TBU: The Bible Unpacked: Comprehensive Edition

II. Spiritual Warfare

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Chapter 36  Part II

Spiritual Warfare

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Living as God wants necessarily means involvement in spiritual warfare. Believers are faced with challenges from spiritual adversaries and also from within themselves. Although the forces that oppose believers are formidable, the Bible gives clear instructions on how to counter any threat – through the supreme power of God.

The Existence of Spiritual Warfare

Believers are involved in conflict of a spiritual nature

1Tim 1:18b  [Paul, to Timothy:] I tell you this so you can follow them and fight the good fight.  NCV™

The Greek rendered here as “fight the good fight” alludes to warfare (cf. AMP), in contrast to the Greek behind the same rendering later in 6:12. As such it refers to or at least reflects the spiritual warfare in which believers are involved.

Believers have spiritual enemies . . .

Eph 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.  NET

Although believers may have human opponents, primarily and ultimately their struggle is against spiritual powers.

. . . Believers have Satan as an enemy

1Pet 5:8  Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour.  NET

Believers have human enemies, spiritually opposed to them

Phil 1:28a  Be brave when you face your enemies. Your courage will show them that they are going to be destroyed, and it will show you that you will be saved.  CEV

Believers have human enemies who are opposed to them in regard to spiritual matters – notably in seeking to prevent the spread of the gospel and/or in seeking to impose their own opposing beliefs.

Believers face internal spiritual conflict

1Pet 2:11  [Peter, to believers:] Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and exiles to keep on abstaining from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.  ISV

Gal 5:17  For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want.  NET

The opposing desires of the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit, who indwells believers, produce spiritual conflict within believers. Note that the final clause is probably speaking of the influence of the sinful nature in hindering one from doing the good one wants to do – in conflict with the Holy Spirit. Alternatively, it possibly could be speaking of the Spirit helping us to not indulge the desires that we naturally want to fulfill.

God and Jesus Christ aid believers in spiritual warfare, enabling them to overcome

2Tim 4:18  [Paul:] The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will take me safely to his heavenly kingdom. Glory belongs to him forever and ever! Amen.  ISV

Rom 8:31, 37-39  [Paul:] What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?37No, in all these things we have complete victory through him [Christ] who loved us! 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  NET

 Questions for Section A

Engaging in Spiritual Warfare

Believers are to engage in spiritual warfare both in standing firm in their faith and in advancing the cause of God’s kingdom. Generally speaking, the former has a defensive sense and the latter an offensive sense.

Be on your guard against spiritual dangers

2Pet 3:17b  Be on your guard, then, so that you will not be led away by the errors of lawless people and fall from your safe position.  GNT

Resist Satan

James 4:7  So submit to God. But resist the devil and he will flee from you.  NET

1Pet 5:9  Be firm in your faith and resist him [Satan], because you know that your fellow-believers in all the world are going through the same kind of sufferings.  GNT

Use spiritual weapons and armor

2Cor 10:3-4  [Paul:] For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, 4for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments …  NET

Eph 6:13-15  For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 15by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, …  NET

Verse 15 is most likely speaking of believers having a strong grasp of the truths of the gospel so as to be ready for action (cf. NASB, NCV, NKJV). Possibly a readiness to proclaim this gospel is in view (cf. CEV, GNT, NRSV).

Spiritual weapons and armor include: faith; . . .

Eph 6:16  At all times carry faith as a shield; for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One.  GNT

1Pet 1:4b-5  [Peter, to believers:] It is reserved in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  NET

. . . God’s word; . . .

Eph 6:17  And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  NET

The description of God’s word as “the sword of the Spirit” reflects its: power; offensive and defensive roles; spiritual nature; and importance to the work of the Holy Spirit. Note that the “helmet of salvation” may well have in view the hope of salvation (cf. 1Thes 5:8).

. . . and prayer

Matt 6:13  [Prayer to God:] Don’t allow us to be tempted. Instead, rescue us from the evil one.  GW

Eph 6:18  Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people.  CEV

In the face of evil (cf. vv. 11, 13), believers should keep on praying – not just for themselves but for all God’s people.

 Questions for Section B

Counteraction of Demons

Distinguishing between the Holy Spirit and demons

1Jn 4:1-3, 6  [John:] Dear friends, stop believing every spirit. Instead, test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2This is how you can recognize God’s Spirit: Every spirit who acknowledges that Jesus the Messiah has come in the flesh is from God. 3But every spirit who does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist. You have heard that he is coming, and now he is already in the world. … 6We belong to God. The person who knows God listens to us. Whoever does not belong to God does not listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.  ISV

In vv. 1-3, “spirit” refers to a spirit influencing a person. Having in view a particular heresy that was facing his readers, John indicates that they could tell if the spirit in a prophet (v. 1; CEV, GNT, NLT) is the Holy Spirit or an evil one by whether or not the prophet acknowledged Jesus Christ, in particular whether they acknowledged that he had come in the flesh. To do so would be indicative of the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and conviction. Presumably this test for recognizing the Holy Spirit can be applied to other biblical truths about Jesus Christ (cf. 1Cor 12:3).

