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Stephen R. Clark

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Oreland, Pennsylvania
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December 26, 2021 | Huntingdon Valley, PA | Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church
You can listen to the sermon here:

2 Kings 6:8-17 & Ephesians 6:10-18

Spiritual Warfare
It's How We Live

An event usually connected to Christmas is the coming of the magi. In truth, these wise guys did not show up until about two years after the birth of Christ. We don’t know much about them at all and get the number three because of the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their story is found in Matthew 2.

It begins harmless enough. Wise men from the East are looking for the recently born king of the Jews. They stop and chat with King Herod about what they’re up to and then go on their way. Here, the story begins to get a little less Christmassy.

Herod views this other king as a potential threat. He tells the magi to report back to him what they learn. The magi, after finding Jesus, are directed in a dream to not return to Herod. Later, Joseph is warned by an angel of the Lord to flee to Egypt with Jesus and Mary.

Herod, suspicious and paranoid, orders that boys two years old and younger in the region of Bethlehem be killed.

What’s going on in this story? Two things: political intrigue and spiritual warfare.

Herod, certainly influenced by Satan, is making merciless moves based on securing his throne. On the other hand, the magi, Joseph, and Mary -- all who are attuned to God and not politics -- are engaged in spiritual warfare.

Satan, in his limited power, is trying to leverage Herod’s political paranoia to subvert God’s will. God, in his sovereignty, is providing direct guidance to the magi, Joseph, and Mary to ensure that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

While dramatic events were taking place around Joseph and Mary, they acted out of the faithful godly lives they were already living.

So, what do you think of when you hear these words - spiritual warfare?

For many, perhaps you think of the movie The Exorcist with crucifixes, incense, and, over-the-top head-turning special effects.

For some, maybe it brings to mind sinister demons in whatever form you imagine them.

For others, it may conjure up some kind of mystical struggle, sort of spiritual arm-wrestling with an unseen dark force, something that requires intense focused effort that makes you tired just thinking about it.

And for a few, it may be a vision of an angel on one shoulder and a pointy-tailed devil on the other, both whispering in your ears, battling for attention.

I think for many -- however they think about it -- spiritual warfare is something they feel uncertain as to how to approach. They are wary and even a little scared.

There are elements of truth in each of the images I’ve mentioned. Satan and demons are involved. In certain situations it can be a little scary. And the devil does want to distract us from all things holy and good.

Frankly, it can be a distraction to focus too much of our attention on the more dramatic elements of spiritual warfare. There’s a lot of non-biblical imagery and tomfoolery surrounding the topic.

The reality of spiritual warfare is nothing to shy away from or be afraid of. It’s an essential element of the normal Christian life.

Earthly warfare isn’t one thing. Its form varies. It ebbs and flows. There are battles, campaigns, guerrilla actions, scouting forays, times of preparation, and more. Likewise, not every experience of spiritual warfare is a full-on direct assault. In fact, a lot of it involves day-to-day skirmishes and fending off stealth attacks.

In the military, new recruits go through boot camp to learn the basics of being a soldier. They learn how to handle weapons, the concepts of strategy, survival methods, and the like. Advanced training comes later. But the recruits learn enough to survive common conflict and to know where to turn for additional resources when needed.

Today, my intent is to share with you some basics regarding spiritual warfare that I hope will both defuse any fear you may have about the topic, as well as equip you to become more adept at engaging in every day spiritual warfare successfully.

There is a spiritual realm!

The example in our first reading about Elisha and his servant reminds us that we truly are surrounded by an unseen spiritual realm. Sometimes, as in the case of the servant, God may choose to open our eyes so we can see it. Usually, that’s not the case.

Instead, we will know this spiritual realm exists because God’s word says it does. Also, as we walk in the Holy Spirit we will become more attuned to it as we hone our spiritual spidey sense.

We can also learn clues for recognizing the results of spiritual activity in our physical world, in other people, and in ourselves. For instance, is good fruit or bad fruit being revealed? We’ll see some of this as we take a fresh look at the famous passage of Ephesians 6 where Paul describes the armor of God.

