In-Depth Edition

II. Spiritual Warfare


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Chapter 36  Part II

Spiritual Warfare

See also:

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 1:18  This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, … ▤ 

Note that the phrase “by them” appears to refer to the prophecies made about Timothy, likely ones regarding his ministry. As such Paul may be speaking of Timothy drawing encouragement from these in waging “the good warfare”.

Eph 6:13  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. ▤ 

Conflict with evil spiritual adversaries is in view (cf. v. 12 ).

1Cor 9:7  Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk? ▤ 

In using these three examples or illustrations to make a point, Paul may have in mind that there are other parallels between such workers and the Christian life. As such the first rhetorical question reflects that believers serve as soldiers, in spiritual warfare.

2Cor 7:5  For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. ▤ 

Spiritual conflict often has a non-spiritual dimension or effect/s, as is mostly in view here and below in Philippians 1:29-30 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2 (and arguably other verses in this subsection).

Phil 1:29-30  For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. ▤ 

Col 2:8  See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spiritsa of the world, and not according to Christ. ▤ 

a Or elementary principles; also verse 20

1Thes 2:2  But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict. ▤ 

1Tim 6:12  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. ▤ 

“Fight the good fight” is more often understood to be an allusion to sport (cf. 2Tim 4:7-8) rather than warfare. Nevertheless, it is reflective of and readily applicable to the spiritual warfare that believers are involved in.

2Tim 2:3-4  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. ▤ 

Paul likens spiritual aspects of the Christian life to the life of a soldier. These aspects are endurance of hardship (v. 3) – such as persecution by enemies – and undivided devotion to the Lord’s cause (v. 4).

Believers have spiritual enemies, notably Satan

See also:

Eph 6:12  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. ▤ 

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

1Pet 5:8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ▤ 

Rev 12:17a  Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. ▤ 

The dragon signifies Satan. The woman (cf. vv. 1-6) may be symbolic of the church. Alternatively the woman may symbolize primarily Israel or believing Jews.

Rev 2:10  Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. ▤ 

Matt 13:38-39  The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. ▤ 

Satan, or the devil, is spoken of in this passage primarily as the enemy of the “Son of Man” (v. 37), Jesus Christ. By implication he is also the enemy of Christ’s followers.

Believers have human enemies, spiritually opposed to them

See also:

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.

Matt 10:35-36  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. ▤ 

Here Jesus quotes Micah 7:6 in emphasizing that as a result of following him, Christians may face hostility even from family members.

John 15:19-20  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. ▤ 

The “world” (cf. James 4:4 ) is the flawed, ungodly world order – including ungodly people – which is under Satan’s control and opposed to God. Those who are of the “world” often hate and even persecute Christians.

1Cor 16:8-9  But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. ▤ 

Phil 1:27-28  Only let your manner of life be worthyb of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. ▤ 

b Greek Only behave as citizens worthy

Heb 12:3-4  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ▤ 

In view of v. 3 and the reference to shedding blood (v. 4b), “sin” (v. 4a) appears to primarily be referring to sinful forces, notably physical enemies. However, the use of “sin” may also allude to believers’ own internal fight against temptation and sin.

James 4:4  You adulterous people!c Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. ▤ 

c Greek You adulteresses!

This implies that all that is in the “world” – including those who are of it – are enemies of God and by implication of God’s people.

Ps 38:19  But my foes are vigorous, they are mighty, and many are those who hate me wrongfully. ▤ 

The psalmists often speak of their enemies, some of whom it would appear were antagonistic towards them in part because of the psalmists’ relationship with God.

Believers face internal spiritual conflict

See also:

Although opposing spiritual forces are understood to at least at times play a role in internal spiritual conflicts that believers face, these internal conflicts are in no small part due to the sinful human nature – as shown in the following verses.

Rom 7:21-23  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. ▤ 

Even though believers desire to do what is right, they face conflict with the controlling power of sin – the “law” or controlling principle of sin (v. 23). Note, however, that there is some debate amongst commentators as to whether Paul is talking here of his Christian or his pre-Christian experience.

Gal 5:17  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. ▤ 

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.

Rom 8:13  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. ▤ 

Through the Holy Spirit believers are to keep killing off the tendencies and actions of our sinful beings.

