November 10, 2019

Know Your Opponent

Passage: Ephesians 6:10-13
Service Type:
Major League Baseball players are looking for any edge that they can get over their competition. That's why Major League hitters study the delivery of the pitchers they're facing that night. If they can pick up even the slightest change in a pitcher's delivery, such as when he throws a slider versus when he throws a fastball, then the hitter has a clear advantage. When you know a pitch is headed your way, when you know what pitch is headed your way, it's much easier to have success in hitting that pitch rather than trying to have to wait and identify that pitch after it comes out of the pitcher's hand and comes at you 100 miles an hour. So this year in the playoffs, which just finished up a couple of weeks ago, the Tampa Bay Rays were playing the Houston Astros, then the Houston Astros were heavily favored to win the series and move on to the championship round. And the underdog race took the series to a final and decisive game five, and the winner would move on to the next round. And the loser would have to go home and spend all winter wondering what went wrong. Well, the race started a pitcher by the name of Tyler Glasnow. Unfortunately for Tyler, he didn't last long that night. He didn't, in fact, he didn't even make it out of the third inning before he gave up four runs on five hits. So we have to ask, was it just an off night for Tyler? Did he just have a bad game was that what was going on? Well, the Houston Astros didn't think so. In fact, they claim that Tyler was tipping his pitches, which means that he was doing something that allowed them to know exactly what pitch he was going to throw. They took advantage of that knowledge, which propelled them on to eventually move on to the World Series. Having that advantage was the key to their victory.
So in your spiritual battles, God has given you an advantage. And your God-given advantage is twofold. First of all, God has revealed the identity of your enemy. It's hard to fight against an enemy if you don't know who it is. So that's the first advantage that God has given to you. The second advantage God has given to you is the knowledge of how your enemy operates. God, in His Word, has revealed the tactics and the strategy of your enemy. So keep that in mind as we work our way through these verses this morning. And the reason I went back to verse 10 and began reading there is that this all works together. So Paul begins in verse 10, by reminding us that we operate, that we as believers, we operate from a position of strength. Do you see that? We, as God's children, whether we accept it or not, we operate from a position of strength. So Paul starts here on a positive note. He builds us up, he builds up our confidence. He reminds us as we've said before, that "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." He gives us good news. He gives us the good news that we operate, that we function, that our ability, that our confidence rests in the Lord and in His strength. But notice this, His strength is not enough, that's why we need the armor. Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God. Why? So that we can stand against the wiles of the devil, against the schemes of the devil. So, he provides us with His strength, He provides us with His armor, He provides us with the armor worn by the Lord Jesus Christ. I will say this again: the armor that we have is battle-tested. It has been proven in battle. The armor is the armor of victory. This armor was put to the most severe test and it functioned without fail. It was tested in life and death situations without failing.
So Paul makes it clear that when we put on the whole armor of God, we will stand. That's our advantage. That's our advantage against the enemy. We will be protected. We will be able to defend ourselves against any attack that comes our way. So Paul builds us up, he gives us confidence he strengthens us, he puts our mind at ease, he prepares us for victory. I wonder when you read these verses, are you reading them from the victor's standpoint, or from a defeatist standpoint? You should be reading them from the standpoint of victory. Paul's saying, "this is how you will be victorious." Not might be, maybe be, hoped to be, you will be victorious. If you are, "strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might,"  and if you, "put on the whole armor of God", you will be victorious. I ask you again: do you believe that? If you don't believe it, do I have to preach for another six months on this? Say, "No I believe I believe." We need these continual reminders of who we are in Christ, and what is ours through Christ. We need to continually tell ourselves that Jesus Christ lives in us. Do you meditate on that truth? Christ lives in us.
Well at the end of verse 11, Paul introduces the reason why we must understand that we operate from a position of strength. Remember, if you are indeed a Christian if you love Jesus, and follow Him, and obey Him, His power is already at work in you. And I emphasize this again, you don't have to ask for it, you simply take advantage of it. You use what He has made available to you. I've been racking my brain trying to come up with some kind of an analogy to help us understand this and get this. Let me give this another shot. When you eat, your body takes the food that you eat, and among other things, it turns it into glucose. Glucose is just a fancy word for sugar. That glucose is what provides your body with the energy to move, to work, to help you get up out of that pew in a few moments to go downstairs and get a snack and refuel. That glucose is always there whether you recognize it or not. It's always at work. I doubt that anybody in the room got up this morning said, "Glucose, I need you." You say, "That's stupid." Granted. Why is it stupid? Because it's there. It's always there. It's always providing for us the energy that we need. To be "strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might", is to recognize that Christ lives in you. He's always there, like glucose, He's always at work within you. The Lord Jesus supplies the power that we need to live spiritually. We don't have to ask for it. We simply go about our lives, living by faith that Christ lives in us, and that He has promised to supply whatever it is that we need. I'm afraid we as Christians have been bamboozled into thinking that we've somehow got to plead with God and beg God to give us His power, to give us His strength. And I think sometimes He's wanting to shout it as I did, "Christ lives in you. There's nothing more I can give to you." So it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ lives in us and the life that we now live in the flesh, we live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. Christ lives in you. If you are in Christ, Christ is in you. You cannot have one without the other. Believe it. Live by it. I ask you: what will it take to get you to believe that? What will it take to get you to realize this is your natural state as a believer? We must be strong in the strength of the Lord and the strength of His might because we are constantly confronted with the schemes of the devil.
