Spiritual Warfare and a Vision
of the New Covenant Work (Part 1)
Sabbath Day Sermon: Saturday 9 February 2002
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints-- and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph.6:10-20, NKJV).
I don't think there's a single person, past or present, who has not, at sometime, wondered what his or her purpose on earth is. And those who have concluded that their life has a purpose will have equally wondered why it is sometimes so hard to get all the answers they would like. A builder, before he begins work on constructing a house, makes sure he has a plan or a blueprint of the house he is going to build. Businesses have strategies with long- and short-term plans. Governments have polices and armies have battlefield tactics. Schools have curricula which they follow and good parents a plan for the way they intend to educate and bring up their children. We know, from experience, that without some sort of planning that there is always chaos, in the same way that we know the universe did not throw itself together but was consciously and intelligently designed. These things ought to be self-evident.
But what about a human being like you or I? Does Yahweh, our Father in Heaven, have a "blueprint" or a "master plan" for our lives? As you get older and look back at the way things have turned out, you begin to discern that your life has unfolded in a particular way, and often quite contrary to the plans you started with. And that is because the life of a human being isn't so much like a two-dimensional blueprint but a small library containing several books, the majority of which are not read, but which are there should we ever need them. And the titles on these books are very interesting. Let me share with you some of the kinds of titles that there are in our human library ...
Every decision we make shapes our life in some way. Some decisions are, moreover, made for us. For instance, we know that there has been a terrible war in Afghanistan recently. That war suddenly and brutally affected the lives of everyone in that country, no matter who they were or what they believed in. Sometimes our individual plans are tied together with the plans of people, cities, or countries around us. Several of you here went through a world war and know just what I mean. And even then you experienced that war differently, depending where you were and what you did. You all have your own unique stories to tell, some happy, some tragic. Most of the things that happened in that terrible time were completely out of your control and you were all swept along by powerful events ... events which are sometimes very hard to interpret in the light of God's individual plans for us.
Two stories will illustrate what I mean. A few thousand years ago Yahweh revealed to His servant Abraham that the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorra were about to be destroyed because their sins had come to full fruition and they were past repentance. Caught up in the midst of these condemned cities were his nephew Lot and his family. You all know the story. God's message was, quite simply, "Get out!" No questions, no debate, just flee! A similar message is given to Christians in the Book of Revelation. Yahweh tells us that the situation will become to bad and evil in the last days that, like Lot, Christians will have no choice but to flee or be swallowed up in destruction. This is one extreme - a pretty desperate and final extreme where a wrong choice can be catastrophic.
The second example, which is not in the Bible and which I have told before, is of a retired American couple in the mid 1930s who with almost prophetic foresight saw ominous signs of another world war. They looked at the world political and military situation and decided the best thing for them was to get away from not only the city they lived in but right out of the country. They carefully studied their atlas and looked for the remotest island they could find where they felt sure they would be safe and would be able to live off the land. And then they found it - Iwo Jima, an 8 square mile volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean. Some eight or nine years later after they had moved there one of the fiercest battles of the Second World War was fought on its soil. 22,000 Japanese troops were killed with more than 21,000 American casualties. Some of you may know that a classic photograph of the capture of Meatgrinder Hill was taken there. It depicts marines raising an American flag over the mountain. This picture has appeared in paintings, statues, and even a 3 cents US Postage stamp. That couple made a terrible misjudgement. Instead of fleeing from trouble they walked right into it.
I can see that couple's library. One book reads: "If We Go and Live on Iwo Jima ..." And another "If We Remain in the United States ..." And I am sure you will agree the two stories would be entirely different. As it happens the American mainland was completely untouched by the last war. They experienced none of the bombing or military invasions that Europe and Asia did, which is probably why the terrorist attack last September came as such a shock to that nation, for this was something they had not experienced since the Civil War a century and a half before.
Our libraries have books like that based on the decisions we make, or don't make, in life. Now you might think that our library was huge with hundreds of different books, but in reality none of us possesses that sort of freedom. As I look back in my life I realise that the major decisions that affected my life were not that many. Moving from one country to another as a boy was determined by my parents who were themselves limited by the number of choices they had in making such decisions. As I look back I can see that some of the major choices I made were deciding at 16 what subjects I would study at school, and at about the same time deciding whether I would go to university or get a job. The next was deciding what university I should try to get into because that determined where I would live for some years. The next just happened to be responding to a prophetic dream and deciding whether or not I would search for God, which lead to some pretty important choices, first, in becoming a Christian, and second, in deciding which church I would make my home. My spiritual life is really a separate collection of books all on its own, consisting of three or four volumes. Then there was the decision to marry, itself another small collection of volumes. And out of that, when my first marriage failed, came the decision whether to remain in my homeland or obey a clear call I had from God to move to Norway. Finally came the decision to relocate to Sweden. So in the space of 45 or so years I have built a library of maybe about 10 books.
