Ephesians 6:13 “Therefore put on the full armour 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.”
This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Shostakovich, and I recently came across the story of an early performance of his great Seventh Symphony, called ‘the Leningrad .’ This performance was given in Leningrad on 9 August 1942, at a time when the city had been under siege for several months and the population reduced to starvation. The story was told by Ed Vulliamy in the Observer in 2001, after he had been to St Petersburg to interview the few survivors of the orchestra which had given that performance, and this account was repeated by Peter Philipps in the Spectator on February 4, 2005. Many of the players who began rehearsing the new piece in March of 1942 didn’t make it to the performance; and few of the titular members of the Leningrad Radio Committee Orchestra — the more famous Philharmonic had been evacuated — had made it that far. Mrs Matus, one of the oboeists, described arriving at the first rehearsal:
When I got to the studio, I nearly fell over with shock. Of the orchestra of 100 people, there were only 15 left. I didn’t recognise the musicians I knew from before, they were like skeletons. Eliasberg, the conductor, said: ‘Dear friends, we are weak but we must force ourselves to start work,’ and raised his arms to begin. There was no reaction. The musicians were trembling. I remember the trumpeter didn’t have the breath to play his solo and there was silence when his turn came around. He was on his knees, poor man. Eliasberg was waiting; he said: ‘It’s your solo. You’re the first trumpet, why don’t you play?’ The trumpeter replied: ‘I’m sorry, sir, I haven’t the strength in my lungs.’ There was a terrible pause. Everyone asked him to try. Eliasberg said: ‘I think you do have the strength,’ and the trumpeter took up his trumpet and played a little. And so the rehearsal continued.
Another problem the orchestra faced was the colossal scoring of the work. To make up the numbers Eliasberg recruited military players from the units defending the city and instituted an iron discipline at rehearsals. One of the brass players, Viktor Koslov, recalls how his head span when he played, and how people fell over at rehearsals, but Eliasberg wouldn’t accept any excuse for non-attendance:
If a musician played badly or was late, they would lose their bread ration. If someone was late because of a bombing raid, he would accept the excuse only if there had been no warnings from the siren. One day, a man came late because he had to watch them bury his wife that morning. But Eliasberg said that was no excuse, and the man would lose his ration.
By these means the whole symphony was eventually performed, and the results broadcast both on the radio and over loud-speakers pointed at the German lines. It must rank as one of the most glorious acts of defiance in which music has played a part. Koslov described the opening moments of the concert:
It was quiet outside because the German artillery had stopped firing. Far and wide they heard the opening of the symphony. In apartments rising from empty streets, and along frontline trenches dug cheek-by-jowl with the invading army, citizens and soldiers clustered around radio sets. Even the Germans were listening. Savkov, an artilleryman, wrote in his journal: ‘On the night of 9 August 1942, my artillery squadron and the people of the great frontline city were listening to the Shostakovich symphony with closed eyes. It seemed that the cloudless sky had suddenly become a storm bursting with music as the city listened to the symphony of heroes and forgot about the war, but not the meaning of war.’
Shostakovich’s own part in this astonishing story was scarcely less heroic. He had volunteered for the Red Army, but been turned away because of bad eyesight. He then applied to the People’s Volunteer Brigades, where he was accepted, and dug trenches around Leningrad ’s outskirts. Later he joined the fire brigade, which was when Time magazine took a picture of him wearing a firefighter’s helmet. The first two movements of the Seventh Symphony were written in Leningrad before the blockade was sealed: Shostakovich played them to friends at a party just as the first Luftwaffe bombs began to fall. The great Adagio was written as the noose tightened and everyone got out who could. Shostakovich himself refused to go until the Adagio was finished and he was ordered to leave. The fourth movement was written in Moscow . The finished score was flown back to its spiritual home over enemy lines in a light aircraft.
