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The Spiritual Battle

Date: May. 30, 2021

Author: Bob Henkins

Ephesians 6:10-24

Key Verse: Ephesians 6:12

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.

In war, not many things can give an army better odds of victory than a well-planned, well-executed surprise attack. A sudden, unanticipated overwhelming barrage that catches their foe off guard can be utterly devastating. If your opponent was unprepared and caught off guard, panic and dismay can set in giving smaller opponents victory over larger ones.  

One of the most famous historical surprise attacks happened at Pearl Harbor but another one, not quite as well-known, but maybe more pivotal in our nation’s history took place at the Battle of Trenton. As 1776 drew to a close, the American bid for independence wasn’t going as they had hoped. The Continental Army under the command of George Washington had been on the run since its historic defeat losing New York City in August. If it wasn’t for a miraculous escape, they would have been annihilated. Morale was low and General Washington was worried about losing men as their enlistments expired in a week. So, he planned a surprise attack hoping to score a victory and restore some confidence in the Revolutionary cause.

From his base in Pennsylvania, with the temperature in the upper teens, Washington crossed the freezing Delaware River, hoping to catch the German mercenaries camped in Trenton by surprise. On Christmas night, 1776, a cold, hungry, and demoralized American army climbed into boats during a freezing storm made miserable by driving sleet that cut like a knife. Due to the powerful nor’easter and icy river conditions, only one out of the three military detachments were able to cross the river. Washington with only 2400 men, 3000 fewer than planned, finished crossing the river at 3 AM. They marched through the night, many of them without shoes, yet they were undeterred by the conditions. Finally reaching Trenton, they attacked at 8 AM catching the Germans by surprise as they were eating breakfast. It was a quick victory, the Americans killed, wounded, and captured about a 1000 of their enemy, while only incurring two dead and five wounded. It was a small battle, but it is now considered by many as the turning point in the American Revolution.

I bring this up because it relates to our passage this morning. The Germans didn’t think anyone would attack in that bad of weather and because they were unprepared for the battle, they were quickly overwhelmed and routed. In our passage, Paul is drawing attention to the unseen world and the spiritual battle that is going on around us every day. And just as the German’s were routed because they were unprepared and caught off guard, how can we defend ourselves if we don’t even REALIZE that we’re in a war? Paul knows this, so he wants to help his fellow believers by opening their eyes to the spiritual world and training them so that they would be better prepared for when Satan attacks. Some may say, “Satan and the spiritual world doesn’t exist, that’s a figment of your imagination,” but that’s exactly what he wants you to think because if you don’t believe, you don’t prepare. And an unprepared opponent is ripe for the picking.

Part 1 – We are under attack (v10-13)

This morning we’ll conclude our study of the book of Ephesians which starts in verse 10. From verse 10, one of the first things, we need to understand is where our real strength comes from. Verse 10 reads, “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” We may be tempted to think that our strength, intelligence, or fighting prowess, comes from within or from our training, while that it partly true, we do have some, the real power, spiritual power, only comes from the Lord. Our internal strength and power help us to fight the human battle, but that isn’t always the best solution. The best solution can be found in verse 11, it says, “11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Have you ever noticed that sometimes, a bunch of coincidences line up all at the same time, which turn a simple situation into a difficult, high-pressure incident? We can just chalk those up to Murphy’s Law or bad luck, but from a spiritual point of view, it could also be Satan’s attack. Verse 11 tells us that the devil is always scheming looking for footholds and weaknesses in us that he can take advantage of. This reminded me of Genesis 4 when God counseled Cain, he said, “sin is crouching at our door, and it desires to have us...” It gives the picture of sin being like an animal wanting and waiting to attack us. This is what Satan does. He is like an animal stalking its prey. He’s the apex predator. Think about this, athletes watch countless hours of video, teams have personnel dedicated to producing and going over tons of data, all focused on looking for the one weakness that they, or their team, can take advantage of so that they can have an edge over their opponent. If people do this just to win one game, which is here today and gone tomorrow, think about what Satan does to win eternal battles. Because of this Paul warns us in verse 12, “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.”

Fighting the human battle is a major distraction, thinking this person or that person is the problem. Satan can use this tactic to draw us into a multi-front war to wear us down and thin out our defenses. We end up putting all our energy, angst, planning, into winning the human battle when really, we should be focused on fighting the greater enemy. Another thing we should note is that we shouldn’t take Satan’s attacks so personally. Jesus told his disciples that we’ll have trouble in the world (Jn 16:33) and he was right because Satan is busy attacking people so we shouldn’t be deceived by him thinking about how people are out to get us and destroy us.

