First a general comment. I would have liked to have included the full
text of the Scriptures I quote in this document. However, in themselves
they come to eight pages of typing! Could I suggest that you make the effort
to read the references underlined in full, after you have read my
comments on each passage. This will, I hope, enable you "to see if these
things are so." Acts 17:11.
Randall Hardy, May 1994
PART 1: What does the Bible teach about spiritual warfare?
"Spiritual Warfare" as a phrase occurs nowhere in the Bible. We are well aware that the Old Testament is full of physical wars, many sanctioned by THE LORD. In two of his letters Paul expresses clearly that disciples of Jesus Christ are engaged in war. In both these passages he stresses quite clearly that this is not on a physical battleground but a spiritual one. It is with these two Scriptures that we must begin.
2 Corinthians 10:1-6.
Paul, it seems, had been accused of being a weak character by some who envied him. In an attempt to encourage the Church in Corinth not "to look at things outwardly" (v7), Paul reminded them that whilst his manner may have had the appearance of human weakness, his attitude was one of war! The weapons he used though were not those of a man who operated in the flesh. He was equipped with an armoury of divine power because he relied on the Holy Spirit, not strength of character or human wisdom.
We must also ask what were the fortresses (strongholds) that he attacked and defeated? He identified them as, arguments and proud obstacles to the gospel. The battle ground is the mind and he sought to take "every thought captive to obey Christ". In this he was ready to discipline every aspect of disobedience at the right time. It seems that we are at war against every godless philosophy as men and women seek to avoid their Creator.
Is the above explanation is in line with what Paul wrote to the Ephesians? This is Paul's epilogue to his letter to the Church there. In it he clearly identified our opponents as "the spiritual forces of wickedness in heaven." Does this contradict my understanding of 1 Cor. 3? I don't think so for two reasons. The first is that behind every aspect of godlessness, including ways of thinking, there is the hand of one or more of Satan's demons. (Col. 2:8 & 1 Tim.4:1.)
Secondly, in Corinthians Paul was referring to our attack on unbelief. In Ephesians he was concerned with those numerous times when unbelief attacks the Christian! This is made clear by his repeated exhortation to stand, and to stand and "having done all, to stand firm." In any battle there are times when one side attacks and the other defends. All the Devil's schemes are aimed at fostering unbelief towards THE LORD, and the Christian needs the full armour of God to be in place if he is to not to succumb. We attack the kingdom of darkness when we enable light to be shed in human minds, through the foolishness of preaching. Whilst it has to be admitted that unbelieving people are often the agents as well as the captives of Satan, Paul was concerned to stress that they were not the enemy.
If we are to be successful in both defence and attack then our lives must be continually covered with the full armour of God. Truth must guard our hearts whilst we wrap righteousness around ourselves. The good news of peace with God must motivate us. Even with all this we will still need faith for protection, and our way of thinking will only be secure when it is built upon the knowledge of our salvation. Once we are properly dressed for battle then, and only then, can we take up the word of God and attack the fortresses of unbelief in the hearts and minds of others. In Romans 13:11-14 Paul also wrote about this armour, describing it as the armour of light. Real and practical holiness is required, he taught, if we are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ - we dare not allow the flesh any space to have its own way.
It is worth noting that in Isaiah 59 when faced with increasing unrighteousness and the lack of a man to intercede, THE LORD Himself put on the armour of a warrior in order to bring salvation. The lack of some one to stand in the gap was also lamented by Him in Ezekiel 33. Israel was descending into almost total godlessness, and priests, princes and prophets were all involved (along with the people) in profaning THE LORD'S holy things. This resulted in the lack of anyone to plead for mercy for the people, as Moses and Aaron had often done. The result being that the fire of God's wrath was poured out upon them. When men and women recognise the destructive effect of unbelief, not only do they want to make God known to the people, they also burn with the desire to appeal to God to be merciful to rebellious human beings. (Numbers 14:11-19 & 16:22,46-50.)