Leningrad never fell to the Germans, and though the siege lasted another 18 months for many people this performance marked the dawning of hope. Shostakovich had written on the title page: ‘To the historic confrontation now taking place between reason and obscurantism, culture and barbarity, light and darkness. I dedicate my Seventh Symphony to our struggle against fascism, to our coming victory and to my native city of Leningrad .’ Both the conductor Eliasburg and the composer Shostakovich were determined that in that evil day they and all their fellow musicians would stand.
The apostle Paul is determined that the mere Christian should keep standing always and everywhere. Our verse says, “Therefore put on the full armour 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” (Ephesians 6:13). Let’s put this verse in the context of the normal Christian life by asking first this question:
1. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GET CONVERTED?
The apostle tell the Ephesian Christians that they have come alive who once were dead in their sins. The life of God enters every Christian at regeneration in all its divine vigour, and a consequence of this is that we are able to receive the things of the Spirit of God; before the new birth that was impossible. Let me illustrate it in this way, that at this very moment there are sounds and sights all around us in this building that none of us can hear or see, but if I switched on a radio it would pick up the transmissions that are present everywhere now as yet undetected. Or if I switched on a television set it would produce a picture that is being beamed to us here from the Blaenplwyf transmitter.
So it is that at this very moment God is transmitting his word to us all as I’m preaching it to you, but the ears of some of you can’t hear the word of God, and your eyes can’t see it because you don’t possess the receiving set which Christians alone have. God has come and visited favoured men or women with his Holy Spirit and you know that because you’ve turned from your sin and trusted in God. You’ve been made receptive to the world of spiritual reality by a God-given receiver. Your capacity for a new understanding has changed so that you can learn the things of God. You have been given a new attitude to God, and also a new energy to understand and do the things of God. You can now take the whole armour of God.
Many in the world around won’t appreciate this change in you. They might say, “Well, if it makes you feel good, I’m glad, but it’s not for me.” But if you press them about Jesus Christ being real and true, that he is God over them as well, and that they need this divine receiver, then they may become quite hostile. You are meeting Satan’s underground resistance early on in your life. The devil isn’t happy that you deserted him and went over to his enemy. You can be sure that he’ll make things unpleasant for you. The world – of which you were once a part – will lure you away from this new commitment. Satan will appeal to your ‘flesh’ so that you’ll be fighting an internal war as well as the external battles. The apostle John warns: ‘Everything that is in the world – the desire of the flesh, and the desire of the eyes, and the pride of possessions – is not from the Father but is from the world’ (1 John 2:16). He says: ‘Don’t be surprised, brothers, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13), but he also gives us this assurance, ‘the One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4b), so that it is possible to say, ‘whoever is born of God defeats the world’ (1 John 5:4a).
So there’s a war on from which you’re going to emerge victorious, but not without many a battle, occasional defeats, wounds and scars. You must fight in order to ‘defeat’ the evil one. Indeed, Jesus says, ‘In the world you will have affliction, but have courage; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). You can defeat the world because he has done so, and for no other reason. The world, as organised by Satan its god, is your enemy. It appeals to your desires; it urges you to satisfy the flesh and covet what you see and hear, and tempts you to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think (because of position or possessions). Of course, the world is only a means which the tempter uses; Satan himself is the real enemy. But the Spirit within, and the new heart you received, will stand against the world the flesh and the devil, but you’ve got a fight on your hands. So that is what happens at conversion. You discover you are at war with spiritual powers. That is the background to these words. Let’s focus on them a little closer.
