The Unseen Battle

Sermon by Ed Hartman on June 21

Ephesians 6:10-20

From our reading of the Old Testament we turn now to our New Testament reading which will be the text for our sermon – Ephesians chapter 6, verses 10 through 20, a familiar passage; one that you may have memorized, one that, we read it, and it’s so familiar that we often just gloss right over what’s there. And yet I chose this passage for our study this morning – and incidentally today and the next two Sundays David Strain is out of town and so there will be assistant ministers preaching – but I chose this passage largely because of the unprecedented upheaval and the massive disruption that surrounds us, that characterizes our culture in this season in our history. Social upheaval, political, racial, economic, biological, a pandemic that we’re told now in some of our states is worse now than it’s been since it began. How do we understand all of this tension? How do we see it for what it truly is? How do we engage the brokenness, the injustice, the uncertainty, the violence, the tension that undergirds all of it? How do we see it and how do we engage it, most of all in a Christ honoring way?

It’s with those questions that I invite you to read with me the text that’s there in your bulletin – Ephesians 6, verses 10 through 20:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the full 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.”

This is God’s Word. Would you join me in prayer?

Father, we ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would speak to us. Lord Jesus, You said that You know Your sheep and Your sheep hear Your voice. So through Your Word and by Your Spirit, may we hear Your voice speaking to us today. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

So of course this is the classic passage on spiritual warfare, and it is a subject that we don’t talk about a whole lot in our circles, but it is the vital reality within which we experience every day, every battle, every challenge, every setback, every temptation. All of life, until we see Jesus face to face, will be spiritual war. So it’s critical for us to think rightly about it. Tim Keller once wrote about spiritual warfare in this perspective. He said, “There are two dangerous pitfalls in our thinking about Satan and in our thinking about spiritual warfare. One danger is superstition; the other danger is “substition.” “Super” and “sub.” Superstition, well those are commonly held beliefs that are not true. When we’re superstitious we can give Satan too much credit, that is, blaming the devil for every bad thing that happens to us – losing our keys, running into traffic, having a particularly stressful day, and so on. But the other danger is “substition.” That speaks to the idea of not giving enough credit to a generally known fact. For example, “Did you wake up this morning thinking, ‘I have an enemy who wants to destroy me today?” Was that your thought when you drank your first cup of coffee? Probably not. Did you wonder this past week if the relational difficulties you are having are demonic? Again, Keller says, probably not. Scripture tells us that spiritual warfare is a normal reality and activity for believers, yet too many of us live like there is no such battle.

So how do we think Biblically and rightly about the devil? If he is truly our adversary who is “prowling around seeking someone to devour,” as 1 Peter 5 says, what can we do and what should we do? That’s what I’d like us to unpack this morning. Now it seems like a really, really long time ago, but in February, just before we locked down in quarantine and all that the last several months has held, I flew to a middle eastern country to meet with church planters from Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I really wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but there I met a church planter who has an Arabic name but we’ll call him John. And John told me what happened on his street in his neighborhood on a moonless night, pitchblack dark night in May of 2011. He lives in the city of Abbottabad, which is just north of the capital city of Pakistan, Islamabad. And he said one night, middle of the night, pitchblack dark – there’s no electricity at night there – he was awakened by an unfamiliar sound. It sounded like helicopters but it sounded like they were a long way off, and yet his house was shuttering. He later discovered that these were stealth blackhawk helicopters used by the American Special Forces. The sound was so loud, but it was so dark he couldn’t see anything. He ran outside to see what was going on and he said there were aircraft everywhere. And then the flashes of light, as explosions, were detonated. And then the sharper flashes of light, as gunfire, erupted.

If you’re thinking through what happened in May of 2011, it was May 2, May 2 that Seal Team Six landed several helicopters in Abbottabad because intelligence had discovered that Osama bin Laden was hiding in a compound there in Abbottabad just a few houses down from this church planter who is now in this meeting. And he said, “Ed, it was so dark that night. You couldn’t see the hand in front of your face. I couldn’t figure out, ‘How can these men actually accomplish their mission and find, in the dark, their target and eliminate him? How could that be?’” Well, if you do the research, you’ll discover that at that time the military had a newly developed kind of night vision that instead of the ordinary singular tube or double tube of night vision that gave some measure of sight with about a 40 degree field of view, these soldiers were wearing helmets with specially equipped four tube night vision that took all of what they were seeing and incorporated it into one array that gave them almost 180 degrees field of view of full on vision in pitchblack dark, so much so that they were able to navigate their way through this compound and identify their target before they opened fire.

