The third and hopefully last in this series on spiritual warfare. To go back and recap:
1) So much has been written in the last 35 years, much of it with wild sounding terms like spiritual mapping, casting down strongholds, generational curses and binding spirits. I am not saying, nor have I said, that we are not in a real battle against real forces. But I have advanced the notion that much of what passes for spiritual warfare today is, in my view, dangerously short of taking seriously God’s power and authority and the reality of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
2) We talked about living and fighting in the world. God does not insulate us from this world, and in fact, he placed us here by design. Jesus spoke of being sent out like sheep among wolves. This is serious business. But where we find ourselves is not an accident. We are not like some lost patrol that God has forgotten and which must fight its way out of enemy territory on its own. We are more like the Navy Seals who God has inserted into enemy territory to accomplish His divine mission.
3) We talked last week about living and fighting with powerful weapons. And that list that we see taught and modeled in the Scriptures, at least as far as your pastor is concerned, is pretty much devoid of some of the more sensational approaches that some modern writers think we need to take. Last week we considered the fact that the weapons that the Scriptures seem to name, and the weapons that Paul and the Apostles seemed to employ, were a reliance on prayer and the Word of God. That might sound a bit simple and even unexciting by comparison to some of the Indiana Jones kinds of spiritual warfare weapons that are discussed today, but I believe that these two are Biblical and more than sufficient to deal with the insurgency we are fighting.
I wasn’t quite sure where to insert this thought, but lest you think I am totally Presbyterian, I want you to know that perhaps like many of you, I have experienced first hand a few instances that I would characterize as supernatural spititual warfare.
I have not cast out demons, but I have dealt with a boy who may very well have had one. It was at a YL camp, and really strange and unaccountable things, scary things, were happening around this kid in the midst of a camp where I was on the staff as we shared Christ with about 1,200 non-Christian teenagers over a month’s time. And our response was to pray. We set up an all-night prayer vigil outside this young man’s cabin and took turns praying for him and for all of the kids at the camp.
I have also seen crazy and inexplicable things happen in similar contexts where I was involved in sharing the Word of God with teenagers. Lightning striking pretty much out of the blue, power going out as we began a large group meeting, a Christmas tree with nobody sitting near it crashing down just as the speaker began to share about the crucifixion of Christ.
But in each of those cases, we prayed and we clung to the truth of the Scriptures. And we affirmed the fact that Satan, as well as we, are all under the control, the providence and the authority of God.
So this week, the last thing I’d like us to consider is the idea that:
We live and fight as those under authority.
Paul makes a number of comments in this brief passage about authority. We tend to miss or gloss over things like this. But Paul talks freely about his authority over the Corinthian church. In fact, he talks freely about authority in almost every one of his letters! That’s too bad, because authority is one topic that you and I probably struggle with a lot. There is just something about the idea that someone gets to tell me what to do or how to do it that grates against our sensibilities.
And you and I have struggled with authority all the way back to Adam and Eve. Without looking, can you tell me what the first three words that Satan spoke to Eve were? “HAS GOD SAID…?” Those first three words were a challenge to God’s authority that immediately resonated with Eve. And had Adam been asked the question, it would have resonated with him too. We simply do not like being under authority.
And if we struggle with God’s authority, why would the authority of men and women be any easier to swallow? No, this is not a topic that most of us like to talk about or apply in our lives. And it is doubly difficult in this American culture. The battle cry of the American Revolution was, “We shall have no sovereign!” From the start of our country’s existence, we have valued and even reveled in challenging authority.
I won’t take much time to talk about God’s rightful authority over you and me. Though being under God’s authority is not thought of as a given by unbelievers, and in fact, it is the very thing that really defines unbelievers, we simply don’t have to stretch our logic very far to appreciate the fact that if God does indeed exist and if He did indeed create us, He must be in authority over us. I suppose the only idea up for grabs is whether or not God chooses to continue to exercise this authority, or if he simply wound this world up like a watchmaker and is now allowing it to go on its merry way free of his control, sustenance or interference. There’s another entire sermon in there somewhere. But suffice this week to say that we are indeed continually under the authority of a God who created us, sustains us, and is intimately involved with his creation and his created beings every millisecond of every day.
