The Struggle Is Real…

Ephesians 6:12-13 (NIV)

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.

We have studied this passage before, but I would like to revisit it again because conflicts within human relationships are inevitable. And I want us to consider this scripture within the context of close relationships. Our innate human nature is to be focused on our own physical needs and emotional desires. And while it is not inherently wrong in to seek our own well-being; to exert a self-centered will on other people in the process can be a source of contention and disagreement. And the ensuing conflict will have to be navigated or negotiated in order to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Cf. Ephesians 4:3)

What Paul shares with us here is some insight into the source of our interpersonal conflicts … that they may not always be in the natural or physical realm (against flesh and blood); rather, Paul asserts that when we have struggles against with one another, the issue is most likely a spiritual one … a spiritual battle, if you will. And so, the fight is not necessarily with the person in front of you; rather, it is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil that can exert themselves in our minds and through our bodies (actions). I believe this knowledge should cause us to pause and think before we react to what another person is saying or doing. For example:

Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV)

From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

While Peter may have been well-intentioned in his feelings and how he addressed Jesus in that moment of emotion; Jesus clearly indicated that he was wrong. And Jesus told Peter that his concerns were misguided by spiritual forces of evil … by Satan himself. Thus, a conflict ensued and Jesus used the occasion to teach the disciples a profound lesson in spiritual warfare:

Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV)

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

Likewise, Paul goes on to speak about the “armor of God” and its protection against the spiritual forces of evil. (Cf. Ephesians 6:14-16) He taught that our only offensive weapon against evil is the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) And Paul affirmed that prayer in the Spirit … on all occasion with all kinds of prayer and requests … was essential to inflict offensive maneuvers against the spiritual forces of evil. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18) Yes, when someone gets adversarial with you … pray for them! Seek counsel from the Word of God! And remember that disciples of Christ Jesus must deny themselves … take up their crosses … and follow Him. In a sense, this means you give up your right to be “right” because Jesus taught us to give and expect nothing in return; when offended to turn the other cheek; and to love and pray for our enemies.

Matthew 5:38-45 (NIV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

Note Verse 45 – “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” A child of God … born of the Spirit through the Word … will follow Jesus and put His teaching into practice. And this is what Peter instructed in his epistle as well – encouraging believers to understand that we, too, will suffer like Jesus as we follow in His footsteps:

1 Peter 3:8-18 (NIV)

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Cf. Psalm 34:12-16) Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

I believe it is clear that offenses will come. There will be differences and disagreements between people … even people of faith. But if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Cf. Romans 12:18) For Jesus taught us to pick up a cross of suffering for ourselves and to follow Him … “that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conform to His death,” as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10. For even if you should suffer for what is right … you are blessed. So, stand your ground, and pray! Pray in the Spirit! Yes, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people! Love, bless, and pray for those who oppose you! For the battle is a spiritual one … and in the end, the battle belongs to the Lord.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 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 Corinthians 10:3-5

Strive For Full Restoration…

Galatians 6:1 (NIV)

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Restoration! I will say it again. Restoration! That is the call upon our lives as believers! God restored us to Himself through our Lord Jesus; and it will be no different for anyone else. This is the point of ministry: to heal brokenness; to deliver the captive from darkness; to urge reconciliation with the Father; to restore lives to fullness and wholeness. We who live by the Spirit of God dwelling within us are commissioned to facilitate reconciliation and restoration of those who are caught, trapped, or ensnared in sin. And, Paul adds, we are to do so with gentleness … knowing that we ourselves at one time were enslaved to our sinful human nature.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV)

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Ephesians 2:1-5 (NIV)

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh (our sinful nature) and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Paul wrote: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1) I think part of being a living sacrifice to others is being a vessel of healing and restoration … helping others experience the power of Jesus’ resurrection and to receive deliverance by declaring the truth of God’s will for our lives … yes, even our sanctification. We are not to pass judgment on others entangled in sin; rather, we need to pray for them and lead them to Jesus … the only Savior!  Jesus warned us not to be self-righteous or to have an attitude of condemnation towards other people. And Paul, likewise, confronts our inner propensity to elevate ourselves above others:

Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV)

“Do not judge (condemn), or you too will be judged (condemned). For in the same way that you judge (condemn) others, you will be (condemned), and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Romans 2:1-4 (NIV)

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment (condemnation) on someone else, for at whatever point you judge (condemn) another, you are judging (condemning) yourself, because you who pass judgment do (or have done) the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So, when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do (or have done) the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment (condemnation)? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

This is the truth that we as the Body of Christ must remember: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” (Cf. John 3:17) And it follows that Christ Jesus did not send His disciples into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through the life-changing light of the Gospel message! Yes, we who live by the Spirit are to be agents of reconciliation … resurrection … and restoration!  If we minister in gentleness and conduct ourselves with kindness, I believe we will be more effective in leading others to repentance and to the eternal life found in Jesus!  Indeed, as we have become recipients of God’s mercy and grace, let us extend that same mercy and grace to others.  Let us love one another as we have been loved by God in Christ. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. ~ 2 Corinthians 13:11