I begin with this image because in many respects it pictures what this passage is for us. We live in a war. One theologian said, “To be a Christian is to be at war.” You’ve been brought to the front lines of a conflict that is bigger than you can imagine, except you can’t see it most of the time and you think it’s just people or health or economy, but it’s spiritual war and you need special vision to see what is otherwise completely invisible to you. That’s what this passage offers us. It offers us vision to see two things. This is our outline. You need to see the battle, first of all, and secondly, you need to see your champion. If you see both of those it changes everything about how you will engage the battle and how it will turn out for you.

See The Battle

So first of all, you need to see the battle. In verse 12, Paul begins by saying “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” And immediately if you’re thinking, you realize there’s a question here. “Come on, Paul, it was flesh and blood hands that hurled stones at you. It was flesh and blood hands that put chains on you. It was flesh and blood hands that held the rods, the whips that beat you. You’ve been a victim of flesh and blood hands and brutal intent of people. And you’ve been stoned, imprisoned, arrested, accused, shipwrecked. You’ve been a victim of flesh and blood and yet here you are saying our battle is not against flesh and blood?” I think Paul would answer, “You’re right. Flesh and blood are real and they can be so very evil, yet when someone’s blood boils against me and their flesh attacks me, hinders me, and wants to destroy me, still there’s something far deeper going on – something more dangerous, more sinister than what meets the eye. The real battle is not the one we see; the real battle is the one we need special vision to see. It’s the unseen battle that goes on behind, beneath, and constantly.”

And so Paul goes on to say, but we do wrestle, verse 12, “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Now notice these are not synonyms. These are not four ways of talking about the identical thing. Paul is speaking about four categories of created beings who exist today in active rebellion against their Creator and they are now bent on your destruction. Paul is very specific. He speaks about these categories of organized evil, hierarchically functioning evil arrayed against you. He speaks about that throughout the New Testament. They are powerful, intelligent beings actively working in concert with one another to destroy whatever bears the image of the Creator.

And in verse 11 he takes it one step further. So he says, “that you may stand against the schemes of the devil.” When you hear the word “schemes” it’s so easy to think about, you know, the old bucket of water propped over the door so that when you walk in the door water falls on you and you’re scheming – “That funny trick!” Or a Ponzi scheme where people are swindled out of their money. But the scheme that Paul speaks of is far more deadly. It’s a scheme that is more like an assassination attempt. It is disruption that is far worse, carefully researched, carefully crafted for destruction. It is to be hunted, sabotaged, terrorized, assassinated, devoured. It’s what Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 5:8. I mentioned it already. “Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And it’s not just a singular enemy. That may be true of Lucifer, the devil himself, but he has lots of help and they are unified in their desire, their determined desire to destroy whatever bears the image of the Creator. It’s really his highest priority. There is nothing about which the enemy of your soul is more passionate than destroying you.

Think about that. There is nothing about which the enemy of your soul is more passionate than destroying you, because in the process he discredits the Creator and Redeemer against whom he is fundamentally at war. So his schemes include disruption and upheaval of all kinds – social, political, racial, economic, parental, medical, biological, relational, spiritual. Nothing is off limits to his scheming. And so you see how important it is to see the battle for what it truly is. You need special vision to see the battle because the enemy’s first strategy is to keep you from seeing the battle for what it is. It’s sort of like a hunter out in the woods. His main goal is to stay out of the line of sight of his quarry; to camouflage so that he blends into the environment, to make sure the wind is blowing in the right direction so that he’s not seen, smelled, or perceived. That’s the enemy’s strategy. As long as he can keep you from recognizing this fundamental reality of your existence – that if you are a follower of Jesus you are at war, lifelong war – if he keeps you from seeing that, the battle is so much easier for him.

