We are going to be thinking about spiritual warfare from the last section of Ephesians this morning. In the Christian world spiritual warfare is a much used and much misunderstood phrase. Some Christians think spiritual warfare is a bit like something you would see in a science fiction film. In their view it is about demons and angels fighting it out around the cosmos and the Christian's job to aid the angels in their fight by praying. If you go to most Christian book shops you will find plenty of books on spiritual warfare pushing that view. Other Christians go to the opposite extreme thinking that there is no such thing as spiritual warfare. Neither of those views, both of which are popular in different corners of the Christian world, will do.
In the New Testament spiritual warfare is a reality but it is altogether more pedestrian than many would have us believe. It is less about great cosmic battles and more about temptation, Christian failure and evangelism. The passage we are looking at this morning is dealing with those sort of down to earth issues.
As you will be aware if you have been here in the mornings over the past few months the letter to the Ephesians is all about the Gospel and how to live in the light of the it. It has a vision of a united church where people of all backgrounds and nationalities believe the Gospel and live Godly lives. It ends with these instructions on spiritual warfare because the sort of Church outlined in Ephesians is the devil's worst nightmare - it represents the triumph of the Gospel over him and naturally it is something he wants to destroy. And the Apostle Paul, who wrote this letter, wanted the Ephesians and subsequent generations of Christians to be prepared for that demonic onslaught. To get us ready he gives us a tactic for fighting this war, a reminder about the enemy we face and lists the weapons we have at our disposal and we are going to look at each of those in turn now.
First, OUR TACTIC
The tactic that we are to use in this battle is very simple - it is there is verses 10:
Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
These verses begin with a command for the whole Church to obey the basic tactic of God's army - to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. That command is relevant to us whoever we are and whatever temperament we have.
Experience tells us that there are two basic mistakes Christians make - one is to become spiritually lazy, the other is not to trust the Lord. This command deals with both of those mistakes. To the spiritually lazy Christian these verses say, "Be strong". In other words do not just sit back and hope the battle will not touch you, get on and fight. To the untrusting Christian who runs around trying to live for Jesus in their own strength, this verse says, it is great that you are doing all that fighting but do it "in the Lord and in his mighty power". In other words work for the Lord but do not rely on yourself, rely on Jesus. This verse is a great summary of the genuine Christian life, which is a combination of God's strength and our co-operation. So that is our very simple tactic - to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
Secondly, OUR ENEMY Please have a look at verse 11-12,
Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 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.
These verses tells us some important things about our enemy the devil.
At the most basic level it tells us that the devil is real. That is not a common view these days, even within the church. But the Bible is absolutely clear - he is real. If he wasn't, Paul need not have written this section of Ephesians. The fact that we forget that the devil is real gives him the upper hand in the battle we are thinking about. When you do not acknowledge that you have an enemy it is incredibly difficult to fight effectively.
Some of us may have seen the recent film U-571. If you have not you may have read about it in the papers - it had the rare distinction of being mentioned in Prime Minister's Question Time a couple of weeks ago. It is the film about how the allies captured the Enigma decoding machine during the second world war. It has caused some controversy here in Britain as it has rewritten history portraying an American crew capturing the Enigma Machine rather than a British crew!
When you watch that movie you get a real sense of how terrifying it must have been for sailors on board boats going across the Atlantic knowing that beneath the waves was an invisible enemy of submarines that could strike at any time and that there was very limited action you could take in response. And Christians who forget about or who ignore the devil face the same danger and lack of effectiveness. We can not focus or be strategic unless we accept we have a real enemy.
The next thing this verse tells us about our enemy is that he is powerful. That comes across again and again - "the rulers… the authorities… the powers… the spiritual forces". This is language of power. Of course we must not get over awed by this and remember that this power has ultimately been defeated by Jesus' death on the cross and will be destroyed fully when Jesus returns but the fact that he is ultimately defeated will not stop him. It is a bit like the rebels in Sierra Leone who faced the British Army a few months ago. They did not have a hope of winning long term but it did not stop them fighting and it did not stop them causing real damage. As Jonathan said at the start of our service, we can celebrate the fact that Jesus has won the victory over sin, Satan and death but before he returns there is this period of battle.
This verse also tells us that the devil is evil. If the world will accept anything about the devil it is that he is a comic and loveable figure, that he is a bit naughty but ultimately harmless. The Bible says that is rubbish. He only has one motivation and that is to cause evil - evil in the world generally and evil in the church and lives of Christians in particular. He is evil through and through and again that is something we need to remember if we are Christians involved in the spiritual battle.
The final thing we are told about our enemy is that he is scheming. That is from the end of verse 11, where it talks about the devil's schemes. Jesus spoke in similar terms about the devil's work when he spoke about him being a wolf in sheep's clothing. When we look at the world around us we can see the devil's schemes in action. Many Christian writers point out that one of the devil's great successes in the modern world is to persuade us that he does not exist. And that is true, though CS Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters identified an altogether more subtle and spiritually devastating scheme.
