Big Idea: Because we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare, we need God’s help to stand firm.
On May 1, 1915, the Lusitania set sail from New York to Liverpool. Almost 2,000 people were on board, including 95 children and 39 infants. It was an amazing ship: fast, comfortable, luxurious, and beloved.
But this voyage was to be its last. Days before the ship had left New York, The Imperial German Embassy placed a warning advertisement in 50 American newspapers, including some in New York:
TRAVELLERS intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travellers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
IMPERIAL GERMAN EMBASSY
Washington, D.C., 22 April 1915.
Despite that ad, people embarked on the Lusitania, and you can still watch the film of the ship leaving port on its last voyage with people waving excitedly, before going to their first-class cabins and enjoying all the food and amenities that the ship had to offer.
On May 7, near the end of her 202nd crossing, a German U-boat spotted the ship. At a 700 meter range, orders were given for one torpedo to be fired. The torpedo — a single torpedo — hit the ship. Seawater drenched the passengers; children jumping rope on the deck stopped jumping. Within seconds, the ship rolled to the right. 18 minutes later, the ship sank, killing almost 1,200 of its passenger and crew. Never before had an attack on a civilian ship taken place like this. When you enter a war zone, even when you’re on a luxurious civilian ship, you may experience the worst that war can offer.
It’s important for us to realize this as well. We’re in a very similar position. A declaration of war has been issued. We’ve been told to expect attack. Yet it’s easy for us to think we live in peacetime conditions, and to be surprised when we find ourselves embattled and attacked. I don’t know how many times I’ve been surprised when it feels like I’m under attack. We live in wartime, but we expect peacetime conditions.
I read think of this quote by Charles Spurgeon often: “When you sleep, remember that you are resting on the battlefield; when you travel, suspect an ambush in every hedge.”
That’s why, for the next eight weeks including today, we’re going to be looking at what it means to not just survive the battle, but to take our stand. We’re going to begin today by looking at Ephesians 6:10-13. There are just a few things that we need to learn from this passage today, and here’s the first one:
The reality: We’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare.
Read verses 10-13 with me:
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. (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Here’s the first thing we need to see: The Christian life is a battle. Some people think that the Christian life is peaceful, and I know where they’re coming from, but the Bible is clear that when you become a follower of Christ, you’ve entered a war. In this passage, Paul uses an extended military metaphor to help us understand what the Christian life is like. He says we need armor, and the reason is that we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare on the side of God against the devil. We’re at war.
Here’s what we learn about the battle:
We have enemies. Verse 11 talks about the schemes of the devil. He is the head of the demons, the fallen angels who are enemies of God. Jesus called him a liar and a murderer. He’s out to get us, to deceive us, and to rob us of our very lives. And he’s not alone. Verse 12 says that he’s joined by “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There’s not just one spiritual being who’s our enemy, but a whole range of evil spiritual forces. They vary in rank, authority, and capability, but they’re all opposed to us.
We don’t know all the details of these beings that are against us. We don’t have enough information to figure out every detail of how the hierarchy works. But we know enough to realize that a battle is going on with unseen spiritual forces against us. They’re powerful, wicked, cunning, and invisible. If our fight was against other humans, we’d maybe have to worry, but at least we’d have a chance. We have no chance on our own against these unseen spiritual enemies, which is why Paul is going to tell us what to do to stand under the attack of these spiritual forces against us. Don’t be surprised when you feel like you’re under attack.
So we learn that we have enemies. Then we learn that:
They have tactics. Paul tells us that we’re to stand against the “schemes of the devil.” What is a scheme? It’s a strategy designed by a careful strategist to defeat us. It means that the devil and his forces will use every scheme possible to turn us aside from pursuing Christ and achieving the goals that God has for us. Beneath the surface, there’s a battle going on. One preacher says:
He has been honing his methods for millennia. His emissaries visited the church councils at Nicea and Chalcedon. He sat in on medieval faculty meetings. He is an accomplished philosopher, theologian, and psychologist. He has had thousands of years to study.
