s main concern. They are lying. They are not servants of truth. And that’s a problem. In this context, Paul writes:

“Although we are human, we are not contending for the faith based on flawed human standards . We use God's mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of flawed human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive idea and every imposing argument that people erect against the true knowledge of God. We capture every thought to focus on our purpose:  understanding and acknowledging the authority of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

Something will capture our minds. Our bodies follow our minds.  

As I was reading the list from the Chrissie Wellington, it struck me that just as Paul used a lot of analogies from sporting events, perhaps the principles that help IronMan champions succeed are (in a sense) biblical principles as well. They provide a practical way to take our thoughts captive for the sake of our understanding of and relationship with Christ. 

  • Have a verse or lyric you memorize, because what you repeat you believe. When Jesus was tempted, he quoted Scripture. Persecuted Christians often mention verses or songs that sustained them. When E.V. Hill preached at his wife’s funeral, he came back to: “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Oh, bless His name.” It’s important that we fill our minds with repeated truth.
  •  Have positive images, because sources of hope and joy matter. Chrissie said there were times when she wondered, “Why did you enter this race?" Perhaps there are times we think this as well. What do we think of to bring us hope or motivation? The Bible says that Jesus, “for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:12)  
  •  Plan ahead. Having confidence in your game plan matters. Are you purposeful about prayer, worship, and reading the Bible? If you know you have an area of sinful weakness, do you have a plan for times of temptation? What will you do if someone challenges your faith? If you know you have an area in which you struggle emotionally at times, are your preparing for times when you will become depressed, or lonely, or afraid? Are you seeking to prepare yourself ahead of time? 
  • Do the next do-able thing. Break the challenge up into smaller, more manageable segments. Believing you can succeed matters. Do the next thing right, not everything. Everything happens one step at a time. You may not THINK you can overcome an entire sin or temptation because it’s so overwhelming. So, just win the next battle. You can’t run the whole race at once, but you can run one step at a time. If you know your goal, every step in that direction counts. 
  •  Practice thinking hard, because knowing you are prepared matters. If you are struggling with sin, listen to challenging and convicting things that hold up a mirror to you. Embrace conviction. Don’t dodge yourself and your emotions just because it’s hard. If you are wrestling with questions about Christianity, absorb deep Christian truth. Read and listen to discussions about faith that might at times be boring and at other times be hard. 
  •  Get people to support you, because you need to know other people are for you. Let people into your life. YOU invite them; don’t wait for them to ask. What do you do when no one shows up for a banquet? You go out and “compel them to come in.” If you are going to be getting out of your comfort zone, you need a group around you to encourage and stabilize you. 
  •  Be inspired by others, because you need to remember that transformation awaits on the other side. The Bible calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). Because we are surrounded by them, we can run the race with perseverance. You can learn about them in the Bible, in books, movies, podcasts… Some of them are even here in your church. Learn about them; there is strength in unity.
  •  Remember you are part of a cause that is bigger than yourself, because knowing your role in the bigger picture matters. You are a part of the Kingdom of God. You are not doing the hard work of preparing for spiritual battle just for your sake. You are doing it for the sake of the Kingdom, and that includes your family, church, business, school, community, and city…