So Paul gives us a positive before he introduces us to the negative. The positive is: the Lord's strength and the Lord's armor. The negative is: we must contend with the schemes of the devil. And we saw last week that the schemes of the devil are cunningly devised, they are often subtle, they may even appear to be benign, they may on the surface appear to be totally harmless.
Where's Ben and Victoria? They're backslid on the back row and in the sound booth. Did the girls have a venus flytrap this summer or something like that? Did, huh? [pastor Craig talking to Ben and Victoria]. The Breeding's had it? Okay. So sorry, your family's out on the illustration. The Breeding's are in. [laughter] So they had a venus flytrap, which probably is made more famous in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. But that's for another day. But I don't know if you realize or not, but that plant is a carnivore. It's a meat-eater. We probably all have seen a venus flytrap, right? Not a pretty plant. I don't think you'd give it to your date and say, "Here you go, honey." So this thing opens up and it's got like these little spines or tentacles or something, you know? And it just waits for an unsuspecting fly or a spider to crawl in. But you know, the funny thing about the venus flytrap is: it practices patience. As soon as a fly lands on it, it doesn't snap shut. It waits, according to researchers, around 20 seconds. It waits to see if there's more movement. And once it senses that second movement, you know what it does? Whamo, dinnertime. See that's the way the schemes of Satan are. They're subtle. The plant doesn't look harmful. It looks rather benign. And the schemes, the devices of Satan, are like that. They get Christians to wander into them thinking not much is going to happen, and perhaps at first, not much does happen. But then when the moment's right, what happens? Satan springs the trap and he snares us. See? That's why we have to, "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." Because we never know when the attack is going to come.
I think we have a pretty good idea that when we are weak, perhaps physically and spiritually, that we know that we are subject to attack. That perhaps we are more susceptible to attack when we are weak. But you know what? Do you know what I find? Do you know what my experience has been? I am much more susceptible to attack when I am spiritually strong. The worst day of the week for me is not Sunday. It's Monday. The point is, your enemy will attack you. Yes, when you are weak, but he doesn't care. Even if you're strong, he will attack you then. His attacks can come at any time. And that's why Paul says, "Put on the whole armor of God." So then he says, "We wrestle not with flesh and blood." The meaning is pretty obvious, is that we are not in combat with other human beings. Yes, there will be times when we have to deal with the sins of others. There will be times when we suffer the consequences of the sins of others and their effects that they have on us. But many times, human beings are simply unwitting pawns of the unseen spiritual forces that exert their unholy influence in our world. I am not absolving those people of their personal responsibility because they are responsible for their actions, even though they have been influenced.
So, these spiritual forces that Paul describes, they exert their influence through religion or politics or economics or education, in our government. They all can be influenced by these unseen forces that are at work in our world. Now, the word "wrestle" here is an interesting word choice by the Apostle Paul. It's the only time this word is used in the New Testament. But it helps us to understand the personal nature of spiritual warfare. The term is used to describe hand to hand fighting. If you've seen the Jason Bourne movies, you know, they've got that unique style of fighting? That's similar to what Paul's talking about here. It's hand to hand combat. In other words, the spiritual battles that we face are not taking place out there somewhere or over there somewhere, they're taking place right in front of us. We are being confronted with these spiritual battles in a very personal way. And wrestling in the ancient world was characterized by deception and trickery. They would do whatever they could, whether it was legal or illegal to win the fight.

And that's what Paul's trying to get us to see. Listen, he's saying, "Believer, you need to understand that you have an enemy, your enemy is powerful, and your enemy has no scruples, and they will do whatever they have to do, whatever they can do in order to win the fight. You better be aware of that. You better be strong in the Lord, you better put on the whole armor of God because if you don't, you will lose." Going back to the Jason Bourne hand fighting. Do you think that I would have a chance against that kind of fighting? I mean, I wouldn't even blink once and I'd be out for the count. But you know what? It's the very same thing in a spiritual realm. Maybe even more so. It happens so quickly. We are powerless. In and of ourselves to stop it. We're defenseless in and of ourselves to fight back. So the spiritual battles that you as a believer are engaged in are personal. They're up close and personal. This is your reality as a child of God. Your enemy, I emphasize again, will stop at nothing to defeat you. Listen, he'll try multiple attacks, he'll try multiple tactics, he'll devise multiple strategies, he's not going to quit. In and of yourself, in your own strength, without the armor of God, you will never hear the enemy cry "uncle." In fact, you'll be the one crying "uncle."

