Church is where people are saved by God and where people grow spiritually. But church is also where some of the most hurtful things occur. Church issues that arise because of Satan’s attacks are fairly obvious. Scandals, abuse, unforgiveness, gossip, slander, and eventually the church splits. Satan loves nothing more than tearing churches apart.
Don’t you see the same pattern of Satanic activity in bad marriages? Marriages are supposed to be places of love, security, sacrifice, forgiveness and humble service of one another. Instead, you have cowardly husbands abusing their wives physically or verbally. Like immature bullies. On the other side, you have disrespectful wives nagging and tearing down their husbands through their many words. Proverbs describes such women as leaky faucets. Endless dripping of negativity. Marriage is a God-ordained vehicle of our sanctification. Yet, Satan records some of his greatest defeats in marriages gone wrong.
What about parenting? Kids are precious gifts from God and God expects that we pass on our love for God to the next generation. Parents are older than their kids, obviously. On the whole, parents are wiser than their kids. Hopefully, because of their age and experience, parents are more mature than the kids they are trying to parent. But how many parents have a bad day at work, or they fight with their spouse and all of the venom and anger spills out on their kids. They abuse their authority and their temper flares up and the kids are innocent victims. A small thing the kid does wrong causes some parents to explode in an uncontrollable rage. Is that the kind of parenting the Lord requires? Or is it a sign that Satan is defeating us? What about the kids? It’s not easy for kids to listen to and respect and submit to their parents. Which is why during the teenage years, many kids rebel and dishonor their parents. Satan loves it when there is strife in the home.
What about in employer/employee relationships? Power corrupts people. Just because someone is in a position of authority, like a manager or boss or department head, some think they have the right to mistreat those under their authority. For the employee, we are a subordinate, we are in a position under someone’s authority as granted by a company or a country and God expects us to work diligently as to the Lord. How many employees complain about their bosses and tear them down with slanderous remarks or gossip? Satan wins in either case. Either the authoritarian boss or the employee who talks about his boss behind his back.
It’s in the context of relationships that God displays His greatest victory. And it’s in the same context of relationships that Satan records his most tragic defeats.
Think about your life. If you examine your relationships–your good ones and your difficult ones– isn’t it true that perhaps the best way to describe the range of your relational life is warfare? Relationships can be the best, the most dearest, the most precious things in your life. There are people whom you wouldn’t trade anything else in the world for. AND, at the same time, relationships can be the most difficult, draining, messiest, most frustrating things in the world. Don’t you have people in your life that even the mere mention of their name makes your heart boil? Life is a war for your soul and relationships are like landmines on the battlefield.
It’s no surprise, then, that Paul wraps up this book with a prayer recognizing the spiritual battle we are in.
10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. 12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. 13 This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.
In a spiritual battle, it makes sense that Paul first encourages us to put on spiritual armor. v11 – put on the full armor of God so that you can STAND against the tactics of the Devil. v13 – take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to RESIST in the evil day, and having prepared everything to take your STAND. Stand, resist, stand. Then again in v14 – stand.
Stand? I’m standing. My faith is fine. Resist the Devil? Paul, you’re being a bit extreme. Satan has been defeated on the cross. He is not a real threat for us today. If you think this way or you don’t pray much nor engage in spiritual battle, then you are saying, basically, Satan, you are no big deal. I don’t have to pay much attention to you.
In general, we don’t really believe in Satan anymore in our modern age. Maybe people in the Middle Ages believed in the Devil because they lacked scientific knowledge. And so we reason that they had no choice but to be superstitious and to attribute bad things to evil forces because they had no other explanation.
The pervasive mood of secularism makes Satan and his armies of darkness unpalatable to our modern ears. We relegate evil to horror movies, the stuff of Hollywood that comes out from the twisted imagination of the likes of a Stephen King.
I like scary movies, but ever since I married Jackie, out of my love for her, I have stopped watching them. In our early years of marriage, we’d be driving and I would tell her to look at a billboard and it was a picture of the movie, The Grudge. You remember the picture with the woman who had the long unconditioned hair and one eye staring at you. And Jackie would get really angry. So after a while, I repented and I thought, if I love her, I better stop.
When we were dating, Jackie and I went to go see the movie, The Sixth Sense, and halfway through, I was having the time of my life. I don’t normally get excited at movies. I usually fall asleep and I pay $11 bucks to take a nap. Not this time. My eyes were wide open. I was sweating. Jaws dropped. I was at the edge of my seat. And we were reaching the climax of the movie and Jackie turned to me and said, I can’t handle this, I’m leaving. At that moment, I had a crisis of faith. Do I stay in the movie theater and finish the movie and risk the relationship, or do I leave with her and miss the end of the movie? Well, we’re still together so I think you know which way I chose.
Have you noticed that there seems to be a new horror movie every week? I think the frequency of horror movies is part of Satan’s strategy to make us believe that he is not real. He’s just a movie plot. He’s just entertainment. You can’t see evil except when there are CGI special effects, but that stuff is not real. Scary movies can be entertaining, but make no mistake, I believe that Satan, demons, evil, it’s all real. Satan is not a cartoon character in a red costume with horns, a cape and a pitch fork. He is pure evil and he wants nothing more than to knock you down and to keep you down.
