Text: Eph 6:10-18Audio file
This article was written by Dr. Heath Lambert, Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Seminary and Boyce College.
More Heat Than Light
I was so disappointed when David Murray posted about me on his website after some blogs I wrote last week on mental illness. I heard about his post from several people who read it, and who found it to be a harsh mischaracterization of my position about mental illness. When I read it I felt the same way.
His blog balanced light and heat with all of the subtlety of a Molotov cocktail—very hot, a lot of damage, but no enduring illumination.
David characterized my views as scary and potentially deadly and insinuated that I don’t think the physical body is important, and that an equation of mental illness with spiritual issues means I ignore suffering, and that such positions would keep troubled people from getting the help they need. I don’t believe any of those things. And have never, ever said them.
His response was also characterized by a certain immensity that I don’t think one blog in a series deserves. It may be a little early to have “Dashed hopes for biblical counseling.” I hope we can at least wait until the other blogs in the series are posted before we declare the sky to be falling.
I have written several blog posts that address these concerns and have edited a book (with several doctors and psychiatric professionals) that demonstrates how to care physically and spiritually for those diagnosed with mental illnesses. I am working on a couple of other blogs due out this week in the same series David commented on. I love people diagnosed with mental illness. I have done ministry with folks who struggle with these problems. They are in my family. I have never before been accused of believing the things David imposes on me. Mostly that is because I really don’t believe them.
As true as that is, I don’t desire a back-and-forth with David on the Internet. We’ve done that before, and I don’t find it helpful. Here I want to address a larger issue. That issue concerns how Believers ought to disagree with one another in an Internet age of blogs and Tweets. A tit-for-tat about mental illness will not be helpful until we’re coming at the issues in the right way.
I’ll mention three things that I believe should characterize us.
1. Listen first, blog second.
Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak (James 1:19)
Jesus loves relationship more than a fight. Disagreements might lead to more hits on a blog, but Jesus wants better things for his people. There is a time and a place for a public response to public statements. A loud, strong critique is often appropriate. But where did we ever learn that a spasm of publicity should precede hearing a matter out?
Perhaps David didn’t know that last week’s posts were only half the blogs in a larger series. He couldn’t have known that Part 3 on the importance of the body will release tomorrow. That is precisely why he should have checked with me first.
This isn’t about Matthew 18. D.A. Carson has written helpfully about the inapplicability of that passage to public discourse like David is engaging in. For me, this issue is about how we love one another well. David knows me a bit, and has spent some time with me. He has my phone number and email. It’s just wrong for me to learn from a church planter in Vermont that he used his blog to rebuke me for views I don’t hold.
We need conviction and caution here. We need conviction to respond to error. We need caution to be sure that we have perceived real error. This requires a willingness to listen. When you disagree with someone you know, it’s worth the effort to listen to him before lashing out in public.
2. Tell the truth about your brother.
Do not lie to one another seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices. (Colossians 3:9)
If we are going to have integrity in our disagreements we must tell the truth about our brother’s positions. That usually means restating their position in terms that they believe are fair. I simply do not see my own views reflected in what David Murray wrote about me.
You do not have to make something up out of whole cloth to tell a lie. Half-truths are every bit as deceptive as complete fabrications. Both misleading statements and blatant dishonesty disable the cause of truth.
The part that David got correct was that I took exception to how our culture understands and deals with mental illness. I stand by that. Our cultural understanding of this topic is defined by ignorance. Everything after this point in his piece is a distortion. How will that advance the cause of truth?
For example, you would not know from David’s piece that a massive collection of secular professionals actually agree with my assessment of the problem. In fact, in the blogs I’ve written on this topic I point to psychiatrists and psychologists who contributed to the DSM who say the same thing I do. David never mentioned this aspect of my post.
You also would not know from David’s piece that I believe there are important physical dynamics that must be addressed in helping struggling people. Tomorrow’s blog will address this in part 3 of the series I’m working on. My blog that David referenced in his critique didn’t emphasize this physical aspect of caring for people, but I still addressed it briefly. David didn’t quote that part.
