10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. 11 Put onthe full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. 13 For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. 14 Stand,therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, 15 and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. 16 In every situation 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. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. 20 For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough to speak about it as I should.
Today’s message is titled Good News People Play Offence.
We are going to talk about how to engage spiritual warfare.
Should Christians face spiritual warfare head on? Or should we try to protect ourselves in the presence of spiritual warfare? should we fight on the offence? Or should we persevere on the defence?
Let’s get some context for the discussion.
In their conquest for the Promised Land the Israelites had to fight many battles. On one occasion, the Lord told Moses to go up on a mountain overlooking the valley where the battle was to take place. And he said that if Moses would hold his hands up to the heavens, then the Israelites would have victory in battle. So long as he kept his hands up, the Israelites would be winning the battle, but when Moses’s hands got tired and he put them down they would start to lose. So, Moses got help from his closest friends to hold his hands up to the heavens and the Israelites won the battle by the power of God.
It’s easy to see the idea of spiritual warfare in the Old Testament. In the books of Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges, the Israelites engaged in combat against the hostile occupants of the Promised Land in the name of Yahweh, the one true God. And by the power of God, they conquer.
But Holy War is gory. It’s hard as Christians to conceive how the God of the Old Testament is the same as the loving Father figure of God in the New Testament. And it’s especially difficult to reconcile holy war with the character of Jesus Christ.
But, the Old Testament portrayals of God are not contradictions with God in the New Testament. Jesus is often presented as a divine warrior in the New Testament. Jesus, is portrayed as a warrior-king. Paul says we are more than conquerors through Christ, because He sees Jesus as the Warrior-King who goes before us into the battle.
Perhaps the most familiar depiction of Jesus as divine warrior occurs in the book of Revelation, where Jesus returns to earth with legions of angels mounted and ready for battle. He comes to finally rid the earth of the evil forces in the world.
The worldview of the biblical authors is that there are divine beings who are unjust rulers and authorities in this world. But, Jesus came as a greater ruler to conquer the nations and put the evil rulers and authorities under his feet. Paul says that Jesus is,
Ephesians 1:21 (CSB) — far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Paul isn’t talking about people who rule, but about the rulers of the spirit world who live among us—in this age and in the age to come.
The theme of the New Testament is not just the salvation of sinners. The New Testament continues the Old Testament epic of holy war to its consummation in the end when all evil is done away with and Christ with his church as cast every evil force away from the earth.
Old Testament spiritual warfare is also the backdrop for what is perhaps the most well-known passage on spiritual warfare in the New Testament and part of our text for today. In Ephesians 6:11–12, Paul tells believers to,
Ephesians 6:11–12 (CSB) — Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
Let that sink in for a moment, ‘cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil spiritual forces in the heavens.’ In Paul’s mind, spiritual warfare is not a metaphor for trials natural to this life. Paul believes in very real powers of darkness that wage war against God’s Kingdom which is us, the church. But, the hope of this text is that the Spirit of God, the divine warrior of Israel, will fight for you. In true holy-war, the real power is not found in the human participants, but in the power of Jesus, our divine warrior-king.
And you may think, well, what do I need armor for? What am I really fighting? I don’t really feel like I’m fighting anyone?
But, the New Testament really paints a portrait of spiritual warfare that we can’t ignore. I won’t recount all the passages where Jesus or the disciples cast demons out of people, because there are so many. These are divine spirits that wage war against Christ and all throughout the gospel accounts, he casts these demons into the abyss, into hell.
The Apostle John tells us that Judas was possessed by Satan when he betrayed Jesus. Further, John tells us that there are great powers in the world, but Jesus is greater than these powers.
James, the brother of Jesus, tells us we have to resist the devil to cause him to flee from us.
The Apostle Paul tells us that we are more than conquerors in Christ and he doesn’t mean metaphorically; he’s talking about holy war.