But this idea that God has placed other people in authority over us – that is another matter. And yet that is precisely what the Scriptures teach throughout. There is general authority that God has set up for our benefit, and those authorities may or may not be Christians and their authority may or may not be based on Biblical principles. But unless we are being asked to do something that is in direct contradiction to the Word of God, the Scriptures make it clear that we should obey those authorities.
Remember what Jesus said when he was asked if it was right to pay taxes? Rather than be trapped into a discussion of the worth of Roman law and taxes, he simply enjoined his disciples to submit. Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. And there are many other admonitions in the Scriptures that teach the same thing:
Romans 13:1-5 1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.
Hebrews 13:17 17Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
1 Peter 2:13 13Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.
As I said, God has instituted authority, but that authority does not extend beyond God’s authority. John Calvin said it this way:
Whatever title then men may hold, they are to be listened to only on the condition that they do not lead us away from obeying God. So we must examine all their traditions by the rule of the Word of God. We must obey princes and others who are in authority, but only in so far as they do not deny to God his rightful authority as the supreme King, Father, and Lord.
It is worth noting that at the time when each of these passages were written the government was not operating on Christian or even godly principles. Yet we are still enjoined to obey the authorities.
But for you and me, 99% of the time the authority that we struggle with is not that which leads us away from God, but rather things like speed limits, cheating on our taxes, and getting our dog licensed on time.
There is another kind of authority that is in view in this passage. It is spiritual authority. Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Saul, David, the Judges and profits, all were given spiritual authority as well as civil authority. And Jesus clearly instituted this kind of authority among his disciples. He gave them authority over demons. He gave them authority to heal. And He gave them authority to conduct the affairs of the Church.
There is a difference between power and authority. Maddie Briggs may have the power to drive her dad’s car to Hopewell for a pizza, but she does not have the authority to do that! Only when she gets a driver’s license and her parents’ permission to borrow the car will she have the authority to drive.
Real spiritual authority is not about power, but about delegated authority under the auspices of Jesus Christ. You and I have seen many examples of people exercising power in the name of authority, to the destruction of people and the destruction of the church. So as Paul addresses the Corinthian church, he is not so much talking about power as authority – a commissioning by the Lord to encourage, admonish and discipline the Corinthian church.
Look at the language he uses in verses 1-2: “1By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am “timid” when face to face with you, but “bold” when away! 2I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world.”
Meekness, gentleness, I appeal to you, I beg you… Paul exercised authority, but he did not do it in a way that flaunted his power. That how we see Jesus using his authority, and it is a model for those whom God gives spiritual authority today.
Meekness and gentleness not only identifies Paul with Christ, it also clearly distinguishes him from the false apostles. Paul speaks of them in the next chapter:
2 Corinthians 11:19-21a: For you, being so wise, bear with the foolish gladly. For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison..
These aggressive leaders were willing and eager to push people around, and their followers not only tolerated it, they seem to like it. And Paul clearly distances himself from leaders like this.
Some Christians today tend to regard people with strong personalities as “spiritual leaders.” And they may be tragically wrong. Assertiveness does not make someone a leader. I fear that all too many pushy people are placed into leadership roles simply because they are aggressive and assertive.
I am not saying that an aggressive person cannot ever be a leader. I am saying that their aggressiveness will have to be brought under the control of the Holy Spirit. And I am saying that there may be many very capable, quiet leaders whom we have overlooked because we equate leadership with certain aggressive, assertive personality types.
I would also say that the kind of meekness and gentleness exhibited by Paul in this case is a hallmark of spiritual authority. Jesus exhorted his disciples not to lord their authority over people. Paul models it here. But neither Paul nor Jesus would have any problem enforcing discipline if the situation warranted it.
Paul wanted to avoid a display of boldness, but he did indicate his willingness to use his apostolic authority if necessary. His meekness and gentleness was not to be confused with timidity! If he was forced to, he was ready to turn from meekness and gentleness to a stern assertion of his authority, from a kind appeal to an enforcement of discipline. And if this were necessary, his plan would be in two stages.
First, he would make sure that the Corinthians’ “obedience would be made complete”. This would happen when the church recognized his authority, disassociated from those who were leading it astray, and made a total break with idolatry. Second, he would begin to punish any of those in Palestine who opposed him and any of the Corinthians who continued to be insubordinate. We can’t be sure what this punishment would look like, but we can tell that Paul was serious about it!