3. Believe the best about your brother; don’t jump to conclusions.
Love believes all things (1 Corinthians 13:8)
It is an act of loving care to believe good things about your brother until you have evidence to believe otherwise. This means we should read and listen to folks charitably and extend an assumption of good motives to them for as long as we can. In the Kingdom of Christ, relationships are too important to think the worst of people.
In his blog David did not make many assertions. He did ask a lot of questions, however, assuming the worst, scariest, and deadliest answers from me.
Here’s one example: David asks about my position on medication. He cannot know my position since he has never spoken to me about it, and I’ve never really written about it. I certainly didn’t address it in the post. If he were to ask me, he would have found out that I’m all for medicinal interventions when it comes to physical problems. But David didn’t ask. He could have asked. He also could have thought the best of me, or he could have forestalled judgment. He didn’t do any of those. He jumped to the worst possible scenario.
That’s unloving, and as Believers I think we can do better than that.
Another way to frame this would be to treat others with the charity you would like to be treated (Matt 7:12). David has previously written another blog where he praised Steve Wellum and Justin Taylor for pushing back on one of his positions in a way that was, “A fine model of how important theology can be debated in a humble, respectful, constructive manner. There’s no attempt at point-scoring, no name-calling, and no impugning of motives.” I wish David had dispensed more liberally to me of the treatment he enjoyed receiving from others.
Speaking Truth in Love
I’m in the middle of a series on Jesus’ healing and mental illness. I’m also reaching out to David and trying to have a personal conversation. I’m praying that by the time the dust settles there is more light shed on this issue than heat. I’m praying that David will believe he has some answers to some of his good questions.
Until then I’m praying that all of us Christians in the digital age can learn that the biblical message first written on parchment with quill pen has relevance for what we write about one another on our blogs. Paul informs us that Speaking the truth in love we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Eph 4:15).
I know David wants the church of Jesus Christ to grow up in the way we think about mental illness. I’m so thankful for this good desire of his. I want the same thing.
God’s Word tells us that the only way we can have that maturity is to speak truthful content in a loving way.
Idle speech is an important theme in this letter. Words have power. What comes out of our mouth, our speech is critical. With words, we are to encourage and build each other up.
1 Thess 5
11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.
How are we to encourage and build each other up? To answer that, we have to read the verses just prior. 1 Thess 5:5-10 [READ].
These words were spoken and some of the brothers and sisters at Thessalonica were encouraged and built up in their faith. But not everyone was encouraged and built-up. How do we know this? Paul gives some clues that this church was having some internal problems of disunity.
1 Thess 5
13 …Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thess 5
15 See to it that no one repays evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for one another and for all.
Why would he say, be at peace AMONG yourselves? Or, why would he have to give the very obvious reminder NOT to repay evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good for everyone? These are such obvious points, but somehow, in their context, it became not so obvious. Peace and unity in a church filled with broken people is such a fragile thing. How is peace lost and how is basic Christian behavior of not repaying evil and looking toward the good of others lost? Through careless, hurtful words.
Careless, hurtful words destroyed the peace and unity of this church and made things that are obvious–like don’t be evil but pursue the good of others–these things which are obvious became not so obvious to them. It’s doesn’t say exactly what happened at this church for Paul to have to spell out, you guys need to go get a job, to work quietly and to mind their own business, but I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine how the peace at this church was shattered. Because this scene happens over and over at every church that has ever existed.
I can picture some well-intentioned brothers and sisters who were not working, they had some idle, free time, and they were sitting around the table at someone’s house. And they just start talking. The talk was harmless at first. Weather, politics, food, but as time goes on, you run out of interesting topics to talk about so I bet they started talking about people, esp. other brothers and sisters in the church.
Did you see so and so? He’s working late again. Doesn’t he know that Christ is coming back? I know. He should be praying like us. Yeah, he’s thoroughly unprepared spiritually, I mean how can anyone prepare themselves when he is working so many hours? Yeah, we got to pray for that brother.