2. WHAT IS THIS WAR LIKE?
From this passage in the Bible we learn three things about the forces that are arrayed against us;
i] They are powerful. They are rulers and authorities and the powers of this dark world. They are not the powers of a handful of voodoo priests on an island in the West Indies . The whole world is their sphere of influence. They are as much at home in China as they are in Washington . They are as much at ease in places of higher education as with those buying and selling heroin in a dark alley. The devil is the ruler of this world, said the Lord Jesus, and so what power he exercises.
ii] They are wicked. Power itself is neutral; the power of the wind or waves or of fire can be well used or misused, but the enemies of our souls use their power simply to one end, to destroy. Their agenda is wholly evil. They hate the light and they shrink from it. Darkness is their natural habitat, the darkness of falsehood and sin; sin is the air they breathe; wickedness their sole diet.
iii] They are cunning. The devil has ‘schemes’ Paul says, in other words, he is a scheming creature. He has his ‘wiles’, in other words, he has been around a long time and he’s a wily old spirit, as cunning as he is ruthless with all kinds of devices and tricks and stratagems to pull us down. John Stott writes of the Satan’s “combination of tactical shrewdness and ingenious deception. The devil seldom attacks openly; when he transforms himself into ‘an angel of light’ we are caught unsuspecting. He is a dangerous wolf, but he enters Christ’s flock in the disguise of a sheep. Sometimes he roars like a lion, but more often is as subtle as a serpent. We must not imagine, therefore, that open persecution and open temptation to sin are his only or even his commonest weapons; he prefers to seduce us into compromise and deceive us into error. Significantly this same word ‘wiles’ is used in Ephesians 4:14 of false teachers and their crafty tricks. ‘As in Bunyan’s Holy War’, writes E. K. Simpson, the devil develops ‘a twofold infernal policy’. That is, ‘the tactics of intimidation and insinuation alternate in Satan’s plan of campaign. He plays both the bully and the beguiler. Force and fraud form his chief offensive against the camp of the saints, practised by turns.
“The ‘wiles of the devil’ take many forms, but he is at his wiliest when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist. To deny his reality is to expose ourselves the more to his subtlety. Dr Lloyd-Jones expresses his conviction on this matter in the following terms: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his “fiery darts”’” (John Stott, The Message of Ephesians,” IVP, Leicester , 1979, p.265).
There’s a book of a man named James Graham, The Divine Unfolding of God’s Plan of Redemption, where he defines the two major satanic tactics as murder and mixture. Indeed, he thinks that the entire Old Testament history can be read in terms of these two tactics. By murder Satan either tries to kill off the godly seed through whom God was working his purposes. The evil one attacked the infant Moses in Egypt , and the seed of the woman – the line of Christ; by him the three believers were thrown into a burning fiery furnace, and Daniel into a den of lions; he sought to kill the baby Jesus and stone to death the leaders of the early church). By mixture Satan weakened the people by many compromises with Baal, idolatry and alliances with Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon all tempting them to compromise in serving him.
Which was more successful? It depends in what culture you live. What kills wasps? A jar half full of vinegar and water, or a jar half full of honey and water? The honey attracts wasps and drowns them every time. So the history of Europe has shown that mixture triumphs over murder as the principal means of destroying the cause of Christ. So it was in Old Testament times and throughout the church age especially in the Western world. But it is different in Pakistan , Burma , northern Nigeria , the Sudan and throughout the Middle East where murder is still the way of Satan to destroy the church. Last month 50 year old Ghorban Tari the pastor of an house-chuch of converted Christians in a place called Gonbad-e-Kavu in northeast Iran was stabbed to death and his body thrown in front of his home where his wife and four children live. He is the fifth Protestant pastor murdered in Iran in the past 11 years
There is a different climate in Europe and so Satan’s devices are different. Think of how the modernist will say, “you are not going to break fellowship with me over the historicity of Adam are you?” So one brick is removed, and then he says the same thing concerning the doctrine of hell, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, the infallibility of Scripture, the total depravity of man, and so on and on, and piece by piece the Christian faith is quietly demolished. This is what happened in Wales ; those were Satan’s wiles in fighting the gospel.
