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How Do We Win the Spiritual Battle?
Last year rioting broke out on the streets of London. Thousands of people (mainly groups of young men) armed themselves with weapons: knives, baseball bats, stones and burning tyres. The streets of London became a battlefield. Police in riot gear fought with their weapons to overcome the violence of the mob.
This is nothing new. Violence has always taken place at every level of society. As we read in today’s Old Testament passage, ‘Brother fight brother, neighbour fight neighbour, city fight city, kingdom fight kingdom – anarchy and chaos and killing!’ (Isaiah 19:2, MSG).
Virtually every day in our newspapers and on television we see the horrors of warfare. We live in a world that is constantly developing even more terrible weapons of physical warfare. These weapons have the power to maim, kill and destroy. But this warfare is not purely physical. The issues that give rise to it, as many in both politics and the media acknowledge, are profoundly moral and spiritual. Likewise, Russell Brand wrote of last year’s riots, ‘The solution ... isn’t political, it is spiritual.’
Just as physical warfare is a serious global issue, so, according to the apostle Paul, is spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:10–20). This is unseen, but it is just as real. The great Welsh preacher, Dr Martin Lloyd Jones, once said, ‘There is no grosser or greater misrepresentation of the Christian message than that which depicts it as offering a life of ease with no battle and struggle at all ... sooner or later every believer discovers that the Christian life is a battleground, not a playground.’
In this battle we are called not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). We are given the weapons with which to win the battle. Paul writes, ‘The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds’ (2 Corinthians 10:4).
What are these weapons? How do we use them?
1. The weapon of prayer to change the course of historyPsalm 106:16-31
The psalmist recalls the leadership and ministry of Moses. Some chose to envy God’s powerful use of Moses and Aaron: ‘In the camp they grew envious of Moses and of Aaron’ (v.16).
Moses’ response was not to seek revenge. Rather, it was to pray for them. He ‘stood in the breach’ before God (v.23), and interceded for them.
In the account of Exodus 32:11–14 we see how, by the power of prayer, it is possible to change the course of history. As Jeremy Jennings always used to say at the end of every Tuesday morning prayer meeting at HTB, ‘Thank you for praying. You have made a difference.’
Phinehas was another who ‘intervened’ on behalf of the people (see Numbers 25). His intervention must have stemmed from his faith. We are told here that, as with Abraham, it was credited to him as righteousness (Psalm 106:31).
Lord, thank you for the power of intercessory prayer. Thank you that it really does make a difference. Help us to be faithful in praying for our family, friends and all those for whom your Spirit inspires us to pray. May we be those who ‘stand in the breach’ and intervene on behalf of others.
2. The weapon of the gospel to fight the cultural war2 Corinthians 10:1-18
Our minds are a battlefield. Our thoughts are at the root of our words and actions. The devil seeks to set up strongholds in our minds. Paul knew that at the heart of spiritual battle is the battle for the mind. There is a sense in which each of us is involved in an individual spiritual battle in our own mind. This is a daily battle to resist the temptation of wrong thoughts and take captive every thought to obey Christ (v.5).
Although Paul alludes to the individual battle of the mind here, he was primarily thinking of something a little different. There was a cultural battle going on: a battle of ideas, philosophies and worldviews. Paul actively engaged in this battle to take on those competing ideas, philosophies and worldviews and to take them captive in obedience to Christ.
Paul wrote, ‘The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way – never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture.
We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity’ (vv.3–6, MSG).
The weapons Paul uses have divine power to ‘demolish strongholds’ (v.4). His power comes from belonging to Christ (v.7), and he has been given authority by the Lord himself (v.8). Elsewhere, Paul writes that he is ‘not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Romans 1:16).
I find it encouraging that some people said of Paul, ‘In person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing’ (v.10). However, he points out ‘in all this comparing and grading and competing, they quite miss the point’ (v.11, MSG). We are not supposed to be comparing ourselves with other Christians, our gifts with their gifts, our ‘success’ with their ‘success’. We are all on the same side. We should be trying to help, love and encourage one another as we fight the spiritual battle together.
Thankfully, we do not have to appear impressive, nor do we have to be exceptional communicators to preach the gospel. Paul’s power came from the ‘gospel of Christ’ (v.14). His desire was to ‘preach the gospel’ (v.16) to people who had never heard it.
Ultimately it is the ‘message of Christ’ (v.14, MSG) that will change our culture. It is the most powerful message in the world. It is life changing. It is culture changing. It is world changing.
Lord, thank you so much that in spiritual warfare you have given us weapons that have divine power to demolish strongholds. Thank you that the gospel is the power of God. We praise you because the message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the most powerful message in the world. It can change lives, cities and communities. Thank you that this message has the power to change the course of history.
3. The weapon of unity to bring blessing to the nationsIsaiah 17:1-19:25
I am so looking forward to another International Week in May next year. There is something very powerful about Christian leaders from over a hundred countries around the world coming together in worship and unity of purpose. The prophet Isaiah foresees this kind of unity.
He continues to prophesy against those who have ‘forgotten God your Saviour’ (17:10). He declares God’s judgment against Damascus, Cush and Egypt.
However, our passage today ends with a note of hope: ‘In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt … It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a saviour and defender, and he will rescue them. So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord … They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them’ (19:19–22).
He goes on to say that the Egyptians and Assyrians (modern-day Iraqis) will worship together. ‘No longer rivals, they’ll worship together, Egyptians and Assyrians!’ (v.23, MSG).
‘On that Day, Israel will take its place alongside Egypt and Assyria, sharing the blessing from the centre. God-of-the-Angel-Armies, who blessed Israel, will generously bless them all: “Blessed be Egypt, my people! ... Blessed be Assyria, work of my hands! ... Blessed be Israel, my heritage!”’ (vv.24–25, MSG).
Isaiah foresees a time when the Lord’s people from Egypt, Iraq and Israel come together for worship. Surely we see one way in which this prophecy is fulfilled when Christians from these nations and others come together in worship.
The conversion of the Gentiles seems to have been foreseen by Isaiah. He sees a time when others besides the people of Israel will ‘turn to the Lord’ (v.22). He will hear their prayers and heal them. People of different nations will worship the Lord together (v.23). This unity will bring great blessing.
Lord, thank you for the power of the weapons of repentance, prayer, worship, healing and unity in the spiritual battle.
Lord, may there be a turning to you in Egypt, Iraq and Israel. Thank you for how powerful it is when different nations worship together. May there be an increasing coming together in repentance, prayer, worship, healing and unity. As we preach the gospel and pray for the people, may we see your divine power demolishing strongholds. Help us to make full use of the weapons you have given us for the spiritual battle in which we are all engaged.
2 Corinthians 10:1
‘I, Paul, am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away!’
I can certainly relate to that. It is very encouraging that Paul felt intimidated when having to face the Corinthian church. Yet, he describes himself as ‘bold’ when writing from afar.