But before we dive in there, I want to address four basic truths regarding Satan and demons.

First, Satan is real and he is formidable. So are his demons. He and they are created beings, angels, who rebelled in heaven and are now considered fallen. Angels can be intimidating, even good ones. Throughout scripture we read about people encountering angels from the Lord and falling down in fear as a result. Angels, good or bad, are not to be trifled with. We need to maintain a healthy respect for what they are.

the good news is that angels do have limitations. While they are formidable, they are not to be worshiped or revered. Fallen angels, including Satan, are not on par with God. Not even close. They aren’t all-knowing, can’t read our minds, and can only be in one location at a time. Satan relies on the servitude of his world wide web, or network, of fellow fallen creatures, to carry out his vile goals. Satan and his demons can influence our thoughts and create situations that could bring us harm, but they are far from all-powerful like God.

Third, Satan and his horde are already defeated. They are losers. The Devil is headed for eternal damnation. Just not yet which is why we need to be aware of who he is and what he can do. He and his minions are also fully under the sovereignty of God. They cannot do any more than what God allows. The book of Job reveals this clearly. First John 4:4 also assures us, “You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

Fourth, while unredeemed people can be possessed by one or more demons, believers cannot. Why? Because when we accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit took up residence. And he ain’t leavin’! We have the firm promise of Romans 8:38-39 where Paul declares, "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

So the question is, is Satan a formidable foe or a defeated enemy? Yes! It’s not either-or, but both-and. If we view him only as a formidable foe, fear will make us vulnerable to his attacks. If we view him only as a defeated enemy we will be clueless as to his wiliness, and his traps will be invisible to us. We will be caught before we are even aware of danger.

We need to be astutely aware of Satan and his tricks, but not enfeebled by fear of him and his unholy horde.

One last word regarding demon possession and exorcism and then we’re going to head to Ephesians. I know some of you, as soon as I mentioned The Exorcist earlier, you’ve been recalling wild stories you’ve heard and are thinking, “But what about THIS?” And the THIS is some really graphic, frightening example of so-called exorcism.

I’ve seen the movies and heard the stories, too. My response to “But what about THIS?” is, let’s look at what the Bible says.

In scripture, in each instance when a demon was told to leave, there were no histrionics, no crucifixes, no holy water, no secret incantations, no sweat-popping tug-of-war. There are none of the common things Hollywood and others like to pack into scenes of demon possession and exorcism. If something “dramatic” occurs, it’s usually the fleeing demons who are making the noise.

Let’s look at one example, the encounter in Mark chapter 9, verses 14-29, where the disciples had failed to cast a demon out of a boy. After hearing about this, Jesus turns to the disciples and rebukes them. He then asks for the boy to be brought to him. When the demons see Jesus, they start convulsing the boy. Jesus asks the father about the boy and tells the man that “Everything is possible for the one who believes.” To which the father replies, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

Let me read the rest beginning with the second half of verse 25 through verse 29:

When Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again.”

Then it came out, shrieking and throwing him into terrible convulsions. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.

After he had gone into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

And he told them, “This kind can come out by nothing but prayer.”

In this case there were histrionics, but on the part of the demons. Satan likes to make a lot of noise. Jesus was calm and direct. And later he lets the disciples in on the “secret formula” for defeating demons, which is simply, prayer. Prayer, which is a hallmark of the normal Christian life.

The bottom-line is don’t freak out over Satan and demon possession based on the spurious and misleading images presented in stories and movies. Always go to God’s word for the truth.

Okay, enough of that, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

This is our second reading, Ephesians 6:10-18:

Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation 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. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

A great definition of spiritual warfare that I came across is, “Spiritual warfare is the leveraging of everything that God promises against everything that opposes God’s purposes."

This gets at a basic truth that spiritual warfare is an essential element of the normal Christian life. By normal Christian life, I mean how we live, grow, and mature in the Spirit. How we exercise and exhibit the daily disciplines of grace and holiness. The ways we live out our gifts in the body and advance the kingdom of God. It’s all that we do when we are being Christians producing good fruit.

