Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ephesians 6:10-20 Spiritual Armour is for Warfare

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Eph 6:10-20 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. 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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches, once wrote that many Christians have a cruise-ship mentality about their faith. They see Christianity as a cruise-ship and bring on board their vacation paraphernalia (suntan lotions, swimming costumes, sunglasses, straw hats, casual clothes, novels, music DVDs, etc)--all ready to rest, relax and enjoy the trip. But when they got on board the ship, they got a rude shock. The ship was painted grey, their rooms were bunks and there are no passengers--everyone on board is a crew member in military uniform and full combat gear. Soon the Captain appears and orders them to immediately get changed into their battle uniforms and fall in for combat training. They then realize that Christianity is not a cruise ship but a battleship. And there are no passengers on a battleship--only crews. And they are often not mentally prepared for warfare as they are only equipped for a holiday cruise.

Paul's letter to Ephesians does not end with a "rest and relax" exhortation. Instead, he calls on the Ephesian believers to be ready for warfare: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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" (6:10-12). In other words, believers have been enlisted as soldiers into a warfare against unseen enemies without bodies--Paul describes these as "rulers", "authorities", "cosmic powers over this present darkness" and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." 

Some Western bible interpreters of a more liberal and secular bent are uncomfortable with the idea of fighting evil spirits and demons. So they re-interpret Paul's references to mean human political authorities and structures. But the NLT translates verse 12 quite unequivocally as referring to the unseen spirit-world: "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."

However, the world of demonic entities and powers are not limited only to the realm of superstitions and religious activities: demonic influence and control extend to the realms of philosophies and psychologies, political ideologies, social and cultural belief systems and even to the legal and economic structures and systems within every society. Paul speaks of "doctrines of demons" in 1 Tim 4:1, "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (NAS). These doctrines of demons are responsible for some of today's gross violations of human dignity and decency. Gender confusion, paedophilism, racism, jihadist ideology, religious and ethnic cleansings are some modern examples. These are demon-isnpired and hate-filled ideologies.

