Author Archives: Michael E. Lynch

About Michael E. Lynch

I have a B.A. in Psychology and Journalism from Syracuse University (1987) and an M.Div. in Pastoral Counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XV: Thanksgiving, Prayer, and Spiritual Warfare

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from ESV unless otherwise indicated).

writing-hand-book-leg-love-finger-742682-pxhere.com

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

As we pray in the Spirit, our attitude matters. Although one can list a host of proper attitudes for prayer (submission to God’s will, obedience, forgiveness of others, faith, and so on), one is especially important to mention in the context of spiritual warfare: thanksgiving.

Supplication often leads us to focus our attention on a problem. We pray for more finances because we cannot pay our bills. We pray for healing because we are ill. Financial problems, illness, strife, or other problems can easily become the center of our attention. The very attack of Satan—yes, even Satan himself—can suddenly become our focus. Prayer should not focus on Satan. It should focus on God and His goodness and against Satan and his attacks. Thanksgiving brings God back into our focus.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2–4).

Even as we intercede on behalf of others, we pray with thanksgiving. The command to connect prayer and worship with thanksgiving occurs several times in the New Testament:

{Be} filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 5:18–20).

{Do} not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7).

These are just a few examples. Thanksgiving is essential to prayer. Yet, sometimes, it is not easy. Perhaps we need to know how to find reasons to be thankful. Sometimes, it is tempting to merely thank God that “It could have been much worse.” While that is often true, we usually need more encouragement than that when in the midst of battle.

We can thank God for what He has done in the past. If your current dilemma is a physical illness, you can thank God for times He has healed you in the past. If it is a financial crisis, you can thank Him for times He has provided in the past. If it is a problem with a relationship, you can thank Him for the good relationships and positive people He has placed in your life.

Next, we can thank God for who He is. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God Who has answered prayer in the past—or may even have blessed you when you did not pray—has not changed. He is the same loving, merciful, forgiving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present Lord and Father. He is always able and willing to bless, preserve, save, heal, restore, and empower His children. You can thank Him for being Who He is. As the psalmist says,

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalms 100:5).

This is praise not so much for what He has done for us, but for Who He is. We can trust Him because He is now and always will be faithful, loving, and good. Keep thanking Him for Who He is. If we forget how good God is, Satan will have the upper hand in our lives. To win our victories in spiritual battle, we must remember that the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever, and that His faithfulness never ends.

Next, we can thank Him that He is able to accomplish what we ask Him to do. If you are in a financial crisis, you can thank God that He is able to meet your needs. You can thank Him that He is able to heal you when you are sick.

Finally, we can thank Him for His promises. God has promised to answer certain prayers for His people:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

God has promised to provide wisdom to those who ask Him for it by faith.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Can you believe that promise? Are you willing to believe that God can meet your needs? Will you thank Him in advance that He has promised to do so, and then thankfully pray and trust until He brings it to fruition?

Life can bring discouragement and disappointment. As we fix our eyes on God, learn to give Him thanks and praise as we pray for our needs, and trust in His love and mercy, we can see Him answer our prayers and protect us from every spiritual attack.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XIV: Interceding for the Church

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

writing-hand-book-leg-love-finger-742682-pxhere.com

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

In the previous post of this series, we discussed intercessory prayer as a vital part of the Christian’s impact on the world around him. This post will look at the important need to pray for the Body of Christ, especially those who have devoted their lives to preaching and teaching the Word of God. They are often the enemy’s main targets in spiritual battle.

Unlike the modern American church, the first-century believers had no political influence and minimal certainty of legal rights to worship as they saw fit. Freedom of speech and religious liberty are very modern concepts, unheard of only a few centuries ago (and still absent in much of the world today). However, the early church had one thing we have lost: a spirit of prayer. When trials came, they believed God was greater than Caesar.

When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:23–31).

Instead of cowering in fear, deciding to “play it safe,” or imitating the surrounding culture in response to persecution, the church decided to pray. They did not ask God to change other people’s attitudes or to protect them from wicked rulers. Instead, they asked Him to empower them to preach with boldness and exercise the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Prayer provided a foundation for evangelism; it was not an alternative to action. Prayer gave them the power to do the work God had called them to do and to confront the enemy in spiritual battle.