1Pet 2:11  Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. ▤ 

James 4:1  What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passionsd are at war within you?e ▤ 

d Greek pleasures; also verse 3

e Greek in your members

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

See also:

Luke 10:19-20  Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven. ▤ 

Here “serpents and scorpions” (v. 19) most likely is a reference to evil spirits (v. 20). The “enemy” is Satan (cf. CEV). There is disagreement among commentators as to whether this authority was only given primarily to the disciples or is more widely applicable.

Rom 8:31, 35-39  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can bef against us? ▤ 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ▤ 

f Or who is

Verse 31b implies that if God is for us then no one can effectively oppose us. It would appear that “all these things” (v. 37) includes the aspects of spiritual warfare mentioned – such as persecution and threat of being killed (vv. 35-36) and also demonic “powers” (v. 38).

Rom 16:20  The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. ▤ 

2Cor 2:14  But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. ▤ 

The “triumphal procession” alludes to Roman triumphs, where a victorious general would lead his soldiers and captives in a parade, accompanied by the fragrance of incenses. Similarly, God triumphantly leads believers in Christ, and through them spreads the fragrance of the message of Christ.

2Tim 4:18  The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. ▤ 

The term translated here as “evil deed” is sometimes rendered “evil attack” (NIV®, NLT, NRSV; cf. AMP).

1Jn 4:4  Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. ▤ 

The reference is to overcoming false prophets or teachers.

Isa 54:15, 17  If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. ▤ 17no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindicationg from me, declares the Lord. ▤ 

g Or righteousness

These promises are made to Jerusalem in its time of future renewal. Arguably, they are applicable at least in a spiritual sense to believers of all ages.

  • God has even given believers victory over death:

1Cor 15:54-57  When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ▤ 

God has even given us victory over death by what he has done for us in Jesus Christ, releasing us from the law and so nullifying the power of sin with its consequences, principally death.

Pray for persecuted Christians

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.

Beware of spiritual dangers

See also:

Matt 10:16-17  Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, … ▤ 

Verse 16a illustrates the need to be alert to opponents (v. 17a) – as does (v. 17b). The two directives in v. 16b similarly reflect this need.

Luke 12:1  In the meantime, when so many thousands of the people had gathered together that they were trampling one another, he began to say to his disciples first, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. ▤ 

Jesus is warning his disciples to guard against being fooled by and/or falling into the hypocritical ways of the Pharisees.

Luke 12:15  And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” ▤ 

1Cor 16:13  Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. ▤ 

2Pet 3:17  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. ▤ 

2Tim 4:14-15  Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. ▤ 

  • Guard the message of the gospel:

2Tim 1:13-14  Follow the pattern of the soundh words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. ▤ 

h Or healthy

Resist Satan

James 4:7  Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. ▤ 

1Pet 5:9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. ▤ 

To encourage his readers to stand firm amidst sufferings he appears to associate with Satan, Peter points out that fellow believers are also undergoing such sufferings. In resisting Satan, believers should draw strength in the knowledge that they are not alone, but part of a fellowship of suffering believers.

Matt 4:10-11  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. ▤ 

Jesus provides an excellent example (cf. vv. 3-9) of effectively resisting Satan.

Eph 4:26-27  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and give no opportunity to the devil. ▤ 

Anger is not always in itself sinful, but anger should not be allowed to linger, as it makes one susceptible to Satan’s schemes. In resisting Satan we should not entertain anything that might give Satan an opportunity.

1Jn 2:13  I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. ▤ 

The clause “you have overcome the evil one” may be referring to: primarily the believer’s victory over Satan and evil through being in Jesus Christ and sharing in his victory; and/or victories in ongoing combat with Satan. The believers in question serve as encouraging examples of ones who have successfully resisted and overcome Satan.

Use spiritual weapons and armor

Eph 6:10-15  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For 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. 13Therefore 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. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. ▤ 

In v. 15, “the readiness given by the gospel of peace” may well speak of a readiness to proclaim the gospel (cf. CEV, GNT, NRSV), a readiness produced in us by its message. The gospel produces such readiness by its wonderful good news, along with its warnings – both of which should inspire and motivate us to tell others.