I am no genius at mathematics, but even with my limited capabilities I could be terrific at math if I worked at it for 100 years (maybe!). If I labored hard at it for a 1,000 years and read all the learned theories, I would be a Newton or an Einstein. Or what if I had 10,000 years? Given that time, any of us could become the world’s greatest philosopher or psychologist or theologian or linguist (we could curse or preach in a thousand languages). Satan has had multiple millennia to study and master the human disciplines, and when it comes to human subversion, he is the ultimate manipulator. (R. Kent Hughes)
When you read this passage, you may have pictures of wild spiritual battles and direct spiritual attack. But there are a variety of ways that he can come after us. Clinton Arnold has listed some of the schemes or tactics of Satan:
- interjecting an image into our minds of something enticing but sinful (Matt 4:8–10; Luke 4:5–8)
- exploiting a sinful tendency, such as anger, and causing it to flare out of control (Eph 4:27)
- inspiring others to create a principle, teaching, or idea that sounds plausible, but is wrong and dangerous to our souls (2 Cor 11:3, 15)
- afflicting us with a physical illness or condition (2 Cor 12:7)
- sending a horrible dream or demonic manifestation during the night that produces fear (Job 4:13–16; Ps 91:5)
- enticing us to lie (Acts 5:3)
- instigating a series of horrible “natural” calamities, e.g., the death of a loved one, loss of one’s home, or destruction or loss of property (Job 1–2)
Most of the time, Satan and his demons don’t use a direct attack. What we experience most of the time is much more subtle than that. That’s why the devil’s so wily. Satan doesn’t usually tip his hand. He likes to use trickery and subterfuge. As one person said, “Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap” (Klyne Snodgrass).
One of his most effective tactics is simply to get us to question God’s goodness. He tries to tempt us to think that God is holding back on us. He causes us to question God’s Word. He loves to deceive us, and he knows what works. He’s been at it for thousands of years. We have an enemy, Paul says, and he has tactics.
One man reflects on the battle as he’s faced it, and says this of a defeat:
I was a fool. I believed lies, which led me to tell lies.
This is why temptation is so tempting. It’s insane how quickly it becomes rational and reasonable to believe and do destructive and evil things.
That captures it all. Remember that Jesus said that Satan is a liar and a deceiver. Satan gets us to believe lies, and uses these lies to get us to doubt God and do destructive and evil things. He has tactics, and one of the main tactics is deceit.
We learn one more thing about the battle:
The battle is up close and personal. Paul says, “We wrestle…” The word for wrestle is more of an athletic one than a military one. When you wrestle, you’re in close contact with your enemy. Paul uses this image to help us realize that this isn’t warfare that takes place with drones and joysticks. It’s close and intense. The battle takes place in our minds and hearts. It couldn’t be closer and more intimate than it is.
So this is the first thing we learn in this passage: that we’re at war, and that we have enemies who have tactics and are up close and personal. We need to expect that we’re at war. We can’t be like the passengers on the Lusitania. We can’t forget the fact that we’re at war.
Paul also wants to tell us what to do about it.
What to do: Be strong by putting on the armor of God.
It’s important that we understand that we’re engaged in warfare. But the way to win at the war isn’t to focus on the enemy. It was C.S. Lewis that said:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
The way we win at this battle isn’t to excessively focus on our enemy. Paul tells us what we should do:
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 (Ephesians 6:10-11)
“Be strong in the Lord.” Paul doesn’t say just to be strong. We’re too weak to be strong. Self-sufficiency is a killer in this battle. He says we need to be strong in the Lord. This whole passage is about that. We need God’s strength in verse 10. We need God’s armor, in verses 11 and 14 to 17, and we need open lines of communication with God in verses 18 to 20. We need God’s help.
I want you to notice a few things:
We’re not alone in this battle. You could easily read this passage and miss this, but Paul isn’t writing to us as individuals. He’s writing to a church. I had lunch with a friend this week, and we talked about this passage. He said, “The thing that bothers me is that everyone preaches this passage and applies it to the individual. What kind of person goes to war alone? Would you send one soldier to war in Iraq?”
He’s got a good point. The context for this battle is the church. Given that the Christian life is war, it makes no sense to try to do it alone. We need strength and encouragement from others if we’re going to make it. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder with each other if we’re to survive. These are instructions for the church collectively to put on God’s armor, and stand as one person in battle.