Later, in Acts 12, the church would endure another period of persecution. James would become the first apostle to die as a martyr (Acts 12:1). Peter was also arrested, and Herod hoped to execute him as well. “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). This time, God miraculously intervened to release Peter from prison (vv. 6-17) and judge Herod (vv. 20-23). “But the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24) as Christians continued to share the Gospel. When hardship came, God’s people attacked it with prayer, received divine power, and continued to accomplish God’s will.

Likewise, Paul urged the disciples in the churches he established to pray for him during his imprisonment. After describing how his imprisonment had given more opportunities for the Gospel to be preached, he expected the prayers of the saints to lead to his release:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:19–20).

Paul expected prayer to have an impact. He did not see it as a psychological relaxation technique, merely giving a person peace of mind, mental focus, or emotional serenity. Paul expected prayer to somehow affect how God would intervene in the situation. He expected it to change the hearts and minds of people he prayed for. He expected prayer to change the situation in the spiritual dimension, thereby having a visible impact in the natural realm. It was not just a way to change the state of his own mind, but of circumstances beyond his control.

Therefore, we should always pray for our spiritual leaders, especially those whom God has called to proclaim His Gospel. All of the apostles emphasized their need for the prayers of the people:

He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (II Corinthians 1:10–11).

This is why I refer to prayer as a spiritual intercontinental ballistic missile in an earlier post. Our prayers can have a global impact. Believe it. Launch it. Watch it work.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XIII: Interceding for All People

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

writing-hand-book-leg-love-finger-742682-pxhere.com

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

The previous post in this series introduced the concepts of praying in the Spirit and supplication. I find that many Christians are tempted to view spiritual warfare as a means to address discomfort or difficulty in their own lives. However, spiritual warfare always looks beyond our own comfort zone and seeks to advance the kingdom of God. It is God-centered, seeking to see His will done not only in our lives, but throughout the world, the church, and in the lives of those whom we love (and, often, those whom we wish Jesus had not told us to love).

Although supplication may sometimes focus on our needs, God calls us to pray for all people, both inside and outside the church. We should pray for all kinds of people, especially if they have any influence over our lives:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way (I Timothy 2:1–2).

We need to remember that Paul wrote these things within a hostile culture, where the government persecuted Christians. Americans are eager to pray for our leaders as long as they belong to our party, or endorse our definition of Christianity. However, when New Testament authors told their audience to obey, respect, and pray for their political officials (see Romans 13:1, Titus 3:1, I Peter 2:13), they were speaking about officials who could easily decide to execute them. American Christians often refuse to pray for elected officials who do not agree with them. Yet, we have no excuse: If Paul could urge his readers to pray for “kings and all who are in high positions,” we can pray for pro-abortion Presidents, anti-traditional-marriage judges, and Congressmen who have publicly mocked Christian values. We are called to make supplication “for all people.” “I don’t like him” is not an excuse.

Many Christians want to change the culture. Prayer is a crucial element of that. Living out our Christianity day by day is vital. Evangelism is essential. Many Christians believe voting and political activism are the top priority, but if we want to change society, those are actually lower on the list:

{If} my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land (II Chronicles 7:14).

Spiritual warfare, exercising our spiritual weapons, is what we need. As we saw earlier in this series, we are not fighting natural enemies. Our real enemies are the forces of Satan—not another political party, Islamic extremists, or illegal immigrants. These are at most tools or pawns whom Satan has deceived and manipulated to achieve his agenda. We need to attack the source of wickedness, not merely the visible symptoms. Prayer and other aspects of spiritual warfare are our major tactics. We should expect God to answer prayer and empower us to proclaim His Gospel and change the world. This is how the early church responded after the apostles had been arrested and persecuted.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XII: Intercessory Prayer

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

silhouette-light-people-girl-woman-mystical-745052-pxhere.com

Photo from https://pxhere.com/en/photo/745052. Creative Commons.