Someone else chimes in. Did you hear about so and so? I heard their family took a vacation by the Sea of Galilee. What? Really? At a time like this? Shouldn’t they be mourning the loss of our beloved brother who got martyred, what was it, a few months ago? Yeah, and Jesus is coming back any day now, what if Jesus comes back and they’re out sailing on the Sea of Galilee instead of fasting and praying like us?
Can’t you imagine the conversations around somebody’s dinner table and this kind of talk is being spoken, hour after hour, for days, weeks, months?
What’s going to happen? The church is going to be torn apart. By careless, hurtful words. What’s behind those careless, hurtful words? A spirit of judgment. A judgmental spirit. A proud spirit. I am living like this but how come others are not measuring up?
What if you are on the receiving end of these careless, hurtful words? You get angry. Who does this person think he is? Am I under surveillance? Are they the spiritual police, watching my every move? What makes them so spiritual? I am out there in the field sweating to make a living. Those lazy bums. I am going over to their house and give them a piece of my mind.
What’s happening? A fracture is forming. A judgmental spirit has led to evil being done to a fellow brother or sister and now those words have inflicted damage. The recipient of those hurtful words is wounded and now he speaks out of his woundedness. When someone is wounded, their speech quickly degenerates. Like when you’re in a fight. You say something and your spouse is hurt and so she says something back and the fight escalates. And you are just slicing and dicing each other with your words.
If one of the Thessalonian brothers is a victim of this idle talk, he may give these idle brothers a piece of his mind and what he says might be right on the money. But if he’s wounded and he speaks, how do you think he would confront these idle brothers? With malice in his heart. With anger. The content can be right because Paul would agree–idle people, get off the couch and get a job–but even right content if delivered in the wrong way can cause damage. You can’t justify an evil retaliation simply because you are the victim of evil. You can’t say, they hurt me so I can hurt them. No, that’s not Christian. We are to love even our enemies so when someone does evil toward us, what should be our response? Still, as a follower of Christ, we are to seek the good of the other, even the enemy.
This relates back to my thesis for this letter–proper faith and proper hope leads to proper love. How should we love each other properly? Did you know that there is a proper way of loving someone and an improper way of loving someone?
Loving someone improperly is saying, I’m more spiritual than you and so I just have to get this off of my chest and you’re going to have to take it because I’ve been Christian longer and you know that I love you, right? Then, they proceed to blast you with what you did wrong and how this reflects your sinful heart. And the issue is something stupid like buying the wrong pie for church. This is not loving someone properly for many reasons. First of all, it’s not a sin to buy the wrong pie. It’s a mistake, but certainly it’s not a sin because we all make mistakes.
Maybe I’m the pastor of this church and I love pumpkin pie but you bought pecan pie and so I sit you down, and I start admonishing you mostly out of annoyance that I can’t eat my favorite dessert. But to really make my point, I ascribe motive to your mistake. Like, I am allergic to pecans and so I assume you don’t love me because if you loved me, you’d know that I’m allergic to pecans and you would’ve remembered to buy pumpkin pie. Or, I accuse you of making this mistake because you don’t have love in your heart so this incident is a reflection of how your heart is so selfish. Obviously, anyone with half a brain would look at this scenario and conclude, this is not right. This is improper. This is not love. I am not loving this person at all. In fact, I am damaging this person. And because of my hurting this person, they may stumble and leave church and forsake Christ. And that’s on me because I’m the one who blasted this person for no good reason.
Have you ever said something, and as soon as you said it, you wished you could take it back? Like when I’m tired or stressed and I’m in a bad mood and let’s say Jackie and I are late for some important meeting, and I say, Jackie, why are you always late? Why are we always having to rush? Did you have to put that last load in the washer or cook quiche and bacon and eggs when cereal and milk would have been fine because we were in a time crunch? And I blame Jackie when I am equally to blame for being late. I wasn’t complaining when I was eating the bacon, but I am blaming now that we’re late. Husbands, you know what I mean. We are descendants of Adam and so we have the blame gene in us. God, I didn’t want to bite the fruit. The woman, she made me do it! And God, actually, I was fine when I was single, didn’t you create this woman? This woman, YOU put here, basically Adam blames God and fails to take responsibility for his sin.
