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Spiritual warfare: identifying the enemy

Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."  In light of Acts 19:11-20, and the temple of Artemis, I'm convinced that the Christians at Ephesus needed no elaboration from Paul in regard to spiritual forces.  It was part of their world view.  I don't think the same thing can be said for most of us.  Therefore, if we really want to get a handle on what Paul is saying here, we have to do a little background work.

1.  The Scriptures speak of spiritual powers.

Just as there is a natural world we can see, there is a spiritual world that we cannot see.  Periodically, the Scripture furnishes us with glimpses into this reality.  We see it in the story of Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6.  The Aramean king, weary of Elisha’s prophetic intervention, is determined to capture him.  He hears that Elisha is in Dothan and sends his army there and they surround the city.  The servant sees the army and is paralyzed with fear.  Elisha prays that his servant’s eyes might be opened to see that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them,” (v. 16).  His eyes are opened and he saw “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha,” (v. 17).  Apparently, it was there all along – he just didn’t “see” it.  That’s our situation exactly. 

There are passages like this scattered throughout the Scripture that provide us with peeks into this unseen world.  Jesus tells us that God is Spirit (John 4:24).  We’re told that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).  We’re told of angels, demons, fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).  In Ephesians 6:12, we read of rulers, authorities, powers, and spiritual forces.  Hell is a place “prepared for the devil and his angels,” (Matthew 25:41).  In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus talks about two men who have died, and their spirits are in a place called Hades, which literally means, unseen.  It’s clear --- there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye! In a world that seeks to substantiate everything in a laboratory, this may make no sense.  But to those who allow the Scripture to give them a conviction about things unseen, this is not speculation but revelation.
*      All of these beings started out good, but some ended up evil. 

Paul tells us in Colossians 1:15-16 that all things were created by and for Jesus.  He mentions things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible, thrones, powers, rulers, and authorities.  Since all of these were created by God through Jesus and for Jesus, all of these spiritual powers were once good.  They were intended by God to promote goodness and harmony within the universe He made.  But for some reason (and the Scripture doesn’t elaborate), things didn’t stay this way.  The Scripture speaks of angels who sinned (2 Peter 2:4), who did keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home (Jude 6).  Paul speaks of “powers of this dark world” and “spiritual forces of evil,” (Ephesians 6:12). 

*      Since they influence mankind, their rebellion infected the world. 

How do they influence the world?  Hold on to that thought and just assume for the moment that they do.  If it’s true that they were intended to affect us for good, then wouldn’t it also be true that their rebellion would infect the world? 

It’s wrong (and terribly superficial), to look at sin from an individual perspective.  Sin affects the human family!  There are no such things as victimless crimes –-- the very idea is itself a witness of the affects of sin. 

Think of it in computer terms.  Your computer is the wonderful piece of technology that enables you to store and transmit information, communicate with others, watch movies, play music, and learn marvelous things.  But what happens when it is infected by a virus?  You may have some files that aren’t infected but they’re still part of an infected system.  They’re all at lest indirectly affected by the virus.  This is the way we should look and think of our world.  It is not a huge group of free-standing individual units, it is part of one system – a system that has been infected by sin and rebellion at the deepest level.

You see this in John’s writings.  In 1 John 2:15-17 he writes:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

He adds in 5:19:

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.                                         

2.  Spiritual forces are at work in our world.

The New Testament world was filled with demons, evil spirits, and certain people who had supernatural power over such entities.  It’s easy to see how it all worked –-- the demons and spirits possessed people, caused illness, disease, insanity, and even death.  The people with power over them cast these demons and spirits out and brought healing to such people.  It seems equally clear things don’t work that way today because we don’t see anything like what we see in the New Testament. 

So how do these forces work in our world today?

There are other Scriptures that give us some insight.  In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul is concluding a discussion about idolatry that he began in 8:1ff.  The central issue has been whether it is right to eat meat after it has been sacrificed to an idol.  Like any other first century city, Corinth had its share of idols.  Part of the worship of some involved offerings of meat.  After the sacrifice was performed, the meat that had been used went on sale in the marketplace (presumably at a lowered price).  Enlightened Christians would buy the meat to eat, knowing that since there was no objective reality behind the idol, therefore the meat couldn’t be contaminated by something that didn’t exist. 

But not all Christians were this far along in their thinking.  Some would (erroneously) believe that eating the meat meant they were participating in the worship of the particular god associated with that sacrifice.  Even though they were wrong in this belief, if they ate they would still be doing something they believed to be wrong.  Their sin would not be in the act itself, but in the decision to do something they thought sinful.  With this in mind he cautions the enlightened group of believers against eating meat if it will cause the unenlightened to stumble.

In chapter 10, he adds one final element to the discussion.  Some of the enlightened Christians were participating in some manner in the pagan feasts/worship, using the same rationale that there was no such thing as the god represented by the feasts/worship, therefore there was nothing wrong with it.  Paul echoes his agreement that there is no god but Jehovah.  Then he tells them, “the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons,” (10:20). 

The pagans thought they were offering things to a god, the Christians thought they were doing nothing but eating, but Paul said by revelation that they were participating with demons.  While the gods the pagans thought they were sacrificing to may have been non-existent, the reality was that demons were involved.  They were using idol worship to lead people away from God.  Paul will later speak to Timothy about some believers abandoning the faith and following “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons,” (1 Timothy 4:1).  To the extent that any Christians participated, they were aiding and abetting the enemy!     

Demons were and are involved in sinful and destructive activities today that lead people away from God.  This doesn’t mean we need to label every non-Christian activity demonic, it just means we need to be discerning about what get involved with.

3.  The believer has been delivered from these powers.

That’s what Paul said in Colossians 1:13-14 when he wrote that Jesus had “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son.”  Make no mistake about it – it was a rescue.  It happened because Jesus was stronger than Satan (Luke 11:20-22), and it happened at the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).  Because of this, Paul will say in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
   "For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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