Most studies and sermons about the whole armor of God end with the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17. However, Paul’s sentence does not end there, so it is apparent that these comments on praying in the Spirit are at least closely intertwined with the whole armor of God. The only reason many preachers and authors do not count this as part of the armor is because the military imagery is missing. However, the thoughts are connected. Even if we do not consider intercessory prayer in the Spirit as a part of the whole armor of God, it is an essential part of spiritual warfare.

As we saw in Part IX of this series, we can think of the sword of the Spirit as the weapon for close-range combat, whereas praying in the Spirit is effective for long-range combat. Prayer in the Spirit can impact the entire world.

To understand this, we need to consider a few terms. First, what do we mean by “prayer in the Spirit?” Some of my fellow charismatic Christians will claim that this means “praying in tongues.” While that is one way that we can pray in the Spirit, I do not believe Paul is limiting it to this practice. Any Christian who has the Spirit of God dwelling within him or her can pray in the Spirit. When we consider prayer as one element of worship, this becomes somewhat more obvious:

Jesus said to {the Samaritan woman}, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21–24).

What can we learn about worshiping (and, by extension, praying) in the Spirit from this passage? A lot, especially when we see the opposite of worship in the Spirit. The Samaritan woman had raised a question about where the true worshipers of God will meet. Jesus said it was not a matter of location. As a related question, it was not a matter of form or liturgy. It did not matter whether one prayed at the Samaritan temple, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or a synagogue. It does not matter whether you pray at church, home, or elsewhere. Likewise, it did not matter whether one followed Samaritan or Jewish prayer forms. Formulas and location are not as important as some might think.

What does matter, according to Jesus, is that we are worshiping One whom we know. Our prayers and worship should grow out of a direct intimate knowledge of God. We pray in the Spirit, Who dwells within us and guides us.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26–27).

Sometimes, our burdens can be so great that we do not even know what we need; if we think we know what we need, we do not know how to express it. The Holy Spirit knows our needs. Whether we express them in a heavenly language, groans, sighs, sobs, or jumbled pleas of “Oh, God, please help me!”–The Holy Spirit knows our need and expresses it to the Father, even when we cannot find the thoughts or words.

Next, it is helpful to consider the word “supplication,” simply because it appears throughout Scripture, but most of us do not use the word normally. I might make requests or ask for things, but I do not usually talk about making supplication in everyday life. Therefore, it is easy to think the Bible is commanding something complicated or unusual, even when it is not.

According to biblehub.com, the Greek word is δέησις (deesis), meaning “supplication, prayer, entreaty.” It has its roots in another Greek word which means “to be in want or need.” Thus, when we are making supplication, we are “praying for a specific, felt need,” making a “heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need.” Although Paul expands this to prayer for the needs of others here, our spiritual warfare prayers must be heart-felt, seeking God to meet deep needs. We feel the urgency of a need, so we pray for it.

As you pray, recognize that it is not just a ritual or an obligation. It is even more significant than starting your day well or ending it peacefully. Prayer is a battle. As we bring our requests before the Lord, we are not merely bringing a shopping list. We are fighting a battle against the forces of hell.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare XI: Final Thoughts About the Sword of the Spirit

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we conclude our discussion of the sword of the Spirit, I believe it is important to remind ourselves how to properly wield it. It is easy to misuse the sword of the Spirit, and such abuse can be devastating. Therefore, I offer a few final thoughts.

Remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, Satan is our enemy: not other people. Even if the other person seems to be our enemy (for example, we disagree with them on political issues, they belong to a false religion, or they are even part of a group that is persecuting believers), the real enemies are Satan and his demons. We should actually view the human “enemy” as a prisoner of war, enslaved by deception.

It is one thing to attack Satan, his demons, and their lies with the word of God. However, that does not justify using the Bible to attack another human being.

Therefore, when wielding the sword of the Spirit in encounters with other people—or even with ourselves—we approach the situation with mercy and grace, not hostility or condemnation.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:5–6, ESV).

Our goal when dealing with people—whether they are fellow believers, unbelievers, or ourselves—is redemption and restoration, not rejection or damnation. We are looking to draw unbelievers into the kingdom of God, not to find opportunities to speed them into hell. We are looking to assist believers as they obtain the blessings of God’s kingdom, not to force them out or discourage them. We also need to pay attention to our own hearts. It is easy to condemn and judge ourselves. Years ago, I started reading the writings and theology of nineteenth-century holiness authors, many of whom preached on Christian perfection and entire sanctification (see Matthew 5:48). However, there was a problem: I was still struggling with some sinful habits. Ironically, a claim that believers could be delivered from all sin often led me into discouragement and self-condemnation, which led me even further from the holiness these preachers promised.