It might be noted here that Paul had no problem with people testing his credentials. But he clearly wanted the Corinthians to be sure that the criteria they were using were correct. He says in verse 7, “You are looking on the surface of things…” As we just said, his authority was not about whether or not he had a strong or forceful personality, or whether or not the Corinthians were pleased with his leadership. That would be looking “on the surface of things.” And we tend to do that, too, don’t we? We can evaluate spiritual leadership on the basis of likes and dislikes, personalities, decisions, and all manner of inappropriate criteria. More appropriate criteria would include an affirmation of the body, a humble sense of calling, a good reputation in and outside the church and a demonstration of effective leadership.
So what does all of this have to do with spiritual warfare? Several things.
First, I think we need to take seriously the history of the Church and those who have gone before us. I took some time to research what some theological luminaries of the last 5 centuries said about spiritual warfare, and I could not even find the term mentioned. Folks like Luther, Calvin, Berkhoff and others definitely believed that we are in a battle. But they simply did not get into the kind of froth that you find Peter Wagner and other contemporary writers making on the subject.
For example, Berkoff never mentions demons in his whole systematic theology, nor does Dr. James Boice. They seem to have another perspective altogether. The great theological teachers of the last 5 centuries have affirmed and emphasized our victory over Satan.
Dr. James Boice: “When we put Christ’s announcement into context we sense that what the Lord is talking about is not so much an acknowledgement of his earthly authority in heaven as a declaration that his authority is over all other authorities whether spiritual, demonic or otherwise. His resurrection demonstrates his authority over any power that can possibly be imagined. Consequently, we do not fear Satan or anyone else while we are engaged in Christ’s service.”
I believe that we stand on the shoulders of those who have built Christ’s Church throughout the centuries. If we find ourselves fixated on an idea that they seem to ignore, we ought to take care. They do have a measure of authority.
You might argue, “My church is really into this and teaches that we must cast out demons, we receive visions, etc, and I am under their authority.” This has a ring of truth. But I would encourage you to be like the Berean Church – those folks, even though they were under the authority of the Apostles, still studied the Word of God to ensure that the Apostles were not leading them astray. Before you buy what the pastor is selling, be sure it’s in the Scriptures! It is not fun for me to consider being brought before Presbytery to account for something I might have taught in a sermon. And it is not always fun to have one of you challenge me on something I have said by showing me an error based on the authority of God’s Word. But when I have been challenged I have been grateful that someone took the time and cared enough to ensure that I am accountable to and under the authority of the Word of God.
Which leads to the second application: You and I are under the authority of the Scriptures. No idea, no matter how cool or practical it may seem, if it cannot stand up to what the Scriptures teach, is an idea that glorifies God. And worst case, these ideas can lead us seriously astray. Do we study the Scriptures? Do we first turn to the Scriptures for answers on a difficult subject, or do we run out and buy a book?
And lastly, in order for us to wage war against this insurgency, we need to take seriously the fact that we, in the church, are under authority. No army can conduct an effective campaign without a chain of command. And this is even more true in a spiritual battle. Ordination as a Teaching or Ruling Elder does not make those men better, smarter, or more important than anyone else. (Better looking, perhaps!) But it does mean that their election by a congregation and affirmation by a presbytery gives them authority over the affairs of a church and the obligation to not only conduct the business of a church, but also to enforce its discipline. Those in spiritual authority over us are not always popular. They are not always right! But they are always used of God, ultimately, for His purposes.
We may not be terribly comfortable with that, but it is a dynamic that is clearly necessary and clearly taught in the Scriptures. You and I simply MUST submit to and respond to authority if we are to be part of this campaign. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Show me someone who struggles with ecclesiastical authority in their church, and I will show you someone who struggles with God’s authority in their life. Authority is clearly something that God uses to shape us and to do the work of His kingdom.
So that’s my take on the subject. I’m sorry if you were expecting a field manual for spiritual warfare! There are lots of them out there. I checked on the web, and there are only a few hundred sites devoted to some of the more extreme ideas.
What I just shared with you was not flashy or trendy or complicated. But I think it’s backed up in the Word of God! Let me recap:
We are absolutely in a battle.
1-3 We live and we fight in the world
4-5 We live and we fight with powerful weapons
6-8 We live and we fight as those under authority
Jesus is the victor. Jesus is King. To him be the glory!