But as I look on my personal library - the library of my life - I see there are other books unopened. I don't know what's in them because they are sealed. One might contain my story had I decided not to move to Norway in 1988. I shudder to think what would had happened if I hadn't for the lives of many other people would have been affected. Yet was it a real choice? It's an interesting question. This gathering here today would probably never have happened had I not come to Norway or if others here had not made their own particular choices. It's quite frightening really when you come to think of it because some of the people in this house wouldn't even have come into existence. What if I had decided, as I had planned, to move to America? Everything would have changed. And then, finally, a really sobering question: did I really have some of these choices in the first place? For as I carefully examine some of the things that happened in my life I see the hand of God almost pushing me down a certain direction. In fact, I'm not sure that I really had a choice. For my move to Norway in 1988 was not made on the basis of a whim but because of compelling spiritual forces that almost gave me no choice. It was the same in 1990 when I brought my eldest children from America to Europe. Though I struggled in agonising prayer for a whole year to decide what was the best for them, it really wasn't a choice - it was something I knew I had to do and that it was unquestionably in God's will.
And so, as I look back over my life, I see that in reality there was only one real choice that I made - and that choice was weather to choose Christ or reject Him. All the other choices really weren't choices at all. In this life we have the choice either to follow the way of darkness or of light. Once we have chosen one or the other, the powers resident in the light and darkness determine most of the rest of our life for us. If you choose the Light, yielding your life to the Creator, He takes over your life. And whilst we still have the free choice to micro-manage our lives, the major choices are made by Him. And even if we resist Him, He continues to exercise the rights and prerogatives we gave Him by agreeing to follow Him in the first place, by sometimes forcing us down mortal corridors that we don't always want to go down. We can, of course, reject Him whenever we want to; and if we make that fateful choice, then He withdraws and allows us to ally ourselves to the forces of darkness. And when you are allied to those forces - the forces that Paul called "principalities, powers, and rulers of the darkness, and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" - then a seemingly endless number of choices seem to face you, all of which lead to destruction. But even then you are held in check by the almighty hand of God because He will not, for example, allow a demonised man like a Hitler, Stalin or Bin Laden destroy the world. Riding above all our own personal choices, Yahweh has a Master Plan, and all living things have to conform to that.
I would like you to imagine that the world, at any one particular moment of time, consists of lots of invisible spheres. At the centre of each sphere is a person - you and I. In the course of a typical day we will probably encounter no more than a dozen people - some more, some less. When we interact that these people, our spheres overlap, and we are faced with numerous micro-choices. We can choose to be gentle or domineering. We can choose to speak truthful words or untruthful words. We can choose to be quiet or noisy. Indeed, we can choose to behave and react in a hundred different ways. This is where the real choices in life are made, and depending on the way we behave, Yahweh will either open or close doors to further opportunity or interaction with more people.
The apostle said: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places". And what he meant was that no matter where we are - whether at home surrounded by loved ones, or in the wider arena of life as, for example, as politicians, generals or movie stars, we are engaged in constant, spiritual warfare, and usually without realising it, because the powers arraigned for and against us are invisible. Becoming aware of these powers is, for a Christian, of the utmost importance, because once he has perceived them, and learned how to respond to them in the appropriate way, his life - whether inside or outside - will cease to be chaotic and acquire order, peace and harmony.
We don't realise it, but that every second of the day there are godly forces in the form of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), angels and godly people who are engaged in intense activity on our behalf, the extent of this intervention being in proportion to our faith in them and in our obedience to the commandments. At the same time there are evil forces bent on our destruction - Satan, his demonic angels, and evil people. So serious is this warfare on the invisible plane we are reminded in scripture that we are soldiers in a combat situation. And to be safe and flourishing, we have to be in combat readiness at all times. There are no reprieves - no ceasefires, no periods of peace - so long as we are in this earth life. We are on a permanent war footing. So serious is this war footing that the apostle Paul tells us the way we need to be equipped each day if we are to meet the foe successfully and not be weakened or overcome:
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil."
The more you are aligned to Yahweh's will, the stronger the opposition will be. The powers of darkness will seek to slow down, stop, and eventually destroy whatever the Lord wants you to do for Him, for others and for yourself. We are commanded to "be strong in the Lord" but not in our own strength, which is useless for this kind of warfare, but "in the power of His might." This is no idle or symbolic statement. We are talking about a real power just as when we speak about electricity we are speaking about a real force and not just some abstract theory in a school text book.