On the other hand, it is true people do attack us, this is a real thing, we are all sinners living in close proximity to each other. Paul’s not saying these attacks aren’t real or we should just blow them off and ignore them. If we are fighting with someone, (our boss, neighbor, etc) maybe we will have to take action, like change jobs or even move away. Or maybe we need to self-reflect and see if there is something we do need to improve on, and make some changes in our life. It’s not always all the other person’s fault it could be us too. However, the point I think Paul is trying to get across to us is that we shouldn’t be consumed by these types of things to the point that they become the focus of our lives and they hinder us from living a productive life. Simply put, Paul is presenting us with a caution against lashing out against human opponents as though they were the real enemy and also against assuming that the battle can be fought using merely human resources.

Through the story of Job, we get a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes into the spiritual realm and realize that all of Job’s misfortunes were clearly attacks by Satan. In the story, we see how Job’s wife and his friends were encouraging him to fight the human battle, not the spiritual battle. His wife let her anger get the best of her when she said, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9) Even Job’s friends were encouraging him to fight the human battle against himself, saying that his misfortunes were cause and effect. They were dogmatically saying that it was all his fault because of some hidden sin.

Verse 13 tells us to, “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.” One thing we can say for certain is that if we are on our own, we are NEVER going to win the spiritual war. Satan is much more crafty, intelligent, sneaky, resourceful than us. Satan has way more experience if fighting battles like this than we do. Satan has defeated every opponent he ever fought except one. He is like a heavy weight MMA fighter with a record of 30B – 1. The sports betting companies would tag him as the favorite in every fight. Through this we see that our human effort is inadequate, but God’s power is invincible.

Part 2 – Fortify your spiritual defense (v14-17)

Take a look at verses 14 to 17. “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. 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.” In this section Paul describes how to prepare for spiritual battle. Spiritual battle is different than human battle. In this context, the imagery he gives is not that of a massive invasion from of the domain of evil, but of individual soldiers being assaulted. Also in this section Paul uses a lot of symbolic clothing of the Messiah that was described by the prophet Isaiah “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” (Isa 11:5) In verse 14 we see  that truth/righteousness wins, it’s character, not brute force, that wins the battle, just as in the case of the Messiah. Again, we see the breastplate of righteousness, which reveals that the warriors’ character is their defense. Isaiah shows how God himself is symbolically described as putting on a breastplate of righteousness when he goes forth to bring about justice (Isa 59:17) “He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”

I also find it interesting that all these verses are basically describing soldiers, in an army, dressed for battle. But God isn’t preparing them for conquest, but for peace. According to verse 15, there feet are ready to bring peace. This again reminds me of how the prophet Isaiah described the messenger’s feet, saying, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”” (Isa 52:7). It is only because of what Jesus did for us that we could have peace with God. Romans 5:1 tells us, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” In verse 16, the shield of faith is described, like the large roman shield covered with leather, which could be soaked in water and used to put out flame-tipped arrows, we have a shield from God that can put out Satan’s flaming arrows. And verse 17 describes the helmet of salvation which protects the soldier and could also be symbol of military victory. And last but not least we have the Sword of the spirit – which is the word of God. Up to this point all these things are for defense, but the sword and be used for defense but it’s also good for offense. From this we learn that God didn’t intend for us to be Satan’s punching bag all the time, taking shot after shot after shot. He’s also given us the Sword of the Spirit so that we can FIGHT BACK.

Part 3 – Prepare for your spiritual counterattack (v18-20)

Take a look at verses 18 to 20. “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.” The best defense is a good offense. And the best offense is prayer. Not prayer by yourself, not alone or to dead idols but it says praying in the spirit to the living God. “In the spirit” means “with the help of” the spirit. (Rom 8:26) “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Sometimes, when we don’t even know what to pray, God helps us because he knows our heart and what we need even before we ask. Our prayer should be on all occasions. That means in victory and defeat, in happiness and sadness, when we are busy and idol, morning and evening, all the time. Also, our prayer should include all kinds of requests, thanksgiving, praise, even just talking. And we can’t forget about others. We should pray for all the Lord’s people.  Our counterattack should be prayer, and then following that up by making known the gospel, and to declare it fearlessly.

Part 4 – Unite spiritual warriors unite (v21-24)

Take a look at verses 21 to 24. “21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. 23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Paul wants us to encourage one another through friendship, fellowship, faith, peace and grace. We are to be faithful servants in the Lord. We should talk to and communicate with one another, visiting one another. One of our greatest strength is our spiritual brothers and sisters, we need the community, to be part of the larger body of Christ.

