Introducing Spiritual Warfare
Over the course of our pastoral connection we have considered together what I’ve called “the major blocks of biblical teaching;” that is, those succinct and self-contained sections found scattered throughout Scripture. By studying one after another we have been able to make our way through Scripture, covering an array of passages, themes, and applications, teaching and/or familiarizing ourselves with the revealed counsel of God in the process. These major blocks have included to date the Ten Commandments, the Tabernacle, the sacrificial system, the feasts and festivals, and the seven deadly sins in the Old Testament; the Beatitudes, Lord’s Prayer, the love chapter (1 Cor. 13), and the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in the New. Throughout these series, we’ve been reminded that “all Scripture is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16): not only the two Testaments, but also the different genre within them, as well as the individual books. These series are available from the church office or on the church website.
Now we come to the major block of teaching found at the end of Ephesians. Not only is the book new to this ongoing Sunday morning project, so is the theme; for in Ephesians 6:10–20 Paul camps out on the reality of Satan and his opposition to God and to his people. Now obviously this is not a subject that strikes us as a cheery one, but if we consider it well we’ll do better retaining our joy in Christ and preserving the joy of those around us. Note the subject’s importance, tensions, content, and application.
As regards the importance of spiritual warfare, we may note Thomas Brooks’ opening words of his treatise Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices: “Beloved in our dearest Lord, Christ, the Scripture, your own hearts, and Satan’s devices, are the four prime things that should be first and most studied and searched. If any cast off the study of these, they cannot be safe here, nor happy hereafter.” And yet, I surmise, that if we were to be found negligent in any of these, most of us would likely be least acquainted with what Paul calls “the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). We may have difficulty believing in him or recognizing his schemes, being in regard to belief in Satan almost theologically liberal or simply needing an increase of spiritual maturity. Alternatively, we may have reacted against those who have become obsessed with the idea of spiritual warfare, talking of detail we struggle to see in Scripture. The book by Brooks but also C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters helped me overcome these reservations. They would be good to read alongside the exposition of Ephesians 6:10–20.
The tensions in the discussion of spiritual warfare pertain to history and to the individual believer. In regard to the former, the devil is fallen and has been defeated at the cross of Christ, and yet his influence lingers and shall do so until the day of Jesus Christ. For further study on the overall teaching of Scripture on the devil and his demons, see Frederick S. Leahy’s readable and balanced paperback Satan Cast Out: A Study of Biblical Demonology. In regard to the latter tension, we see in Paul’s letter that although the Ephesians used to follow the prince of the power of the air (the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience), they were delivered by Christ and made the sons of God (2:1–10). And yet, the devil came after them as he also comes after us. We wrestle with him, but only triumph by reliance on the Lord’s strength (6:10).
In regard to the content of the series, we’ll begin with a general consideration of our enemy—a biblical theology of the devil if you like—and of our strength. Finding power to wrestle and to overcome the devil in the might of the Lord is crucial. For although Satan is fallen, “His might is such”, says one writer, “that almightiness alone exceeds.” We are neither, therefore, to live crippled in fear nor blasé about his attacks. Rather, says Paul, we are to be and to do: to be strong in the Lord and to put on the whole armor we’ve been given. Note its six pieces: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. This armor is designed for spiritual rather than for carnal battle, and with a view to our facing the foe rather than running from him! We are, says Paul, to stand against the schemes of the devil (v. 11 [cf. v. 14]), to wrestle him (v. 12), and to withstand in the evil day (v. 13). The picture is of readiness to do battle with the devil, when he comes at us to defeat us.
Obviously, the application of the series is searching. We should not be ignorant of Satan’s devices: his masquerading as innocence, his lies, deceits, accusations, and plots. While we don’t need to look for him, we do need to fight him in the complete armor we’ve been given. This is put on with prayer (v. 18). While we pray on our own, who ever heard of a soldier standing in battle only on his own? We stand together shoulder-to-shoulder with all prayer and supplication. It’s together we win our victory in Christ!