I met up with a local pastor this past week and I only met him briefly for the first time a while back. He was hired as a youth pastor at a church in the area about a year ago and he has a heart for college students. So he wanted to meet with me since our church is active on the Caltech campus. In any case, we were standing in line to buy coffee and about 5 minutes into the conversation, I asked him a simple question, how has it been going? Normally, pastors say, it’s been good, God is good, some rough times, but God pulled me through. And so I was not expecting his response. He shared about his son and his daughter being molested by a kid in their neighborhood over a 7-8 month period. His son is 7, Jeremiah’s age, and he’s in therapy. You hear this and think, how can this happen? He’s a pastor and he opened up his home to love people in his neighborhood and this happened?!? Thankfully, he’s hanging in there, by God’s grace. But stories like this remind us that evil is real.
Satan’s greatest deception is to convince much of the world that he is not real. With all of our modern, scientific advances, have these things equipped us and given us a handle on the forces of darkness in the world? Is not just the opposite the case–that the cosmic forces of evil manage to get a handle on every human invention and every human institution and corrupt them and turn them for destruction? Nuclear power was a good idea but it has become the basis of international posturing and back and forth threats of mass destruction. Petroleum is necessary to fuel our cars but it has become the currency of international politics and determining who gets to control the global economy. Pain-relieving drugs were created with good intentions but it has become a multi-billion dollar market in life-destroying narcotics. Advances in medical science are great, but certain advances have also served to refine the technique of abortion to the point that many no longer feel any guilt when killing a baby. Capitalism is a great theory, but it has degenerated into money-loving greed and exploitation of third world countries. And the grand institution of the university is where you are supposed to seek truth, but it has become a place where God is dead because there are no absolutes and everything is relative.
We might not see Satan with our eyes because he is not visible, at least in Western countries, but if we think he doesn’t exist, we are making a serious miscalculation. While it may be true that Satan is not visible, yet, his fingerprints are everywhere. And because he is invisible, his influence can slip under the radar, and thus, the damage that he inflicts is far reaching.
12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood. In other words, our battle is not physical. Our battle is against the rulers, authorities, against the world powers and spiritual forces of darkness. Why does it seem like there is so much evil in the world? Because this world is under the rule of Satan. Satan is working overtime and he has blinded the minds of rulers and world powers, people in authority and he has mobilized them to abuse their power and take advantage of those without power. This means that many world leaders and world governments and nations are unwitting instruments of evil. They are accomplishing the wishes and desires of the devil and they are completely unaware.
Every day when I browse to CNN, I am reminded that the United States is under spiritual attack. Of course, there are nations around the world that would want nothing more than to see us destroyed. But in recent years, I believe that Satan is ramping up his attacks. Now the attacks are coming from within our own borders. I am not sure if we can call the United States a Christian nation any longer. Brothers and sisters, persecution is coming in the days ahead. Christians in this country will be faced with a choice. As the pressure mounts, many Christians will compromise, their hearts will grow cold and they will fall away while those who stand their ground will have to endure increasing hostility simply because we are followers of Christ. Don’t you find it odd that while there is incredible tolerance and openness in this country to all kinds of ideas and beliefs, yet when it comes to being a Christian, tolerance and openness go out the window? If you are a Christian, you will be labeled by a world controlled by Satan as an unthinking, rigid, exclusive, narrow minded bigot, even by fellow countrymen. Satan is going to ramp up his attacks. Prepare yourself in prayer for the days ahead.
Talking about Satan’s influence on a world scale might be a bit too abstract so let’s bring it down to our day to day life. How does Satan trip us up on a personal level?
12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood…
Unless you are a politician, you are probably not battling on a daily basis directly with evil institutions or world powers. But who do we battle with? We battle with people. The spiritual battlefield is our relationships. Some people can be like spiritual landmines. You step on the wrong person and your leg might get blown off. Eph 4-6–I mentioned this earlier. We battle in our churches with other brothers and sisters when there are conflicts. We battle in our marriages when we are in a bad mood and we speak an unkind word to our spouse. Or our husband does something to tick us off and we spew venom against him. We battle in our workplaces with difficult bosses and disrespectful coworkers.
What is the weapon of choice in this battle? Words. A hurtful word is spoken and the recipient hears it and what is their reaction? What is our reaction when someone offends us verbally? We get angry. And if we’re the confrontational type, we volley some words back, we lash out. Or if we’re not the confrontational type, we keep it in, but then we vent to our spouses, or our friends, or coworkers. Can you believe she said that? No, that’s horrible. Don’t take that. Stand up for yourself. The hurtful words hit the target and a fire starts in our hearts and the fiery anger spreads through more words of gossip and slander. This is how churches fall apart. This is how marriages disintegrate. This is how abuse happens in parenting and workplaces.
The children’s rhyme–sticks and stone will break my bones, but names will never hurt me–we all know that this rhyme is complete rubbish. Words do hurt, many times more than sticks and stones. Sticks and stones cause bruising or a cut that might last for a few days. But negative words can stay with us for decades. Negative words are spoken. And don’t you and I replay those negative words in our thoughts over and over? I bet you can remember negative things said about you from 10-20 years ago. You remember the exact words, the tone, the facial expressions, you remember every detail of that experience. Why? Because words affect our thoughts. And because we are thinking continuously about what that person said to us or about us, our anger toward them grows.
Anger simmers to a boil and like a pot of boiling water, anger bubbles to the top. We gossip and slander because if we don’t, too much pressure builds up inside and we just have to vent and let out a little bit of steam every so often so that we don’t blow our top. Those thoughts, when they are not properly dealt with, those words enter into repeat mode in an endless loop.