We can be strengthened. Verse 10 says, “Be strong in the Lord.” It’s hard to see in the English, but it’s passive. It means that we receive strength from an outside source: from God. It’s not, “Make yourself strong.” It’s, “Receive from the Lord what you need in order to be strong.” It’s tricky, because there’s a command for us to follow, but the command is to receive. We must take action, and the action is to seek God and present themselves to him for filling with his power.
When Paul says “in the Lord” here, he’s talking about Jesus. It’s here that we’re reminded of the words of Martin Luther in his song A Mighty Fortress:
Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
It’s only because Jesus is on our side that we can be strengthened.
Tim Keller gives an illustration that helps me with this. Picture being sent into a battle in which you’re vastly outnumbered. You know that there’s not a chance that you can win against the enemy. You’re about to be slaughtered. But your commander says, “Tomorrow you’re going to go and attack that fortification.” But then he says, “Remember that as you attack that behind you, over you, and all around you will be this vastly superior air power. Charge, but count on the fact that you won’t be alone. If you don’t charge, you won’t beat them. But if you charge and trust that what I tell you is true, then you’ll be okay.”
We’d like to see the air power first, but that’s not how it works. Our job is to fill our minds with the magnificence of the power that we have all around us, and then to go out and battle like we believe it’s true.
Here’s what this means for us. We must fill our minds with what God has done for us. We’re going into battle, but we need to remember that God has already defeated Satan through Jesus Christ. I want you to think of three verses in particular:
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… (Hebrews 2:14)
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:4-6)
As a church, we want to keep coming back to the reality that Jesus has done for us what we can’t do. We want to keep coming back to the gospel. We want to fill our minds with what he’s done, and then live in that reality.
The great news is that the weakest among us can be strong in Jesus Christ and what he accomplished at the cross. Jesus has accomplished everything that we need. We can trust in his work, and believe that he has abundant strength for us. He has everything we need. We can draw on that strength continuously. We can know the greatness of his power and live in that reality.
One of our values as a church is that we are dependent: apart from God, we can do nothing. I really want us to push into this. The only way that we can stand as a church in the battle is if we stay connected with God, as we fill our minds with what he says is true. The only way we’ll be ready to rush into battle is if we believe that we have air support all around us. It’s why prayer is so critical to what we’re doing as a church.
There’s one more thing I want you to notice:
There are things we can do. Paul describes the armor of God. In addition to taking advantage of our relationship with Christ, there are some things that he says we should do. He calls us to appropriate some gifts and to cultivate some virtues that are going to be important. We’re going to need all of it. He says to put on the whole armor of God, not just one or two pieces. We’re going to talk about this over the coming weeks.
Okay, let’s summarize what we’ve covered so far. We’ve looked at this passage and learned that we’re at war, and that we have enemies who have tactics, and who are up close and personal. We’ve also learned that we can be strengthened together by taking advantage of the resources that God has provided for us.
I want to finish today with some good news. Here it is:
The good news: We can stand.
Here’s the good news that I want to leave us with today: we can stand. Verse 13 says:
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. (Ephesians 6:13)
Here’s the great news. Paul says that if we strengthen ourselves in God, and take up his armor, then we will be able to stand against the enemy of our souls. The word “stand” repeats itself four times in this passage:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)
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. (Ephesians 6:13)
Stand therefore… (Ephesians 6:14)
Stand means that we hold our position. It means that the devil doesn’t gain an inch in our lives, or move us off course. When the devil advances, we are to hold our position and refuse to be moved. It doesn’t mean that we only play defense; it can mean that we take an aggressive stand against Satan. It means that we take up defensive positions, and also that we “stand like an oak against the winds of Satan’s lies that would sway us, against the floods of his temptations that would sweep us away, and against the leeches of his accusations that would deprive us of grace” (Stanley D. Gale).
Here’s what I want you to hear today: Because we’re engaged in deadly spiritual warfare, we need God’s help to stand firm.
A hundred years ago, passengers were warned that a state of war existed, and that they could expect attack. It was probably hard to remember this completely in the first class accommodations, and tragically, hundreds lost their lives.
We too have been warned that a state of war exists. We have powerful enemies who employ sophisticated tactics to try to defeat us. But we’ve been given strength by God through Jesus Christ so that we can stand.
Friends, let’s not forget that we’re at war. And let’s fill our minds what all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ so that we can stand. Let’s remember that we’re not alone as we go to war. We can “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.”