2Cor 6:7  … by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; … ▤ 

The term “weapons of righteousness” is often understood as a reference to the spiritual power and protection given by a life of righteousness and integrity – “right living” (NCV™, cf. CEV, GNT, NLT). However some see it as possibly referring to “weapons” associated with the righteousness believers have in God’s sight (through being justified and deemed righteous). These would include other spiritual weapons spoken of in this and the following subsections. Note that although “truthful speech” is not specifically presented as such here, truth is portrayed as a spiritual weapon elsewhere (cf. Eph 6:14 ).

2Cor 10:3-5  For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, … ▤ 

Paul used such weapons as proclaiming the gospel, prayer and faith – weapons involving God’s divine power (v. 4; cf. 2Cor 6:7 ) – to demolish opposition to God. In doing so he took “captive” for Christ “every thought” (v. 5) of people, bringing their thinking in line with the gospel.

Rom 13:12  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. ▤ 

“The night” refers to this age that is so characterized by spiritual darkness. In saying that it “is far gone”, the thought may be that it “is far spent”, running out of power – and “almost gone” (NASB, NLT; cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NIV). The phrase “the day” probably refers to the age to come (cf. NCV text note) – though some understand it to more specifically refer to the day of Christ’s return (cf. NIrV). As we look forward to “the day” we should arm ourselves with godly spiritual attitudes and actions that are characteristic of God’s spiritual light.

1Thes 5:8  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. ▤ 

The “hope of salvation” gives confidence and encouragement during the battle. Note that the use of “the day” is similar to that in Romans 13:12 above, but probably speaks more generally of God’s spiritual light and realm in its present form.

2Tim 1:14  By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. ▤ 

1Pet 4:1  Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh,i arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, … ▤ 

i Some manuscripts add for us; some for you

Believers are to “arm” themselves with the same attitude as Jesus Christ had in the face suffering (cf. 2:19-23) – a steely resolve to do God’s will, being willing to patiently endure suffering.

1Sam 17:45  Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. ▤ 

As opposed to simply relying on physical weapons, David had come to fight in God’s name – on God’s authority and in reliance on his power.

  • Reference to God putting on armor and garments for battle:

Isa 59:17-18  He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. 18According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. ▤ 

The above NT references to putting on spiritual armor may well have been inspired by v. 17.

Spiritual weapons and armor include: faith; . . .

See also:

Eph 6:16  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; … ▤ 

1Tim 1:18-19  This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, … ▤ 

In v. 19 “faith” appears to be referring to one’s faith in God – as reflected in most modern translations – although some commentators understand it to be speaking of “the faith”, the body of Christian truth. Note, never underestimate the importance for spiritual warfare of “a good conscience” (v. 19a).

1Pet 1:3-5  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ▤ 

1Pet 5:9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. ▤ 

Christians are to stand against Satan by faith in God.

1Jn 5:3-5  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? ▤ 

To “overcome the world” means to rise above its sinful way of life. This victory is our faith (v. 4) – or won through our faith, “by means of our faith” (GNT) – which is essentially believing that Jesus is the Son of God (v. 5) and acting accordingly.

Heb 11:32-34  And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets 33who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. ▤ 

Physical engagements (cf. Ps 27:1-3 ) are generally, at least in a sense, a manifestation or product of spiritual warfare – and likewise should be undertaken in faith.

Rev 12:11  And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. ▤ 

This appears to be saying that the believers in question overcame Satan by their belief in and testimony to Jesus Christ’s death and its outcomes. Such an inference is applicable to all believers in their conflict with Satan.

Ps 27:1-3  The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strongholdj of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 2When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. 3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yetk I will be confident. ▤ 

j Or refuge

k Or in this

At the prospect of facing physical enemies, David shows exemplary faith. Believers should show such faith when facing (or amidst) any conflict.

. . . God’s word; . . .

Eph 6:17  … and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, … ▤ 

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).

Heb 4:12  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. ▤ 

This is indicative of the potency of God’s word as a spiritual weapon.

1Jn 2:14  I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. ▤ 

Although not stated directly, this may well be implying that the word of God living in these people was a significant factor in them overcoming Satan.

Matt 4:3-11  And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” 11Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. ▤ 

Three times Satan tempts Jesus and each time Jesus uses God’s word to rebuff Satan. Note that Satan is himself prepared to use God’s word (v. 6), misconstruing it, in tempting people.

