Monday, September 15, 2014

A surface level view of spiritual warfare

Acts 28:21-22 They said to him, “We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.22 But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.”

Ephesians 6:11-12  "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

In the two opening verses of today's post, the closing of the book of Acts views Paul's situation as it is in the visible, surface-level realm. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. Having appeared before Caesar, Paul would finish out his two-year period of time attached to a Roman soldier as he shared the Gospel to whomever would give him a hearing. The second passage from Ephesians 6 was written to the church at Ephesus during Paul's house arrest in Rome. Whereas Acts 28:21-31 gives the reader a look at spiritual warfare on the surface, Ephesians 6:11-20 takes the reader below the surface and reveals what all takes place in the spiritual realm. 

Both passages taken together give the reader a full view of what all takes place in the Christian's engagement with the kingdom of darkness. Today's post will be looking at Acts 28:21-31 to better understand how we can discern whenever we are dealing with spiritual warfare on the surface of things. What characterizes spiritual warfare in the visible realm of everyday life, and what indicates we have reached a point of victory? To answer these questions, we will consider Acts 28:21-31 in short order:

1. Opposition.  Acts 28:21-22
Acts 28:22 states - "But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere.” It should not shock Christians to discover that the world is opposed to Jesus Christ and the scriptures. Whenever we get out of a civilian mentality of personal peace and affluency and into a soldier mode of fighting the good fight of faith, such realities are regarded as par for the course. The opponents of the Apostles and the early church referred to them as quite literally a "heresy". Furthermore, the phrase translated "spoken against everywhere" could just as easily be rendered "refused in all directions". Opposition that we see in the culture against the Bible and Jesus Christ ought to tell us that we are dealing with spiritual warfare. But notice a second surface level characteristic...

2. Unbelief. Acts 28:23-24
As the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed over time, a polarization develops among people who are listening. The Spirit of God will move upon the hearts of listeners to believe and be saved. For others who choose to persist in the opposition, they remain unpersuaded. The idea of the verb translated "would not believe" is a pretty good rendering by the NASB. Willful, ongoing refusal to heed the Gospel is the result of the efforts of Satan and his counter-kingdom in blinding the minds of unbelievers to the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:4-6) Whenever we see persistent unbelief, we must not quit proclaiming the Gospel nor praying. Our weaponry is not of the flesh nor of man but of God. (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) So we can say that on the surface, opposition and unbelief characterize the surface level spiritual warfare that we see in the culture. However there are two other traits that we find in the church-world...

3. Disharmony. Acts 28:25
Acts 28:25a reads - "And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word....".  The underlined word translated "did not agree" is an interesting word in the original language that could literally be rendered "out of harmony". Certainly these folks in Acts 28 were Jews, however the phenomena of disharmony is recognizable and identified in the church as well. Have you ever been part of a church that is out of harmony? What is the cause of disharmony in the local church? First of all the fleshly, selfishness of believers who are carnally minded (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; James 4:1-4) and then Satan, the accuser of the brethren (Zechariah 3; Revelation 12:10). Whenever God is moving among the people of God, be ready for the kingdom of darkness to stir up an anti-revival. But notice another trait of surface-level spiritual warfare in addition to opposition, unbelief and disharmony....

4. Spiritual blindness. Acts 28:26-29
Sadly this trait is seen as much in churches than in the world. Whenever Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in Acts 28:26-28, he is quoting a passage that is an indictment against the people of God. Notice the characteristics of spiritual blindness: lack of discernment,perception (28:26); dullness, inability to hear the message, inability to take in God's word to the heart, ineffectiveness of application (28:27). If the church body has corporately grieved the Holy Spirit, that church begins to operate under a closed heaven. Unless the church repents and mends her ways, the kingdom of darkness will continue to retain success. All the preaching and singing in the world will be to those who are spiritually blind a waste of time. 

The mark of victory in spiritual warfare on the surface
So thus far we have considered the four traits of surface level warfare: opposition, unbelief, disharmony and spiritual blindness. But now what indicates we have began to gain a victory for God in a church or community. The closing verses of Acts 28:30-31 tells us: "And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered." Now notice what I did not say in this final point. I did not say that the warfare had ceased. If you read the parallel passage of Ephesians 6:11-120 you will find out that the warfare won't end until Jesus comes. Nor did I say that the enemy won't try another angle. 

Rather the tide of the battle changes as God's Word gets planted in the hearts and minds of God's people. When the Kingdom of God is manifested, the Word has no hindrance. I have been at places where this has happened. There is no need to beg people to come to church nor is there any need to beg people to go out and share the Gospel. The people are getting it and they're taking it and running it to where it needs to go. 

Our problem so often is that we quit before the battle changes course. For those Christians and churches who keep-on-keeping on, the victory side of spiritual warfare can at times verge on the miraculous. Still even then, the battle cry for the church on this side of eternity is to keep on fighting the good fight of faith. 

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