Sermon: Standing Against Spiritual Forces

 

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Ephesians 6:10–12)

 

INTRODUCTION

 

It has been said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” 

 

It’s a fitting reminder to us that there is a devil working day and night to bring his plans about, and if Christians forget this, the damage he will inflict will be incalculable. 

 

It is as Martin Luther put in his great old hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God:” 

 

    For still our ancient foe

     Doth seek to work us woe;

    His craft and power are great,

     And, armed with cruel hate,

    On earth is not his equal.

 

Because many Christians are content to do nothing, the final verses of Ephesians burst into a call to arms against this ancient spiritual enemy who prowls about like a roaring lion. 

 

We’ll begin our study with a look at who this enemy is.


I. OUR SPIRITUAL ENEMY

 

A. The Devil

 

Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 

 

In the Bible, “the devil” (διάβολος) is one of several names given to Satan. Satan is very real, he is not simply a force or an idea, but is the chief of the fallen angels. 

 

He is not an equal to God, but he was created by God as a good and holy being. Satan rebelled against his Creator as described in Isaiah—

 

12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! 13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. 15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12–15)

 

Two of Satan’s names reveal his mission against believers in Jesus. “Satan” means “adversary” or “accuser,” while “devil” means “slanderer.” He is like the mean older brother who tricks his younger sibling into doing something wrong and then accuses him before their parents. “Look at what Billy did!” 

 

We are to stand against “the wiles” (μεθοδεία) “of the devil.” We get our English word, “method,” from this word, so it has the sense of having a plan or a method or a strategy. 

 

But the word also has a crafty or scheming tone to it, it’s meaning is a deceitful strategy, or a scheme. The word was used to describe how an animal might stalk it’s prey and then suddenly pounce on it.

 

What are the “wiles” or schemes of the devil that he is using to knock believers off track and therefore be able to accuse them? 

 

They could be anything—from personal lifestyle choices that cause a believer to wander to national and international polices that lead to the suppression and persecution of the truth. 

 

If you see a Christian doing things that hurt their testimony or the cause of Christ, Satan’s schemes are probably behind it. And if a human judge or a government policy suppresses a Christian’s freedom, it’s Satan standing behind it, laughing. 

 

Many Christians regard the devil as being stupid—and it’s true that he is the biggest fool for rejecting God—but he is quite intelligent.

 

Satan has had thousands of years to study the human race. He knows what kinds of tactics will trip up different kinds of people. He understands which “methods” or “schemes” are best to use in any given situation. 

 

Perhaps you’ve noticed that you have certain “hot buttons” that set you off—that make you angry or depressed or careless—you can be certain the devil knows them also and finds ways to trigger them. 

 

The devil is careful about how he approaches you. He doesn’t walk up and say, “Hi, I am the devil and I am here to tempt you.” If he did, we’d send him on his way immediately. Satan (and his demons) comes as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). 

 

Think for a moment what this means. It means that what Satan whispers in your ear might seem right to you—it might be convincing. Other Christians who disagree with it might seem to you to be legalistic, old-fashioned, and unloving. 

 

Or, if you are legalistic, old-fashioned, and unloving, then Satan’s suggestion might sound right to you for different reasons. 

 

As less and less people, even Christians, know the Bible well, the devil will find it easier and easier to fool them with his scheme of appearing as an angel of light. 

 

For example, he will convince people that it’s okay to do certain sins, especially sexual sins, if they are done in the name of love—after all, God is love, isn’t he?

 

The “wiles of the devil” are the crafty ways that Satan uses to rule this world. He knows full well that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, and that works for humans as well. 

 

We know that Satan is a created being and is not a fraction as powerful as God, but how is it that he seems to be like God in power and in maintaining a world-wide presence? 

 

The best answer is that he has help—lots of help—in the form of…

 

B. The Demons

 

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 

 

1. Who Are They?

 

Our struggle is not “against flesh and blood.” Oh, true, it may seem like it is against flesh and blood people. But this is saying that we need to look beyond them to the true source of evil—that we are fighting on a spiritual battleground. Our fight isn’t really against people, it’s against…

 

“principalities, against powers, against rulers”—These words describe a vast organization of spiritual evil. There are demons—fallen angels—who exist in a chain of command, with some demons commanding others. 