Going back to the example, even if I say sorry to Jackie, those words did some damage. My bad mood affected Jackie and my kids are walking on egg shells. I can’t take my words back. Words have a way of lingering in the air. Words can do some serious damage. Don’t believe the children’s rhyme–sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me. That’s a lie. Sticks and stones can break your bones, that’s true. But WORDS can break your soul and your spirit. A bone can heal in a few months, but wounds from hurtful words can last for decades.
Matthew shared with me this past week and I thought it was so true so I wanted to share with you. In Genesis, when Isaac was tricked and he ended up blessing Jacob instead of Esau, did you ever wonder why Isaac couldn’t take back the blessings that he gave to Jacob and give it instead to Esau. He could have said, I take back the blessings. Or I made a mistake. Or just kidding! Or it didn’t count because I had my fingers crossed. He couldn’t take back the blessing. The words were spoken. The spiritual blessing went forth and it was impossible to take it back. You said it and that’s final. It’s out there. This account teaches us an important lesson. The words we speak, to bless or to curse are this powerful and permanent. We need to be careful with what comes out of our mouth.
Back to my thesis for this letter–proper faith and proper hope leads to proper love. We are going to focus on the final part, how do we properly love one another? But before we do, a quick recap. Two Sundays ago, we looked at this church at Thessalonica and this church was rock solid in their faith. The gospel was preached at Thessalonica and it was more than a message that they heard on a Sunday. The gospel message came into their hearts in power and the Holy Spirit transformed them from within. Christianity was more than a religious lifestyle. They had encountered the risen Jesus and they were emboldened to follow Him whatever the cost. Some paid the highest price and they were martyred for their faith due to Roman persecution.
I wonder how many of us would show up next Sunday to church if the U.S. government suddenly decided tomorrow to ban Christianity and anyone who ignored the ban would be thrown into prison and possibly executed. Think about that. Would news like this scare you off from attending church? Maybe that’s hard to imagine. So start by examining the things that discourage you. You slept wrong and your neck is stiff. Your 401K portfolio dropped a few points in value. You made a mistake at work. You got a bad grade. Your boss yelled at you. You lost your kindle. This past week, a car just drove right in front of me when I had the right of way and I hit in head on. I was fine and the other party was fine, but it’s a hassle to go through insurance and get a repair. Would these things stumble you? How easily you get stumbled is a good indicator of how strong your faith is.
Sometimes, I feel like we have faith that resembles a dandelion. You know what a dandelion is, it’s those weeds that look like cotton balls. A little puff of air and then all the little white things fly away. Do you have a dandelion faith, do you get easily stumbled by little puffs of air, little obstacles, small bumps, tiny setbacks?
Guys, we got to get serious. If you are easily discouraged, do you think you would be able to stand up for Christ and risk your life? For the Thessalonians, they not only stood their ground, but they boldly proclaimed the gospel and the gospel advanced until it was heard throughout the entire region of Achaia.
Satan couldn’t shake the faith of these Thessalonians the same way he shook the faith of the Corinthians or the Galatians or the Colossians so what does he do? Satan goes after their hope. We looked at this last week. Some of the brothers must have started prophesying that Jesus was coming back soon. There is nothing wrong with this. This is a true statement. Jesus IS coming back soon. But some of the members there took it a step further. They said, not only is Jesus returning soon, but I received a vision or I had a dream and God told me that Jesus is going to return on such and such day.
So what do you do when you have people who say they have received a prophecy from the Lord and part of what they are saying is good and biblical and other parts seem to contradict Scripture?
Paul ends this letter with a bunch of practical tips and one of them addresses this exact scenario. 1 Thess 5:19-22 [READ]
Don’t stifle the Spirit and don’t despise prophecies. Prophecies still occur today and we shouldn’t stifle the Spirit by saying that God doesn’t speak anymore through prophecies and dreams and visions. He does. It doesn’t happen to me, but I know people where God does speak to them in these ways. But Paul doesn’t say embrace every prophecy either because there are many false prophets out there. What are we to do? v21 – we are to test all things. If what we hear is good, like Jesus is coming back soon, we should hold on to it. Yes, Maranatha, Lord Jesus, come back quickly. But at the same time, we need to test it. How do we test prophecies? Scripture.