Jesus stood at the foot of Mount Hermon, the mountain that the ancients believed was like a portal where the evil spiritual forces of heaven entered into this world, where the cosmic powers of darkness came to earth, and Jesus proclaimed,
Matthew 16:18 (CSB) — On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
I want you to think about that briefly. Gates are defensive structures. Jesus came to eradicate evil not to protect you from it. He is on the offense not the defense.
1 John 3:8 (CSB) — The devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God [Jesus] was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s works.
Jesus came to undo the destruction that the devil began in the beginning and He does so by destroying the devils work. Spiritual war is very real and we are in the battle.
Spiritual warfare isn’t just a metaphor for sin and temptation. A holy war wages in the heavenly realms for which you have already been counted victorious in Christ.
So, the question is not will you fight—because you already are whether you realize it or not—but how will you fight? Will you fight on offense, fighting on God’s side? Or will you be on defence, cowering in the shadows?
I think the way you engage spiritual warfare depends on whether you have…
Optimism vs. Pessimism
There’s a tension in the scriptures. Some people read the Bible optimistically. Others pessimistically. That is to say, some people read the Bible to say that the world will get better and better as the good news about Jesus spreads throughout the earth until the day when Jesus returns and He finally renews all things. The idea is that Jesus is doing work on His people and in the earth through
His people until the end comes and He completes the work He began through us.
This view parallels what the scriptures teach happen in us as individuals. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Philippians 1:6 (CSB) — I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
The optimistic view of the world is that God began a good work in the world and He is, right now carrying that work forward until it’s completion on the day Jesus returns to make all things new.
I call this biblical optimism, because I believe it is the predominant view of scripture.
It’s still a theological tension, though, because we need to wrestle with other passages that speak of suffering in the Christian life. For instance, Jesus said,
Mark 13:13 (CSB) — You will be hated by everyone because of my name, but the one who endures to the end will be saved.
This is the pessimistic view, that the Christian life is characterized by suffering and all we have to do is endure it.
This teaching says that a good Christian should be hated by the world and oppressed by the powers in the world—spiritual or human powers. A pessimist believes that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket—literally—and that it’s going to continue to spiral out of control with violence, wars, and immorality until the day Jesus returns and rights the ship.
And you say, well which is it? Is the world getting better or worse? Is the church experiencing victory in the world or are we suffering?
Some church history helps. The church was largely optimistic until the 1500’s. During the Reformation, the Reformed churches were being persecuted by the Catholic church and several scholars of the time began to speculate that maybe Christ would return and rescue them from the persecution they were enduring. They looked to passages like this one:
Matthew 24:15–22 (CSB) — “So when you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place” (let the reader understand), “then those in Judea must flee to the mountains. A man on the housetop must not come down to get things out of his house, and a man in the field must not go back to get his coat. Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days! Pray that your escape may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For at that time there will be great distress [tribulation], the kind that hasn’t taken place from the beginning of the world until now and never will again. Unless those days were cut short, no one would be saved. But those days will be cut short because of the elect.
And they figured maybe this is happening now. Maybe this is the distress Jesus was talking about.
But, it’s not. The church Father’s always read that passage as a past event. For example, the 3rd-century Bishop, Eusebius, quoted this passage as he looked back to the persecution of the Jews and Christians in 70AD that led to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Eusebius saw, what we like to call the Great Tribulation as a past event and believed that we are living in the age of victory.
It seems clear by reading Eusebius and other church fathers that early Christians believed there would be a short period of suffering in the years immediately following Jesus’s death and then the church would begin to grow and expand to fill the earth.
For those of you who know some of the lingo, you might say it this way. The pessimistic view teaches that the world will get worse as we approach a future tribulation period. But, the optimistic view of the early church teaches that the tribulation is a past event that has catalyzed Christ’s work to better the creation since the end of the tribulation period.
Now, I call the pessimistic view cultural pessimism, because, today, it is the predominant view in Evangelical churches as well as in the culture around us. Even people who do not practice their faith are so influenced by the Christian culture that most people in the Western World have a very negative view of where we are headed as humanity as a whole.