 

We see a picture of this back in Daniel 10, where Daniel prayed for help, but that help, in the form of an angel, was delayed and when that angel did finally arrive, he explained the reason for his delay to Daniel.

 

12 Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:12–13)

 

The “prince of the kingdom of Persia” is not referring to a human—a human could not withstand another angel for one second, much less twenty-one days. 

 

No, this “prince” was a demon, and a powerful one at that, because it took the effort of “Michael, one of the chief princes” to ultimately defeat the demon. 

 

The demons in this spiritual chain of command are fallen angels. It seems that they were involved in Satan’s rebellion against God and, as a result, were cast out of Heaven with him. He is called the prince of demons in Matthew 12:24.

 

These demons participate in and command “the darkness of this world.” Satan, their leader, is, in a sense, the god or ruler of this world. 

 

4 In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

 

Satan and his demons direct and encourage the dark evil of every human to manifest itself. Satan, as he has from the time of Adam and Eve, attempts to blind people to God’s truth. He does this by teaching his legions of demons to how deceive and lead humans into temptation.

 

This isn’t to say that everyone is innocent and can claim that “the devil made me do it.” We are all responsible for our sin. 

 

It’s like a tough thug walking up to a group of smaller thugs and saying, “Come on, let’s rob a convenience store…it will be fun and you could use the money for some more drugs.” All the thugs would be held responsible.

 

Satan and his demons appeal to our sinful nature. We want to follow him; we want to be ignorant and blinded to the truth of God. 

 

2. Where Are They?

 

We are told that they are “in high places.” The phrase “high places” (ἐπουράνιος) or “heavenly places,” refers to the unseen spiritual world in contrast to the earthly, physical world in which we live. 

 

These two worlds intersect or overlap, as we can see in various places throughout the Bible. One of the most dramatic is found in 2 Kings 6, where the prophet Elisha’s servant gets to see the heavenly host—

 

15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? 16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. 17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15–17)

 

These of course, were the good guys, but the spiritual world that they inhabit is the same (or the same type) that the evil angels inhabit. They were there the whole time, but they couldn’t be seen.

 

How can we say that our warfare is against unseen spiritual foes when it seems so obvious that our problem is a nagging spouse, or an unfair boss, or a corrupt politician, or some other easily identifiable source?

 

It’s like how someone may get a headache often, or feel nauseated. So what do they do? They take some pain medication and lay down for awhile, assuming that it’s a headache. 

 

But the headache doesn’t go away and, eventually, they realize that the headache isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom. The problem is deeper—a tumor, a blood clot, or something to that effect.

 

The problems we face in life, whether people or other trials, are symptoms of a deeper problem—an unseen spiritual battle.

 

Believers are facing a mighty army of wicked spiritual forces. This army wants to crush believers, to destroy them, and render them ineffective and useless. This is no mere game, it’s a spiritual warfare.

 

A soldier in the battlefield gets his strength from his training and his rifle. From where do we get our strength to fight a spiritual war?

 

II. OUR SPIRITUAL STRENGTH

 

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 

Ephesians 6:11a Put on the whole armour of God…

 

We are told to “be strong” (ἐνδυναμόω). The Greek word here is a present tense, passive, imperative verb. 

 

That it’s present tense suggests that it’s a continuous, ongoing process. The war that Christians fight is an ongoing war—Satan and his minions take no holidays.

 

That it’s an imperative means that’s it’s a command that we are to obey.

 

Finally, the Greek word for “be strong” is passive. That it’s passive means that we can’t obey it through our own strength. The strength to obey this command must come from us being “in the Lord.” 

 

How do we be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of his might”? How do we “put on the whole armour of God”?

 

1) We need to realize our weakness and our need to have the Lord’s help. This was the situation we had to be in to be saved in the first place. 

