Spiritual Warfare – Stand Against the Devil

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The last two posts on spiritual warfare dealt with the instruction we receive from James and Peter on resisting the Devil.  Paul also gives us some advice, but his word is stand.  In Ephesians 6, Paul explains what it means to stand against the Devil.

1. Be Strong in the Lord

Eph 6:10-12 – Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  [12] For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Here we just want to be reminded of a few things we saw last time. First, we are reminded of our enemy in spiritual warfare. We are called to stand against the schemes of the devil.  This foe is not one of flesh and blood, but the spiritual forces of evil.  Satan is a powerful and deadly foe – someone constantly working against God and his people. He longs to detract from the glory of Christ by making Christians fall into sin.

Second, we are reminded that we do not fight in our own strength, but we are to ‘be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.’ Interestingly enough, Paul says this is the same might that raised Christ back from the dead. In his prayer in Ephesians 1, Paul speaks of “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, (19-20).

What effect should this have on us? It should give us confidence and calm our fears about the battle.  The same power that brought Christ back to life, the same power that will one day raise back to life every Christian and transform their lifeless bodies into a resurrection body, fit for eternity in heaven – that same mighty power is offered to us to battle our enemies in spiritual warfare.  If we fight in that strength, how can we lose?

So how do we stand against Satan in the strength of God’s might?  Paul says we must, Put on the whole armor of God.  So, let’s take a few minutes to look at what this armor is and how it beings strength from God and protection from the enemy.

2. Take up God’s Armor

Eph 6:13-17 – Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

One thing that is amazing is that though Paul very specifically calls this ‘the armor of God,’ it wasn’t until I studied this passage that I fully understood what that meant.  That was surprising because I have heard at least 5 or 6 sermons on this passage and none fully hit the mark. You see, Paul is a Bible man.  Yes, he has had the new revelation of God’s word though Christ.  But Christ is simply the fulfillment of God had previously said in what we call the Old Testament.  So, as Paul writes, he is constantly drawing the Scriptures – explaining them in light of Christ.

This passage is no different.  And what we see is Paul not coming up with anything new, really.  Instead, he is drawing on the imagery in the book of Isaiah and the ministry of the coming Messiah.  This is literally God’s armor – the armor he himself wears as he triumphs over sin.  And now, he says this armor is extended to us through Christ.

“The belt of truth”

Usually we think of this light a normal belt we would wear today; the kind of belt that the soldier’s sword would have hung from.  But this probably refers to the leather apron-like shirt which hung under the armor and protected the thighs. The point that Paul is getting at – the idea of securely fastening your clothing around your waist – wants us to understand that we are to prepare for vigorous activity.  In this case, Paul is talking about having a readiness for battle.

The apostle’s language clearly alludes to Isaiah 11.  There we are told that when Messiah comes, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and [truthfulness] the belt of his loins.” This passage speaks to the longing of Israel to be ruled by God’s Messiah, and experience a divine kingdom will be characterized by righteousness and truth.  The armor which the Messiah wears in battle is now provided for his people as they engage in spiritual warfare.  Here in Ephesians 6, Paul is writing to encourage to buckle on this piece of the Messiah’s armor, to be strengthened by God’s truth as revealed in the gospel.

The result will be that the character of Christ will be displayed in our attitudes, language, and behavior. In this way, we will resist the devil and not give him an opportunity to gain an advantage over us (4:27).

“The breastplate of righteousness”

Next, Paul says we need to take up the “the breastplate of righteous­.” For the Roman soldier, the breastplate was a piece of armor which covered the chest and was designed to offer protection against arrows and close-range blows. Paul is clearly drawing Isaiah 59:17 – “He put on righteousness as a breastplate.” In Isaiah, the Lord is pictured putting on the breastplate of righteousness to deliver his people and punish their enemies.

Two things are in view here when Paul speaks of righteousness.  First, it speaks of the declaration of righteousness that God gives to us when we place our faith in Christ.  His righteousness is credited to us.  But more than that – that alien righteousness credited to us is supposed to serve as the basis for our pursuit of real righteousness.  Thus one way to stand against the devil is to actively stand on the righteousness of Christ for our acceptance with, and then pursue a righteousness of our own in loving obedience to God.

“Readiness given by the gospel of peace”

Paul says, “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (6:15). O’Brien says, “The Christian also needs to be outfitted with proper footwear in order to be ready for battle. The Roman soldier frequently wore caliga, a half-boot, which was not strictly a weapon but part of his equipment that was used especially in long marches.”  Again, Paul’s words are rooted in Isaiah.  This time, chapter 52 – “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (52:7).

In this context, we see a picture of a single messenger beautiful feet are pounding across the mountaintops with all the swiftness of a gazelle as he seeks to bring “good news to” Jerusalem.  And as he comes within earshot of the city, he shouts, “Peace!  Good News!  Salvation!  Your God reigns!”  So what is Paul getting at here?  I think that in order to fully get it, you need to understand a couple of things Paul has already said in the letter.  Remember Paul is not writing unrelated paragraphs – he’s making an argument throughout the entire letter.

Back in chapter 2, Paul says, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:13-18).

Here Christ is not only the one who heralds the message of peace, but he is the one who made the peace with God possible by offering himself as an atonement for the sins of both Jews and Gentiles.