Now, over 30 years after becoming a follower of Christ, I am still not perfect. I still sin. However, wise men of God have taught me to remember that I am saved by God’s grace. He is working on me. For most of the last 15 years, I have sat under the ministry of a bishop who would close almost every service by saying, “Remember the Gospel, the good news: That God was in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to Himself, not counting your sins against you. God loves you. God has forgiven you. God is not angry with you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Yes, I have that memorized!) Take that word to heart (it merely paraphrases several key statements from the New Testament). Believe it, and let it guide you as you share God’s Word with other people or apply it to your life.

Second, be bold with the sword, but know your boundaries. You are part of an army. There are some battles that do not belong to you. Do not be a busy-body, trying to fix every person you see. Do not take on battles that other soldiers of the cross should be fighting.

Some immature believers think it is their job to reprimand everybody whom they see faltering. However, there are times when it is best to leave the battle to other people. Maybe the pastor is already offering counsel and advice to the person who is struggling. If you think you need to start swinging the sword of the Spirit in another Christian’s life, make certain you have their trust and respect first. If a person has not requested your advice, do not force it on them (no matter how biblical or profound it may seem to you).

When ministering to people who do not have a relationship with Christ, always focus on Jesus and salvation. Our job is to lead people to Christ. Once they come into a faith-focused relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will straighten them out. Too often, we try to get sinners to start acting like Christians. Sinners sin—it is what they do. They need to first become Christians; then we can expect them to begin the process of acting like children of God.

In all, use the sword of the Spirit with wisdom. Do not swing it around like a maniac. Be bold, be direct, but be wise.

Many posts on darkenedglassreflections.com discuss proper use of the Word of God. I invite you to go to the search bar on this page and search “word of God” for more articles and guidance. Two popular posts are “Teaching, Reproof, Correction, and Training in Righteousness” and “Proverbs 7:1-5—Internalizing God’s Word and Wisdom.”

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare X: Using the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all Scripture quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise indicated).

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we saw in the previous post, Paul was not the first writer of Scripture to think of the word of God as a weapon. Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (who provided inspiration for some of the other elements of the armor of God), Jeremiah, and Hosea likewise spoke of Scripture as a weapon. Paul and other early Christian writers recognized this theme and expanded upon it throughout the New Testament:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

It is helpful to see this verse in its context. The inspired author has reminded his readers (who were probably Hebrew believers in Jesus who are tempted to step back from the commitment to Christ and return to Judaism) that they are called to enter into the rest that God has provided. He mentions that the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua’s leadership is a preview of the Christian’s opportunity to enter into the rest that Christ provides:

“For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8–10).

The Israelites took their physical swords and, under Joshua’s leadership, claimed the land in response to the promises of God. They claimed “rest” by being able to settle down and end 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Now, the Christian takes hold of a double-edged sword. The link to Joshua is important. We are supposed to use that sword to claim and cling to the privileges of the kingdom that God has invited us to enter. We enter the rest He provides in Christ. We use the sword of the Spirit to claim that rest. When Satan seeks to steal God’s promises from us, the sword of the Spirit is our lethal weapon.

However, we do not use it against Satan only. The word of God pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. So, we do not use it only against Satan.

We apply it to our own lives. As we read God’s Word, we should allow it to dig deep inside us. Let it reach into our soul, spirit, joints, and marrow. Let it dig out any impurity that may bring death and decay within us. Let it discern the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. Let it bring us to self-examination, asking God to search our hearts and reveal our condition to us:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

We use it to free the lost from Satan’s power. Evangelism must be centered in God’s Word. When we invade Satan’s domain to invite his captives to freedom in Christ, we must use it properly. God’s Word proclaims the saving work of Jesus: How He lived, died, rose, ascended, and sits at the right hand of the Father. It tells us how we can be saved. We preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name (Luke 24:46–47).