Additionally, one can infer from v. 6 that prophets or teachers who do not listen to the teachings of the apostles are not from God and are under the influence of evil spirits.

Jesus Christ drove out demons . . .

Mark 1:34, 39  So he healed many who were sick with various diseases and drove out many demons. But he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. … 39So he went into all of Galilee preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.  NET

. . . Jesus Christ gave some of his followers similar authority over demons

Mark 6:7, 13  He called the twelve disciples together and sent them out two by two. He gave them authority over the evil spirits13They drove out many demons, and rubbed olive oil on many sick people and healed them.  GNT

These verses show that Jesus gave his disciples authority over demons. They do not imply that this authority is necessarily given to all believers.

Demons are driven out of people in Jesus Christ’s “name”

Acts 16:18  She [a girl with an evil spirit] continued to do this for many days. But Paul became greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out of her at once.  NET

To do things in Jesus Christ’s “name” involves acting: as his representative; by his authority; and in accordance with his will. It involves acting in reliance on his power, by faith in him.

The Holy Spirit, faith and prayer also figure in the driving out of demons

Matt 12:28  [Jesus:] But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.  NET

Matt 17:18-20  Then Jesus spoke sternly to the demon. It went out of the boy, and right then he was healed. 19Later the disciples went to Jesus in private and asked him, “Why couldn’t we force out the demon?”  20-21 Jesus replied: It is because you don’t have enough faith! But I can promise you this. If you had faith no larger than a mustard seed, you could tell this mountain to move from here to there. And it would. Everything would be possible for you.  CEV

Mark 9:28-29  Then, after he [Jesus] went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” 29He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”  NET

 Questions for Section C

Ungodly Spiritualistic Practices

In conjunction with engaging in spiritual warfare, we are not to engage in any ungodly spiritualistic practices, which ultimately involve cooperative interaction with demons and even Satan.

Do not practice witchcraft or other occult practices

Deut 18:10-11  [Moses, to the Israelites:] You must never sacrifice your sons or daughters by burning them alive, practice black magic, be a fortuneteller, witch, or sorcerer, 11cast spells, ask ghosts or spirits for help, or consult the dead.  GW

Do not consult anyone who does perform occult practices

Lev 19:31a  Do not go for advice to people who consult the spirits of the dead.  GNT

Isa 47:13-14a  [God, to the Babylonians:] You are powerless in spite of the advice you get. Let your astrologers come forward and save you— those people who study the stars, who map out the zones of the heavens and tell you from month to month what is going to happen to you. 14“They will be like bits of straw, and a fire will burn them up! They will not even be able to save themselves …  GNT

Do not have other “gods” or idols

Ex 20:2-6  [God, to the Israelites:] “I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 3“You shall have no other gods before me. 4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, 6and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  NET

Other “gods” or idols are lifeless . . .

Ps 135:15-17  The nations’ idols are made of silver and gold, they are man–made. 16They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see, 17and ears, but cannot hear. Indeed, they cannot breathe.  NET

. . . and so they are useless

1Sam 12:21  Idols are of no use, so don’t worship them. They can’t help you or save you. They are useless!  NCV™

Worship of idols is correlated with worship of demons

1Cor 10:19-20  [Paul, to believers:] I do not mean that the food sacrificed to an idol is important. I do not mean that an idol is anything at all. 20But I say that what is sacrificed to idols is offered to demons, not to God. And I do not want you to share anything with demons.  NCV™

Although idol worshipers may believe that they are offering sacrifices to an idol, they are in reality ultimately offering them to demons.

Having other “gods” is detrimental to our relationship with God

Deut 31:18  [God, referring to the Israelites:] On that day I will certainly turn away from them because of all the evil they’ve done in turning to other gods.  GW

Having other “gods” will culminate in God’s retribution

Josh 24:20  [Joshua, to the Israelites:] If you abandon the Lord and worship foreign gods, he will turn against you; he will bring disaster on you and destroy you, though he once treated you well.  NET

Note: Other “gods” and idolatry are not restricted to physical images

Phil 3:19  [Paul, speaking of enemies of the gospel:] Their destiny is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on worldly things.  ISV

Here “belly” possibly is being used as a metaphor for “bodily desires” (GNT, cf. NCV). Regardless, Paul clearly has in view a mindset focused on earthly or worldly things, making them one’s top priority, effectively one’s “god”.

Eph 5:5  You may be sure that no one who is immoral, indecent, or greedy (for greed is a form of idolatry) will ever receive a share in the Kingdom of Christ and of God.  GNT

Greedy people effectively put material things in the place of God. As such they are “serving a false god” (NCV).

 Questions for Section D

Pray for persecuted Christians