These Old Testament examples link resisting unbelief with standing in the gap and so with prayer for God's mercy towards others. Perhaps it was because Paul had seen these things in the Scriptures that when he had told the Ephesian believers to stand and not retreat, he then urged them to pray and to pray. Because we fight against demonic opponents who seek to hold people in darkness, prayer in the Holy Spirit is vital to success. Such prayer is that which discerns the will of God and then asks for it to be done on earth as it is done in heaven. (1 John 5:13-15, 1 Cor. 2:6-11.)
We must consider other passages if we are to know how defence becomes attack and defeat for our enemies. In this passage James was addressing a self- centered attitude in his readers and highlights the fact that it had resulted in un-answered prayers. Like Jesus he taught that they cannot love God and the material world around them. He called for a humbling of themselves before God, repentance and holiness of life. If they did this then they would find THE LORD exalting them. He specifically wrote that they should submit to God and resist the Devil. If they did he was confident Satan would run away from before them. Here is real victory. Satan encourages us to doubt what God has said - this is not a new tactic but the same one he used to deceive Eve - "Has God said?" If we stand firm in faith before THE LORD, obedient to Jesus Christ, then it will not be us who retreat, but Satan and his demons. As they run away they will leave behind the people they have held captive and there will be spiritual space to preach the gospel to those who can hear.
In 2 Kings 6 & 7 there is the account of a siege of Samaria by the king of Syria. The siege was so severe that people began to eat their children. One man, Elisha, was a man of faith and even when threatened with death he kept confidence in THE LORD, and spoke the word he had heard from Him. God responded to this faith and scared the Syrians so much that they fled leaving all their belongings behind! (N.B. This by necessity required the retreat of the spiritual forces behind the Syrians.) The deserted camp is then discovered by four lepers who had left the city expecting to die whatever they did. In 7:9 they describe it as "a day of good news." In our post-Christian society it feels very much as if we are under spiritual siege, and there is a famine of God's word. If we resist the scorn of unbelievers, even though they too dwell in the city with us and seem to be important (7:2) then perhaps THE LORD will be merciful and grant us a day of good news once again. However, we must remember that we are God's servants not He ours, and we cannot make any Scripture into a formula to force His hand. We can only plead before Him that He should be merciful to a rebellious people.
In Romans 16:17-20 Paul instructed his readers to watch and avoid so called Christians who depart from the established teachings. His counsel is that they should "be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is bad, and the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Faith and holiness are how, in spiritual warfare, we overcome the Devil and his angels according to James, Paul and others - including Jesus.
Revelation 2:12-29 & 12:7-11.
When Jesus dictated letters to the apostle John for seven churches, he referred in each one to the rewards awaiting those who would overcome. There are in fact 15 different rewards for such victorious people listed in Revelation. One particular church at Pergamum was described as living where Satan's throne was! How were they told to deal with this obviously oppressive situation? They were not! Jesus simply commended them for holding fast to His name and not denying His faith even though one of them had been martyred. He did however warn them of the dangers of allowing those who had similar attitudes to Balaam (Numbers 22 to 25) to exist in the Church. He called them to repentance. The next Church Jesus wrote to was the one in Thyatira, there the false believers were in the mould of Jezebel. Jesus did not offer these the opportunity to repent but promised swift judgement. To those who were not taken in with this doctrine - those who "who had not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them", Jesus simply commanded them hold fast until He comes.
