The following notes are based on a sermon I preached yesterday at Jubilee Church, London. It draws to a close our series on Ephesians. You can download the mp3 or listen right here:
“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.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)
During World War II, if you lived in London you were in a war. You could try and deny it. You could pretend it wasn’t happening. But to do so you would be a fool. Every air raid siren, every mad scramble to the shelters, every destroyed home would remind you—the enemy was REAL and he was coming to get you.
Some people today act like the world is at peace. It is not. We all face a danger more deadly than air raids or suicide bombers. There is an enemy who is at work to destroy the world. You and I were born onto a battlefield, and we will live all our lives and then die on a battlefield.
The devil has many schemes. Today we will look at some of the main ones. First, he has two over-arching strategies.
- He loves people to become fascinated with him. It was his pride that made him evil. He wants the attention and praise that is due God. Every time someone visits a medium or reads a horoscope, he has succeeded in turning someone from trusting God for their future. We see a rise in all kinds of strange spirituality because people are looking for a power encounter. Sadly an experience of power is all too often not available in the church—which is the one place where it should be seen! Meditation which empties the mind, hypnotism, witchcraft, and many other similar things all come from the devil, and the Christian has no business playing with them.
Even within the church the devil uses this strategy. There are those who spend much time praying against the “spiritual forces in power in the air” which they say are over an area, forgetting that Jesus is Lord and has already defeated the evil powers! Or they blame the devil for every cold that comes their way—we live in a fallen world; let’s not give the devil too much credit. But in reacting to this ploy of the devil of drawing attention to himself, too often we fall into the opposite error.
- The devil loves to make people ignorant of him and his schemes. In the sophisticated West we easily forget him. He is happy for us to do so. Dressing himself up as the god of Mammon, we fall in line and worship him more dutifully than the so-called “ignorant, and uncivilized” people who worship spirits. “More, more, more,” says Mammon. Just a bit more. Feed your flesh. Feed the hunger I am causing. You don’t need God, you need ME. More, more, more. Just a bit more. Then you will be happy. Last year’s mobile phone? That’s no good now—what you need is the latest … the best … your provider will even upgrade you for free if you sign up for another year’s service!!
“Not ignorant of his schemes.” 2 Corinthians 2:11 NIV.
He is often disguised.
“A thorough knowledge of the enemy and a healthy respect for his prowess are a necessary preliminary to victory in war. Similarly, if we underestimate our spiritual enemy, we shall see no need for God’s armour, we shall go out to the battle unarmed, with no weapons but our own puny strength, and we shall be quickly and ignominiously defeated.”
Stott, J. R. W. (1979, 1980). God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians (263). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Story of Jewish exorcists in Ephesus (from Acts). Need to be properly prepared!!! The burning of the occult books was also in Ephesus. So the readers were well aware of the role of the devil.
Don’t underestimate Satan and his demonic powers!
Our enemy is powerful—“the cosmic powers …”
Our enemy is wicked—“spiritual forces of evil.”
Our enemy is crafty—“the schemes of the devil.”
In this passage we see the antedote to some of the devil’s schemes. Lying behind Paul’s description of our fight and the armour we are to use are the ways in which the devil most likes to attack.
- First, the devil encourages us to substitute ourselves for God. In Genesis it is the devil who tells Eve, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:4). Of course, his real goal is not that we become lord, but rather that we end up worshipping him. Like he said to Jesus, he tells us he can make us lord if we just bow the knee to him. 1 Samuel 15:23: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (KJV). Our response to this is simple—NO, we will be strong IN THE LORD, not in ourselves! James 4:7: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Do you realize that pride is demonic? We should flee from it as much as we flee from devil worship.
- The devil loves to distract us by making us think people are the real enemy. But “OUR ENEMY IS NOT FLESH AND BLOOD.” He would even be happy if our focus was on opposing his servants. Behind every enemy of the gospel lies a far more deadly enemy—Satan. Our war is with him. Everyone else is just a casualty of war, enscripted by the evil master. When we meet someone who serves the devil we should still hold out the hand of Christian love to that person and aim to win them over! “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are not to be like that! We are not looking for someone to devour and criticize and prove wrong! He is the accuser of the brothers (Revelation 12:10). He sows disunity and bitterness between us. He loves to destroy relationships, especially marriages. Every time we give in to the temptation to be nasty to someone, we give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27).