So who are we wrestling with? If we're not wrestling against flesh and blood, then who are we wrestling with? Well, Paul describes an array of demonic forces that have been organized in this cosmic struggle against God. So first of all, he says "there's rulers." These are supernatural beings that oversee the spiritual forces of evil. Then Paul goes on to describe the authorities, the cosmic powers, and again, the spiritual forces of evil. Without going into them in great detail because they all in a sense mean the same thing. They're rulers, they're authorities, they're powerful, and they have been tasked with exerting influence over the various powers of this world. Again, such as false religion, or economic systems, or even governments. So the way that Paul describes the struggle here is to help us understand that we wrestle against an organized opponent.

What can we draw from that? The very fact that they are organized means that they take this seriously. I wonder, do we as believers take it as seriously as they do? Just examine your life. Do you see repeated spiritual failure after spiritual failure after spiritual failure? Could it be that you're not taking this seriously? They have a plan and they tirelessly and relentlessly; they execute their plan. They have a goal and nothing distracts them from the goal. They have leadership, they have a strategy, they have a plan of attack, they're prepared, they're skillful they are experienced, and we would be foolish not to take them seriously. And in our own strength, we inevitably will fail in this spiritual hand-to-hand combat. Paul told the believers at Corinth, "Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands" what "take heed lest he" win? No fall. Fail. Suffer defeat. See, it's only as I recognize my weakness will I begin to operate from a position of strength. I know that sounds like a paradox, but according to the Bible, it's not. It's only as I admit my weakness, that I began to experience the power of God at work within me. Again Paul 2 Corinthians 12, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 'Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses,'" boy that's unAmerican, "so that the power of Christ may rest on me. For the sake of Christ and I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecution, and calamities. For when I am weak." What's it say? "Then I am strong."

So in light of our enemy, once again, in verse 13, Paul instructs us to take up the whole armor of God. Now notice he says, "put on" first now he says, "take up." So how are we understand this taking up? I think we can understand it this way: what is understood when we say that we're going to take up the cause of the poor? Or we're going to take up the cause of the the homeless and the hungry? Well, we understand that to take up that calls means that we are going to get involved. It means that we are not going to sit on the sidelines complaining about it and wringing our hands over it. No, we are going to what? We're going to get involved, we're going to take up the call, we're going to take up the fight, we are going to exert the effort and the energy needed to combat the cause on behalf of the calls. Say well what is my cause as a Christian? What cause am I to take up? Well, we are to take up the cause of Christ. We are to take up the cause of the glory of God, we are to take up the whole armor of God and prepare ourselves to stand against the schemes of the devil. The devil who hates the cause of Christ, the devil who desires to use his schemes to discredit God, and rob Him of His glory. And when we begin to understand the nature of the battle and the organization of the forces were engaged against, we must surely understand the need to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might, and why we must take up the whole armor of God.
And what does Paul say once again? If we take up the whole armor of God, we will be able to withstand in the evil day. Say, what's the evil day? Today's the evil day. The days that we live in are the evil day. The evil day began the moment that Adam and Eve fell in the Garden of Eden. Ever since then, this world has been filled with evil days. These are not the "good old days". There's never been any "good old days" since the fall. These are evil days. And if we're not "strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" old King James coming in there, and if we're not "putting on the whole armor of God", guess what? We're not going to be able to withstand in the evil day.
Let's think about something for a moment. There is a sense in which taking up the whole armor of God is negative. So what do you mean? Well, the very fact that the Apostle Paul tells you to "put on and take up the whole armor of God" means that we need it. He wouldn't tell us to do something unless we needed it. See we have to develop this mindset as a Christian. It's not if we are going to be attacked, but that we are actively under attack. And that's why we have to take up the whole armor of God. You're going to need it if you're going to be able to withstand in the evil day.
Now in verse 14, he expands our understanding. Earlier he says that we will be able to stand, but now he uses the word "withstand", and he does so on purpose. To withstand is to oppose, to withstand is to be against, to withstand is to express opposition. In other words, effort and exertion are implied here. We are not to allow ourselves to become victims of the devil's schemes, nor are we to sit back and allow our brothers and sisters in Christ to fall prey to the devil's schemes.