Finally, we use the sword of the Spirit to claim release for our brothers and sisters who remain in the devil’s chains. Be prepared to counsel, advise, admonish, and encourage your fellow believers with the Word of God. The sword of the Spirit is mighty. It is more powerful than the gospel of Dr. Phil or Oprah. Only God’s Word can dig can pierce to the division of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Use the sword of the Spirit to help your fellow believers know discern whether the thoughts and intentions of their hearts are guided by the Holy Spirit or still directed by the lies of the enemy. Help them to tear down the strongholds so they can make their freedom more certain.

In a sword duel or fencing match, the fighter uses the sword both offensively and defensively. He must use it to block the opponent’s attacks. However, he must also use it to gain a victory. Soldiers fight to win. We must fight to win. The sword of the Spirit will bring us victory.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare IX: Introduction to the Sword of the Spirit

“{A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17; all verses ESV unless otherwise specified).

immaculate_conception_catholic_church_28knoxville2c_tennessee29_-_stained_glass2c_sword_of_the_spirit

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As we have seen earlier in this series, most of the Christian’s armor is defensive. However, we now come to a vital offensive element: The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Many preachers will claim that this is the only offensive weapon we have. However, as we will see in forthcoming posts, Paul immediately discusses intercessory prayer right afterward (as part of the same sentence). We can view the sword of the Spirit as the divine weapon for close combat, whereas intercessory prayer is our weapon for long-distance combat. If the word of God is our sword, then intercessory prayer is our arrow, catapult, cannon, or intercontinental ballistic missile. Although Paul did not continue the imagery to associate prayer with a specific part of the centurion’s armor, the intent is present. We will come back to this thought later in this series.

I will lead off by pointing out a mistake many Christians make with the sword of the Spirit. Although it is an offensive weapon, many use it only defensively. Early in my Christian walk, I had a pocket New Testament which I would carry with me almost everywhere. In the back, it had an index of verses addressing different needs: When you face this problem, turn to this verse. If you are being tempted, read this passage. It was helpful, but it can make somebody think that the sword of the Spirit is merely for self-defense: If Satan tempts you this way, quote this verse to him. However, for an army to triumph, it must advance. You do not fight to “not lose;” you fight to win. Jesus tells us that the gates of hell will not stand against the church (Matthew 16:18). Is Satan throwing gates at us? Of course not; the Kingdom of God should be advancing against the forces of darkness. Satan should be cowering behind the gates, while we smash them down, set the captives free, and occupy until Christ returns.

We do not wield the sword of the Spirit only to defend ourselves: we brandish it against our enemy as we march forth to claim victory. We should be on the offensive, not the defensive, when we draw our sword from its sheath.

The Bible describes the word of God as a weapon several times. Paul learned this image from the Old Testament. Like several other elements of the armor of God, we find a hint of it in the writings of Isaiah the prophet:

“He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2).

This verse begins the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah, where the prophet occasionally speaks in the first person (as if he is talking about himself), but his words prophesy the future ministry of Jesus (reaching a climax around Isaiah 53). The Word of God is a double-edged sword eternally coming forth from the mouth of Jesus:

“In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:16).

Make no mistake: The word of God that flows from the mouth of the incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ (John 1:1–3, 14), is a weapon of spiritual warfare. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He did not come to coexist with or tolerate Satan; He came to boot his butt to the abyss. Jesus is merciful and compassionate to all who call upon Him for salvation, but He is ruthless to the thief who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy those whom He has redeemed (John 10:10). The sword of the Spirit strikes at the root of sin to bring Christ’s judgment against wickedness and rebellion:

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4–6).

God sends His prophetic word to strike against false religion, worldliness, carnality, and all forms of sin. He slays by the words of His mouth. He sends forth judgment.

Take note: you cannot conduct spiritual warfare if you are afraid to confront sin and warn about God’s judgment against sin. Yes, God is love. He is holy. That means He is absolutely opposed to hatred, sin, unholiness, impurity, wickedness, etc. The sword of the Spirit is a sword of judgment. It is a sword that we use to strike at Satan.

“Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29)

Indeed, God’s word is a weapon. We do not trifle with it. It is not a toy. We must not manipulate or misuse it, but we must use it boldly in battle. We should expect it to powerfully accomplish its purpose, either to build up or to tear down. It is a vital tool in our battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Spiritual Warfare VIII: The Helmet of Salvation

“… {A}nd take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…” (Ephesians 6:17).

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A Roman soldier’s helmet. Photo by Sailko, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sports fans know how important helmets can be. They are required at all levels of American football. Baseball players wear a helmet when batting, just in case a pitcher’s off-target throw hits them in the head. A few professional soccer players wear lightweight helmets (goalkeeper Petr Cech is a familiar example). Nowadays, all professional hockey players wear helmets, although they did not become mandatory until 1979. However, a single body check in January 1968 helped pave the way for helmets to go from rarities (usually worn by players who were recovering from major injuries) to a requirement.

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Modern hockey players protect their heads with a helmet. Photo by Santeri Viinamäki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Bill Masterton was a center on the Minnesota North Stars during their first season in the National Hockey League. During a game against the Oakland Seals in January 1968, he was checked by two opposing defensemen. It was a clean check, but still proved to be lethal. While it was originally assumed that he suffered the fatal concussion when his head hit the ice, it was more likely the result of a head injury from a previous game; the body check exacerbated that injury, knocking him unconscious before he fell. Seals defenseman Ron Harris, who delivered the hit, claimed that Masterton briefly regained consciousness while on the ice and said, “Never again”: possibly suggesting that he refused to play another game without a helmet (since these were probably his last words, we can only guess what he meant). He is the only NHL player ever to die as a direct result of an on-ice injury.

In the years following Masterton’s death, many players rejected the macho mentality that rejected helmets, deciding personal safety took priority. After several years of gradually increasing usage, the NHL made them mandatory for all new players.

As Masterton said, “Never again”: Let none of us ever play the game of life without a helmet. Head injuries are among the most lethal things that can happen to the human body, so athletes protect it. Spiritually, we must protect ourselves with the “helmet of salvation.”

Athletes, of course, are not the only people who wear helmets. Whether in sports, building construction, or military service, head protection can be vital. Most helmets cover the vulnerable top, back, and sides of the head. Roman soldiers’ helmets would also provide protection for the cheekbones.

In the Christian’s spiritual battle, the thoughts, will, and emotions are a major target. If Satan can hit us there, he can take us out of the battle. However, from the moment of salvation, we have protection available.

Many Christians mistakenly assume that salvation is a one-time experience. We think “I got saved when I said this prayer.” However, the Bible usually speaks of salvation as a continuing state for believers. However it begins, “salvation” brings us into a state of eternal life that begins in this world:

“And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

Salvation is eternal life, and eternal life is fellowship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).

If we want to remain under God’s protective covering, we need to stay connected to the Lord and His people. Fellowship with God’s people, study of His Word, and prayer ensure our connection to God so that we may be sanctified in His truth (John 17:17–19).

If Satan can distract us away from God’s truth, he can lure us into sin and out of submission and service to God. Many of his attacks will be subtle. Notice that when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread; he did not tempt Him to rob a bagel shop or visit a prostitute. Likewise, Satan will probably try a more subtle attack against your heart and mind. Some of his weapons that he will launch at your head include:

  • Negative thinking: Do you believe God can bring any good out of your circumstances, or do you assume nothing can work out? The negative thinker expects bad things to happen; he does not expect God to act. True biblical thinking will look for God in any situation, believe He can act, and trust that He will bring His glory in any circumstance if we are willing to seek it.
  • False ideas about sin: Are you willing to believe what God’s Word says about sin, or do you allow pop psychology and modern social commentators to determine your ideas about right or wrong? Do you acknowledge that something is sin even if the entire culture decides morality is obsolete? Too many Christians accept the mainstream media’s views about sexuality, marriage, money, and other ethical and moral questions. If Satan can convince you that “Everybody is doing it,” “It’s not really that bad,” “At least I am not doing …,” etc., he will have you under his influence.
  • False ideas about your identity in Christ: Most Christians do not really their identity in Christ. We think, “I am a wretched sinner.” However, the Bible tells us that this is the Christian’s past identity, not his current status. After listing a litany of heinous sins that many of the Corinthians had committed in their lifetimes, Paul said, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, emphasis added). Whatever you were before you came to Christ, you are now a child of God. Even if you still struggle with that sin, it is no longer your identity. Claim your status as God’s child. Do not let the lies of the enemy drag you away from God.

Guard your head. Guard your thoughts and mind. Bring every thought captive to obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). As long as we remain under God’s protection, wearing His armor, we can remain in the battle. We will not merely survive; we will triumph. Victory comes when we can withstand the onslaught and counterattack with a spiritual assault.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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Spiritual Warfare VII: The Shield of Faith

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…” (Ephesians 6:16).

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A replica of a Roman shield. Photo by Dorieo [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

When we engage in spiritual warfare, we will usually either be responding to an attack or we will face a counter-attack by our enemy. We must be prepared to fight, but we must also be prepared to defend ourselves.

The enemy’s counter-attack may be subtle, but sometimes it will be an all-out barrage. Satan may blast us from multiple directions. In Ephesians 6:16, Paul compares the Christian to a Roman soldier who is facing a barrage of flaming arrows. A direct hit can be deadly. You need full-body protection.

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Depiction of a 3rd-century BC Macedonian soldier holding a thyreos shield. From Istanbul Archaeology Museums [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

For a Roman soldier, that protection would include a shield. The Roman shield was similar to one developed centuries earlier by the Greeks, called a thyreos, whose name was derived from the word for “door.” It was large, shaped like a door, and provided ample coverage when an enemy would launch a barrage of arrows or javelins towards them.

The Christian may not face literal arrows. The “flaming darts of the evil one” (some translations say “arrows” instead of “darts”) are not physical flying sticks with sharp pointy ends to puncture the skin. Satan’s arrows take other forms. Instead of darts and arrows, Satan and his demons may fire temptations at us. They may entice others to discourage us or drag us into depression. They may find our greatest weakness and turn it against us. Sometimes, his attacks may be constant, steady, but moderate. At other times, a period of relative peace may be interrupted by a sudden barrage of multiple attacks from diverse directions (imagine a person whose marriage breaks up within weeks of a job loss and a house fire, while struggling to overcome a drug addiction).

Spiritual warfare is ugly. Do not assume that you are too unimportant to be a target in the battle. Even the newest believer is involved in spiritual warfare. Whether Satan can rob you of your salvation or not, he will do whatever he can to keep you from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Some of his tactics, according to Matthew 13:19–22, are the following:

  • To steal the word of God from our hearts. If he can convince us to doubt God’s Word or His promises to us through Jesus Christ, Satan can keep us from following the Lord, experiencing the full blessings of the Christian life, and advancing the kingdom of God.
  • To bring persecution into our lives. If we have not produced deep roots in our faith, trials and temptations will convince us to give up. The antidote to this is to know, believe, and obey the Word of God (Matthew 7:24–27). Hearing the Word of the Lord and living by it produces the firm foundation and deep roots we need when the winds of trial and temptation blow.
  • To distract us with the cares of this world. “The cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” can choke the Word of God. If we are too busy trying to make money, to attain prestige and popularity in this world, or have fun and comfort, we may not find time to do God’s will. If we put the cares of this world first, we will not take a stand for God’s kingdom.

Faith is the shield that protects us. It is more than the gateway to salvation. It is also much more than knowledge about the Bible or correct beliefs [even the demons believe, but they tremble in fear (James 2:19)]. Faith is the spiritual power within us that continually brings us under God’s covering protection. Faith draws us to God’s Word and then nourishes itself and our souls with greater faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Faith equips our hearts and minds to trust God and lean on Him when life becomes difficult.

Faith looks beyond our current circumstances to see the reward of our spiritual battles. After the beloved “Hall of Faith” chapter in Hebrews 11, the biblical author writes how Jesus triumphed on the cross by looking beyond His present circumstances:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).

As we walk by faith, we emulate Jesus. The heroes of the Old Testament looked forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, which Christ accomplished. Jesus looked beyond the agony and shame of the cross to “the joy that was set before Him” (which included our eternal fellowship with Him) to triumph over sin, hell, and death. We emulate Jesus as we run with endurance, looking beyond our present battle to the ultimate victory we will enjoy forever.