So, now here in chapter 6, Paul is saying that, as God’s people, we have placed our faith in Christ and so embraced the peace he has won.  Experiencing this peace with God that comes through the gospel causes us to have our feet made ready to tell others the message of gospel.  Spiritual warfare is not just about having a defensive posture, but being on the offensive as well.  And in a wonderful irony, our warfare consists in proclaiming a message of peace.

“The shield of faith”

Next Paul says we are to “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” Often you see drawings of the Christian in God’s armor and it pictures the soldier carrying small round shield. Instead, the word Paul uses speaks the large, oval-shaped shield that the Roman soldiers used to protect their entire bodies. These shields were specifically designed to defend against anything hurled by the enemy.  One favorite projectile were arrows dipped in pitched than set on fire before they were launched.  The shields were often soaked in water before battles to extinguish the flaming arrows.

Paul takes up this real-world imagery and uses it to describe the deadly attacks Satan launches against God’s people.  And he says, if you want to withstand that onslaught, you need to take up the shield of faith. It is important to understand that Paul is not describing a shield held up by faith.  No, faith itself is the shield.  That begs the questions, how is faith a shield?

In the Old Testament, God himself is pictured as a shield –

Genesis 15:1 – After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

2 Samuel 22:31 – This God— his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 3:3 – But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Psalm 18:2 – The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Now, notice this last verse.  Psalm 28:7 – The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.

Here I think is how we see faith being a shield.  It is through faith – belief in the promises of God – that we as Christians take hold of God’s resources for the fight.   We place our faith in God and his promises, trusting him to strengthen for the fight and protect us in the midst of battle.

“The helmet of salvation”

The kind of helmet the Ephesians would have been familiar with.  The kind they would have seen on the Romans soldiers in their day was “made of bronze and had cheek pieces so as to give protection to the head.”  Here we return to the more direct language of Isaiah.  Specifically, Paul is drawing from Isaiah 59.  Again, as the prophet looks forward, seeing Christ as the Messiah, he says, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isa 59:17).

Here the Lord is seen as the victorious warrior who wears ‘the helmet of salvation,’ judging his enemies and saving his people.  And here in Ephesians, God is seen giving his helmet to protect his people in the midst of spiritual conflict.  Like the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation should be understood as salvation itself.  So, Paul is saying, if you want to stand against the enemy, you must lay hold of the salvation you’ve been given by Christ.

Remember, again, what Paul has already said in this letter.  Paul has described the salvation of God’s people as being already accomplished by God, “making them alive with Christ, raising them up, and seating them with him in the heavenly places (2:5, 6) are comprehensively described as his having saved them by grace (vv. 5, 8)….  God has rescued them from death, wrath, and bondage, and transferred them into a new dominion where Christ rules” (O’brien, Ephesians).  This is what God has already done for his people.  So to lay hold of this, to take up the helmet of salvation, is to constantly remind ourselves of this reality.  As Christians, we should preach the gospel to ourselves.  We must protect our minds by looking to God and assuring ourselves of what God has done for us in Christ.

“The sword of the Spirit”

Finally, Paul says, “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The word Paul uses for the word sword “refers to the short-handled sword, which was an important offensive weapon in close combat.” Again, we should note that as God’s people engaged in a spiritual conflict, we are not called to simply hold the line.  That is part of our calling.  Part of our calling is to hold the line when it comes to core doctrines of our faith, and clear moral and ethical practices in the church.

But more than that, we are to be on the offensive as well.  How do we do that?  Paul says, ‘take up the sword of the Spirit.’ And unlike the shield and helmet previously mentioned, the sword of the Spirit is not the Spirit.  Paul explicitly says it is the word of God.  The Bible is the sword of the Spirit in that it is the Spirit of God that “makes the sword powerful and effective, giving it its cutting edge (cf. Heb 4:12).”

Paul is probably again making an allusion to Isaiah 11.  There Christ, as the Messiah, is described as destroying God’s enemies with the power of word, being anointed by God’s Spirit – “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. [3] And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, [4] but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isa 11:2-4).

Once again, the weapon carried by Christ is the same weapon given to Christians – the word of God, empowered by God’s Spirit.  And while all of God’s word is powerful and effective, what Paul specifically has in mind here is the gospel.  This is how we go on the offensive – by proclaiming the saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Thus, according to Powlison, “[w]hat is in view here is not some ad hoc word addressed to Satan, as though what we speak against him will defeat him. Rather, it is the faithful speaking forth of the gospel in the realm of darkness, so that men and women held by Satan might hear this liberating and life-giving word and be freed from his grasp.”

Conclusion

In other words, we must have a living trust in God if we are going to be able to stand against the evil one. In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Pilgrim has an encounter with Apollyon, and is told, “I’m going to spill you on the ground!” And then Apollyon  launches one of his fiery darts, and what does Pilgrim do? Bunyan tells you that he has a shield. And he lifts up that shield and it deflects the darts of the evil one against him. T the point is, of course, that to stand against the devil we must have faith in God. We must have trust and entire confidence in God.

Do you remember when the 84-year-old pastor from Ephesus, Polycarp, had been chained to the pyre by his Roman captors, and they were taunting him before they burned him alive, and they said to him, “Where’s your hope now? Don’t you want to call out for mercy to Caesar and to the gods, rather than die this horrible death?” And you remember Polycarp’s response:  “Eighty-four years have I served Christ, and He has never done me wrong. Am I to begin not trusting Him now?”

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