Have you ever gotten involved in something that suddenly revealed itself as being a lot more serious than you thought? For some, this happens in marriage, and they are like Jacob who thought he had married Rachel. But Behold! it was Leah!
For Diedre Cobb, it was joining the Army Reserves and facing the difficult task of trying to explain why it took her 2 years to ask herself whether or not she believed in fighting wars. She wrote in her application for the discharge, “At the time, I believed that the Army was an organization focused on furthering world peace. . . . . I knew the military killed people,” she admitted when asked to explain. “I didn’t understand it was a cycle – that there was no end to it. There is no peaceful outcome of war.”
When asked to sum up how she thought this mess got started, Cobb declared, “Hasty decisions make great mistakes. That’s how I got into this trouble.”
Now it’s easy enough to laugh at poor Diedre, but I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of you out there who have made the same mistake she made. There are a lot of us who have joined the army and didn’t think we’d be expected to fight.
And yet in Ephesians Chapter 6, St. Paul makes it all too clear that every Christian has in fact signed on in God’s army, and every Christian – whether he recognizes it or not – is in the middle of a very real spiritual war.
In all of our work in God’s kingdom, of which St. Paul speaks throughout Ephesians, we are always fighting a spiritual war. All of life is spiritual, and there are no demilitarized or neutral zones. The battleground of the war that we signed up for when we became Christians, is our family relationships, our work relationships, and the Church.
In other words, your daily life is the place where the cosmic battle between good and evil is staged. You’re not invited as a spectator: you’ve been recruited as a warrior.
There are 4 things you need to know about this war:
1. we are in a real spiritual war
2. we have a real enemy
3. we have an invincible leader
4. we have been given invincible weapons
All around are signs that we are in a spiritual war: our national sins of greed, abortion, divorce, addictions, violence, etc.; disunity in church; churches obeying the words of men rather than the Word of God; and the sin in each of our lives.
Do not be fooled: these things are not “normal” but are signs of sin and death – and a spiritual war. And you are smack dab in the middle of that war – like it or not, believe it or not.
In this war, we have a very real enemy, and this enemy consists of Satan (verse 11) and principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts in the heavenly places (12.) But the enemy is also in the people around us. He has even infiltrated each of us and has established a presence there.
It is good to know something about our enemy. The Devil, the general of the Enemy forces is our adversary and God’s Adversary. He is wily and seductive. He is a roaring lion seeking to devour us, if we are not alert. He is a deceiver and the Father of Lies. He is powerful (verse 12), cunning (verse 11), and evil (verse 16.)
Unfortunately, Satan has many helpers. The truth is you are not able to defeat our enemy by yourself, and if you try, you will be defeated. Satan is much weaker than we often think he is, but he is also much more clever. In military conflicts, a wise military leader who is weak must learn to use his resources wisely: this was true for great generals like Hannibal and Rommel.
I don’t see Satan or a demon under every rock or in every temptation of ours. Frankly, I believe that if Satan and all the demons tried to cause all the sin in the world, they would find they could only control a small part of the earth. So instead, being crafty, Satan lets us do his dirty work for him. Our strongest enemies are really the flesh and the world, and Satan allows them to do most of his work. I believe he chooses to get involved personally only at key moments, such as when someone is in the process of changing sides in the Great War, when they are baptized or re-dedicate their lives to God, or often when we pray.
It is the sin within us – how we follow ourselves and not God, how we do not love others, how we lead ourselves into temptation – that are our strongest enemies, and Satan makes great use of them.
As strong as Satan may seem, we are the ones who have an invincible leader. I think it is a sign of Satan’s weakness that he puffs himself up and makes us think he is great. In reality, the battle between God and Satan is like a cartoon I saw: maybe some of you have seen it. It’s called Bambi Meets Godzilla. In this 1 minute and 29 second cartoon, Bambi is gently grazing in a field for nearly a minute, and then . . . well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the ending (but if you want to see it for yourself, it’s at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXCUBVS4kfQ )My point is that, power wise, God is like Godzilla, and Satan is like Bambi. It’s nowhere near an even fight, so let’s not do Satan any favors by flattering him for a second.
Though Paul doesn’t directly mention Jesus Christ here as our leader or our general, there can be no doubt that He is. We must remember Him in all spiritual warfare and that He is infinitely more powerful than Satan, the world, or our flesh.
About 2500 years ago a Chinese writer named Sun Tzu wrote a famous book on war called The Art of War. Its ideas are such an excellent distillation of military wisdom that it is still read by military strategists. There are 5 constant factors in any war, 3 of which I find apply directly to spiritual warfare. Sun Tzu’s first constant was that, “The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.” This is the way we must follow Jesus Christ, our Ruler, into spiritual war.
The second constant factor is that “The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.” Our Commander has every virtue, every thing necessary to lead us to victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. He has been tempted in every way, yet without sin. He has already conquered the Enemy and knows how to help us do the same.
We have an invincible leader who has already conquered His enemy, and He has given us invincible weapons.
Sun Tzu’s first 2 points focused on the Ruler or Commander; his 3rd point focuses on the way that warfare is waged: “By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure.”
In Ephesians 6, St. Paul asks us to focus especially on this third point – method and discipline – this is why he discusses in some detail our spiritual weaponry. We must remember that the Lord not only fights for us but also fights through us. Whatever God asks us to do for Him and through Him, He equips us to do. And so He equips us militarily for the battles He expects us to fight. He has given us every weapon we need: go back and read verses 14-18 (I include verse 18 because we must never leave out prayer, which I liken to the food of God’s army, which marches on its belly.)
Rather than explaining each in detail, I want to make one important point. These 6 weapons are not to be understood apart from Jesus Christ. These are not things we simply add to our own natural powers: instead, they are nothing less than aspects of Jesus Christ Himself. Just as He is the New Man we are supposed to put on, He is also the Armor of God that we must put on each day.
In summarizing the art of war, Sun Tzu said: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
To which we as Christians must add: “If you know Jesus Christ, your King and General, and faithfully serve Him by using the divine weapons He with which He has equipped you, He will always be victorious through you.”
Prayer: Father grant that I be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in my inner man, that Christ may dwell in my heart by faith, and that I might have the power to comprehend the surpassing love of God.
Now unto Him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Slowly meditate on each part of the armor of God, asking God to show you one in particular that He wants you to use more faithfully.
2. Consider whether or not you have fully recognized the nature of the spiritual warfare in your life. What battlegrounds in your life are there, and how have you been fighting the battles God has given you?
3. How well do you know yourself, your King, and the Enemy? Is your ignorance in any of these 3 leading to spiritual defeat in your life?
Resolution: I resolve to meditate today on the spiritual war that God has made me a part of. I especially resolve to meditate on the victory that Jesus will gain through me, if I faithfully put Him on every day.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson