HOW CAN YOU KEEP FROM LOSING YOUR MIND?

 

Week of February 28, 2010

 

Bible Verses:2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-17.

 

Lesson Focus:This lesson is about realizing we are in a spiritual battle with evil and knowing how to protect ourselves using the resources God provides.

 

Look Out: Ephesians 6:10-12.

 

[10]Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [11]Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [12]For 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.[ESV]

 

A thorough knowledge of the enemy and a healthy respect for his prowess are a necessary preliminary to victory in war. Similarly, if we underestimate our spiritual enemy, we shall see no need for Godís armor, we shall go out to the battle unarmed, with no weapons but our own puny strength, and we shall be quickly and ignominiously defeated. So in between his summons to seek the Lordís strength and put on Godís armor on the one hand [10-11] and his itemizing of our weapons on the other [13-20] Paul gives us a full and frightening description of the forces arrayed against us [12]. Our struggle is not with human beings (flesh and blood) but with cosmic intelligences; our enemies are not human but demonic. The forces arrayed against us have three main characteristics. First, they are powerful (rulers, authorities, cosmic powers). Secondly, they are wicked (spiritual forces of evil). Power itself is neutral; it can be well used or misused. But our spiritual enemies use their power destructively rather than constructively, for evil not for good. They are the worldwide rulers of this present darkness. They hate the light, and shrink from it. Darkness is their natural habitat, the darkness of falsehood and sin. They operate in the heavenly places; that is, in the sphere of invisible reality. The appearance of Christ on earth was the signal for an unprecedented outburst of activity on the part of the realm of darkness controlled by these world-rulers. If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs. Thirdly, they are cunning (schemes of the devil). It is because the devil seldom attacks openly, preferring darkness to light, that when he transforms himself into an angel of light we are caught unsuspecting. He is a dangerous wolf, but enters Christís flock in the disguise of a sheep. Sometimes he roars like a lion, but more often is as subtle as a serpent. We must not imagine, therefore, that open persecution and open temptation to sin are his only or even his commonest weapons; he prefers to seduce us into compromise and deceive us into error. The schemes of the devil take many forms, but he is at his wiliest when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist. To deny his reality is to expose ourselves the more to his subtlety. Only the power of God can defend and deliver us from the might, the evil and the craft of the devil. He was defeated at the cross and is now under Christís feet and ours. When Paul urges us to draw upon the power, might and strength of the Lord Jesus [10], he uses exactly the same trio of words which he has used in 1:19 in relation to Godís work of raising Jesus from the dead. The two exhortations in verses 10 and 11 stand side by side. Both commands are conspicuous examples of the balanced teaching of Scripture. Paul expresses the proper combination of divine enabling and human cooperation. The power is indeed the Lordís, and without the strength of his might we shall falter and fall, but still we need to be strong in Him. Similarly, the armor is Godís and without it we shall be fatally unprotected and exposed, but still we need to take it up and put it on. Indeed we should do so piece by piece, as Paul goes on to explain in verses 13-17.

 

Gear Up: Ephesians 6:13-17.

 

[13]Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. [14]Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15]and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16]In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17]and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,[ESV]

 

