In the 6th century BC, Sun Tzu, the famous Chinese military strategist, said this in The Art of War: “Every battle is won or lost before it is fought.” Before the battle, you have to know the terrain that you’re fighting on. You have to know your enemy. And you have to know the capabilities of your weapons.
It’s no different in the spiritual war. We have to know the terrain. We have to know where the battle is being fought. Is it being fought in our own hearts? Is it being fought in a relationship, in our marriage, or with our children? Is it being fought in our church? Is it being fought at work? Is it being fought in our community or the world at large? We also have to know the enemy. We’ve talked about our enemies—the flesh, the world, and Satan. We have to know when our flesh, that internal predisposition to rebel and sin, rears its ugly head. We have to understand when the world’s value system covertly creeps in or overtly bombards us. And we have to know when Satan is trying to deceive, destroy, or accuse us. But we also have to know our weapons… because if we don’t understand the weapons at our disposal, we won’t know how to fight. So here’s the key question:
In the spiritual war, what are our weapons and how do we use them?
Take a look at Ephesians 6:10-20. It’s the quintessential passage on the armor of God and the weapons we have available for spiritual warfare.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
#1 Before the battle, know your weapons (vv. 10-17)
In the Army we had a motto: “The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” So we trained. We went to weapon ranges to increase our proficiency. We did training exercise so that our tactics and battle drills became second nature and automatic responses. Before the battle, we knew our weapons, their capabilities and how to use them. This is what Paul is saying in vv. 10-12. If you’re going to stand firm in the spiritual war, before the battle begins you need to know your weapons. Paul uses the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armor and weapons to describe the protection and weapons we have at our disposal in the spiritual war.
1. Belt of Truth. This was a belt that gathered up the tunic (the undergarment). It insured that a soldier was unimpeded as he ran into battle. It gave him hidden strength and confidence. The belt of truth is the truth about who God is… about His character… His promises and most importantly about Jesus Christ, who He is and what He’s done for us. And remember, one of the primary ways Satan tries to deceive us is by distorting the truth. He propagates false doctrines about Jesus or he whispers that it’s just too good to be true. So the “belt of truth” girds us with confidence that everything God has said about who He is and what He’s done, is doing, and will do causes us to stand firm with confidence.
2. Breastplate of Righteousness. Satan will do anything and everything to take out your heart. He will do anything and everything to continually condemn you and accuse you. He will continually whisper lies and accusations that there is no way that God could love someone like you… no way that God would die on a cross to save someone like you. So the breastplate, the armor that covers the torso, reminds us of our righteousness… our “right standing” (the only way we can stand before a perfect God) because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. Because of His death and resurrection, the penalty for our sin has been removed. And Jesus won a cosmic victory where Satan is ultimately defeated, and therefore we don’t fight for victory but from victory. And the breastplate of righteousness protects our hearts from Satan’s accusations.
3. Shoes of the Gospel. Roman soldiers shoes had nails on their soles so that they’d be surefooted in battle. And as we’re confident and surefooted in understanding the fullness of our restored relationship and peace with God, then we are more fully prepared and empowered to go and take that message of the gospel of peace with God into our world. That’s the shoes of the gospel.
4. Shield of Faith. For the Roman infantry soldier, the shield was a critical piece of equipment. It was a long, oblong, door-like shield (4’ x 2.5’) made of wood, leather, and metal. It protected a soldier from flying projectiles, especially flaming arrows that were shot to weaken the battle lines. But here’s an interesting thing about the Roman shield. It was most effective when used side by side with other soldiers in formation.
It’s the power of living out our faith with each other… standing firm in the battle together… having each other’s backs as we fight together. Confidence comes in community when we’re living out our faith together in our friendships, in our homes, in our small groups… as people are doing battle alongside us and even for us at times.
5. Helmet of Salvation. The helmet of salvation reminds us that God and His grace is our only hope against the enemy. It protects our vision of God and His kingdom and reminds us why we’re fighting.
6. Sword of the Spirit. In this last image, Paul shifts from the armor to our primary “weapon” in the spiritual war. The sword in mind here is a short dagger-like sword that was used for close, hand-to-hand combat. And our sword for the spiritual war is God’s Word, the Bible. God has shared His heart with us. He’s revealed His story and master plan. He’s told us who ultimately wins the victory. And we fight the enemy’s deceptions, distortions, and accusations with God’s Word. As we study and memorize it, the Spirit takes the very strength of God and infuses it into us so that we’re strong and steadfast in the battle.
#2 During the battle, use your weapons (vv. 18-20)
The armor and weapons of God are primarily wielded in and through prayer. Paul wants us to know our weapons, but he tells us that we use our weapons in prayer. And he tells us to use our weapons by praying for three things:
1. Pray for alertness (v. 18a). When we pray for alertness, we pray, “God give me spiritual eyes to see where and how the battle is being fought.” Is the battle right now a personal sin struggle? Is the battle right now a relationship issue with a friend, with my spouse, or with my kids? Is the battle a justice or truth issue in our world? We have to pray for spiritual eyes to see our lives, our relationships, and our world the way God does. So we pray for alertness.
2. Pray for perseverance (v. 18b). When we pray for perseverance, we pray, “God, give me Your sustaining grace.” Spiritual battles often wear us out and wear us down. So we pray for God’s perseverance to stand strong. And as we talked about the shield of faith, this is where meaningful, authentic relationships come in (“petition for all the saints”). There are times when we are so tired and discouraged that we can’t seem to go on. And then a friend, a spouse, someone in your small group, or a pastor prays for you, and it’s like a shot of strength. If you’re simply worn out and tired, use the weapons of prayer and pray for God’s sustaining grace to persevere you in the midst of the battle.