The Screwtape Letters was written as an exposé of the devil's schemes using the letters of a senior devil to a junior devil. In one of the letters the senior devil, Screwtape, explains that while it is good for their purposes that most people do not believe in them there was a better way still. It was to guide human beings into becoming "Materialist Magicians". Materialist Magicians are people who are committed to the philosophy of materialism and at the same time are very superstitious. So they are people who on one hand say that that the here and now is all there is, that science can provide the ultimate answers, etc. and yet read their horoscopes each day. Screwtape explains that if people thought this way the human mind would become more firmly closed to the Christian faith. Materialist Magicians brilliantly describes our world and the way the people around us think.
Today people are more materialistic than ever, they put enormous trust in the science and scientific progress. Later this week it will be announced that the first full draft of the human gene map has been completed. I guarantee that on the news there will be someone making exaggerated claims because of this advance. It is not that science is a bad thing, of course it is not. But it has its limits which often are not recognised. But while people put all this trust in science they still at the same time read their horoscopes everyday. And consequently the minds of many of the people around us are closed to the Gospel more firmly than ever.
So CS Lewis made the point that it is not that the devil has simply managed to persuade people he is not there, he has done something altogether more crafty than that. He has managed to persuade them that he is not there and at the same time have them live in fear of him (which is all superstition is, it is an attempt to deal with evil). That alone provides ample evidence for the truth of these verses that the devil is real, that he is powerful, that he is evil and that he is scheming. But we are not powerless in this situation. The rest of this passage deals with how we can overcome this enemy with the weapons provided for us by the Lord.
Thirdly, OUR WEAPONS
Our weapons are of course the famous armour of God which is outlined in verses 13-18,
Therefore put on the full armour 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. 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 saints."
As you look at those verses it seems that there are two very distinct groups of weapons that we are to use in our battle. The first group is there in verses 14-15, the second in verses 16-17.
The first group are all what you might call "given" things about a Christian. There are three weapons in this group, all of which have already been put on the Christian. There is nothing Christians need to do to get them or use them. The words used to describe their fitting are all past tense and all passive: buckled, put in place and fitted. If you are a Christian these weapons are a part of your nature and character already. And they are:
a knowledge of the truth - which as Jesus taught us is vital to real Christian faith because it is only the truth that sets us free; righteousness - in the New Testament letters that word is used to describe being right with God through Jesus' death on the cross for our sin; and a readiness to share the Gospel - that is what the feet fitted with readiness refers to. In the Old Testament those who bring good news are described as having beautiful feet and that readiness to share the good news is a sign of conversion.
All of those things are innate to the true Christian and they are all vital if we are to fight this battle, in fact you cannot fight this battle if you are not a Christian.
Now there may be some here today who would not call themselves Christians but are aware that there is this battle we have been thinking about. If that is you these verses say that you cannot win that battle until you start to follow Jesus Christ. That is a shocking thing for the Bible to say to us, we are so used to being told we can achieve anything. But this tells us we can not win this spiritual war unless we start to follow Christ. When you do that then this first group of weapons will be yours - you will know the truth, you will be right with God and you will be converted to Christ.
The second group in verses 16-18 are all weapons that we need to take up and use. This time there are four weapons:
the shield of faith - which is referring to active trust in the Lord on a daily basis, believing and trusting the promises of God in Scripture and relying on his power in difficult times; the helmet of salvation - which is a call to remember the certain hope that Christians have of full and final salvation from the devil's power and presence after the second coming of Christ; the sword of the Spirit - which is the Bible; and prayer - particularly for other Christians (that is what "the saints" refers to) and for proclamation of the Gospel, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for that in verses 19-20.
Trusting Jesus, having certain hope for the future, reading and believing the Bible and praying are all weapons that we need to actively make an effort to take up and use. These four elements are vital in overcoming the daily temptations we face as individuals and as a church, be they moral temptations, discouragements in our evangelism or the temptation to stop believing in Christ. Having read all this about the armour of God we need to ask ourselves if we put all of it on. When you boil it down to the bare bones for the first group we need to ask ourselves a very fundamental question and that is am I a Christian? And for the second group we need to ask ourselves another vital question, am I living as a Christian? That is all we are being challenged about in this passage - being a Christian and living as a Christian. So are we and do we? What we need to do in response to this passage is spend sometime inspecting ourselves and thinking over those questions. So there we are:
our tactic - to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power; our enemy - the devil who is real, powerful, evil and scheming; and our weapons - being a Christian and living as a Christian.
That's how you can fight the spiritual war all Christians are involved in. I wonder if you will make a renewed effort to fight this war this coming week?