Ephesians 6 is the classic passage everyone turns to when discussing spiritual warfare. There’s a good chance you’ve heard at least one sermon laying out in fine detail the pieces and parts of this passage.

We’re not going to do that today. Instead, there are three key points I want to draw your attention to.

  1. The vast strength of God.

  2. The act of putting on.

  3. And the wiliness of our enemy.

First, the vast strength of God.

We Christians like to put the adjective “spiritual” in front of a lot of nouns. We just went through a study on Spiritual Gifts which we learned yield Spiritual Fruit. A few summers ago the adult Sunday school class did a study on Spiritual Disciplines. And here we are talking about Spiritual Warfare.

Let’s be clear, the word “spiritual” in each of these refers to the Holy Spirit, not some amorphous idea of spirituality. It is through the Holy Spirit that we practice disciplines, use our gifts, yield good fruit, and engage in warfare. And it is by the Holy Spirit that we are “strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength.”

I really like that word “vast” as the Christian Standard Bible renders the verse. Other translations use mighty strength, great power, or the power of his might. But vast is, I believe, more accurate. Synonyms for vast include immense, expansive, boundless, stupendous, and immeasurable.

This last word comes up in chapter 1 of Ephesians, in verses 18 and 19, where Paul declares -- and I’m paraphrasing, “I pray that ... you may know what is ... the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength.”

The vastness of God is an extremely important truth that we need to latch onto, meditate on, and get firmly implanted into our hearts.

We are told in the beginning of Genesis who He is, the creator of everything. Paul expands on this in Colossians 1:16-17, one of my favorite passages, where he says, “For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together.”

The God who created everything, and created it out of nothing; who holds all of his immense creation together by his word; who raised Jesus from the dead; this vast strength is available to and resident within us as we abide in the Holy Spirit.

Second, the act of putting on

The Greek word for full armor is the basis of our English word, panoply. Panoply, a fun word, is actually the technical word for a complete set of armor. The broader definition is “a complete or impressive collection of things, a splendid display or array.”

In this definition, for our purposes, we could easily substitute the word “things” with “fruit.” As Holy Spirit powered Christians our lives should be bountiful with an impressive array of good fruit. Our lives should be a splendid display of all things good, wise, and holy.

Note that Paul tells us to “put on the full armor.” The idea of “putting on” pops up a lot in Paul’s writing. For example, Romans 13:14 instructs, ”But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.” And in Galatians 3:10 he says we, “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

To “put on” is an intentional action. There’s nothing passive here. Just as we get up every morning and choose to get dressed, we must intentionally and deliberately “put on” Christ and our full armor, our protective spiritual clothing.

The items mentioned -- belt, breastplate, sandals, shield, helmet, and sword representing truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and God’s word -- are characteristics and tools of the normal Christian life. There’s nothing listed that should not already be a regular part of our spiritual wardrobe, what we wear and carry.

A common mistake is thinking that spiritual warfare is an occasional thing, an event, and that spiritual armor is like the tux we pull out for rare special occasions. This could not be further from the truth! Just as God’s mercies are new every morning, so are our spiritual battles.

Imagine standing on the battlefield, no armor, no sword, when suddenly over the horizon you spot an advancing horde of evil. You look at them, put up your hand, and say, “Hey horde, can you wait a minute while I get my armor on?”

And by that you mean, “I’ve not been reading my Bible lately so let me read a passage now.” Or, “I don’t pray regularly, so give me second to talk to God now.” Or, “I haven’t really been walking in the Spirit every day, so let me see if I can catch up with him now.” Or, “I missed church last weekend, can you come back next week after I go this Sunday?”

I guarantee you that the horde will not wait and you will be dazed and defeated as it rolls over you crushing you into the mud.

In 2 Timothy 4, Paul exhorts Timothy to “be prepared in season and out of season.” This is good advice for all of us who claim Christ as our Savior.

Third, the wiliness of the devil

Why was Paul telling Timothy to be ready at all times? Because, as he explained in First Timothy 1, “in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons.”