3. Pray for boldness (vv. 19-20). When we pray for boldness, we pray, “God, give me the courage to share the good news.” Remember, the battle is not only for your personal survival, the battle is for the gospel to move further and further into this broken world. And God uses us… but we’ve got to remember that our boldness comes from Jesus’ victory. Listen to what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 – “…and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God is offensive in nature, not defensive. “The gates of Hell will not overpower it.” Satan is on defense as His kingdom is losing ground to Jesus’ kingdom as we storm the gates of Hell to set the captives free. And to do so, we pray for boldness and courage… boldness and courage to take the risk of sharing Jesus with the people in our lives who don’t yet know Him.
Throughout the month of October, I challenged you to participate in Northshore’s Prayer Walk. I challenged you to walk a ½ mile radius around your home, your small group host home, or your workplace and simply pray for God’s kingdom to come. Those of you who did it put a red dot on the map of our local community. I love seeing all the red dots… all the places you prayed… all the people you prayed for… for individuals, for families, for schools and hospitals, for local governments, for churches. God is up to something in our church. He’s giving us a greater compassion for people who don’t know Jesus yet. And it’s going to be a battle, so we have to continually pray for boldness.
#3 After the battle, evaluate your weapons
After you’ve come through a tough season of struggle… a season when the battle intensified, take some time to reflect upon it. After the battle, do an “after-action-review.” And here are some questions to ask after the battle:
1. What went well? In the battle, where did I experience God’s presence? Where are the places where I stayed dependent upon God’s strength? Where did I experience victory? Take some time and celebrate God for His presence and grace.
2. What went wrong? What happened when life didn’t go as expected? Did I get frustrated? Why did I struggle with believing that God really was and is good in this season? Why did I struggle with faith so much in this season? Don’t ask these questions to beat yourself up or create guilt or shame. But look at what seemed to have gone wrong, and if possible begin to figure out what contributed to that.
3. What did I learn? You’ve heard me say this often. God rarely answers the “why” questions. I think God is much more concerned about what we learned about Him, about ourselves, and about our relationships during seasons of struggle. When you’ve come through a season of struggle and battle, take some time to write it down and share what you learned through it.
4. What must change? This is the follow-up question to “What did I learn?” What needs to change so this doesn’t happen again or what needs to change so that I’m better prepared for the battle next time it comes? All of this is going to take some time for introspection… time for prayer… and time with a trusted friend to help you process through all of this.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been going through this evaluation process myself. This past year I struggled with low-grade depression. I could get up out of bed in the morning. I could function. And because of my energy level, most people couldn’t tell that something was amiss. So this summer as I took some time off, the clouds began to clear a bit. And even though I have a difficult time slowing down and sitting still, I took the time to conduct my own after-action-review. What went well this last year? Even in some of the darkest moments, I knew that God was present and I knew that He was bringing about some kind of change in me. I knew transformation was happening, I just didn’t know what it was. When went wrong? Even though God was constant, there were times that I just didn’t or wouldn’t muster the strength to get in the Word on a personal, daily basis. As a pastor, I’m always in the Word prepping for a sermon, for a devotional or for a small group. But at times, I struggled with simply getting in the Word to feed my own soul. And as I looked back over the past year, I felt the vacuum of God’s Word truly feeding me. What did I learn? I learned a lot of things, but one thing I learned (or better yet, “re-learned”)… being in the Word regularly is absolutely critical for my spiritual and emotional health. My prayer life is linked with my time in the Word… that kind of prayer where you simply slow down and listen. What must change? I’ve got to be disciplined about prayer and time in the Word… I have to keep a consistent pattern even when my schedule gets hectic or on those mornings when I simply don’t feel like it. I’m not being a legalistic and “religious” about it, but if I’m going to stay in shape spiritually and prepared for whatever happens in life, I’ve got to be committed to a regular time of prayer and study in God’s Word. And I’ve got to have accountability around this with a friend.
Have you taken time after a tough season to go through these four questions? If not, take some time. Pray through it. Journal through it. Discuss what you find with a friend and ask for feedback. And as you spend time processing through all the questions, make sure that you answer question #4 “What must change?” After the battle, evaluate your weapons and how you used them.
Friends, we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. Even though you can’t see it, the battle is very real. There is a very real enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy you, every one you love, and everything you hold dear. But Jesus Christ has come and won the victory. As He gave His life to pay the penalty for all of sin and rebellion against God, Satan’s claim over us was erased. As Jesus walked out of that tomb and into the resurrection of a new life, sin and death were ultimately defeated. So let me remind you: We do not fight FOR victory, we fight FROM victory. And every moment of the day, in the midst of any battle you find yourself in, God has give you armor for protection in the spiritual war. He’s given you the weapon of His truth and His Word. Before the battle, know your weapons. In the battle, use your weapons… wield them in prayer and in community with one another. And in those brief respites after the battle, evaluate your weapons and learn how to use them even better. In your life, in your relationships, in your marriage, in your home, in your neighborhood, in your workplace, and in your world, stand strong. Stand firm. And Fight the good fight with great confidence by the great grace and because of the great victory of Jesus Christ our King!