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Article 2020-02 Spiritual Warfare

Chapter 61:  Spiritual Warfare


Paul’s life shows that the Word of God cannot be locked up behind bars. His ‘prison-ministry’ of praying and letter-writing was very fruitful, and important mission lessons can be learned from these prison letters.
From Ephesians we learn that missionaries are like soldiers: they must be armed for battle. The spiritual armor Paul describes speaks about Christian character and spiritual awareness. Without either of these the battle for the nations cannot be won. Wearing the armor is an act of obedience. Only missionaries who are experienced in spiritual warfare can train others in it.

Scripture reference

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him … For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him (Acts 28:16,30)

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear … to everyone … that I am in chains for Christ … And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon (Phil. 1:12,13; 2:24)

The story

After the lessons we learned from James, we now leave Jerusalem. Not long after James wrote his letter he was killed. At the same time, Paul spent a two-year period in Rome under ‘house-arrest’. He was guarded by a Roman soldier, but for the rest was free to receive people, teach them and write letters. In writing letters, his ministry would span the ages. Countless millions of believers would be taught, encouraged, rebuked, corrected, comforted and liberated by the God-inspired words he wrote. The fruit of these letters cannot be under-estimated. In this period he wrote four letters that we know of. They were sent to Ephesus, Colossae, and Philippi, as well as to his friend Philemon.

From his letter to Ephesus we learn about spiritual warfare. From that to the Philippi we learn about Christ’s example of ‘incarnational ministry’ as model for today’s missionary. Colossians confronts us with the need to disciple converts thoroughly and shows that no group of believers should boast about having superior knowledge over other believers. In the shortest of Paul’s letters, to Philemon, he proves himself a missions-mobilizer again.

Paul expected to be released from prison. After the two years he was free for a few years. What happened in that time can be described as ‘Acts 29 and beyond’. Luke’s account of the earliest period of church history ends in Acts 28 with Paul’s first imprisonment. There are many valuable lessons for missionaries to be found in these four letters. We look at one lesson from each, starting with Paul’s lessons about spiritual warfare in Ephesians.

Scripture reference

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations … seven nations larger and stronger than you … you must destroy them totally (Deut. 7:1,2)

These … nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience) (Judges 3:1,2)


Paul describes the armor of a Roman soldier and draws a parallel with the spiritual armor that every Christian should wear, especially those who are engaged in evangelism and missions. Frontier missions mean spiritual warfare. Training for war is necessary. The Lord had said to the Israelites, that He left seven nations to teach them warfare. The same applies today in a spiritual sense. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, as the battle of the Israelites was, but against different evil spirits in the invisible realm, the heavenlies.

Scripture reference

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ  (2 Cor. 10:5)

Put on the full armor of God … with the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace … take up the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation … the swordof the Spirit … and pray in the Spirit on all occasions … (Eph. 6:13-18)

Comment, continued

Paul said that we have to demolish strongholds, false thoughts and philosophies. These are to be fought with spiritual weapons, namely the truth of God’s Word. Combining both passages, we see an analogy. In Ephesians we learn that we have to chase away the evil ‘builders’ in our target peoples. Corinthians teaches us that we need to break down what these builders have built. If we chase away the builders and leave their buildings, the builders will return, just like Jesus said ‘The evil spirit will return, taking seven spirits with him, worse than himself’. If, on the other hand, we break down the buildings (the lies of the enemy in our host cultures) but forget or neglect to chase away the builders, they will start over again right from where their works were destroyed. It is important that both aspects of spiritual warfare are taught to missionary candidates. The different types and ranks of enemies can be known when the Holy Spirit gives us discernment of spirits.

In the last chapter of Ephesians, five defensive and two offensive weapons are listed. Four of these, the girdle, breastplate, shoes and helmet are fixed items and speak of Christian character. Twice we are encouraged to take on the full armor of God. We cannot afford to leave certain parts out. Let’s look briefly at each of the components:

The Girdle of Truth. There should be truth in all aspects of our lives: not ‘our truth’, but the truth of God’s Word. If we say we serve God in Whom there is no darkness at all, we can only say so with authority when our lives are buckled up with truth. It does not befit God’s ambassadors to be untruthful in any aspect of their lives. They should think, speak and act truth, whether their words or actions can be verified or not. God expects truth where people cannot inspect truth. A belt surrounds the one wearing it. It is visible all around. There should not be a single side of that person that does not reflect the truth of the gospel; harmony between walk and talk must be evident. We must practice what we preach and preach what we practice. The father of lies can only be beaten with the God’s truth.

The Breastplate of Righteousness. The only righteousness we possess is the one imparted to us by Christ. Our breast is clothed with it, that is with the conviction that the Lamb’s blood has dealt with our unrighteousness and that our hearts and consciences are protected by this new moral position. The breastplate protects us against feelings of guilt, that are rooted in an un-Christlike past. Few things can paralyze us as effectively in our spiritual battle as feelings of guilt can. We must learn to live out our new righteousness.

The Feet fitted with the Readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace. Our feet take us places. We must be ready to go where our Commanding Officer sends us and experience His peace in whatever He tells us to do. Only if we experience this peace will we be able to guide others to whom we are sent. Isn’t it a contrast to speak about peace in the context of armor and warfare? No, it conveys the profound truth that our anchor is His peace among enemies that roar like lions. With these shoes we tread on serpents and scorpions.

The Shield of Faith is meant to extinguish the enemy’s flaming arrows. If we understand the nature of the arrows, we understand the shield too. What arrows come our way from Satan? It is doubt, the questioning of our redemption or of our position in Christ, unbelief in our unique worth for Him or in His love for us, and Satan’s accusations. We should prevent these arrows to enter our lives by using the shield of faith. Faith conquers the unbelief Satan tries to inject us with. It demands anticipation: we must learn what sort of attacks come our way so that we can raise the faith shield in time without getting hurt. Some flaming arrows come to us in human form. But our battle is not against people but against the spiritual enemy behind them, who uses them to hurt us. The shield means to protect the whole body. Together with the sword it is the only movable piece of armor.

The Helmet of Salvation covers the head, protecting our thought-life. Here the real battle rages. If Satan can crush our heads, he has won the battle. Protecting our thoughts against his thoughts is vitally important. He knows that his head will be crushed, but tries to crush the heads of his enemies instead. Vital organs are found in the head: eyes, ears, nose and brains: our senses or ‘antennas’ to perceive the world around us. All these need to be protected. Solomon taught this already in Proverbs.

The Sword of the Spirit. With this offensive weapon, the Word of God, we can deal the enemy severe blows. The better we know the Word, the better we can hit him. He comes invariably with lies, so we hit him with truth. He comes with doubt, we hit him with faith. We address his bluntness with Bible-sharpness, like Jesus did in the desert. When we thrust our sword into the ‘body’ of the enemy, we must find the uncovered areas: the weak parts in his arguments. In Jesus’ case Satan resorted to half-truths but Jesus hit him right in the middle of his untruthfulness.

Prayer in the Spirit. From First Corinthians we understand that Paul equals speaking or praying ‘in the spirit’ with speaking or praying in tongues. In Ephesians he mentions this gift as part of the spiritual armor, for believers to use in combination with intercession.

Discussion & dialogue

  • Tell each other one experience you had with spiritual warfare for the salvation of souls, in evangelism or missions
  • Discuss what sort of demonic thought-patterns evil spirits can build into people, and with what biblical truths such lies can be broken down
  • Which 3 of the 10 themes feature in this chapter? How? (Answer: see Teacher’s Guide)

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