- The devil teaches us to lie. He lied to Eve. “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Lies can be flagrant or they can be subtle. They are all of the devil. Jesus had the following very strong words to say of some Jews of his day: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:44-45). Every “white lie” is inspired from the pit of hell. It’s demonic. Every bit as much so as sorcery or devil worship! It is interesting then to see what the first piece of armour Paul mentions is—the belt of TRUTH. How do we primarily fight the enemy? By replacing his strategies and tools with the opposite. We fight a lie with the truth.
- The devil teaches us to substitute our own righteousness for that of God’s. There are a lot of theological arguments these days about the basic Christian doctrine of us having received from God an alien righteousness with which to cover ourselves and by which we can be justified. The picture here of a breastplate of righteousness expresses the image wonderfully. We are now clothed in the righteousness of God. It is expressed here as part of the armour because to inspire doubt in this righteousness is, of course, one of the devil’s main schemes. We don’t tend to think of doctrine as a demonic battleground, but it is. We don’t tend to think of doctrinal error as coming from Satan, but it does.Let’s see how Paul responded to the Galatians, who had slipped away from grace into legalism:
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?” (Galatians 3:1-6)
BEWITCHMENT. That’s a strong, demonic word. Because this is one of the devil’s KEY strategies. If he can persuade us to throw away our confidence in Jesus and substitute confidence in our own righteousness, he has won. For if we lose this, we lose the gospel. Never forget the enemy’s role in leading the church astray doctrinally. How do we fight it? By cherishing doctrine and living in the good of it!
- The devil prevents evangelism and the reception of truth. “Feet fitted …” 2 Corinthians 4:4: “… the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” We fail to recognize this work of the enemy. When we share the gospel and some one fails to respond, we give up. We think “we did it wrong” or “they just aren’t interested.” Then we become disheartened and are no longer ready to share the gospel. This is warfare beloved! We have to understand and recognize that rejection of the gospel is demonic. It is inspired by the enemy. So how do we fight this? We fight it by being ready to share the gospel!
- The devil breeds passivity in us. There is another strategy we can discern here—the opposite of readiness is passivity. Adam was there in the Garden and did nothing. He said nothing. He sat by and watched his wife fall. That was surely as demonically inspired as Eve’s active sin. This one is especially for the men among us, but it is also for each of us. Spending our entire lives sitting on the sofa flicking TV channels while we let the world quite literally go to hell is inexcusable. If the devil can inspire us to just sit back and do nothing he has won. This is particularly true in evangelism, but it is true in all of life. Have you ever thought that the raging desire in your heart to “just rest”—that longing to spend your life in leisure, might actually be demonically inspired? Of course, God invented rest and we need to rest! But to allow rest and passivity to rule in our hearts is to cede defeat to the enemy! This one is there throughout this passage—“stand,” “be strong,” “be ready,” “wrestle,” “stand firm,” etc….
- The devil breeds doubt, fear, and mistrust. This is the opposite of faith. “Did God really say?” said the serpent to Eve. “God has withheld something good from you,” or “Will he really act on your behalf?” We, of course, fight this by determining to trust in God and not think he is a liar. That is my definition of faith: Not accusing God of being a liar! Growing in our confidence in God’s love, power, and goodness really is a shield of faith that protects us.
- The devil plays tricks with our minds. Thinking about salvation protects our minds. “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
- The devil misinterprets God’s Word. He adds to it (“touch it and we will die”); he twists it (“every tree,” when God banned only one). Our offensive weapon is the Bible! Satan used the Scriptures to tempt Jesus. Beware of any preacher or book which tells you a complicated story of why a verse doesn’t really mean what it seems to simply mean. This is one of the devil’s favorite tricks. It means that even in our study of God’s Word and the writings about it we must be aware of the devil’s schemes. Remember the danger of pride in our learning. “’Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 7:1).
- The devil distracts us from prayer. This is why Paul urges us to pray here.
So how do we fight the devil?
- We fight him by using the opposite strategies.
- We fight him with the Word of God.
- We fight him in prayer.
In closing . . .
Which side are you on? We need to be wholehearted one way or the other. If the devil is God, why not serve him fully? If God is God, why not sign up as his soldier?