Thus the truth shrinks, but so has a distinctive Christian living; in other words a godfearing and righteous lifestyle has greatly disintegrated. Harry Blamires has written: “Nothing has been more damaging to the Christian cause during the last fifteen or twenty years than the assumption by some Christians that there is something outmoded in the notion of conflict between the church and the world.” In other words, we Christians have taken the world into the church as though a conflict between us did not exist, as if there were no antithesis, no difference between the world’s values, goals, and methods and our own. That is the triumph of the devil’s mixture. Think of how the keeping of the Lord’s Day has been undermined in the house of its friends.
In America there is a Christian organisation called Operation Rescue responsible for a pattern of violent activities against abortion. Of course we sympathize with every pro-life goal of theirs but not with their methods. It is clear that they’ve adopted sub-Christian tactics, the bombing of abortion clinics and shooting medical staff involved, but also public violent intimidation of people leaving and entering those clinics. There are good laws which prohibit such behaviour. Christians disobey the law only when required by that law to sin.
So we are at war with a powerful, wicked, cunning adversary and we are given a full description of his activities in the Bible. It is apparent that in all Paul did he was conscious that he was engaged in warfare, in all the advice and counsel he gave to churches and individuals Paul kept the enemy in mind, anticipating and preparing to counter Satan’s likely moves. There is more hope for you if you’ll come each week and listen to how Satan wages war, so that you recognise his manouvers, makes plans to avoid unnecessary confrontations, and properly respond when you must put up a good fight.
3. WHAT ARE TYPICAL SCHEMES OF SATAN?
What are some of the ways will Satan work? (I am adapting helpful material of Colin Dawson, given in a ministers’ fraternal in March, 2000).
i] He will develop and sustain an unforgiving spirit amongst the saints.
It is interesting to see how Paul deals with a problem in the Corinthian church Paul is dealing with a repentant sinner, someone who had sinned. The person concerned had to be put out of the church because of grossly immoral conduct, but now the man has come to repentance and yet the people were unwilling to forgive. Paul is saying, No, that is wrong, “If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven – if there was anything to forgive – I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2.10-11). This is an area where the devil gains an advantage by provoking the saints to manifest an unforgiving spirit. Half the congregation in Corinth were rejoicing at the restoration of this man; half were snubbing him and giving him the cold shoulder. So resentment spread over many. Satan had outwitted them, even in this man’s restoration.
This is Satan. That is how he gets in, by sustaining this unforgiving spirit. Paul exhorts them. “Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Cor. 2:7&8). There is a danger of this man being irreparably damaged spiritually if you don’t forgive him. Think of this subject in the broader, biblical context. Remember how the disciple asked Jesus, “How many times shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him. Seven times?” “No,” says Jesus, “Until seventy times seven.”
Forgiveness is the way in which a repentant sinner is brought back into communion with the one against whom he had sinned. In its highest form it is, of course, seen in the forgiving love of God to sinners. How many times have you sinned against God, seven times? Seventy times seven? Seven hundred times seven? Innumerable times, and yet God still forgives. We must forgive one another. Remember Satan is an angel of light, so he will be able to suggest to you many plausible reasons why forgiveness is not appropriate in your particular case. “Ah,” the devil will whisper to you, “this is a special case, and this man has behaved so abominably that you have every right to refuse to forgive him and snub him. You are correct to be resentful and bitter.” That is one of Satan’s devices, but we who have been forgiven so much will find grace to freely forgive. Let me give you another scheme of Satan;
ii] He will seduce professing Christians in departing from the faith.
This is probably the greatest area of Satan’s activity as an angel of light as he tries to seduce Christians to depart from the faith. “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4.1). These seducing spirits are trying to cause professing Christians to depart from the faith. The meaning of seduction is to lead astray. The truth, the deposit of truth has been entrusted to the Church of God to keep. It is to cleave to it and to declare all its teaching. It is into this area that the great deceiver comes.