Ps 119:98, 110, 114  Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. ▤ 110The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts. ▤ 114You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word. ▤ 

God’s word makes one wiser than one’s enemies (v. 98). It also enables one to escape spiritual snares that one’s enemies may set, as arguably can be inferred from v. 110. Verse 114 indicates that the fact that God is the believer’s hiding place and shield in the face of adversaries, gives good reason to base one’s hope on his word.

. . . and prayer

See also:

Eph 6:18  … praying 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, … ▤ 

In the face of evil (cf. vv. 11, 13), believers should keep on praying – not just for themselves but for “all the saints”.

Matt 6:13  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.l ▤ 

l Or the evil one; some manuscripts add For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen

We should ask God to deliver us from all forms of evil – including Satan (cf. text note). The fact that this request is part of the “Lord’s Prayer” is indicative of the prominence such requests should have in our prayers.

Luke 22:31-32  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,m that he might sift you like wheat, 32but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” ▤ 

m The Greek word for you (twice in this verse) is plural; in verse 32, all four instances are singular

Jesus’ prayers for his followers against Satan’s attacks (cf. John 17:15 ) illustrate that we also should pray for the spiritual protection of ourselves and other believers.

John 17:15  I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.n ▤ 

n Or from evil

Phil 4:6-7  … do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ▤ 

Prayer leads to God’s peace which will “guard” our hearts and minds.

Ps 35:1-3  Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me! 2Take hold of shield and buckler and rise for my help! 3Draw the spear and javelino against my pursuers! Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!” ▤ 

o Or and close the way

Here and in 55:16-18 below, David’s prayers regarding physical warfare are eminently applicable to spiritual warfare. There are no doubt other such examples.

Ps 55:16-18  But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. 17Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice. 18He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me. ▤ 

Pray for persecuted Christians

Counteraction of Demons

See also:

Distinguishing between the Holy Spirit and demons

See also:

Even within the church a person operating with marked powers or abilities is not necessarily gifted by the Holy Spirit. The person may instead be possessed or under the influence of a demon (or evil spirit), empowering him or her. Thus churches need to be able to determine whether the Holy Spirit or an evil spirit is at work in such a person. Guidelines regarding how to do this are given below in 1 Corinthians 12:3 and 1 John 4:2-3, 6. However the fact that 1 Corinthians 12:10 below speaks of a spiritual gift of “distinguishing between spirits” indicates that at least at times a person with this gift is required.

1Cor 12:1-3  Now concerningp spiritual gifts,q brothers,r I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. ▤ 

p The expression Now concerning introduces a reply to a question in the Corinthians’ letter; see 7:1

q Or spiritual persons

r Or brothers and sisters

In the context of discussing spiritual gifts (v. 1; cf. vv. 7-11, 27-31) and with the reference in v. 2 to being influenced and led astray to worship idols, in v. 3 Paul quite likely has distinguishing between the Holy Spirit and evil spirits in view. Evil spirits will typically not allow a person to openly acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, instead evoking cursing of him.

1Jn 4:1-3  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. ▤ 

Here “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 ).

1Jn 4:6  We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. ▤ 

We can infer from this that teachers who do not listen to the teachings of the apostles are not from God and are under the influence of evil spirits.

  • The spiritual gift of being able to distinguish between spirits:

1Cor 12:7-8, 10  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, ▤ 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. ▤ 

Jesus Christ drove out demons . . .

See also:

Matt 8:16  That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. ▤ 

Matt 9:32-33  As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” ▤ 

Matt 12:28  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. ▤ 

Matt 17:18  And Jesus rebuked the demon,s and itt came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.u ▤ 

s Greek it

t Greek the demon

u Greek from that hour

Mark 1:34, 39  And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. ▤ 39And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. ▤ 

Mark 9:25-27  And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. ▤ 

Mark 16:9  Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. ▤ 

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

The following verses show that Jesus gave his disciples and the seventy-two referred to in Luke 10:17-20 authority over demons – as God similarly did with Paul (Acts 19:11-12 ). These verses do not imply that this authority is necessarily given to all believers.

