Topical Scripture: Ephesians 6.10-12 / John 15.1-8
American ground troops are now at war in Afghanistan. Most of us think this is just like the Gulf War ten years ago. Most of us are wrong. This time our troops are equipped with global positioning systems, advanced night vision equipment, weapons with laser sights and thermal imaging capabilities, and computerized fire control systems. Our ground forces are backed by attack helicopters and airplanes. And they are able to launch ground attack weapons from pilotless aircraft.
The right weapons are essential to victory in war.
As with the military, so with the soul. You are engaged in a spiritual war, and you must have and use the right weapons to win. My job today is to teach you how.
Understand spiritual warfare
First we need to know what the Bible teaches about spiritual warfare, then we can learn the practice of spiritual victory. You need these facts.
One: you are in a war. Every day Satan fights against God, and there is no middle ground. If you are on God’s side, you are Satan’s enemy. And so “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Satan wants your soul. If you’ve given it to Jesus, then he wants your witness, your ministry, your life. You are in a war.
Two: you must choose the right weapons. To win this battle you must “put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (v. 11). You cannot win a battle without the right weapons. I’ll show them to you momentarily.
Three: these weapons are employed through prayer. “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests,” Paul orders. Further, “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (v. 18). Paul knows that we have spiritual power when we are connected with the Spirit in prayer.
Four: you must stay close to Jesus every day.
This battle is being waged against us every day. And so we must “remain” in Jesus—the word means to abide, to stay connected with, to stay close to. Then Jesus promises that you “will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Only when you stay close to the General can you win the battle. And then you will “bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). The patience, kindness, and goodness we’re studying in Sunday school today are yours only when you stay close to Jesus, their Source.
Victory begins when we recognize we’re in the battle, and we choose to win it in the Spirit. Make that decision with me, right now.
Choose submission over self-reliance
Now let’s get practical. How do we defeat Satan’s attacks on us? By knowing what they are, and using the right weapons in defense. The classic spiritual disciplines, practiced by believers for centuries, are our tools in this war. Let’s learn how to employ them.
The first strategy of Satan is self-reliance. In Scripture and personal experience this is always so.
He tempted Adam and Eve to be as gods, knowing good and evil.
He tempted Jesus in the wilderness to use his own power for his own glory—whether turning stones to bread, impressing the crowds by jumping from the temple, or worshiping Satan in return for earthly glory.
Satan tempts me with self-reliance every day. To write a sermon and ask God to bless it; to solve a problem in my own ability or experience.
Am I alone here? Where is the enemy tempting you with self-reliance today? Where are you trusting your abilities more than prayer and Scripture to solve your problems and succeed in your abilities?
The spiritual discipline we need when tempted to self-reliance is submission. Submission to God’s will physically and relationally. We do this in two ways.
First by fasting. When we abstain from food for spiritual reasons, we submit our bodies to our souls. We submit our appetites to God’s control. Regular fasting is crucial to spiritual health.
Second, by accountability. Every Christian needs someone to whom he or she is accountable spiritually. Someone who knows your problems, stands with you, prays for you, is honest with you. Someone to expose your self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
The more your spirit resists submission today, the more you need this discipline. It is essential to my soul, and to yours.
Choose solitude when distracted
A second tool of the enemy is distraction. Using circumstances to take your eyes from the will of God. At Caesarea Philippi, Peter tried to push Jesus away from his resolve to die on the cross. And Jesus said to him, “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Satan loves to use good things to distract us from God things.
Busyness is one of his most effective distractions, in life and in ministry. I still remember the conviction I felt years ago when I first read these words in a commentary: “Perhaps the ministry was never busier than it is now. Hundreds of men are hoarse from continual speaking, and are wearied out with running here and running there. If things slow down, we evolve yet another type of meeting. And when this new and added wheel is spinning merrily with all the other wheels, there may be no spiritual outcome whatsoever, but there is a wind blowing in our faces; and we hot and sticky engineers have a comfortable feeling that something is going on” (Arthur John Gossip, John, in The Interpreter’s Bible, 8:716).
