A quick look at the headlines and we find ourselves asking the same question that KCCI recently asked, “What is happening to our country?” Of course one of the things that can happen when a question like that is asked, is that people play the blame game. As civilized and cultured as we become, we haven’t learned much since the days of Adam and Eve. Adam blamed Eve and blamed God for giving Eve to him. Eve blamed the serpent. The blame game was in place, and the real issues were avoided and the true enemy was hiding in the shadows.
Today he is still hiding, and laughing as we tear each other apart. We fight against each other and not even the church is exempt. And while we hurt each other, our true enemy is laughing all the way to the bank. We are doing his work for him, forgetting the words that would save us and guard us.
Ephesians 6:12 says:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.”
Paul tells the church in Ephesus and us that our fight is not with each other, but against the ideologies and philosophies that draw us away from God’s intended path for humanity. We fight against evil rulers and authorities of an unseen world, who while they can do scary things, mostly do subtle things that bring about really frightening things in our culture.
C.S. Lewis writes in his book, The Screwtape Letters, that one of our enemy’s biggest strategies is to get us to believe that he doesn’t exist. He is a myth and that the spiritual realm has no effect on our daily lives. The horror movies of our time add to that myth by sensationalizing evil to such a degree that it all seems cartoonish or fake. Yet make no mistake, there is a real enemy, and our real enemy, our real opponent, is the one doing damage to our lives and our culture. He is the father of lies and the king of deception, perverting and distorting the truth. He tries to convince us, through his lies, to walk away from God and to engage in an attitude, behavior that he says is harmless, will bring us pleasure, or make us God. He did it in the garden, and he does it today. However, his lies lead us not into freedom, but off of cliffs into dark places where when we wake up, we realize how deceived we have been.
#1 Peter 5:8 says
“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
The devil is a roaring lion, but his roar can only hurt us if we give into his lies. He has to scare us into his den by deceit. In Christ, he has no real authority over us. He can’t make us do anything, though he would try to convince us otherwise.
He would have us believe that he is a real threat to us and that we better stay hidden and safe so he can’t get at us. Hear this, he is a liar. Hell and its occupants can’t hurt us. Jesus says the gates of Hell cannot prevail against us, the church. We, in Christ, are knocking down the gates of Hell, and setting the prisoner free or, at least, we should be. But we have let the lies of our opponent keep us off the field. Or we get winded, complacent, tired and give up, and lay down on the mat. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to stay on the mat and we can defeat our enemy.
However, to do so we need to know how he works. We need to know our opponent before we know how to beat him. And to help us better understand our opponent, consider a section of Acts that both lays out what we truly fight against and how to fight.
In Acts 20, Paul is Island hopping down the coast, sharing the Gospel, revisiting church plants and making his way to Jerusalem. As he hops from island to island, he makes a stop at Miletus and while there, he sends a message to the leaders of the church of Ephesus that they should come and join him at Miletus. This was to be his final tour of this particular area. He did not plan to go through Ephesus and the cities on this coast again and he wants to talk to the leaders of this church before he moves on.
The leaders of the church arrive and Paul says in Acts 20:18
“ 18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.”
Paul reminds them of the many things he has suffered for the Gospel. He had suffered from rivers, beasts, bandits, foreigners, his own countrymen, sea, starvation, sleeplessness and the constant anxiety of worry about the church. Yet, he never shrank back from preaching the message that God for which God has commission him to preach, the same message the church preaches today–salvation is found in no other name. Jesus, alone is Lord and faith in Him is what saves us.
And then Paul tells of his future plans in verse 22
22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit[a] to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”
He is heading to Jerusalem and God has revealed to him that suffering awaits. As the book of Acts progresses, that is exactly what will happen to Paul. He will be accused of breaking the law of His people, thrown into jail, have people plot to murder him and be sent on a Roman ship to the imperial city, suffering starvation and shipwreck before he gets to Rome.
And for us too, suffering is not a surprise. If we stand for the Word of God, we will suffer. However, when that happens, take heart for Jesus has overcome the world. Paul knew this truth and his all consuming passion to preach the truth, regardless of cost, was the motivation behind all his actions including why he wanted to see the elders of Ephesus one last time. He knew they would never see him again and wants to give them words that they might continue in the Gospel and the grace of God long after he is gone.
In verse 28, he says,
28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood[c]—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.[d] 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.
He tells them to guard themselves and to watch out—be alert. When he is gone, people are going to come in, false teachers, who Paul calls vicious wolves. In Matthew 7:15, Jesus also uses that term to describe false teachers. Vicious wolves, those who seem like harmless sheep but are really ready and willing to tear the church apart, ripping it limb from limb. Wolves who will show no mercy and will attempt to rip the Truth to shreds or replace it with something that looks just like it. Gradually and cautiously leading sheep into a trap, causing them to depart from the accepted standard of spiritual truth, lulling them into a sleep, and when they wake up, they are in the wolves’ den—no way out.
Paul has seen these wolves creep in before from the surrounding culture and worse, from among their own ranks and he wants Ephesus to be on their guard. As shepherds of their flock, they are to protect their sheep, the sheep of God, bought with the precious blood of Jesus.
Paul had watched out for them for three years, spending sleepless nights in tears, praying over them. But now, they must do it for themselves and for their flock, for their church. They were to watch out for the wolves that will creep in and we must do the same today.
Notice Paul does not warn against people so much as he is warning against what they are doing, their teaching. False teaching are ideas from culture that seem right, but are not in line with the Word of God. They are distortions of truth that look like the Gospel, but when examined, they don’t hold water.
The father of lies is interested in one major thing—distorting the truth of Jesus so that people that God loves, miss out on salvation and he uses false teaching to do his work. It is this for which we must watch out. We must be alert like shepherds watching over sheep by night, like soldiers waving off sleep to keep watch over their unit.
This call to alertness is found in other parts of Scripture. Write these down, commit them to memory so that you might remember to be alert.
1 Corinthians 16:13
“13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.”
1 Thessalonians 5:6
“6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.”
1 Peter 5:8
“8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
These Scriptures and all the words of God, along with prayer, are how we combat the father of lies. We read the Word, write it down, live it, and hold onto it, no matter what. And we pray. We pray with tears. We pray with persistence. We pray with fasting. We pray for the church to be protected and the Truth to be preached. And as pray and read the Word, we remember that this battle is already won.
Martin Luther wrote these words in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.”
And that word? Jesus. The father of lies is defeated because of Jesus and as a result, he cannot harm us. We are overcomers in Christ.