Mark 6:7, 13  And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. ▤ 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. ▤ 

Luke 9:1  And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, … ▤ 

Luke 10:17-20  The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” ▤ 

As noted earlier, “serpents and scorpions” (v. 19) probably speaks figuratively of demons or evil spirits, referred to in vv. 17, 20. The “enemy” (v. 19) is Satan.

Acts 5:12a, 16  Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. ▤ 16The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed. ▤ 

Acts 8:6-7  And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. 7For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. ▤ 

  • Similarly, God drove out demons through Paul:

Acts 19:11-12  And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. ▤ 

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

See also:

To drive out demons in Jesus Christ’s “name” is usually understood to mean to do so with his authority. For a fuller explanation of what doing things “in the name of Jesus Christ” means, see . . . Do God’s work in the “name” of Jesus Christ.

Mark 9:38-40  John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name,v and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40For the one who is not against us is for us. ▤ 

v Some manuscripts add who does not follow us

Mark 16:17  And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; … ▤ 

Acts 16:16-18  As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servantsw of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. ▤ 

w Greek bondservants

  • Jesus Christ’s name cannot be used by just anyone as a mere formula to drive out demons:

Acts 19:13-17  Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered allx of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. ▤ 

x Or both

This illustrates that Jesus Christ’s name cannot be used by just anyone as a mere formula or cliché to drive out demons. Although it is not specifically listed in the NT as a spiritual gift, the ability to drive out demons may be one. The Jews here attempting to drive out the demon may not even have been followers of Jesus Christ. Any previous success they may have had (cf. v. 13) would appear not to have been actually through Jesus Christ and his authority.

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

Matt 12:28  But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. ▤ 

Matt 17:18-20  And Jesus rebuked the demon,y and itz came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.a 19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”b ▤ 

y Greek it

z Greek the demon

a Greek from that hour

b Some manuscripts insert verse 21: But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting

Mark 9:28-29  And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”c ▤ 

c Some manuscripts add and fasting

Some commentators see Jesus’ reply as implying that the disciples had become somewhat self-reliant in the light of their past success at casting out demons, no longer relying prayerfully on God’s power. Alternatively, on face value Jesus’ reply indicates that certain kinds of demons can only be driven out by actually praying. Note that the text note points to a need for fasting along with prayer.

Pray for persecuted Christians

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

Lev 19:26  You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. ▤ 

Deut 18:10-12  There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering,d anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, 12for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. ▤ 

d Hebrew makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire

Divination (v. 10) involves seeking knowledge of events that cannot be gained through normal means – future events or ones otherwise indiscernible. Sorcery (v. 10) is practicing magic, particularly through spirits; it is essentially witchcraft. A medium (v. 11) is a person who communicates with spirits on behalf of others. Similarly, a necromancer (v. 11) is one who claims to communicate with the dead, particularly in order to predict the future. Verse 12b points out that such practices were the reason why the nations of Canaan were to be driven out.

1Sam 15:23  For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king. ▤ 

Isa 2:6  For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. ▤ 

The “things from the east” appear to be ones associated with magic practices (cf. GNT, NLT). Note that although not stated explicitly, both here and in the following reference (47:9, 12) God’s disapproval of the practices in question is implicit.

Isa 47:9, 12  These two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments. ▤ 12Stand fast in your enchantments and your many sorceries, with which you have labored from your youth; perhaps you may be able to succeed; perhaps you may inspire terror. ▤ 

Verse 12 is spoken with sarcasm.

Jer 8:2  And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped. And they shall not be gathered or buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. ▤ 

This appears to be speaking of the practice of astrology (cf. Isa 47:13-15 ) – and related acts – effectively denouncing astrology.

Ezek 13:20  Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free, the souls like birds. ▤ 

The “magic bands” – such as wristbands – were presumably given or sold to people, bringing them under the influence of the false prophetesses being addressed.

Mal 3:5  Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts. ▤ 

Acts 19:19  And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. ▤ 

Gal 5:19-21  Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy,e drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. ▤ 

e Some manuscripts add murder

Idolatry and sorcery are mentioned together here (cf. 1Sam 15:23 ; Rev 21:8 ), suggestive that idolatry and occult practices both have a spiritual aspect. It also illustrates that the two are often linked.

