Spiritual Warfare

Sunday, November 09, 2008



Pastorpher preached from Ephesian 6:12 today.

Ephesians 6:12
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

His message was a warning to us that the devil is on the prowl like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. And we must at all times be (1) discerning, (2) have a close relationship with Him, (3) stand firm on the basis of the victory of Christ Jesus, (4) submit to God and (5) pray.

I looked further onto the following verses in Ephesian 6.

Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (6:13)

The days are evil. There are so much nonsense happening and people are fighting one another for a mere pittance of power so that they can better than others. In such infighting, winning for oneself is what counts. In such a world, we who are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and soul, and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves, will find ourselves in a foreign land, but yet so much a part of it. We are to stand firm and put on the full armour. There is a battle and we are in for a fighting.

Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (6:14)

Here Paul repeats himself - stand firm, the second time an imperative. Whatever happens, stand firm, O Christians.

I was trying to figure out what it means by girding one's loins with truth. The word in Greek could also mean waist and that is how NIV interprets it: "with the belt of truth buckled around your waist". It refers to the leather apron of a Roman soldier which is hung under the armour protecting the thighs. It signifies a preparation for vigorous activity (O'Brien, Pillar). As a Christian, we are not expected to sit and be lax about the war that is happening about us. We are to be prepared and our vulnerabilities to be guarded with the truth that is Christ.

The breastplate is put on to protect the chest area. It is an area that is most vulnerable when we go head on in battle, and with it we protect it with righteousness, God's righteousness. We are to don God's righteousness, to be his imitators and to act righteously in all we do. Being holy will protect our lives.

and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; (6:15)

On our feet, we wear strong shoes that will bring us to all sorts of places and terrains. With these, we are prepared to bring the Gospel of Peace wherever we go as we fight in the battle.

in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (6:16)

This is one very important part of the armour, if not one of the most important. I happen to watch 300 today and saw how the Spartans protected themselves with the onslaught of thousands and thousands of arrows. They simply knelt and covered themselves with their shields. When we are out in battle, we will receive many arrows flying towards us: discouraging words, accusation, false testimonies, damaging remarks, threats, physical assault - all of which we can withstand with our faith in God our Father and Christ, our Lord.

From the movie 300, I also see that the armour is used to create a phalanx, to protect your comrade, your brethren together in the battle.

And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (6:17)

Our heads are to be protect by strong steady helmets - when we think about what is happening to us, the things said about us, and even what we read in Scripture, what should protect us is the knowledge that we have salvation in Christ Jesus. There is no other truth than the truth of his grace by which we are saved.

In our hands finally, we have the sword of the Spirit to block and strike at the right time, the Word of God to counter untruths and to spread the truth about God, about life, about death.

pearlie
Photo (c) 2006 ejdzej

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11 comment(s)

  1. This was a wonderful post, Pearlie. The armor of God is one of my favoritie scriptures and "having done all stand"!!! There is no armor for the back side, or running.....we must stand and fight. Fight the good fight of faith.
    Susan

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  2. Following on your train of thought...

    This passage reminds Christians that we are called to be prepared for spiritual war. But the Bible paints a vivid picture of our spiritual struggle. We are not pious monks - we are warriors! Why is the Christian imagery so much more aggressive? Why not an image of serene piety like the Buddhists?

    In the Buddhist context, the spiritual conflict is basically between worldliness and nirvana. The Buddhist aspires to nirvana - the state of nothingness where he has forever escaped the cares of this world. The demons aspire to keep him in this world through the many worldly temptations and cares.

    Thus, the struggle is individual. And the response is equally personal - overcoming through meditation.

    But warfare is not personal. There is no such thing as an army of one. Wars are never fought by individuals fighting random individual battles. Wars are fought strategically and in numbers.

    So while this passage talks about individual preparation, we have to remember that we are not expected to battle alone. The whole church is expected to fight - cohesively and under a strategy dictated by God. And just as in an army, we are expected to follow orders, and not question why.

    Every war ever fought had a purpose. It is a struggle between 2 irreconcilable purposes/ideas that have erupted into violence. And the ideas/purposes are big or important enough that it not merely involves individuals, it moves groups of people. Especially so in the Christian context, as we are basically a volunteer army.

    So what is the purpose of Christian spiritual warfare? I would assume that it is not for individual spiritual enlightenment because if that was the case, the image of warfare would have been overkill for such a limited scope.

    I believe the following passages will give us a clue.

    Matthew 16:18
    And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and THE GATES OF HADES WILL NOT OVERCOME IT.

    Matthew
    Go and make disciples of all the earth.

    I used to have an image of a mighty battle between the Kingdom of Satan (Gates of Hades) attacking the Kingdom of God (Christians/the Church). And the wording in this translation certainly implies it. And Christians had to stand firm and resist the attacks of the enemy in order not to fail in their spiritual lives.

    But over the years has given me a different understanding. I realise now that the image I had was of the battle for personal spirituality (like the Buddhist image) mashed together a wrong perception of the Church's role in spiritual warfare.

    Examining the passages more carefully, I now realise that gates are not mobile, nor do they go on the offensive. They are fixed in one place and are DEFENSIVE structures. They are designed to keep things out, or to keep things in.

    Following from this point, it would be interesting to think – are the Gates of Hades meant to repel or contain? Since Satan is the ante-thesis of God (the great Giver), it would make sense that he is the great Taker, and I would think that the primary purpose of the Gates is to contain everything he has captured.

    And in the Great Commission, Jesus has called on the believers to be on the spiritual offensive. He did not tell his disciples to grow in spiritual knowledge and piety. It is a proactive call - “go”, “make disciples”, “of all the nations”, “teaching them”.

