Tearing Down Spiritual Strongholds IV:
The Power of the Word Preached and Prayed
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-24 (NIV)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For 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.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Let me begin this message by a general principle that affects every one of our lives. We behave, not according to what we know, but according to what we believe. (Repeat)
One illustration of that principle. In Saskatoon, we lived near to a women who was terrified of our little dog. Now if you know our little dog (he was littler back then), you know that with one swift kick you can send him flying, and if you know him well, with one assertive growl, you can send him cowering into a corner, and if you know him very well, you know that with a treat you can win his heart in a second. Our neighbour in Saskatoon knew that our dog was small, she knew with one swift kick she could get rid of him, but contrary reason, somewhere in her heart, in her emotions she believed our dog was a threat. And if our dog managed to get out of the back yard, she would run, and he would be on the chase ready to take a person 20 times his size down. She behaved, not according to what she knew, but according to what she believed about our dog, our dog could see that and took every psychological advantage of it. We behave, not according to what we know, but according to what we believe.
That basic principle has a profound impact on the whole issue of taking down spiritual strongholds. We have found in our previous studies two basic related themes.
First, we found that these strongholds that we are called by God to tear down are of patterns of thought. "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 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 10:4,5). (NIV)
Second we have found that the Spiritual strongholds have been disarmed of the truth of the law. Paul writes:
"He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Col 2:13- 15) (NIV)
Since these powers have been disarmed by the cross, the only weapons they are left with to use against us is lies, lies, lies. Jesus when confronting the pharisees and their abuse of the law of God said "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44 NIV) If Satan is the father of lies, then trust me, every one of the evil spiritual forces that stand opposed to us, though they have been disarmed from the law, still speak their native language called the lie. The tyranny of the devil is affected in the lives of people today, binding them in spiritual strongholds by means of the lie! And it is a most effective weapon.
So how is it that we fight the lie? If in fact spiritual strongholds are over our nations and over our cities and over our neighbours and over ourselves, how do we fight the weapons, the thought patterns that boast themselves against the knowledge of God?
Obviously, we fight the lie with the truth and our first of two points this morning is that we fight the lie with the truth of the Word of God Preached.
You may remember back when we looked at Joshua and the battle of Jericho that God's strategy for taking down the walls of the city was for Israel to shuffle around the city blowing trumpets, and you might recall that throughout the scripture, trumpets were used to declare the presence and power of the Lord to all who could hear. That was the truth that the inhabitants of Jericho were trying to defend themselves against with their meager massive stone walls that simply could not stand up against the presence and the power of the God of Israel. Israel declared, proclaimed the glory of their God, the truth of God Almighty, toward a nation that thought they could defend themselves against that truth.
Paul takes up this same theme. He says in the context of fighting the Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms: "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist." This morning I do not have the time to give an exposition on the different pieces of the armour of God, let me say though that the belt held together, virtually all other pieces of body armour. The firmness of a soldiers stand, his readiness and ability to battle depended on being wrapped within the truth. It was from the belt of truth that the sword of the Spirit hung, which is the word of God. And the preaching of the word is the Sword of the Spirit swung.
This morning, let me give you another illustration of a spiritual stronghold that has affected all of us to one degree or another, it has certainly shaped our culture in every way.
Throughout the western culture of the middle ages, thought was understood as a response of obedience to God. That is where science grew its foundational wings. Because God has designed creation and God is a God of order, that order can be discovered and demonstrated through repeatable experiments. Science was a response of faith to God. But the church which represented God had become corrupt, abusing spiritual truths for its own gluttonous prosperity - which led to the Reformation under Martin Luther in 1516. The Reformation was a theological break away from the controls of a corrupt church institution. Luther had come to see things differently. People broke free from the thought control of the church, not only in theology, but also in knowing in general.
You may have heard of Rene Decartes who lived less than a 100 years after Martin Luther. He was a mathmatician who struggled with issues of Philosophy and how we know things. Rene coined the Latin phrase which many of us may know - "Cogito ergo sum." "I think therefore I am." Rene, though he himself was a Christian completed the divide between the church and our systems of thought. Instead of placing the foundation of human existence in the existence of God, he placed it in his own capacity to think. From his capacity to think, he argued for the existence of a thinking God. What is key though, is that he made our capacity to think prior, even more fundamental than the existence of God. He opened the gates to thinking, study, science, without God as part of the picture.