This satanic tactic works well with me. Running from meeting to meeting, finishing one message just in time to start another. Taking little time to be with God, because I’m so busy working for him. How well is distraction working against you?
The weapon to use in defense of distraction and busyness is the spiritual discipline of solitude.
Mark 1 records an extremely busy day in the life of our Lord: preaching in the synagogue, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, teaching the disciples, then healing the townspeople until late in the evening. And so the next morning, “while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35).
He needed time away, time alone with his Father. So do I. So do you. Time with God every morning, and an extended time for your soul every week or so.
If you’re too busy for solitude, you need solitude most of all.
Choose simplicity when you’re suffering
Another weapon Satan uses is suffering. As he attacked Job, so he attacks us. He causes suffering, and he uses suffering. Then in our hurt, we are tempted to turn from God. Job’s wife speaks for us all: “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
Where is Satan using suffering in your life? Job loss? Family struggles? Health problems? Discouragement and despair? By no means is Satan the cause of every problem in our lives, though he causes some. But he can use every one of them against us, if we let him.
The spiritual discipline for suffering is simplicity.
Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, helps us to understand simplicity: if we realize that all we have is a gift from God, to be used for him and shared with others, then we will live simpler lives (pp. 88-9). Health, money, success, anything suffering can take from us was a gift from God, to be used for him and others so long as it was on loan to us. We are not what we make or possess. We are the loved children of God. Nothing else matters eternally.
Are you suffering great loss right now? The harder it is to let it go, the more you must. Simplify your life to the essentials which no suffering can take from you, and victory is yours.
Choose Scripture when you’re tempted
Finally, there is the satanic strategy of sin. Rejecting the word and will of God. Jesus says that 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” (John 8:44). He is a sinner, and he tempts us to sin every day.
The devil does this in two ways. On the front end he says, “This is no big deal. Everyone does it.” Then after we commit the sin he says to us, “You’re a terrible sinner, not worthy to serve God or anyone else.” He corrupts us then condemns us. We’ve all been there.
The weapon against sin is the spiritual discipline of Scripture. Daily time with God in his word, so we know his will clearly and can find his counsel on the problems and temptations we face.
First, to know what God says about the sin before we commit it. God has spoken to every temptation we can face.
Second, to know what God says about the sinner after we commit it. He is clear about our need for confession and repentance, his promise of forgiveness, and his plan to restore and use us in his Kingdom.
If you’re not practicing the daily discipline of Scripture, you’re exposed to Satan’s most vile strategies. And if you don’t think you need this discipline, you of all people need it most.
Where are you being tempted right now? What strategy is the enemy bringing against your soul? Which disciplines will you practice today?
God offers us in his Spirit the victory over spiritual attack and temptation daily. His Spirit lives in every Christian. Go to him for help when Satan attacks you with self-reliance, distraction, suffering, and sin. In him is your victory. And only in him.
The Russian rabbis told the story of Isaac, son of Yekel, living in Krakov. Isaac was a very poor man whose family was often hungry. One night in a dream he saw the distant city of Prague, with a certain bridge and a treasure buried beneath it. The dream recurred vividly every night for two weeks. Finally he decided to walk to Prague to see for himself.
After several days on the road he arrived in the city, found the bridge, and went beneath it to look for the treasure. Suddenly a soldier grabbed him and started questioning him. What was he doing prowling under the bridge? Being an innocent man, he told the truth: he was looking for a treasure he had dreamed was underneath the bridge.
The soldier roared with laughter: “You stupid man! Don’t you know that you cannot trust what you see in dreams? Why, for the last two weeks I myself have dreamed that far away in Krakov in the house of a Jew named Isaac, son of Yekel, there is a treasure buried underneath the stove in his kitchen. But wouldn’t it be the most idiotic thing in the world if I were to go all the way there to look for it? One could waste a lifetime looking for a treasure that doesn’t exist!” Still laughing, the soldier gave Isaac a kick and let him go.
So Isaac, son of Yekel, walked back to Krakov, to his own home, where he moved the stove in his kitchen, found the treasure buried there, and lived to a ripe old age as a wealthy man.
Where will you find your treasure today?