For instance, what should you do if you see a brother or sister in Christ in danger of falling prey to one of Satan's schemes? Well, our first response is, "Well, I'll pray for them." Good. That's a good response. But it's not nearly enough. According to the Bible, it's not nearly enough. For instance, when you see a person drowning, do you shout from the shore, "I'm praying for you!?" Well, you could, but here's a better plan of attack. While you're praying for them, you're throwing them a lifeline. You're doing something. They're going under for perhaps the last time and if you don't do something, they're not going to make it. And listen, we say we love each other as Christians. But how many times do we stand back and let people make shipwreck of their lives? Far too often I'm afraid. I'm not saying be "mr. budinski" and you're into everybody's business. That's not what I'm saying at all. But when you see somebody that is falling prey to one of Satan's schemes, you have a biblical responsibility to step in. To let them know. You may be rebuffed. They may tell you to mind your own business, but you still have the responsibility to reach out and do what you can. So we arm ourselves with prayer, we arm ourselves with the Gospel, we arm ourselves with the righteousness of Christ, we arm ourselves with the faith that comes from God; we arm ourselves by filling our minds with Scripture and yielding our will to the Holy Spirit, so that the Holy Spirit fills us and controls us and guides us and directs us; we arm ourselves so that we will be able to withstand in the evil day.
So Paul says, "The result of taking up and putting on the whole armor of God is you will be able to withstand in the evil day", now notice this, "and having done all." I take this to mean, that you and I as believers, we properly equip ourselves with a knowledge of who you are in Christ, all that God is for you in Christ, and all that God has provided for you in Christ. And then, having done all that, you will be able to stand firm. Listen, you don't stand firm by hoping it happens. You stand firm by obedience. God is glorified in our obedience. What's more important to God than His glory? Nothing. And we sit back sometimes we say, "Well how can I glorify God?" It's very simple. Obey Him. Be strong in the Lord, and then the strength of His might put on the whole armor of God. Obey Him.
By the way, to stand firm is to endure. Which, I'm pretty sure is the opposite of giving up and giving in. To stand firm is to withstand, to oppose with courage and confidence. By the way, to stand firm is not just for the moment, it's for the long haul. For the long haul. Far too frequently we hear of Christians that perhaps that we admired and we looked up to, and word comes that they have what? They've messed up. They've fallen. They've sinned. You know what? They may have endured for a moment, but they did endure for the long haul. They failed and they brought reproach upon the name of Christ. They failed and their failure tarnished the glory of God and the eyes of the unbelieving world. You say, "What happened?" Well, you may not know all the details, but I'm confident saying this: they put down the armor. They took off the armor They weren't strong in the Lord. They failed to realize the serious nature of the Christian's conflict, and at the height of their fame and their fortune, they fell prey to the schemes of the devil.
Just about a year ago, Sherry and Ben and Matt and I went saw a documentary of one of my favorite singers of all time, Christian singer, Russ Taff. And, Russ Taff, he skyrocketed to fame with a group called "The Imperials." I mean they won every Dove Award and Grammy Award that Christian artists were winning back in the day. In fact, Sherry and I, very first live music event I ever went to was to see The Imperials and Russ Taff in concert. I'll never forget, we were about four rows from the front (and I never have regained my hearing since that day) and, Russ Taff, this man, with a huge voice, walked out on stage (course I'd never seen in person) and he's about this tall [measure head and shoulder height lower than Pastor Craig]. Wow, what a powerful voice. Kind of like first time Todd saw John Piper, "Is that him? That really him?" Yeah that's him. Russ Taff left The Imperials and went on his own to produce hit record after hit record after hit record. I've still got them all. And all of a sudden Russ Taff disappeared. Over 10 years he was not heard from, and then he made a CD called "Right Here Right Now". It's pretty good, but he disappeared again. What in the world was going on with Russ Taff. You know what happened? At the height of his fame, at the pinnacle of his success, he became an alcoholic, lost his career, almost lost his family, but thank God. There were people who intervened in his life and Russ Taff, now in his 60's sounds as good as ever,  and every once in a while makes a CD. So don't think it can't happen to you. It can happen to you. You're not bulletproof. And so many, like Jesus, Satan took them to the pinnacle of the temple and tempted them with all the world has to offer, but unlike Jesus, they failed. Where Jesus resisted, they gave in. Where Jesus experienced victory, they experienced the bitter pill of sin and they experienced the agony of defeat. They chose to trade the long term blessings of obedience for momentary pleasure. And folks that's all the devil needs, one moment.
So how can you avoid spiritual failure? By taking advantage of the resources and the knowledge that God has given to you. This is great news. Your enemy has tipped his pitch. You know what's coming. You know who it's coming from. Your God-given knowledge and resources equip you to win. Every day is a battle. Therefore, every day you must put on the Lord Jesus. Every day you must put on the whole armor of God. Every day you must take up the whole armor of God. Every day you must stand, to withstand, endure. Every day you must resist the devil and you have God's promise that when you resist the devil, he will what? Hang around. No, he will flee. You must admit your weakness and be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. You must make sure that you have done all. And here's the wonderful news: once that you to have done your part, Jesus will undoubtedly do His. He will not fail you