One method of seducing used by Satan is “signs and wonders,” “False Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13.22). The gullible ones can easily be led astray by utterly mundane events, given a veneer of the preternatural. For example people have been told that the glistening hands they looked at were caused by specks of gold-dust gleaming. They were told that amalgam tooth fillings had been turned to gold, and what is incredible is that such stories were believed. Why, this is incredible, isn’t it? The gullible are taken in by that sort of thing. There are other unusual events for which we will offer no explanation, but we do remember that when Moses went to Pharaoh to demand the release of his people, God gave him the miracle of the rod; Aaron’s staff became a serpent. But then the magicians of Pharaoh were able to do the same. Their rods also turned into serpents. There is always a counterfeit. There is the miracle of the Bible, and then there is produced the beautifully written Koran with extravagant claims made for it. There is the all-sufficient Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and then there’s raised up a co-redemptrix Mary. There is the real and there is the dud. There is the blood of Christ and there are plaster statues with alleged bleeding. So we are warned by our Lord, “False Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13.22). Satan can produce signs and wonders ad infinitum. But it does not make Satan God. This should serve as a very loud warning to us.
There was a situation in the congregation at Thyatira, described in Revelation 2.18-24. Notice what God says: “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling” (Rev. 2:20&21). The blame for this state of affairs is laid firmly at the door of the ‘angel’ maybe the pastor or oversight. “You tolerate that woman . . .” You have allowed her to increase in influence. You did nothing to prevent it. Things in Thyatira have just been allowed to happen concerning “that woman.” You have allowed her to take the lead in the church. She called herself a prophetess and she taught and she misled the members of the church into adultery, and where does all that come from? In verse 24 it is described as “Satan’s so-called deep secrets.” People were querying what was going on, this promiscuity, and this woman standing up and speaking as if she were a prophet. “Ah, it’s a deep secret given to me from heaven,” the woman might have replied. “No. Satan’s deep secrets,” said the Lord – from the depths of the pit.
Jesus is the truth and if you are fighting against the truth, you are fighting against him. You are on the wrong side. Those who are on the Lord’s side are fighting for the truth and with the truth. Here Paul refers to “the devil’s schemes” (v.11); this involves craftiness and deception. This links back to Ephesians 4.14, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” That is the work of Satan. In 2 Timothy 2.26 Paul writes of the “snare of the devil.” He sets a snare and the unwary are allured. One snare referred to is “foolish and unlearned questions.” This is the trap which he sets: “Let us have a discussion. Whom did Cain marry? Where is the ark of the covenant today? Were there pterodactyls in the ark? Did the Stone of Scone, on which the English monarchs are crowned, originally come from Solomon’s Temple ? Wasn’t Christ crucified on Thursday not Friday? Did Joseph and the boy Jesus visit Glastonbury ?” These are foolish and unlearned disputes. These are “words to no profit;” they are the “fables and endless genealogies” (1 Timothy 1.4). Where do they lead? They create a questioning spirit, they foster arguments, they make the Bible laughable and the object of scorn. This is the snare of the devil. He has set the trap and men have foolishly fallen into it. Have we got ourselves caught up in foolish and unlearned questions? Let me give you another scheme of Satan;
iii]. He will incite professing Christians to sin.
If we have become disciples of our Lord Jesus, Satan will want to sift us like wheat being winnowed. That is what he did to the apostle Peter and he does it still. Here is a true Christian, born again, saved by God’s grace; he has been baptised and joined the church, coming to the Lord’s Table. He is involved in serving God in some capacity, but Satan has targeted him so that he has become obsessed with a particular sinful attitude, a craving, an envy, a dissatisfaction and this Christian has taken it on board; he is living a double life. In many ways he is exemplary Christian yet he is also a deceiver, a cynic, full of self-pity and anger and lovelessness. If you see a Christian who is behaving abominably as well as professing faith in Christ, then the devil has him.