Scripture says, Jesus is coming back soon so this is consistent with Scripture so we can hold on to this. But if like the Thessalonians, someone says, Jesus is coming on this precise date, again, we go back to Scripture. We can look at Scripture and it says, no one can predict the date because Jesus will come like a thief in the night, totally unexpected and it will catch many off guard. So pinning Christ’s return on a specific date is clearly contradictory to Scripture so where did this “prophecy” come from? From an evil source, not God, so stay away from this and every other kind of evil.
Here’s another way of testing prophecies. This argument is not as air tight, but by studying the example of this church at Thessalonica, I think we can glean some additional wisdom to discern whether or not something is from the Lord or it isn’t. If something is from God, things just work out and people are blessed. If things are not from God, things don’t work out and people are hurt. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but we can test things by looking at the outcome when we choose a specific course of action based on someone’s prophetic guidance.
What happened when people followed this prophecy of Jesus’ imminent return? He’s coming back on such and such date. What happened as a result of this prophecy? Some quit their jobs. They became idle and in their idleness, some fell into sexual sin and others fell into the sin of idle talk. This idle speech was so harmful that it even threatened to rip this church apart and so the result of the prophecy didn’t build up the body of Christ, but it hurt the body of Christ. The outcome was negative so we have to question the prophecy. Test all things.
Let’s explore the progression of spiritual attack. Negative words spoken against us lead to anger and then the words turn into repeated thoughts and these repeated thoughts harden into strongholds. And once Satan has a stronghold in your heart, you’ve lost the spiritual battle.
If you are not growing spiritually, chances are, there is a stronghold in your life. Some unresolved anger from your past that affects your thoughts and has solidified into a stronghold of unforgiveness or bitterness or resentment. And it doesn’t matter how hard you try to read the Bible or serve at the church, nothing penetrates.
We can’t do anything about other people saying nasty things about us. But we can do something about our reaction. Starting with anger. Anger opens the door to Satan and if you allow anger to remain in your heart too long, he will wreak havoc on your soul. If you don’t believe me, here are some verses about anger.
Let’s start with a few proverbs.
29 A patient person shows great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness.
11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man holds it in check.
1 A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.
19 My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 20 for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.
8 But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.
Now let me read the very words of Jesus spoken from his own mouth during his debut sermon in…
22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.
And finally, if we look at the book we are studying currently, please turn with me to Eph 4:26–
26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the Devil an opportunity… [jumping down to v31] 31 All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.
You are not supposed to let the sun go down on your anger. In other words, spouses, don’t yell at each other and sleep in separate rooms. Because if the anger remains unresolved until the following morning, you are giving the Devil an opportunity to tempt you, to cause you to fall further into sin, to affect your thoughts and to lead you to inappropriate actions like more anger, wrath, shouting, slandering your spouse before your friends, becoming malicious toward them. Or some spouses fight in a frigid cold war where you stop speaking to one another. Either way, a nuclear war or a cold war, if you let your anger remain and you don’t deal with it, you are giving Satan a chance to form a stronghold in your heart.
12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood…
Paul’s point is this. This is so important to understand. Understanding this is the difference between a victorious life and a defeated life. When someone says something to tick you off, what do you see in front of you? You see an angry person who wants to hurt you. But, when Paul looks in front of him, he doesn’t see a person. What Paul sees is the source underneath those hurtful and negative words–Paul sees none other than Satan himself. Paul recognizes that Satan is using that person to tear him down. So your ultimate battle is with Satan, not the person. Do you believe that?
If you think the person who spoke a hurtful word is your enemy, you will direct all of your weapons and artillery and missiles at him or her. All of your anger, your words, the gossip, slander, your vengeful spirit will be pointed and fired at the person who offended you. But if you recognize that your battle is not against flesh and blood, not against people, but the Evil One, then your response would not be anger, or words fired back or gossip and slander, but you would respond in prayer.