Rev 21:8  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. ▤ 

  • Related practices to avoid:

Lev 19:28  You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord. ▤ 

The forbidding of tattoos – along with cutting of the body – primarily had in view the significance of this in the pagan rituals of Israel’s neighbors. Some also see the practice of tattooing as disfiguring our bodies which were made in God’s likeness and so dishonoring to God; thus they see this command as a timeless one.

Do not consult anyone who does perform occult practices

Lev 19:31  Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God. ▤ 

Note that looking to spirits for help – through mediums or spiritists – demonstrates a lack of trust in God and unfaithfulness to him.

Lev 20:6  If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people. ▤ 

Deut 18:14  … for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. ▤ 

1Chr 10:13-14  So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse. ▤ 

Isa 8:19  And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? ▤ 

Isa 47:13-15  You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. 14Behold, they are like stubble; the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before! 15Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have done business with you from your youth; they wander about, each in his own direction; there is no one to save you. ▤ 

The last statement in v. 14 appears to reinforce the uselessness of astrologers, as per the theme of the subsequent verse (v. 15). They are not like coal or fire that is useful for warming people. Rather, as the prior statements in v. 14 imply, they themselves will be consumed in the fire of God’s judgment.

Zec 10:2  For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd. ▤ 

This points to the falseness and so also the unreliability of diviners.

Do not have other “gods” or idols

See also:

Ex 20:2-6, 23  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3“You shall have no other gods beforef me. 4“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing steadfast love to thousandsg of those who love me and keep my commandments. ▤ 23You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. ▤ 

f Or besides

g Or to the thousandth generation

The importance of the above verses is highlighted by the fact that they involve the first two of the Ten Commandments. Note that unlike the first commandment (v. 3), a number of commentators interpret the second (vv. 4-5) to be concerned more with how we worship, rather than just with who (or what) we worship. As God is spiritual and invisible, any visual representation of him is necessarily false – hence it is wrong to use any in worship of God (cf. Deut 4:15-18 ). However, it still may be that worship of other “gods” is primarily in view.

Ex 23:13, 23-24  Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips. ▤ 23“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites and the Hittites and the Perizzites and the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24you shall not bow down to their gods nor serve them, nor do as they do, but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars in pieces. ▤ 

2Ki 17:35  The Lord made a covenant with them and commanded them, “You shall not fear other gods or bow yourselves to them or serve them or sacrifice to them, … ▤ 

Ps 81:9  There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god. ▤ 

Ps 44:20-21  If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, 21would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart. ▤ 

Deut 4:15-18  Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, 17the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. ▤ 

Hos 14:3, 8  Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands. In you the orphan finds mercy.” ▤ 8O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you.h I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. ▤ 

h Hebrew him

The rhetorical question in v. 8 is in essence exhorting Israel to have nothing more to do with idols (cf. CEV, GNT, NCV, NLT).

1Cor 10:7, 14  Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” ▤ 14Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. ▤ 

1Jn 5:21  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. ▤ 

  • Do not worship any other thing:

Job 31:26-28  … if I have looked at the suni when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, 27and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand, 28this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I would have been false to God above. ▤ 

i Hebrew the light

The last clause of v. 27 appears to refer to offering a kiss of homage (cf. GNT, NCV, NIV).

Other “gods” and idols are man-made, lifeless and fallacies . . .

See also:

Ps 115:4-7  Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. ▤ 

Ps 135:15-17  The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 16They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; 17they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. ▤ 

Jer 10:3-5a, 14  … for the customs of the peoples are vanity.j A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. 4They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. 5Their idolsk are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. ▤ 14Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them. ▤ 

j Or vapor, or mist

k Hebrew They

Rev 9:20  The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, … ▤ 

Isa 44:12-20  The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil.l He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” 18They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. 19No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” 20He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” ▤ 

l Hebrew stylus

Any idea that idols are real is a delusion or a lie (v. 20; Jer 10:14 ; Isa 41:29 ), which should be obvious in view of who makes them and what they are made from (vv. 12-19).

1Cor 8:4  Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” ▤ 

Gal 4:8  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. ▤ 

The reference in the last clause is to supposed gods, who are in fact non-existent (CEV, NCV, NLT).