A particular sin is referred to in 1 John 2:9-11, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” This is a consequence of one of Satan’s schemes. He does not tempt you to go out and rob an old man, but he will assures you that you are perfectly justified in all those strong feelings of bitterness and hatred towards another person. Let us always remember, that not loving a brother leads to murder. There are Christians, if they don’t actually get involved in physical murder, are guilty of character assassination, and that’s almost as bad. They will destroy a man’s character if they hate him. Christians doing that? Yes. In this Satan is so busy.
Jesus addressed the problem in the parable of the day workers, all of whom received the same amount of money for very unequal amounts of work (Matthew 20:lff). Those who worked longer complained bitterly, accusing the owner of unfairness (verse 11). But the owner (Jesus) replied: “Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matt. 20:14&15). Here is a typical scenario for Satan to do his work, an occasion of some pressure, the disappointment of some, then anger, rivalry out of envy, jealousy, or bitterness. Jesus is making the point that even the goodness, generosity, and grace of God can be turned into an occasion for sin in the one who has an envious heart.
iv]. He will attack the church in its most vulnerable area or in its weakest members.
This highlights something of the cowardliness of our adversary. Remember how he attacked our first parents and that his device was to get at Adam though his wife. He still gets at husbands through their wives. The men would be happy in a gospel congregation, but the wife is restless. What can be more sacred than the marriage bond? Here in the most intimate relationship between two people, but the evil one intrudes and through the wife’s complaints the husband in turn grows in criticism. Or the children whine that the sermons are too long, and the services are ‘boring,’ and they don’t want to go to church, and so the parents get restless and start grumbling. That is how Satan works, through women and children.
Satan works when the leadership is weak. There was the potential for division in the family of Abraham. His nephew Lot and he were nomadic herders, and the two men were dependent on the same springs of water, and the labourers that worked for the two men became rival gangs over the water supplies and pastures, with numerous unseemly incidents occurring between them. In describing the tension, Moses comments significantly, “The Canaanite and the Perizzite were then living in the land” (Genesis 13:7), in other words the world was having its own influence; and it was also observing how the worshippers of Jehovah were behaving. Lot was the weak man and doing nothing about this, and then Abraham acted to prevent a feud saying to his nephew, “Please, let there be no disputing between me and you or between my herdsmen and yours, for we are kinsmen” (Genesis 13:8). He actually gave the choices of land and springs to Lot . Though he was the senior he was self-denying for the sake of the testimony to the world. The strong man was defeating Satan through humbling himself.
There are weak Christians in every congregation who lean more heavily on other believers than they do on the Lord. Those people are usually the people who’ve been instrumental in introducing them to Christ or helping them in the faith in some significant way. Weaker Christians look up to them for guidance and strength. When Christian leaders begin to bicker and fight, then weaker brothers are torn in their allegiance between respected leaders, the faith of these weaker Christians often collapses. “Divide and conquer,” that is the policy of Satan. Rivalry between leaders has become a prime source of bitter disillusionment for many. Take a leaf out of Abraham’s book in defeating Satan.
v]. He will focus on the most active and earnest members of the congregation.
Satan will go for men at the top – Noah, or for Abraham, or for Lot , or for Samson, or for David, or for Solomon, or for Asa, or for Peter, or for John. No one is exempt from his attacks. If you are in any leadership in the church then that will become an avenue by which he will attack you. There was a new pastor called to a congregation in which one of the members was a retired minister. This old minister had had no trouble relating to the previous pastor at all. He’d been extremely careful to support him in every way. Their relationship was warm and productive, and this is how he wanted it to go on. When the new pastor arrived, the old worshipping minister, in an attempt to assure him of his support, said, “I want you to know that I shall do everything I can to encourage your ministry.” The new pastor looked back at him and said, “I’m not threatened by you!” Throughout the remainder of the time he spent there, the new pastor continued to manifest that attitude of rivalry. At one point the pastor even reorganized the midweek meeting so as to exclude the minister from speaking – and he’d reluctantly accepted that invitation experiencing the suspicion of the pastor.