The purpose of investing ourselves with the divine armor is that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil [11]; that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm [13]; stand therefore [14]. This fourfold emphasis on the need to stand or withstand shows that Paulís concern is for Christian stability. Wobbly Christians who have no firm foothold in Christ are an easy prey for the devil. And Christians who shake like reeds and rushes cannot resist the wind when the principalities and powers begin to blow. Paul wants to see Christians so strong and stable that they remain firm even against the devilís schemes and even in the evil day, that is, in a time of special pressure. For such stability, both of character and in crisis, the armor of God is essential. Paul details the six main pieces of a soldierís equipment: the belt, the breastplate, the boots, the shield, the helmet and the sword. He uses them as pictures of the truth, righteousness, good news of peace, faith, salvation and word of God which equip us in our fight against the powers. Paul was very familiar with Roman soldiers. He met many in his travels, and as he dictated Ephesians he was chained to one by the wrist. The first piece of equipment which Paul mentions is the belt of truth. Usually made of leather, the soldierís belt belonged rather to his underwear than his armor. Yet it was essential. It gathered his tunic together and also held his sword. It ensured that he was unimpeded when marching. Now the Christian soldierís belt is truth. This truth can refer to the revelation of God in Christ and in Scripture. For certainly it is only the truth which can dispel the devilís lies and set us free. But truth can also refer to oneís sincerity or integrity; to be a truthful, reliable person. The Christian must at all costs be honest and truthful. To be deceitful, to lapse into hypocrisy, to resort to intrigue and scheming, this is to play the devilís game, and we shall not be able to beat him at his own game. What he abominates is transparent truth. He loves darkness; light causes him to flee. For spiritual as for mental health, honesty about oneself is indispensable. The second item of the Christianís equipment is the breastplate of righteousness. The soldierís breastplate often covered his back as well as his front, and was his major piece of armor protecting all his most vital organs. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul has written of the breastplate of faith and love, but here the breastplate consists of righteousness. In Paulís letters righteousness more often than not means justification, that is, Godís gracious initiative in putting sinners right with Himself through Christ. To have been justified by His grace through simple faith in Christ crucified, to be clothed with a righteousness which is not oneís own but Christís, to stand before God not condemned but accepted Ė that is an essential defense against an accusing conscience and against the slanderous attacks of the evil one. The gospel shoes come next in the list. The Christian soldierís shoes are the readiness given by the gospel of peace. This refers to a certain firmness or steadfastness which the gospel gives to those who believe it, like the firmness which strong boots give to those who wear them. And certainly if we have received the good news, and are enjoying the peace with God and with one another which it brings, we have the firmest possible foothold from which to fight evil. The devil fears and hates the gospel, because it is Godís power to rescue people from his tyranny, both us who have received it and those with whom we share it. So we need to keep our gospel boots strapped on. Our fourth piece of equipment is the shield of faith which we are to take up in all circumstances. The word Paul uses denotes not the small round shield which left most of the body unprotected, but the long oblong one which covered the whole person. It was specially designed to put out the dangerous incendiary missiles then in use, specially arrows dipped in pitch which were then lit and fired. What, then, are all the flaming darts of the evil one and with what shield can Christians protect themselves? The devilís darts no doubt include his mischievous accusations which inflame our conscience with what can only be called false guilt. Other darts are unsought thoughts of doubt and disobedience, rebellion, lust, malice or fear. But there is a shield with which we can quench or extinguish all such fire-tipped darts. It is the shield of faith. God Himself is a shield to those who take refuge in him [Prov. 30:5], and it is by faith that we flee to Him for refuge. For faith lays hold of the promises of God in times of doubt and depression, and faith lays hold of the power of God in times of temptation. The Roman soldierís helmet, which is the next piece of armor on the list, was usually made of a tough metal like bronze or iron. Nothing short of an axe or hammer could pierce a heavy helmet, and in some cases a hinged visor added frontal protection. According to an earlier statement of Paulís, the Christian soldierís helmet is the hope of salvation [1 Thess. 5:8], that is, our assurance of future and final salvation. Whether our head piece is that measure of salvation which we have already received (forgiveness, deliverance from Satanís bondage, and adoption into Godís family) or the confident expectation of full salvation on the last day (including resurrection glory and Christ-likeness in heaven), there is no doubt that Godís saving power is our only defense against the enemy of our souls. The sixth and last weapon to be specified is the sword of the Spirit. Of all the six pieces of armor or weaponry listed, the sword is the only one which can clearly be used for attack as well as defense. Moreover, the kind of attack envisaged will involve a close personal encounter, for the word used is for the short sword. This sword of the Spirit is then immediately identified as the word of God, which is Scripture, Godís written word, whose origin is repeatedly attributed to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Still today it is His sword, for He still uses it to cut through peopleís defenses, to prick their consciences and to stab them spiritually awake. Yet he also puts His sword into our hands, so that we may use it both in resisting temptation and in evangelism. Here, then, are the six pieces which together make up the whole armor of God which He supplies to us but which we must take up and put on and use confidently against the powers of evil. Moreover, we must be sure to avail ourselves of every item of equipment provided and not omit any.

 

Think Strategically: 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.

 

[3]For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. [4]For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.

[5]We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,[ESV]

 

Paul admits that his apostleship in no way renders him superior to human infirmity. He is no superman, but has to walk in the flesh as all other men; that is, living his life subject to the laws and limitations which are common to human flesh. But in the exercise of his apostleship, which involves him in a spiritual campaign in which he is always on active service, he is not at the mercy of the instincts of corrupt human nature, nor does he have to rely on his own human resources. Frail human being though he is, as a man in Christ he is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Here lies the permanent source and the unfailing supply of his supernatural strength and courage. As his warfare is spiritual, so the weapons with which he fights must be those bestowed by the Spirit. Carnal or fleshly weapons, such as human cleverness or ingenuity, organizing ability, eloquent diatribe, powerful propaganda, or reliance on charm or forcefulness of personality, are all in themselves quite unavailing in the ceaseless task of pulling down the strongholds, in which evil is entrenched. Such carnal weapons may win superficial or temporary victories, but it soon becomes evident that evil has not been driven from its fortress. The only weapons adequate for the struggle come from God, and He alone enables them to be effective. The Christian will always be fighting a losing battle against temptation if he tries to fight against evil in his own strength, according to the flesh. The warfare is not against flesh and blood [Eph. 6:12], but against invisible and intangible spiritual forces which invade human nature and insinuate devilish thoughts into menís minds. Human arguments are the opinions or convictions of those who set themselves and the deductions of their minds against the truth of God. That truth has been made known partly in the world of creation and more clearly in the Christian gospel. The language used by Paul would seem to refer especially to the subtle philosophic arguments, the cunning devices, and the relentless cruelty with which these godless opinions are given expression. But, as the spiritual warfare continues to be waged, these strongholds of evil are penetrated, and every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. One of the most astonishing and undeniable arguments for the truth of the Christian religion, and for the omnipotence of God, is the fact that, when faced with the gospel, which is a scandal to the human intellect and folly to proud, unregenerate men, some of the most subtle of human intellects have been led to render submission to the Savior. Many of the wisest have been content to become as fools for Christís sake, and not a few of the freest of thinkers have surrendered their freedom to become slaves of Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What are the three main characteristics of the spiritual forces arrayed against us? What are the two things Paul commands us to do in our battle against these spiritual forces?

 

2.†††††††† List and explain the significance of the six pieces of the armor of God that we are to use in our battle against the spiritual forces of evil. Write these six things down on a card and take them with you this week. Think about how you are to use these items in order to stand against the schemes of the devil.

 

3.†††††††† In Ephesians 6:17-18, Paul mentions two spiritual weapons: the Word of God and prayer. How can you use these weapons to both destroy arguments against the Gospel and take every thought captive to obey Christ?

 

References:

The Second Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

The Message to the Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.