In the remainder of the message, I’d like to unpack the implications of optimistic and pessimistic thinking and demonstrate what the early church knew well, that Jesus is in fact making all things new. I believe we have every reason to be optimistic as we look forward to the second coming of Christ.
And that’s where we will finally get to our text for today, in Ephesians 6, where we will specifically look at how optimism is the correct posture for dealing with spiritual warfare. We are pushing forward by the power of Jesus Christ, in a holy war. We are not merely enduring, waiting, or hiding.
Let’s look at…
Biblical Optimism vs. Cultural Pessimism
We’ll begin by looking at two…
…to spiritual warfare in light of biblical optimism and cultural pessimism.
The first we will deal with is the…
…of the one engaging spiritual warfare. For purposes of our discussion, we are concerned with whether your mindset is offensive or defensive.
In our passage, the Apostle Paul wrote,
Ephesians 6:16 (CSB) — In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
The immediate question is, when comes to the flaming arrows of the evil one, are you ready with your shield to defend against them—that’s the defensive position—or are you consciously looking for them in order to extinguish them?
At a first glance, this passage can seem as if Paul merely wants you to know that if or when troubles come that you have the shield of faith in order to guard against the spiritual enemy if the need arises. If you read this passage pessimistically, your faith, your shield, is only useful when the enemy decides to come after you.
But, remember Jesus’s purpose in coming to earth was offensive not defensive. That’s why James tells us that complete faith is active faith.
It’s alive and working. The shield of faith is not a defensive tool. It’s not to fall under when life gets hard. The shield of faith is a weapon of war, granted to you, that you would take it up and go out to extinguish the flaming arrows of evil in this world.
What mindset do you have?
Are you awake and heading into the battle, watchful for the forces of evil in this world so that, by your faith you might squelch the enemies efforts? Or are you in hiding? When you see evil, do you run and hide under an incomplete sense of faith?
If you hide from evil, then you are the pessimist, believing that there is nothing you can do to quash evil in this world. But, if you are an optimist, then you see before you the glory of the righteousness of Christ and the majesty of His eternal Kingdom and you long to see this world transformed, so much so that your efforts in life are to bring death and destruction to it’s knees before the King of glory.
The pessimist is prone to a defensive mindset, seeking their own comforts and counting off other people as if they are someone else’s problems. The pessimist is concerned that they have enough problems of their own to deal with—it’s not that they don’t care about others, they just can’t get involved.
But, the optimist is prone to mercy and compassion as they seek to see the oppressed become free from the sin and addictions that bind them. They seek the freedom of the people God created. The optimists take the shield of faith and go out into the world to extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one.
The second reaction we want to look at is the…
…of the one engaging spiritual warfare.
Ephesians 6:18–19 (CSB) — Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.
Notice, first, that Paul is concerned with prayer. This is sort of a motif in spiritual warfare passages in scripture.
The person who is able to persevere through spiritual warfare, does so because they know that God is with them and that the power of God is the power that dispels the forces of evil in the world. But, prayer is not the tactic. Prayer demonstrates that you know the power of God is with you.
Paul’s tactic for dealing with spiritual warfare is actually evangelism. It’s the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ. That’s why He says to pray that his mouth would be opened to make known the mystery of the gospel, the good news. Notice Paul’s tactic—at least not his primary one—is not the casting out of demons; it’s not healing and other miracles; it’s not any number of other activities that people get involved in as Christians, many of which are great things to be involved in. But, Paul’s primary concern—first and foremost—is the proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul’s tactic for combatting evil in the world around him is to speak the good news, boldly, to make known the mystery of the of the gospel. And again, this is an optimistic venture. The optimist looks at the evil in the world and by the power that rose Jesus from the dead, speaks boldly the only words that bring hope. The optimist knows that the power of God goes before him and speaks light into the darkness.
But, I want you to follow this logic backwards. Remember, I’m challenging you not to be a pessimist like most of our culture.
I mean, what do we make of the Christian who doesn’t pray? What do we make of the person who doesn’t go to God with their needs and the needs of others? What do we make of the one who doesn’t ask God to speak into the darkness of our world?