See Your Champion

So first of all, you must see the battle. Secondly, you must see your Champion. You’ve probably sung the hymn, Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Soldiers of Christ Arise.” You know how it goes – “Soldiers of Christ arise, and put your armor on!” It goes on from there but I have a question. Whose armor is it? If you sing the hymn you’d say, “Of course, it’s put your armor on. It’s your armor!” That’s not what Paul says though, is it? Look back at verse 11 and 13. “Put on the whole armor of God. Take up the whole armor of God,” verse 13. It’s not your armor. It’s really not. And that makes all the difference when you think about it. This is armor designed for and worn by the divine Warrior Himself as He accomplished our redemption. The armor given to the believer, the follower of Jesus, is quite literally the armor of Jesus. It’s His armor. He wore it first.

You know why that makes such a huge difference? Because throughout Isaiah you find pictures over and over again as Jesus of the divine Warrior defeating all His and our enemies. Isaiah 42:13, for example, “The Lord goes out like a mighty warrior, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal. He cries out, he shouts aloud, he shows himself mighty against all his foes.” Here’s the point. You and I fight and stand only in the strength that comes from the victory that Christ has already won on our behalf. That’s why each piece of this armor points to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Every piece of this armor points to Jesus, and you see that all throughout the Old Testament, specifically though in the prophecy of Isaiah.

Look with me at each piece of this armor from the Old Testament perspective and think about who wore it first. The belt of truth, for example, is the belt that girds the Messianic King. Isaiah 11:5 says, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” If you go to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it says literally, “His belt shall be truth.” And Paul is drawing from that when he speaks about the armor we’re called to wear.

Then you go on to the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. This was worn first by the divine Warrior, Jesus Himself. Isaiah 59:17, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” Jesus Himself wore the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation.

And then the shoes of Gospel readiness about which Paul speaks here in verse 15, these are the shoes for the feet of those who proclaim the Messiah’s kingdom and its coming. Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!””

But it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, which is the weapon wielded by the promised servant of the Lord, the divine Warrior. Isaiah 49:2, he says, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me.” Even the shield of faith; the shield of faith is God Himself. In Genesis 15 verse 1, God says to Abram, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield, your very great reward.” And Abram believed God. He placed his faith in this promise-making, and promise-keeping God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Look, here’s the point – you’re not the first to wear this armor. Someone else wore it before you. The divine Warrior wore this armor, and having won the decisive victory already on the cross, He now offers you His armor. It is the armor of God and it is blood-stained armor, stained not with the blood of the enemy but stained with the blood of the One who first wore it on your behalf and in your place. And now, He says, “I wore this decisively for you. Now you put it on.”

And here’s the beauty of it. In union with Christ, all that is His is yours already. There’s a sense in which this armor is yours already and you’re wearing it already. What this passage invites us to and commands us to is to engage with the armor of God that is ours through union with Christ. Which brings us then to several, simple applications with which we’ll conclude – prayer and patience. Two “p” words that I think are vitally important, particularly on Father’s Day. This is profoundly relevant for us as dads, grandfathers, and yet it’s relevant to each one of us regardless of your gender or place in life.

Prayer

Prayer, first of all. The primary way to put on the armor of God which is already ours through union with Christ is to pray to the God of the armor. Spin it around – you can’t wear the armor of God without praying to the God of the armor. It’s the fundamental way you engage with this armor that is already yours in union with Christ. That is why five times in verses 18 through 20 Paul finishes his whole treatise on the armor of God with a repeated emphasis on prayer – “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 pray 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. Pray that I may declare it boldly as I ought to pray, as I ought to speak.” Prayer is the primary means of engaging the armor in this unseen battle. Conversely, without a life of prayer you’re going to live in presumption and you’re going to be oblivious to the real battle that underlies every other tension, upheaval and disruption that you will encounter. This is a command and an invitation to pray, which is what makes the armor your armor. It’s what puts it back into focus. It’s what reminds you, “Oh yeah, this is a battle, and yet I’m equipped to stand in the armor in which my champion has already won the great victory.”