. . . Other “gods” and idols are useless

1Sam 12:21  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. ▤ 

Idols are “empty” – they are “nothing” (NKJV) and so “useless” (NCV™, NIV®, NLT, NRSV).

Isa 41:22-24, 29  Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. 23Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.m 24Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. ▤ 29Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind. ▤ 

m Or that we may both be dismayed and see

Isa 44:9-10  All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. 10Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? ▤ 

Isa 46:6-7  Those who lavish gold from the purse, and weigh out silver in the scales, hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; then they fall down and worship! 7They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place. If one cries to it, it does not answer or save him from his trouble. ▤ 

Jer 2:11-13  Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. 12Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. ▤ 

In v. 13 useless idols are compared to wells or reservoirs that are cracked and therefore useless for holding water.

Jer 10:5b, 15  Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” ▤ 15They are worthless, a work of delusion; at the time of their punishment they shall perish. ▤ 

Jer 11:12  Then the cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem will go and cry to the gods to whom they make offerings, but they cannot save them in the time of their trouble. ▤ 

Jer 14:22  Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things. ▤ 

Hab 2:18-19  What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! 19Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. ▤ 

1Ki 18:25-26  Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 26And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. ▤ 

Worship of idols is correlated with worship of demons

Most of the following references do not explicitly correlate worship of idols with worship of demons, but each reference makes or suggests an association between the two and appears to imply such a correlation.

1Cor 10:19-21  What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. ▤ 

Although idol worshipers may believe that they are offering sacrifices to an idol, they are in reality ultimately offering them to demons. As such one cannot take part in such practices and also acceptably participate in godly worship practices, such as the Lord’s Supper.

Lev 17:7  So they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations. ▤ 

The reference to sacrificing to demons (cf. Deut 32:17 ) likely speaks of the people’s sacrifices to idols, whom they considered to be gods but were in fact demonic.

Deut 32:16-17  They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. 17They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. ▤ 

The phrase “that were no gods” means that they were not real gods, with there only being one real God.

Ps 106:36-37  They served their idols, which became a snare to them. 37They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; … ▤ 

Rev 9:20  The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, … ▤ 

Having other “gods” and idols is very detrimental

2Chr 28:22-23  In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the Lord—this same King Ahaz. 23For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel. ▤ 

2Ki 17:15  They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the Lord had commanded them that they should not do like them. ▤ 

The people went after idols – things which are fallacies and futile – and became like them (cf. Ps 115:8 ), in effect “worthless” (CEV, GNT, NIV, NLT).

Ps 16:4  The sorrows of those who run aftern another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. ▤ 

n Or who acquire

Ps 97:7  All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods! ▤ 

Ps 106:36  They served their idols, which became a snare to them. ▤ 

Ps 115:8  Those who make them become like them [idols]; so do all who trust in them. ▤ 

People naturally tend to acquire characteristics and values associated with anyone or anything that they are devoted to. As such if people are devoted to worthless idols, they tend to acquire such things as foolishness and a corrupt morality.

Isa 42:17  They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, “You are our gods.” ▤ 

Isa 44:9, 11  All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame. ▤ 11Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together. ▤ 

Verse 9 is not actually asserting that the characteristics mentioned are a result of having idols, though possibly this is implied. Note that the idols’ “witnesses” refers either to those who testify to their authenticity, or to the worthlessness of those who worship them as evidencing what the idols themselves are like.

Jer 7:6  … if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, … ▤ 

Jer 7:18-19  The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 19Is it I whom they provoke? declares the Lord. Is it not themselves, to their own shame? ▤ 

Rather than spiting (cf. NASB) or “hurting” (GNT, NCV, NLT) God, the people’s sin in turning away from him to other “gods” would only hurt themselves. For it would leave them open to troubles that God would have saved them from and also to punishment from God. Note that the “queen of heaven” (v. 18) is a goddess, probably of Canaanite or Babylonian origin.

Jer 18:15  But my people have forgotten me; they make offerings to false gods; they [the false gods] made them stumble in their ways, in the ancient roads, and to walk into side roads, not the highway, … ▤ 

Ezek 22:4  You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time ofo your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries. ▤ 

o Some Hebrew manuscripts, Septuagint, Syriac, Vulgate, Targum; most Hebrew manuscripts until

Idol worship both defiled the people and brought God’s judgment.