It is left until later in the book for us to be told more explicitly how we can become overcomers and so obtain these promised rewards. In Chap. 12 a war amongst the spirits in heaven is described with Michael's troops emerging victorious. Satan and his legions are evicted from heaven, being thrown down to the earth. At that instant it seems, John hears a loud voice rejoicing at the victory that brought about the defeat of the one who accused the brethren. In v.11 we find how that victory was completed - by those whom he had been accusing not crumbling under his attacks but continuing to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming blood! It is important that we highlight the three elements that gave them victory:
1 John 2:12-29, 4:1-6 & 5:1-5
When John wrote his first letter, one of his concerns was to strengthen and encourage those who had made a strong beginning in the faith not to turn away (2:13,14). His prime instruction was that they should not fall into the trap of loving the world, which he reminded them is devoted to destruction as are those who love it. He then carried on to warn them about the abundance of false teachers (antichrists he calls them). These had been apparent members of the Church, but by then were trying to lead others away from the truth. John reminded his readers of the command to abide in Christ and later to test the spirits to see if they were from God. Those men and women whose spirits do not confess that Jesus has come in flesh John identified as associates of the Antichrist. He encouraged those who would be loyal to the true Messiah that Christ Jesus who is in them is greater than the antichrist who dwells in the hearts of worldly people (4:4). The resisting of false teachers within the Church calls for overcomers, men and women who do not to fear those who can only damage this body, but fear the living God who can and will throw both body and soul into hell if we turn back from Him (Matt. 10:28 & Heb. 10:38,39). John's emphasis was very, very simple - it is our faith that enables us to overcome the world.
I have tried to show above the Biblical evidence for the existence and nature of the war which is being waged in the heavenlies for the hearts and minds of men and women worldwide. Behind all untrue philosophies, whether religious or secular, there are demonic motivators with whom we do indeed wrestle. They attack believers by enticing them not to have confidence in THE LORD and His son Jesus Christ. We have seen that Satan uses the love of this material world, the threat of persecution and the deception of false prophets and teachers to try and draw Christians away from Christ. Our fist calling when faced with such attack is to stand firm and not to back off - remember it is the spirits behind the people we are resisting not the people themselves. It is important to note that nowhere in the New Testament do we read of Jesus or the apostles looking for demonic spirits to tackle them head on. Strong treatment was reserved for those demons which were bold enough to make themselves known. Once they did, they were dealt with with minimum attention.
Unlike secular wisdom the best method of attack in spiritual warfare
is defence! It is as we resist Satan that he realises the hopelessness
of his efforts and through the grace of God is commanded to back off. If
we have been those concerned not only for our own welfare, but that others
too might know the grace of God, then Satan's retreat will allow us space
to preach the gospel which is God's power to rescue men and women by bringing
light into their darkened minds. The evidence of Scripture seems to be
that those who have a heart after God's own heart are those who both stand
firm against the schemes of the Devil and stand in the gap before
THE LORD to intercede on behalf of people. My prayer is that there may
be many at this time who having done everything stand, and that this study
encourages you to be amongst them.
PART 2: A comment on current trends in what is being called spiritual warfare.
2 Peter 2:9-19.
There is always a danger when excess occurs that in seeking a balance one swings too far the other way. This is further complicated by the way the same word or phrase means significantly different things to different people. It must also be remembered that if there was no good in a matter then Satan would not seek to counterfeit it. Who would buy a forged ticket for a cup-tie that was not taking place? If there were not true prophets would we have ever have heard of false ones? Peter was dealing with the matter of false teachers in this part of his letter, and focused on those who "indulge in the flesh and its corrupt desires". He said they despised authority to the point that "they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties," - they were far bolder than the angels of God in this! Please note that he was most concerned about their arrogance and pride. In what I have observed of the current trend in so-called spiritual warfare this same arrogance is once again emerging. There is no fear of God in much of it and no reverence for these angelic majesties, rebellious though they are. Of such people in his day Peter said "These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this is he enslaved." (v17-19).
The "Spiritual Warfare Movement" of today is indeed promising freedom to the Church. But we must ask is this a promise from God or the sensual desire of the flesh?
Jude's letter was very similar to Peter's, but concentrated specifically on the infiltration of false teachers - an area which I, like him, regret having to address. He reminded them that not every Israelite who left Egypt avoided destruction (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-13). Jude dispensed with tact and wrote, "Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority and and revile the glorious ones." (v8). He then cited the example of how Michael, the archangel, restrained himself when contending with the Devil. Jude considered such people as fools because they "revile whatever they do not understand". With the strength of this letter and the warnings it contains about the end of those who have these attitudes, we need to examine current teachings very carefully before we join in with a practice which seems to be a resurgence of an early error. Many who promote this tactic today agree that they are pragmatists, if it seems to work then they will do it - even though they don't understand what they are doing!