    Taken in context together, we can begin to have a picture of what Christian spiritual warfare is like. We are an army on the OFFENSIVE - attacking the Gates of Hades, which will not overcome our advances. What is the purpose of our warfare? To enlarge the Kingdom of Heaven on this earth. To take back what Satan has occupied, to set free every soul held captive.

    However, the battle is not for us to win. As Christ said in the Great Commission: “I am with you.” He is the Commander in Chief of our army. The outcome of the battle has already been decided. So that's why our call to just “stand firm” - there is no need to strive to win the battle for God.

    Ok. enough rambling...

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  3. Not too sure whether Pastopher got it right!! There are 2 types of spiritual warfare in NT. One is our sinful nature, ourselves and the other external spiritual world against us. I did an exegesis on this for my Ephesians class. Paul is addressing the latter of warfare (v.12). He was instructing the reader how to deal with the external spiritual warfare where we can't see and control. To deal with it the believers are to stand firm, not to go out and look for a fight against the spiritual darkness, and lastly, put on the "whole" armour of God, not "part"+pray for all the saints. Just add in my 2 cents on this:)

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  4. Thanks Susan ... there is certainly no running away, but to stand firm.

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  5. Thanks Chee Seng for your thoughts - the same thing crossed my mind too, with the use of the imagery of an armour. But I will think about your comment of being on the "offensive" -- because in the context of these verses in Eph, we are to stand firm. Let me think about it.

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  6. Chee Keat,
    I need to highlight that the thoughts I have posted here on the armour are my own and not Pastorpher's and therefore if at all, I am the one who may not be quite right in my treatment :)

    Can I find out from you how it came across to you that I was talking about a sinful nature?

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  7. "we will receive many arrows flying towards us: discouraging words, accusation, false testimonies, damaging remarks,..." - it sounds like Eph 4:25-32 where there are speech of falsehood, discouragement words..etc...that comes from the human sinful nature ("flesh") and usually devils fly arrows at us in the form of deception, lies, temptation, threats and persecution (6:11). Okay, out of it, you can argue that the symptoms are accusation, discouraging words...etc. So, in a nutshell, I was browsing through your message and my impressions was tat it sounded like flesh and evil spirit that Paul was addressing in the Eph 6. After reading thoroughly, that is not what itz intended. Sorry for misreading:)

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  8. Hi Pearlie!

    Well, maybe i can clarify it a bit by categorising what i mean by the church being on the offensive in spiritual warfare.

    In warfare there is "strategy" and "tactics". Strategy is the overarching direction of how to win a war, tactics are specific plans of battle.

    The strategy is for the Church of God to be the offensive ("the Gates of Hades will not overcome"). But tactic is to "stand firm".

    But we are not called to be spiritual rabble-rousers, roaming about looking for battles to fight. Rather, the Lord reminds us time and again that the battle belongs to Him alone. And in Christ's victory, the war has already been won (though maybe not every battle).

    Again, the Lord Jesus has called us to "go". And this is surely not just in the physical sense of going on missions or organising outreach projects.

    Case in point: making disciples. While we may employ physical and material approaches to discipling (book readings, Bible studies, phone calls, etc), the true aim of discipleship is not the physical action - it is spiritual transformation. And that is sure to upset the Enemy's plans for us - that's warfare.

    But the result of spiritual transformation is not brought about by our efforts. It is by the Holy Spirit. The tactics we employ in this case is not frenzied praying and binding of evil spirits in the new believer. It is love, patience, wisdom, humility, etc.

    Thus, yes we are a church on the offensive. I just think we need to re-think the prevailing image of what it means to be a church on the spiritual offensive (because some take it to mean being spiritually "offensive" i.e. offending).

    On closer examination, Pastorpher's sermon is based on a worldview of the Church of God under constant attack and Christians having to be very careful not to fall.

    However, there is a fatal flaw in that reasoning. If we are called to retake the ground that Satan has stolen, we cannot do it by being locked in a siege. A city under seige is not a victorious city, rather it suffers a slow and frustrating decline until surrender or destruction remains the only option.

    Surely, that is not the image of God's City as He intended!

    This worldview is also flawed in that the spiritual focus is on ourselves - we are constantly worrying about maintaining our own optimum spiritual state. Whereas the fact is "whoever the Son sets free is free indeed". So we should be living the good news of freedom in Christ, as a testimony to others.

    Anyway, the greatest offensive weapon in our spiritual warfare is not great prayers, or speeches or programmes but the gentle, selfless agape love of God demonstrated in our lives daily.

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  9. Oh...I think I understand what you're saying now.

    What I'm saying that as a corporate body of Christ, we are a church on the offensive. We are to retake the ground.

    But as individuals, we to have our individual battles. So in such attacks on individuals, PRAISE BE TO GOD we are not required to fight, but merely to stand firm in the Lord. The battle is His and He has already won every victory!

    Thus the call to STAND. An illustration - an Olympic Gold Medallist does not run up to the officials to grab his medal immediately after the results are announced. He knows the medal is his, and it will come to him. He merely has to do the things he has to do (get changed, etc) and STAND on the podium to receive it.

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  10. Chee Keat,
    No matter :) anyway, Eph 4:25-32 could come across as flaming arrows of the evil one too wouldn't it. A word even from a brother, the devil can twist it and fling it one more time at you.

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  11. Chee Seng,
    haha ... you are saying a lot of things I wouldn't even know where to begin to respond. (which I think I will do so part by part later) But what I can say now is that Christ already has the victory. Our going forward is a positive one with the Gospel of peace. The devil will fight us but since Christ has already won the victory we are to stand firm, putting on the characteristics of our already victorious Lord.

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