I have to assume one of two things. Either that person doesn’t believe that God can dispel the darkness. Or—and this is more likely—I have to believe that person doesn’t pray because they don’t think God will. You see, the optimist expects God to work and has every reason to be evangelistic—God goes before him. But, the pessimist has no reason even to pray. The pessimist believes life is going to be hard and filled with suffering and doesn’t believe that God will answer their prayer of deliverance, so they don’t ask God for help. And when it comes to evangelism, the pessimist looks at the world around them and sees a world full of lost and dying people and they figure that’s how it’s supposed to be in the end.
Pessimism leads to apathy, because, well, someone has to go to hell, right?
Be an optimist. Live your life on offense and live life evangelistically.
Next, let’s look at two…
…implications of optimism. The first is…
When spiritual warfare comes your way, Paul says you should have…
Ephesians 6:15 (CSB) — your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.
Notice, this isn’t like, oh no here comes trouble, let’s get our shoes on. This is, I know that trouble will come in life, therefore, I choose to live by the power of Christ in all things, in all ways, at all times, ready for what will inevitably come. It’s readiness. But, this isn’t a be ready for a fight attitude that God uses to disarm the forces of evil in the world.
Consider what we are fighting. Paul says that,
1 Corinthians 14:33 (CSB) — God is not a God of disorder [chaos] but of peace.
Chew on that for a moment. War is always chaos. But, not God’s war. God’s very nature puts chaos at bay.
The biblical symbol of chaos is the seas. In the creation story, before anything was created on the earth and it was formless and void, the Spirit of God covered the seas. God was keeping chaos at bay. In Genesis 6, God let’s go of the seas and the whole world is consumed by a worldwide flood. Moses commands the sea to part so that the Israelites could cross the sea on dry land, but then God let’s go of the waters and chaos consumes the lives of the Egyptian armies. The Leviathan lives in the seas. The Beast and the False prophet come out of the sea. The disobedient angels of Genesis 6 are chained in the sea. Everything evil comes from the sea; everything evil comes from chaos.
But God is not a God of chaos, but of peace. So he says we fight the war with our feet sandaled with readiness for the Gospel or good news of peace.
The key word in this verse is, ‘readiness.’ We’re to be ready to watch what God is going to do, not because he is going to destroy evil people in a fit of rage, but because He is going to bring peace. We should go about our lives expectant, watching for all that God is going to do to bring peace out of the chaos of our world. That’s the optimistic view of the Bible; God will work through us to bring peace to this world!
You know, we wonder why we hear all these amazing stories of transformation happening all around the world, but we never see it around us. Healing, miracles, and all that. And I believe it’s because the culture of Christianity in the Western world is predominantly pessimistic. We don’t go about our days with eyes open, expecting to see the wonders of God.
Instead we walk around dejected, our eyes on our own circumstances and our own problems. And we don’t really expect anything to change so we don’t even look for change. We aren’t even confident that we can endure this life and we certainly aren’t looking to see what good God might be bringing in the lives of others.
You go to a third world country and people there need hope. I guarantee you, no missionary is experiencing success in bringing people to Christ by teaching people that the world is a crappy place and God calls us to follow him so that we can continue to suffer in life while the world goes down the toilet. You’ll be despised by men and go around with your head hung low, dejected, and then maybe, one day, when you stand before God He might have mercy on your soul.
That’s the pessimistic Gospel perpetuated in so many Western churches, but it is not the Good News of the Bible. Missionaries over seas are seeing people commit to follow Jesus Christ as Lord, because the good news of the Bible is that God is making all things new and He is doing that work today. Missionaries expect God to work and God works.
So, should we have an expectant attitude. And then our…
…should be confidence not cowardice.
Ephesians 6:14 (CSB) — Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest.
The keyword here is stand. To stand is to remain confident. When spiritual warfare comes, we are to stand in the face of opposition. We are to maintain our confidence that God has gone before us.