We saw in part 1 that a vital part of the believers armour in real spiritual warfare is truth. Many of those involved in the current emphasis on "warfare" are also abandoning the truth of Scripture. Perhaps best known is the way some are now teaching that Hell is not eternal. Perhaps less familiar is the rejection of Genesis 1-11 as accurate history. Similarly some teach the predicted destruction of this universe is only symbolic. These last two appear to have also been errors of the first century. Peter wrote that mockers who deny the future destruction of the earth allow the flood to "escape their notice"! (2 Pet. 3:1-13). Jude is no less sympathetic when he refers to the predicted scoffers who follow "their own ungodly passions". Surely we must be diligent to examine the Scriptures carefully when people who do not hold to Biblical truth come up with some "new" emphasis! Perhaps it is not new, just ancient error in contemporary wrapping.
There are many other issues raised by this present emphasis but to deal with them here would make this study intolerably long. The two I would like to place on record as needing careful examination are 1) the spiritual warfare aspect of "praise marches", and 2) the desire for unity at the expense of the truth. (For a fuller consideration of the latter please see my study on unity.)
One passage that I am conscious that we have not looked at is Daniel 10 where a "certain man", presumably not Gabriel on this occasion, mentions the prince of Persia and the prince of Greece. These are now commonly referred to as "territorial spirits" and this passage is quoted to support current trends. Perhaps, as it is a mistake to identify the biblical word "nations" with political states when it in fact carries the emphasis of ethnic groups (non- Jewish), so too it is wrong to associate these princes with geographical territory instead of the ethnic groups that bear the same names. The messenger said the prince of Persia was soon to be replaced by the prince of Greece, later this was observable to the human eye as a historic change of super-powers. Greece existed at this time, but the dominance of its empire (and the demonic principality behind it) had still not invaded the Middle East, particularly Israel. When it did there would be a fresh growth of godless mind-sets seeking to blind men to the knowledge of THE LORD. It must also noted that the one prince to help this messenger in the fight is identified as the archangel Michael. Michael is described not as a territorial principality, but as one over a people. Daniel was told that Michael was "your" prince (as he still is today). This is important to note because at that time the Jewish people were in exile, away from their home land, and yet Michael was identified as the principality over them.
Further, it is clear that this passage provides no foundation for current popular theology on spiritual warfare, because whilst Daniel is told about this particular struggle between spirit beings, nowhere is he instructed to participate in it directly! There is ground however to believe that unwittingly he had already played his part. He wrote that he had spent three weeks in prayer and fasting before he had this vision. The messenger, having reassured him, stated that he had been delayed for twenty-one days by the prince of Persia. The exact period that Daniel had been at prayer - was there a connection? I suggest that there probably was. It seems that THE LORD despatched this messenger to Daniel the day he began to pray, but this demonic principality desired to delay its delivery (Daniel was of course living at this time within the Persian empire). Only when Michael became involved was the "man" able to fulfil his mission. We must ask what would have happened if Daniel had not persisted in prayer? Would his prince not have become involved in the fight? Would Daniel's lack of determination have played into the hands of this demonic prince, and the message not have got through at all? I feel it is safe to say that whatever the probable result it is significant that the two periods coincide.
This incident is a reminder to us that our calling as intercessors on
the earth is to "always pray and not lose heart." Luke 18:1-8.
Even in this parable we have a hint as to the true nature of our warfare.
In his conclusion Jesus wonders if He will find faith on the earth when
He returns. When the accuser and his rebels stand in our way it is in the
hope that we will lose heart and faith and turn away from God himself.
It is when we hold on, no matter what the cost, that Satan will back off.
Then we are classed as those who overcame, those who gained a victory in
the real spiritual war. Let us do this for the praise and glory of the
Lord Jesus Christ.
This study is aimed at providing a basic treatment of the topic, as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting THE LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy
© R Hardy June 1994. This paper may only be copied
in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage
requires the written permission of the author.