On this Father’s Day, I would say that the greatest gift, the greatest practical gift you can give to your children, to your grandchildren, to your wife, your neighbors, your coworkers, all those around you, is to be a man of prayer. Of course this is true for every one of us. The greatest gift you can give to the people among who you live is to be a man or a woman of prayer. Now, a moment of transparency – as soon as I hear myself say that, I feel this wave of guilt. Do you? Because I know so much more than I’m living out. Of course I’m supposed to be a man of prayer. I wake up and say, “Lord, would You please keep me in constant, conscious communion with Christ?” – four “C”s – “I want to be in the atmosphere of prayer today. I want to spend the bulk of my day praying, engaging the real enemy with the power apart from which I cannot stand. Lord Jesus, You’ve given me spiritual authority through prayer in this battle. Make me a man of prayer!” And then how many of my days sweep by with so very little prayer? And I hang my head and I say, “God, how do You put up with me? I must be such a disappointment to You. You’ve taught me so much. What a slug I am!”

Patience

Which takes us to the second application. Prayer is the one, the second “p” word is patience. Patience is laced all through the spirit of this passage. I read a section out of Iain Duguid’s book, The Whole Armor of God – professor at Westminster. This is relatively new. But I just want to read for you what I read. It’s a brief paragraph. It brought tears to my eyes. I took a picture of it and sent it to my wife and I said this: “Maybe God isn’t so disappointed with me after all.” Listen to what he says:

“We often imagine that we’re fighting alone in our struggles against sin, but not at all. Your victory over sin belongs to Jesus, not to you. Jesus’ struggle was the decisive one, not yours. His victory on the cross purchased your complete sanctification, your ultimate holiness before God. His Spirit is at work within you, growing you” – get this – “growing you at the rate He intends toward His goal of your complete purity.” Last sentence – “Your sanctification is right now where He intends for it to be.”

If that’s true, if Christ has won the decisive victory not just for my justification but also for my sanctification, my growing up in spiritual maturity, my becoming more and more like Jesus, then my battle at its core is to engage the battle with His armor, all the while recognizing, “Oh yeah, He’s already won the final victory not just for my justification, my right standing, but also for my daily, moment by moment transformation. He’s won the battle. My calling is to engage that battle with His armor, the armor in which He won already, triumphing all that is arrayed against you and me, through the cross.” Do you understand what freedom that gives? Sure, the struggle is real, it’s ongoing, it will last until we see Jesus face to face, it will, but it’s ultimately not your battle, it’s His, and He’s won it in His armor and He offers it to you and says, “Enter into My victory and trust Me with the pace and the terminus of your sanctification. I will not fumble you.

I will not set you off to the side and say, ‘When you get your act together then maybe I’ll work with you again.’ That’s a lie from the enemy and it’s designed for your destruction. Call it what it is.”

John Piper has famously said in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, “You’ll never know what prayer is for until you learn that life is war.” You see that? You’re at war. It’s relentless. From the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep and even when you sleep – sometimes my dreams are warfare and you wake up in a cold sweat hearing the sound of your own voice gasping. Nothing is off limits, which means there is no place in your life where you do not need the blood stained armor of Christ. Do you understand that?

The end of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he makes this stunning statement and it needs to be our recurring battle cry as we wear this armor. It’s really kind of interesting the way he puts it, but I’ll end with this. Romans 16 verse 20, “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” Do you see? “Peace.” “Crush!” There’s the battle. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan,” here it is, “under your feet.” He calls us to battle, but it’s ultimately His battle fought in His armor. That God of peace who has won the peace for us will soon crush Satan under your feet. Look for it. Let’s pray.

Father, we come to You in the name of Jesus, pleading His merits before You as our only hope and asking afresh that You would give us eyes to see what normally remains hidden, enable us to see the battle for what it truly is, but so much more – enable us to see our victorious champion, the divine Warrior, who even this day is at Your right hand, interceding, still doing battle on our behalf. Give us eyes to see His victory becoming our victory. Give us a longing to enter into His triumph, His song of triumph, and may that undergird us as we engage the enemy wherever we meet him. May we quickly recognize his schemes, his tactics, his strategy for what it is, even when we’re looking into the faces of people who are so familiar, and yet the battle is there, the conflict arises, the uncertainty, the fear, the upheaval, the disruption, the not knowing how long, the discouragement that settles in when things seem the same, unchanging. Lift our gaze to see the One who has already won the battle. And then return our gaze to the battle to which You’ve called us and send us forth in the armor worn by our glorious Champion and King, even Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.

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