 

We recognized that we were a sinner and there was no way our good works could save us and so we trusted in Jesus Christ. He gives us the strength to be saved.

 

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)

 

Realizing our weakness is not only important in getting saved, it’s also important for living the Christian life. We must realize that we are weak and needy. 

 

We must not believe the devil’s lie that we are strong and capable of taking care of ourselves. That’s what he told Eve in the garden, and look where that got us!

 

To be strong in the Lord we need to die to ourselves. We need to die to our independence and our self-confidence and our strength. We need to say, “I am weak, but you Lord, you are so very strong.”

 

2) So to be strong in the Lord, we need to realize that the Lord is strong and mighty. Let’s chew on those words again, “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” 

 

Who are we to be strong in? The Lord! What power are we to depend on? The Lord and his might.

 

What this means is that we need to keep coming back to the Lord. We need to keep reminding ourselves of who he is, what he’s capable of, what his promises are. We need to encourage ourselves in the Lord! 

 

That’s why the Lord gave us a Bible. Do you really think he gave us the Bible so it could sit on our shelf all week? He gave us the Bible to be a source of strength. He gave us the Bible so that we can learn about him and his power and be encouraged that he can help us in our trials. 

 

Just a caution, it’s quite common—and I think Satan likes this—for Christians to fall into the habit of reading the Bible mechanically. Our eyes glaze over as we read a chapter and we don’t remember anything that we just read. The devil likes that we think we’ve done our duty and we’re good to go, but we really haven’t done anything.

 

Reading the Bible demands time and attention. We need to read looking for a word about God’s character, his commands, his grace and mercy, or whatever else it may have to give us strength for the battle.

 

And when we find that word for us for that day, it becomes another piece of our trust in the Lord. We read about God’s power in parting the Red Sea and it becomes a part of our trust in God’s power in our lives. We read about God’s grace given to Abraham or Paul or David and it becomes a part of our trust in God’s grace in our on lives. 

 

The Bible says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Reading the Bible is faith building; it’s how we get strong in the Lord. Neglect it at your own peril!

 

CONCLUSION

 

I have been reading a book by Isobel Kuhn, titled, “Into The Arena.” You can tell by the title a little about what the book is about—being a Christian fighting in the arena of life. The book is a recollection of her different struggles and how the Lord gave her strength to fight each one. 

 

In one instance, while attending Moody Bible College in the 1920’s, she recognized the importance of reading the Bible, not just for classwork, but for personal strength and encouragement. 

 

Many students fell into the trap of thinking that they read the Bible for their courses, so they didn’t need a personal quiet time with the Lord.

 

Isobel committed to forming a daily habit of personal Bible reading to seek a word from the Lord to encourage her or strengthen her. 

 

But the schedule at Moody was busy, and there wasn’t a lot of privacy in the dorms. She finally found a spot to have that time.

 

So each morning I stole down the hall, entered the [cleaning] closet, turned the scrubbing pail upside down, sat on it, and with mops and dust rags hanging around my head, I spent a precious half-hour with the Master. (Kuhn, Isobel [2011-12-19]. In The Arena [Isobel Kuhn] [Kindle Locations 422-423]. OMF International. Kindle Edition)

 

Later in her life, she battled cancer. This would be her final battle on this earth, lasting about three years, one in which the Bible was a source of strength in the Lord. For example, she found her imagination giving her a bad time. She said:

 

If I coughed, for instance, I immediately had lung cancer (although X-rays showed the chest to be clear)! If I had a toothache, then I was getting cancer of the mouth! And so on. Every tickle or twinge was instantly interpreted as related to my grim enemy. 

 

But if I asserted my right to a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7), these fears left me and the twinges never developed into anything further. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (KJV).” (Kuhn, Isobel [2011-12-19]. In The Arena [Isobel Kuhn] [Kindle Locations 2747-2750]. OMF International. Kindle Edition)

 

That’s a good example of battling one of the devil’s weapons—fear—with the weapon that God has given us to make us strong—the Bible. That’s how we can stand against spiritual forces.

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