So the next time you are faced with a situation when someone wrongs you, don’t direct your anger at the person. Direct your energy, channel your anger to pray against the power of evil that seeks to destroy you.
How should you pray? We need to put on the full armor of God in prayer. But what does that look like concretely?. I want to end with a few practical applications.
1) Go into battle with Jesus.
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. We 14 Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest…
17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
Some people mistake the belt of truth with the Word of God. The truth and the Word of God are two different things. The truth is the belt, something that holds everything together, your pants, your shirt, the sheath for your sword. The Word of God is not the belt, v17, it is the sword of the Spirit. It is an offensive weapon.
The belt of truth is Jesus Christ. When it’s time to preach on the verse in Eph 4 about speaking the truth in love, I will make the case that the truth is Jesus. For now, in the interest of time, just trust me. Jesus is the way, the TRUTH and the life. The helmet of salvation is related because the helmet protects your head, your thoughts. Instead of thinking about how you are wronged by others and instead of meditating on how angry you are, meditate instead on your salvation. What Christ did for you by dying on a cross for your sins. Meditate on that day and night. Guard your mind with the helmet of salvation. The belt of truth, Jesus, holds everything together. That is the one truth you must never forget. Because if you lose sight of this one central truth, everything else falls apart.
2) Go on the offensive–know the Word and share the gospel.
The Word is a sword. Knowing the Word will give you a sharp weapon with which to fight the spiritual battle. Learn the Word, study the Word, meditate on the Word and then go on the offensive. Also, v15–
15 and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.
You need your feet in order to stand. Although it can make sense that we can stand on the gospel of peace, meaning what Jesus did for us, we mustn’t miss the word “readiness.” Our feet are sandaled with the READINESS for the gospel of peace. Feet are necessary to stand, but they are also necessary for movement. So I think the better interpretation is that we must be ready to use our feet to move where God needs us to be and to share the gospel of peace with people who need to hear it.
Paul continues this thread in v19–
19 Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel. 20 For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough in Him to speak as I should.
We need to know the Word, but not simply for us to stand individually. We need to know the Word and put it into action by moving and sharing the gospel boldly. I think this illustrates the principle that sometimes the best defense is a strong offense. Armor is needed to defend ourselves from attackers, but the point of putting on armor is going out to battle. If you are standing behind a fortress wall all the time and you are afraid to move out into battle to save souls, then you will find the walls of the fortress may begin to crumble. But if you are active and moving where the Spirit needs you to be, and your feet are ready to move for the sake of the gospel and you are on the offensive, I think such a person will be much better off spiritually than someone who hides away in a tower where no one can reach him.
3) When the battle is fiercest, hide behind Jesus.
16 In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Hurtful words that are spoken against us are like flaming arrows. It hits the target, our hearts, and because the arrows have fiery tips, we are ablaze with anger and the fires of hell spread out from there. Instead of falling for Satan’s tactics, we can pray for faith. Who is our faith directed toward? Jesus. He is the shield of our faith. When we are weak, we can literally hide behind Jesus, our shield. When someone says something hurtful, instead of becoming angry and opening the door to Satan, pray. If the words are really hard to handle, tell Jesus, I can’t handle it. I am not humble, I am not gentle, I am not gracious toward this person who is attacking me, but Jesus, you are. You are humble, you are gentle, you are gracious. Please forgive them and help me to forgive them. This is what hiding behind Jesus looks like.
4) Lastly, intercede for the saints.
18 Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.
You and I will go through days when our defenses are down. That’s why we need to intercede for one another. At a church, we may be standing upright as individuals, but if Satan attacks the brother or sister next to us, even though we were strong, suddenly, we’re at risk. Because Satan will use that brother or sister to come after us. Pray for one another. Intercession forms a canopy of protection over us.
Knowing life is a battle for our souls and recognizing that our battle is not flesh and blood, let’s put on the full armor of God and be vigilant for ourselves and for one another.
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.