When Satan attacks, we can wield a shield that protects us under the assurance that we are already fighting from a position of victory. As we remain faithful to Him even in hard times, we gain a victory in spiritual warfare. It is not even a close battle. Scripture tells us that we are more than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37). Faith does not give us a tiny victory; it empowers us to kick the devil’s butt!

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4–5).

Through faith, we are triumphant. When Satan attacks, we do not run away in fear. We raise our shield of faith and continue advancing. Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell will not prevail against His body. Think about that for a second: Do you think demons are throwing gates at us? No, gates (like shields) are for hiding and protection. God’s children are called to advance His kingdom. We do not do so cowardly. We raise our shields and continue to advance. As we continue the battle, the demons flee behind their gates! However, those gates will not stand against us. We will overwhelmingly triumph over them as we march by faith and raise the sword of the Spirit in victory.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Spiritual Warfare VI: The Shoes of Peace

“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:14–15, ESV).

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A Roman soldier’s boot. Photo by Matthias Kabel, via Wikimedia Commons, under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

According to an article on a shoe company’s website, the average man owns 12 pairs of shoes, whereas the average woman owns 27. Both numbers seem extravagant to me: I own about seven pairs (if you count two pairs of winter boots and a very old pair of sneakers that I only wear while at home). Yet, most people can see the purpose of owning multiple pairs. Both fashion and functionality matter with footwear. I may wear a pair of black dress shoes to church or other occasions where more formal wear is expected. Sneakers or athletic shoes are acceptable for more casual settings; they are essential for athletic activity. If you participate in several sports, you may need different kinds of footwear for different activities: track shoes, tennis shoes, soccer cleats, basketball shoes, etc. We can probably count ice skates as “shoes” for playing hockey.

A Roman soldier’s boots (“caligae”) were, in some ways, similar to a modern cleat. They were designed to provide traction and stability while allowing the soldier to walk, run, or march comfortably and quickly. His shoes or boots were designed for warfare. They were intended to help him stand firmly in battle. As Christians serve in the army of God and engage in spiritual warfare, we need to wear the shoes or boots that provide “the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

We wage war to advance that gospel of peace. We should be viewed as a threat in the spiritual realm, overthrowing the powers of darkness, confident that the gates of hell will not stand against us (Matthew 16:18). However, as we wage our warfare, we should treat the people around us like prisoners of war, to whom we have come as a liberating army that has overpowered their oppressors. Certainly, many we encounter will view us as the enemy; as the father of lies, Satan has deceived them into thinking that they are free when he really has them in chains of deception. We have come to break those chains with the truth of the gospel of peace.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14–17).

The gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation. Paul says that Jesus Himself is our peace. He is the one who has broken down the wall of hostility between us and God. Through Christ, we have peace with God.

Jesus also brings peace to people of all nations, races, and tongues who will call upon His name for salvation. The Old Testament Law is broken down so that it no longer divides Jews from Gentiles. The love of God should tear down the walls that separate us along racial and ethnic lines; the fact that Sunday morning can still be called “the most segregated time of the week in America” should give us cause for concern. It should propel us to our knees in prayer and repentance so that we are fit to march forth in victory. When addressing the temptation to seek revenge, Paul writes:

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).

We are called to pursue peace even with those who have hurt or offended us. How much more should we live at peace with those who are merely different from us?

We are called to show the peace of God in our relationships with others and to march forth with the good news of deliverance in Jesus Christ. Quoting Isaiah 52:7, Paul writes:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14–15).

God has given us our marching orders. The gospel we believe is also the pair of boots we wear as we march forth to proclaim liberty to the captives. Christ has already won the war. We march forth against a defeated foe (Satan and his demons) as they maintain their final futile effort at resistance. We have received the gospel of peace, with which we can join Jesus in His mission of destroying the works of the devil and advancing the kingdom of God in the hearts of people. Let us march forth today to let people know that freedom and life are available to them in Christ Jesus. Like cleats on a soccer field, the gospel of peace will keep us standing securely as we march forth.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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