Hos 9:10b  But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. ▤ 

Detestable practices – even human sacrifices (cf. 13:2) – are often associated with idol worship.

Hos 13:1  When Ephraim spoke, there was trembling; he was exalted in Israel, but he incurred guilt through Baal and died. ▤ 

Ephraim – signifying all the northern tribes of Israel – turned to worshipping the god Baal. And so it became guilty and “died”. The latter refers to either a spiritual death and/or the future destruction of the nation.

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

See also:

Deut 31:18  And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. ▤ 

Deut 32:16-19  They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. 17They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded. 18You were unmindful of the Rock that borep you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19“The Lord saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. ▤ 

p Or fathered

Judg 10:13-14  Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. 14Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress. ▤ 

2Ki 17:7, 9  And this occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of the land of Egypt from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods ▤ 9And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places in all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city. ▤ 

Israel worshipped other gods despite the fact that God was “their God” who had rescued them (v. 7). Doing such things against God “that were not right” (v. 9) greatly undermined their relationship with him. Note that the “high places” (v. 9) were “pagan places of worship” (GNT; cf. NCV, NLT).

Jer 5:7  How can I pardon you? Your children have forsaken me and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of whores. ▤ 

Verse 7a indicates that the people’s adherence to other gods was at least one reason why God could not or would not forgive the people’s other sins (cf. vv. 1-6). Note that the prostitution and adultery (v. 7b) were probably associated with the worship of false gods.

Ezek 14:3  Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? ▤ 

Jonah 2:8  Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. ▤ 

Having other “gods” and idols culminates in God’s retribution

Josh 24:20  If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good. ▤ 

1Ki 9:6-7  But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. ▤ 

The reference to Israel becoming “a proverb and a byword” (v. 7b) means that such would their punishment be that they would be cited by other peoples as a notable example of destruction.

Jer 5:19  And when your people say, ‘Why has the Lord our God done all these things to us?’ you shall say to them, ‘As you have forsaken me and served foreign gods in your land, so you shall serve foreigners in a land that is not yours.’ ▤ 

Jer 44:19-22  And the women said,q “When we made offerings to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, was it without our husbands’ approval that we made cakes for her bearing her image and poured out drink offerings to her?” 20Then Jeremiah said to all the people, men and women, all the people who had given him this answer: 21“As for the offerings that you offered in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them? Did it not come into his mind? 22The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day.  ▤ 

q Compare Syriac, Hebrew lacks And the women said

Ezek 5:9  And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. ▤ 

Ezek 14:7-8  For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. 8And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord. ▤ 

Note that v. 7 suggests that to turn to idols is to effectively separate oneself from God, severing one’s relationship with him.

Ezek 44:10  But the Levites who went far from me, going astray from me after their idols when Israel went astray, shall bear their punishment.r ▤ 

r Or iniquity; also verse 12

Hos 13:2-3  And now they sin more and more, and make for themselves metal images, idols skillfully made of their silver, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of them, “Those who offer human sacrifice kiss calves!” 3Therefore they shall be like the morning mist or like the dew that goes early away, like the chaff that swirls from the threshing floor or like smoke from a window. ▤ 

Rev 21:8  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. ▤ 

  • Those who have idols are under God’s curse:

Deut 27:15  ‘Cursed be the man who makes a carved or cast metal image, an abomination to the Lord, a thing made by the hands of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen.’ ▤ 

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

Hab 1:11  Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god! ▤ 

The Babylonians were “guilty of worshiping their own strength” (NCV™; cf. CEV).

Phil 3:19  Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. ▤ 

Here “belly” may be a metaphor for “bodily desires” (GNT, cf. NCV) – particularly in light of the following clause “they glory in their shame”. Whether or not this is the case, 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  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. ▤ 

The description of such a person as “an idolater” probably refers primarily to being covetous (cf. GNT, NCV, NLT; Col 3:5 ), rather than also to the preceding adjectives. Covetous or greedy people effectively put themselves and material things in the place of God. As such they are “serving a false god” (NCV™).

Col 3:5  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:s sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. ▤ 

s Greek therefore your members that are on the earth

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