You know, I never really understood how powerful electricity was until I encountered it personally ... not in watching it light up a light-bulb, or lower the temperature in a freezer, or any of the thousands of other things we see electricity being used for. I really understood the power of electricity when I was repairing my TV set as a student in Oxford and forgot to unplug it from the mains. The moment my finger touched a live contact, I was hurled right across the room and went crashing into the wall, my heart beating, it seemed, a hundred times as fast as usual. From that moment onwards I learned to respect the power of electricity because I saw how easily it could kill me.
Now I hope that none of you ever come into contact with live electricity of that power, though I am sure some of you have and will tell similar tales. Coming into contact with Almighty God, the Creator of this vast Cosmos, is exactly the same except on a scale you can't begin to dream of. The power of that electricity which sent me hurling across my study is to be compared with a hair falling on my skin whilst I am asleep when contrasted with the power of Yahweh, the Most High God - El Elyon. Even Satan, who has great power which he has stolen, is nothing compared to El Elyon. And Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), when He died on the cross and was resurrected, offered a complete and safe house against everything that demonic forces can throw at man. Paul tell us that Christ,
"Having disarmed [all the evil] principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it" (Col.2:15-16, NKJV).
Yes, the Son of God has defeated the evil ones. And the power that defeated them is available to us if we receive it in the proper way. It is not enough just to say, "I believe!" For there are certain things that you must do as well -- not just once, but every day. And this is what the apostle tells us we have to do, likening the process to a soldier equipping himself for battle. He says:
"Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
Notice two key words here - "whole" and "stand". It is useless going into battle partially equipped, and what use are you going to be if you don't stand your ground? A soldier must not only have all his equipment on but he must not run away - he has to see the battle through - not just once, but again, and again, and again.
I have met many people in my life who like to boast and brag. They tell everyone how wonderful they are, how strong, how powerful, how mighty, and so on, and all with much bravado. And time and time again I have seen them flee the battle field. They have no staying-power, no determination to see the battle through until it is won. Five-minute wonders are useless - what is needed is those who have the steely determination to hold out to the end.
And it's not easy. There are times when you will want to throw down your weapons and either fall down flat on your face or, if you have a little energy left, to march off the battle field. But if you do that, you will be hewn down. No, you not have to be properly equipped but you have got to stand your ground. Like a husband or a wife covenanting to be true for ever, so a Christian has got to find the determination and willpower to see this life through. This life is not a party, even though it can, and does, have its joyful moments. And that's where the armour comes in -- all of it.
Next week we're going to look at that armour and discover why it's so important. But before we do that, let me end my sermon today by sharing with you something of my own experience. Last night I had a dream which in many ways summarises the kind of warfare I have personally had to go through, especially since I arrived in Norway on my mission in 1988. Next week I will tell you more of the actual circumstances behind it.
I dreamed I was at home, in this house, and that I received a visit from all the people who have opposed me in my work for Christ. It was a large deputation of people. They began by trying to persuade me to stop what I was doing by telling me all my faults and what was wrong with the Church I had established. When it became clear that I would not yield, they began to get more aggressive, and after a while began to physically torture me. They began to administer electric shocks on me using a machine. It was excruciatingly painful and several times I wished to abandon my work just to get relief from the pain. When they realised that they could not deflect me from my calling, they began to sow dissension in my family. Disagreements and fights began to flare up, creating many ugly scenes. By sheer pressure, my enemies, who were being driven by evil powers, eventually caused my family to waver so that instead of defending me they began attacking me instead - they changed sides! It was heartbreaking. And then they left, or so it seemed - everyone - leaving me alone in the house utterly devastated and seemingly without hope. I knew that I could abandon my mission and then my enemies would relent. But they did not leave - they went outside the house and came to taunt and mock me, laughing and jeering because they had destroyed my family. I woke up utterly exhausted at about 4 a.m. and entered into prayer.
Though there have been many times I have wished to give up, I have remained with the work which Yahweh has called me to. There have been times when I have been plagued with doubt, other times when I have been so exhausted I have not felt able to continue. But each time He has strengthened me. There was a time when it seemed the Church would be utterly destroyed about 7 years ago and when we had to walk virtually alone, and then suddenly, almost overnight, without warning, thousands began to stream in all over the world from Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. And when Satan has failed to deflect me from this work, he has attacked my family and tried to sow division and bitterness. And there have been tragedies as some family members have deserted me. And Satan still tries to sow division and discord.
For next week, I would like to invite everyone to carefully study the 6th chapter of Ephesians and to ask themselves what piece of armoury is missing when Satan successfully sows discord and mistrust amongst us. For he cannot, in truth, even through us if we are wearing the armoury of Yah'shua (Jesus) as we should be. Then we are one and united, love abounds, and the darts of the adversary we are easily able to deflect.
I praise Yahweh for what He has done for us through His Son. May we not carelessly omit any of the armour He has provided for us in our spiritual warfare so that we always have peace and unity at home and in the fellowship of the saved. Amen.
Click here for Part 2
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Last updated on 8 February 2002
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