In the New Testament and find the same thing. Perhaps Diotrephes, above all others, is the epitome of pastoral rivalry, and the havoc it can cause. The story is told in the third letter of John. John writes to Gaius who had been thrown out of the church by his pastor, Diotrephes, for acting like this – he had received missionaries into his home and provided for their needs for their onward journey to the next town. John says Diotrephes excommunicated Gaius because he “loves to be first among them” (verse 9). The situation seems to have been as follows: these preachers, for the sake of Christ’s name, refused to take lodging or money or supplies from the unbelievers to whom they preached the gospel. They didn’t want others to get the idea that the gospel could be bought or that they were preaching for their own benefit. They had a message of God’s free grace to proclaim and would not associate it with personal gain. So, in order to provide for their needs, it was the policy of the church for Christians along the way to take them in, feed them, provide shelter, and then to give them whatever was necessary to get them safely to the next town. Gaius did so. But because Diotrephes liked the acclamation and praise, he forbade members of his church to receive the missionaries.
Matters came to a head when missionaries arrived in the town and the members of the church wanted to hear what the Lord was doing through them. They wanted to ask them questions, hear them preach, and so on. That took the spotlight off Diotrephes. So he opposed the missionaries and considered them rivals. And any members of the church who welcomed them were shown the door and told to leave the church. John says that he had written to Diotrephes about this, but rather than heeding John, Diotrephes set John up as another rival and began slandering him. Behind it all Satan was at work.
What a contrast John the Baptist is! When his disciples, in a spirit of rivalry, complained that everyone was turning from John to Jesus, he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John is a living testimony to the fact that a sinful person, transformed by God’s grace, can live a life in which he refuses an attitude of rivalry and puts Christ first.
Satan may well leave those alone who cause his kingdom no trouble, but let a Christian come on the front line of service and he comes under attack. Those who stand nearest the King beware because they become the target of the fiery darts. Let a congregation get active in prayer and evangelism and hospitality and obedience to the commands of the Lord Christ, then you can guarantee that Satan will come with renewed bitter hatred to oppose that church. We must not be surprised at this and be ready for troubles – resignations and opposition. I much prefer an active devil to a sleeping devil. Of course the eventual outcome of this conflict is not in any doubt. Romans 16.20. “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Revelation 20.10. “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophets are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever.”
4. SATAN PARTICULARLY WORKS IN THE DAY OF EVIL.
Most days for the Christian are green pasture days and still water days. Goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. Then of course all days in a fallen world are evil days, but that is not what Paul is talking about. There are particularly bad periods which we can call ‘the day of evil.’ For example, every day Jesus was tempted by Satan but there were forty days of intense spiritual battle in the wilderness which we call Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. So Paul here does not talk of a day of evil coming but the day of evil. Every member of the Roman army was a soldier but he was not involved in hand to hand combat every day. Such days were evil days. What can characterize such days? David Feddes makes some useful suggestions;
Sometimes the day of evil comes in the form of a painful illness or disability. If you’ve always assumed you’ll stay healthy and happy, you can be caught by surprise and your faith can fall if your health fails. There was a woman the Lord Jesus met who had been in a painful orthopedic condition for some years through the activity of Satan. So arm yourself in advance by learning what the Bible says about suffering and by trusting God’s promises, you can stand firm.
Sometimes the day of evil comes in the death of a loved one. If you’ve always assumed that such things would never affect you, the blow may be too much for you to bear. You may turn against God and surrender to Satan’s anger and despair. But if, when things are going well, you take the Lord as your comfort in life and in death, and if you keep strengthening your faith by focusing on Jesus’ resurrection power, you’ll be ready to defeat Satan when death or trouble strikes close to you.