About a hundred years later, Immanuel Kant another philosopher completed the divide between faith and reason. He suggested in his book Critic of Pure Reason that science is subject to the laws of reason and logic, and in his book Critic of Practical Reason, he suggested that faith and ethics have to do with practical intuitions and are not subject to the realm of reason. In short he suggested that science and faith are two mutually exclusive categories, each having little or nothing to do with the other.
Now it sounds like that is abstract, but these philosophical theories have shaped our culture's world view. Church and state have been divided and we all accept that. In our culture faith and science have little to do with each other. Many people regard faith as an irrational human behavior. Though science arose out of a faithful response to God, until very recently, to suggest a faithful and obedient response in science to God was a point of laughter. People behave according to their beliefs. Often Christians doubt the rationality of their own faith.
There is a stronghold in our culture that suggests to thinking people that God is only for the mentally weak, the uninformed, the unthinking, the unscientific. How will people respond to God if God is a ghost of the mediaeval ages? As Paul says, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." (NIV)
Paul's answer is to Preach Christ, Lord over all, Lord even over our thinking. It is by bringing the truth of the word of God into our culture that the Spirit of God opens the eyes of the blind and breaks the power of the strongholds that keep us from the knowledge of God. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:13-16 NIV)
The Spirit of God is working in our culture. More and more people are turning away from the lie that science is the only form of truth and reason. More and more, people are turning to spiritism, new age thought to find a foundation for their lives. The lie is being exposed. There is no more important time for us to be proclaiming the truth than now. When we see our neighbours come to the end of their confidence in the exaggerated wisdom of science, we are called to preach, not ourselves, but Christ, who is the wisdom and the power of God, the way the truth and the life. Unless we speak boldly through our work, through Christian education which is a very effective strategy for fighting this spiritual stronghold, this culture will continue to be blinded by this lie which sets itself in opposition to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.
The second truth that we have just time to touch on this morning is using the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of the Lord in prayer. Without the word of God in prayer, prayers tend to be faithless requests and empty doubtfilled wishes. Paul says in Ephesians 6:17f, "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (NIV) And pray in the Spirit can be understood in an instrumental sense. We could translate this "Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. through praying in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Though this translation my have less precision, it does communicate the sense of the original language which begins verse 18 with "through all prayers")
Again, let me use an illustration of a type of stronghold that influences many Christians - it is the stronghold of SHAME.
The stronghold or the prison of shame shows up in many ways. It shows up on our hearts in a unresolvable guilt that no matter how many times we confess our sin, there is no release because the problem is not an act of sin, it is who we are as sinful defiled people. Shame shows up in our lives in the prison of isolation, where we keep our problems and our pains to ourselves as we hide behind the wall of pride because we our bound by the fear of rejection if someone really knows how stained our lives and distorted our thoughts really are. We question if God could really love us. When others show love toward us, shame makes us doubt their love or their motivations. Shame binds us to repeated patterns of often self defeating and self destructive behaviors. We might know better, but what we really believe determines our behavior. Maybe we have grown in our shame because our behavior when we were young was controlled by shame. Our bad behaviors were simply demonstrations of our rotten selves.
Again, if you know the prison of shame, you know how this stronghold has the power to keep you defeated as a person, how it binds your faith to failure.
Start praying the word of God. Take the promises of Scripture about the love of God for you and pray them again and again. Remind your heart and your soul of the precious promises that you are washed clean in the blood of Christ, found worthy in Christ, made a new creation in Christ, inheriting with Christ the immeasurable love of God. When you have the opportunity to minister to people bound by shame, pray the word of God with them, remind them in prayer of God's incredible graciousness toward them. Pray the truth against the lie they have believed for all of their lives. Pray the truths of faith against the lies of doubt and unbelief. Pray words of acceptance rather than judgements of rejection. The truth prayed and as we grow in our capacity of faith, will set us free - free from the stronghold of shame.
Why is the word preached and prayed so important? Because the strength of strongholds is the lie and only the power of God's truthful word will set us free.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.