Paul exhorts believers to "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" (v.13). No soldier goes into battle without some kind of protective armour. So also in spiritual warfare: we must be properly equipped for battle. Paul lists seven important elements of our spiritual armour:
  1. Belt of Truh: This armour piece holds the rest of the armour pieces together. If it is not held in place, it undermines the protection afforded by the complete armour. So it is with Truth--the devil's greatest weapon is lie and deception. If he can undermine truth, he can expose all believers to his attacks--our spirit, soul and body become completely vulnerable. Truth here refer to God's revelation as opposed to human ideas. Truths must not be confused with facts--all truths are interpretations of facts. While facts are open to scientific observations and investigation, truths can only be spiritually discerned. Those who are weak on knowledge of Scripture are easy prey to Satan's lie and deception.
  2. Breastplate of Righteousness: Breastplate protects the heart from enemy's arrows. If a person's heart is pierced, he is almost certainly dead. So the breastplate of righteousness protect the spiritual heart of a person--it protects the person from sin. When we are covered by righteousness (not only imputed but actual), we are safe from Satan's temptations to sin. Sin is the only thing that can kill a Christian's spiritual life. That is why confession is so necessary in our daily battle against the devil, for confession not only secure the forgiveness of God--it also cleanses us from "all unrighteousness": "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Preachers who tell the congregation there is no need to confess their sins are denying Christians the cleansing that purifies them from all unrighteousness.
  3. Shoes of the Gospel: Shoes protect the feet from injury and also facilitate movement of the soldier. Without proper shoes, the soldier will either be very slow in his advance or remain in the same position, becoming easy targets for the enemy's snipers. So the best defense against the enemy is offense. But making the gospel the motivation that mobilizes our ministry, we will be able to advance spiritually while making inroads into the enemy's territories to set captives free. If our ministry is not Gospel-centred, our church will stagnate and in some situation even decline. We must have confidence in the power of the Gospel to transform lives: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). Many churches prefer to minister to the social and physical needs of the community through good works, but are uncomfortable with dealing with the roots  of social evils--viz., sin. And if we avoid the mention of sin, we will make the Gospel irrelevant and therefore forfeit the only power that can transform society.
  4. Shield of Faith: The shield protects the soldier from the darts and arrows of the enemies. So faith is our protective shield against the "flaming darts of the evil one". We can be quite sure that the devil will not stop throwing flaming darts of accusations, doubts and discouragements to undermine our faith in God. But the only way to reject all these darts of confusion is to take our shield of faith--to remember that we are not saved by self-efforts but by grace through faith. It's on Christ's victory that we are standing--not on our own self-efforts.
  5. Helmet of Salvation:  The helmet protects the head which houses the brain. Once the brain is injured, the body stops function as it depends on the brain to send out relevant instructions through its billions of nerve connections. But behind the brain is the non-material mind that activates the brain functions. The brain is a passive machine that is operated by the human mind. So, the helmet protects the mind of the soldier. In the realm of the spirits, the mind is equally important: it needs to be protected from thoughts and imaginations coming from all sources: the world, the flesh, the devil and even our past. Our mind is our control centre--if we can renew the mind, we can transform our lives: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Rom 12:2). We need to put on the helmet of salvation. Salvation is not a passport to heaven but a bank account in heaven. It is to be drawn down now, not later--after we die. In heaven, we are already free from all sin and suffering--there is no need of God's salvation then. Salvation is for the present.
    That is why Paul asks the Philippian church to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). Many Christians do not focus their minds on God's salvation. Instead they focus on their own inadequacy and weaknesses. When we put on the helmet of salvation, we begin to draw on God's riches and resources that are already ours. In renewing our mind regarding our spiritual status, we can protect our mind from pessimism, discouragement and even depression.
  6. Sword of the Spirit: The sword is the only offensive weapon of a soldier--it is used against the enemies to defeat and destroy them. In the same word, Paul says that the Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. If we want to defeat and destroy the enemy's strongholds to set the captives free, we must be properly equipped and trained to use the sword of the Spirit. Training is different from teaching. We can lecture endlessly about the sword--its composition, its manufacturing process, its efficacy, its authority, infallibility and inerrancy, etc. But if we don't train the soldiers how to use it in actual combat, these doctrines are useless knowledge. It's not doctrines that soldiers need in order to use the sword of the Spirit--it's training.
    Many of our discipleship and disciple-making amount to little more than academic discussion, instead of engagement in combat practices. I heard yesterday of a testimony of a Buddhist lady converted to Christianity, how her leader not only did bible study with her but brought her along to various real-life ministry situations to train her. But unfortunately, many of our discipleship sessions are held in comfortable homes away from the battle fields. To use the Sword of the Spirit, we need more than teaching--we need training.
  7. Praying in the Spirit: While this has often not been included in the Spiritual Armour list, I feel that it is a vital part of the whole spiritual armour discussion: "praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication" (v.18). Paul did not put a full stop after mentioning the sword of the Spirit but continue on with "praying at all times in the Spirit". But it's not the kind of pastoral prayers one often hears in church prayer meetings - passing exams, looking for new jobs, journey mercy, etc. Rather, "praying in the Spirit" is missional prayer because it is inspired by the missional Spirit: "To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel" (vv.18-19). Missional prayers are Spirit-inspired and gospel-centred. It's part of the offensive weapon of warfare.
So, are we ready for spiritual warfare? When we become Christians, we boarded Christ's Battleship, not the World's Cruiseship. Some churches preach "rest and relax" theology, encouraging a cruise-ship mentality. The NT apostles preach "arise and be ready" for battles. I think the first attitude can lead to spiritual slumber and ultimately defeat by the enemy. The devil is a roaring lion seeking to devour and deceive the gullible and untrained believers.

Father, deliver us from evil. Help us stand firm and be fully equipped and trained for battles. Amen. 

4 comments:

  1. Thank you very much for the tremendous encouragement! I now understand the full armour of God much better. I stumbled upon your page as I have been praying for the salvation of a loved one for the last 4 years with tears mingled with hope (plus love!) and I was researching the subject of spiritual warfare. If you wish to join me in prayer for the Lord to open Michael's heart (my loved one), I would greatly appreciate your prayers (Acts 16;17). Many many thanks, Patrizia

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    1. Glad it helps sister.
      Lord move the heart of Michael and grant victory for this sister over the powers of enemy. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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    2. Glad it helps sister.
      Lord move the heart of Michael and grant victory for this sister over the powers of enemy. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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    3. Thank you very much! May the Lord fulfill by His power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him (2 Thess 1:11). In Jesus' name I pray. Amen

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