The title of Hal Lindsey’s 1989 book is a statement still relevant today: Satan is Alive and Well on Planet Earth. And he has nothing but bad intentions toward us who are God’s people.

Do not be deceived. As mentioned earlier, Satan is formidable and not to be trifled with. There is nothing he won’t do to bring Christians, churches, and religious organizations down. He has no compunctions, no scruples, no moral qualms. He is relentless, tireless, shifty, cunning, cruel, and a master of deceit and manipulation.

Here are a few ways the Bible describes him:

Peter cautions us in 1 Peter 5:8 to “Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour.”

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says that “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” and “his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” And he warns that “just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

First John 3:8 reveals “the devil has sinned from the beginning.”

In John 5:8 Jesus says, “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And in John 10:10 he says, “[Satan] the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

The bottom line is that Satan is real, he is out to destroy everyone he can, he is a liar and the originator of lies, he is a perpetual sinner, he can be a roaring ravenous lion or appear as an angel of light, he is clever, cunning, and eminently deceitful, he is a thief, and, going back to our definition of spiritual warfare, Satan opposes all of God’s purposes in every way.

Now, a few things Satan is not. He is not a pointy-tailed, two-horned, pitchfork wielding cartoon character. He cannot be bargained with. If he plays the fiddle, he will out-fiddle you and he will not be out-witted by Daniel Webster or anyone else. While Paradise Lost is a great piece of literature, John Milton was mistaken to claim Satan could reign in hell since hell is his eventual prison. And nearly every depiction of Satan in the movies and on television are totally off the mark. Most try to humanize him, make him likeable and even a misunderstood tragic character.

Don’t be fooled! All of this mischaracterization is actually fueled by Satan himself, an attempt to deceive people and lull them into complacency.

So, how do we deal with Satan and conduct spiritual warfare?

Here’s a simple formula to help provide some guidance: Spiritual disciplines fuel spiritual gifts that yield spiritual fruit that guard us in the midst of spiritual warfare.

2 Corinthians 10:3-4 reminds us that “For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds.”

Spiritual disciplines, gifts, and fruit are our “weapons of warfare.”

Spiritual disciplines include prayer, fasting, Bible study, stewardship, gratitude, fellowship, obedience, evangelism, and the like.

Spiritual gifts include hospitality, leadership, administration, discernment, prophecy, mercy, teaching, and many more.

Spiritual fruit are behaviors and attitudes such as forgiveness, peace, patience, kindness, forbearance, self-control, and unity.

Spiritual warfare is our stance as Christians against all that is unholy and evil in the world. It is not about people. It is about the darkness that results from sin and the darkness that fuels sin.

We need to correctly identify the enemy. You and I are not the enemy. Internecine warfare -- us against us -- is something we battle against, not something in which we participate. Recall Ephesians 6:12 that clearly states “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”

It is in faithfully and persistently living out our Holy Spirit-filled Christian life to the glory of God, depending on God and proclaiming Christ, that we will be overcomers in spiritual warfare.

Paul provides even more specifics in Galatians 5.

In verses 13-15 he warns “serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.”

In verse 16 he explains to, “walk by the [Holy] Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

What does the flesh, or sin, produce? Verses 19-21 offer several examples: “sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar.”

If any of these is evident, the spiritual battle is being lost. How do we fight against these? Paul, in 1 Timothy 6:11 explains, “flee from these things, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.”

And as James puts it so succinctly in James 4:7, “Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and [the devil] will flee from you.”

Here is the crux of spiritual warfare: Will we choose to submit to God and resist the devil -- which we can only do through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit? Or, will we resist God and choose to submit to the devil -- which happens when we are out of step with the Holy Spirit?

Today we have learned that there is a spiritual realm and battles on our behalf are being fought there. That Satan is real, formidable, and seeks our destruction, but ultimately he is a defeated enemy. That while Satan is defeated he can still make trouble for us, so we need to be alert to his cunning ways. That people are not our enemies. And that living a godly, faithful, steadfast Christian life, growing in maturity and grace, exhibiting good godly fruit is our first and greatest defense and protection in spiritual warfare.

Remember “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us,” because “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world.”









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