Sometimes the day of evil comes in the form of persecution. If you assume that no one will mock your Christian beliefs or Christian way of life, if you assume you’ll never lose a job or face hardship for following Jesus, you may be caught by surprise if persecution hits you. But if you’re prepared in advance, knowing that when you join Jesus’ army you’ll be targeted for attack, then you’ll have your armour on and be able to stand up under persecution without abandoning the Lord.
Sometimes the day of evil comes as temptation to sin. You may be tempted to cheat in school or university or to make money by crooked methods. You may be tempted to have sex with someone who isn’t your spouse or to gossip about others or to commit some other sin, but whatever it is, Satan presents something that seems so delicious, so desirable, so beautiful, so necessary for your happiness that if you’re not prepared in advance to resist temptation, you will fall into sin. But if you’re fortified by hearing God’s word preached and by the strength of God’s Holy Spirit in you, then you can say no to the tempter and defeat his strategy.
Sometimes the day of evil comes in the form of lies about God. Satan attacks with all sorts of false doctrines and theories “God is a woman!” – and if you’re not protected by the knowledge of truth, you can fall for Satan’s lies. But if you know your Bible and your mind is clothed in the truth of Christ, you can repel Satan’s lies (David Feddes, The Radio Pulpit, the Back to God Hour, July 2003, “Armed and Ready.”). Those are just samples of the time when evil comes into your life. You day of evil will be different, when sleep goes and a small incident is blown out of all proportion to its importance and much damage is done in a fellowship. That is an evil day. In all of this, you need to be ready in advance. Be ready for suffering before it strikes. Be ready for tragedy before it strikes.
5. PUT ALL YOUR ARMOUR ON, DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN AND STAND.
You must go to God saying, “Nothing in my hand I bring.” You must say to him, “Naked I come to you for dress.” You say this every day, asking for his protection and enabling. Then God will do something wonderful; he will begin to equip you for new life as a soldier of Jesus Christ. There is that great verse in Jeremiah 50:25, “The LORD has opened his arsenal and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Sovereign LORD Almighty has work to do in the land.” God has a work for you to do in our small town and he will supply you with all the necessary arms, but you must go to him daily and ask him for protection and strength and grace to use the armour properly.
Then you must do everything. In other words, have you asked advice from mature Christians? Have you avoided situations of temptation? Are you reading godly books on the theme? Have you asked to see the pastor? Are you looking unto Jesus? Have you done everything you could do? Remember Charles Wesley’s advice;
“Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace
Ands fortify the whole.
Then having all things done,
And all your conflicts past,
Ye may o’ercome through Christ alone
And stand complete at lost (Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).
Finally we have to fight. Of course we must depend on God’s power, not our own, but we must do all we can, using all the strength God gives us. Living for Jesus is warfare, not a vacation cruise. When Churchill became prime minister he followed Neville Chamberlain who’d promised “peace in our time” and told his people to “get a nice, quiet sleep.” But when war was declared it was no time for false peace and phony comfort. Winston Churchill did not promise pleasant times and easy victory. He told his nation, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be.”
Now suppose Churchill had said, “The Nazis are wimps. They’ll be a walkover. We can easily defeat them. This won’t be very difficult.” Anyone who expected a quick victory would have given up in the face of fierce Nazi attacks. But because Churchill told his people what to expect – blood, toil, tears, and sweat – the troops and the people stood firm and reached their goal: victory!
Jesus promises victory in our war with Satan, and this outcome is guaranteed by his winning the decisive battle through his death and resurrection. But in promising victory, Jesus doesn’t promise it will be quick and easy. He doesn’t promise health and wealth to those who name it and claim it. He promises blood, toil, sweat, and tears. Jesus promises hardship and suffering as we move toward victory over Satan. You’ve got to stand your ground. You’ve got to do everything and then, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
Don’t be shocked when Satan attacks and life is hard. We’re in a war. Prepare for attack. Endure and stand firm. “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). “Therefore put on the full armour 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.” (v.13).
December 11 2005 GEOFF THOMAS