So, in conclusion I was to impress upon you that we ARE in a spiritual war. We ARE under Satan’s attack. Therefore, we MUST prepare. We MUST defend ourselves. Most of the time we’re oblivious and unprepared and fall victim to the devil’s attacks. The danger of the spiritual battle is being ignorant, not caring, or overconfident. Even believers can become complacent because it’s a daily grind. It’s hard to be ready every day. The MLB season is long season, every team has to play 162 games. Baseball purists use the idiom “dog days of summer” to refer to the time between July 3rd and August 11th. They use this phrase because it's during this 40-day stretch that the temperature and humidity reach their highest points and it’s often the most grueling part of the season. For example, this year the White Sox play 33 games in 11 different cities during that period and it’s hard to be at your best EVERY day but that’s where teams show what they are made of. Likewise, to bring your spiritual “A game” everyday of every year is so hard and I’m talking about believers who know it’s going on. What do you think about non-believers who aren’t even in the game? With futile thinking and darkened understanding, we are in darkness, and this is how Satan likes to keep us. Because in darkness it’s hard to fight against our foes. Spiritually speaking, it’s a matter of life and death. Many people have been severely wounded and take years to recover, some never do. Families have been destroyed and friendships ruined because the devil gets a foothold.

Someone asked, “What does spiritual warfare look like in real life?” It could be someone consumed by their anger who goes into a fit of rage. It could be someone consumed by lust indulging in porn. It could be someone that is consumed by wild partying. It could be someone consumed by pride, greed or power. These are extreme, but it can often be subtle as well like someone battling depression that withdraws from life. Or struggling with substance abuse, or spousal abuse, or any kind of abuse for that matter.

For me, verse 12 really speaks to my heart. Sometimes it’s really hard for me to remember that my struggle is not against flesh and blood, against people. When I feel like I’m being personally attacked, my instincts are to either lash out and fight back or withdraw and cut that person out of my life. When I had trouble with my former boss at work, I struggled a lot. When I felt humiliated, or snubbed, excluded or a myriad of other emotions my thoughts ranged from revenge to self-pity. Coming into work was like a rollercoaster ride, I never knew what kind of day it was going to be. Satan can really get in your head and cause you to doubt yourself and abilities or make you want to cause problems and get even. If we don’t watch out, it can even change who you are. You can go from a fun-loving positive person to a cynical complainer that no one wants to be around. If we let it, one aspect of our life can drag down our whole life. I struggled in my professional life for more than a decade and sometimes it tore me up inside. During that period, because of the toxic work environment, I watched one co-worker breakdown in tears multiple times, another one had to go to therapy and another co-worker go from a relatively happy working overtime, late nights and weekends, willing to go the extra mile, to become paranoid, revengeful, unstable and scary. That was a rough time in my life and I’m so glad that’s over. But Satan’s attacks don’t stop there. Even just recently, Satan sprung a surprise attack on me, I wanted to act out humanly, and it took a lot of will power to hold back to hold back my desire to fight but as it often happens, God has incredible timing as I had to prepare for this message this week and verse 12 kept ringing in my head. And as I thought about and meditated on this verse, I accepted that my struggle was not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil and this helped me to de-escalate the situation and restore the relationship. God equipped me with the sword of the spirit, the word of God and it prevented Satan from getting a foothold in my heart and driving a wedge into the relationship. The word of God helped me to humble myself instead of puffing myself up with anger.  

There is so much in the world that can discourage us or weaken our faith. We need to learn from Paul, how to defend ourselves and even go on the offensive when we need to. Because if we’re tangled up in a human battle, it’s almost impossible to grow in the Lord and be able to serve him and do the good works that he prepared for us to do.

Through prayer is one way we can remain in the Lord. By praying for others, is how we can be united with them and share in their suffering a little bit. It helps us to be connected to one another. Our central theme for our Ephesians study was “Divine Purpose”, as we thought about God’s purpose, we learned that God wants to bring all things to unity under Jesus. That’s why Jesus came, he sacrificed himself so that we could be re-united with our Father God and with our fellow believers. So that we could be united, as one body, and support one another so that we may be able to stand firm and fight the battle together. I think we, as a fellowship, have done pretty good over the year, but I think we can do a better job loving one another. I know we’ve been struggling with the pandemic, but we’ve been distant, and haven’t really engaged with each other on a personal level. I know that I’ve been guilty of this, and I apologize. I pray for each of you, that God may protect you, and strengthen you and fill you with his love and grace for one another.

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