We preach to ourselves, the words of John,
1 John 4:4 (CSB) — The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.
Because of this reality we can stand in confidence. We stand for two things. We stand for (1) truth and we stand for (2) righteousness. The optimist knows that God will win so it doesn’t matter what the world wants you to confess, what the world wants you to believe, you can stand for truth because there is one greater in you than any power in the world. And when the world wants you to give into temptation to sin, you can stand for righteousness, because the devil doesn’t win. The one who is in you is greater than the one in the world.
Jesus stands for you with his hands lifted high to heaven so that in every spiritual battle, you be victorious by the power of God.
This is the optimism that the Bible teaches.
But, what does the pessimist among us do?
When the world wants you to compromise on truth, the pessimist cannot stand. The pessimist can’t defend truth so rather than confront the lies of the world around us, the pessimist—at best—avoids the discussion—and at worst—compromises their beliefs. “Well, I believe abortion is wrong for me, but I can’t make that decision for others.” “I’m not sure that Jesus is the only way to God. I do believe he is merciful.” “I don’t really believe fill-in-the-blank.”
That’s not standing. The pessimist concedes the battle.
The optimist is expectant, watchful of where God is at work in the world. The optimist stands for truth and righteousness. And he does so because he maintains a biblical…
…which has inevitably to do with our…
I believe that the way you see the world is directly tied to who or what you are ultimately loyal to. The optimist has so much faith in the power of God, and so much conviction of God’s calling that they can’t help but believe the promises of scripture. The optimist looks to the scriptures and is stirred with hope for a better world. The optimist sees the suffering of the present age, but believes that the power of God is transforming everything broken into something beautiful and good. The optimist finds joy, and peace, and rest in the promises of the Bible.
But, the pessimist cannot see past his own circumstances. The pessimist can’t get past the suffering of this present age. The pessimist is so consumed with the suffering of this world that, although he might have a hope for eternity, he has no hope for this present age.
To this end, Paul writes,
Ephesians 6:17 (CSB) — Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God.
The helmet is the knight’s crown and glory. The spiritual warrior knows from whence he came.
The spiritual warrior knows that he was once a prince of this world; he knows that he has come from his darkest hour, where chaos reigned. But now, by the calling of God and the drawing of the Word of God, He has come and bowed at the feet of Jesus. And Jesus has granted him amnesty for his war-crimes and raised him up as first night in his Kingdom to go out into the world and fight against the forces of darkness.
The spiritual warrior dawns on his head the helmet of salvation. He shamelessly wears as his crown the grace and the glory of Christ. And he takes up in his hand the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God whose message is recorded in the Bible. And he goes to proclaim peace in the midst of chaos; he goes to live light in the midst of darkness; he goes to redeem what the world has stolen; he goes to wage war over forces of evil.
And you, if you profess Christ, you are that knight. You have not been called to doubt, to lurk in the shadows and to run from every trial that comes your way. For, you have faith in the one who has already declared victory over the spiritual war that continues in this present age. You have been called to a great and a mighty calling.
When the prophet Jeremiah was called to go to the nation of Israel and preach against them, he felt powerless and fearful. He was a pessimist. He didn’t know what to do or what to say and he wanted to flee from his calling.
But then this happened and everything changed. Jeremiah wrote:
Jeremiah 1:9–10 (CSB) — Then the Lord reached out his hand, touched my mouth, and told me: I have now filled your mouth with my words. See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.
And if you have never heard this before, then let today be the day that you hear it: God has reached out his hand to you. He has touched you and gifted you to carry out his purposes in this world. And even though you feel powerless, you ought to have faith. For you have been called to destroy and to demolish the works of the cosmic powers of darkness in this world. You have been called to tear down what is evil. And you have been called to build a city unto Christ and to plant a garden, a paradise on earth.
Do you believe that is what God is doing in this world?
Do you believe that this is your calling?
If your loyalty is to Christ, then take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God, and go into the battle.
And I will pray for you, at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, that you stay alert with all perseverance and will intercede for you before God, that you would have strength. And I
will pray that the message may be given to you when you open your mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.