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The Reality Of The Spiritual Conflict

By Dave Butts

    In Second Kings 6 is the story of the prophet Elisha and his involvement in the war between Israel and the Arameans. The king of the Arameans had declared war against Israel. That wasn’t a good thing for Israel with its smaller army. The Aramean king called his generals together and gave them the battle plans for the attack on Israel. The one thing that the king hadn’t planned on was that God was listening to the strategy as well. God told Elisha about the enemy plans. Elisha then immediately passed the information on to the king of Israel. With his much smaller army, the Israelite king simply moved his army out of the way and avoided defeat.

    After a couple of fiascoes like this, the king of the Arameans called his generals in and demanded who was leaking the information to the Israelites. His generals explained that it wasn’t any of them, but the prophet Elisha who had revealed the plans. They explained to the king that Elisha knew everything that happened, even the things in the king’s own bedchamber. That thought obviously upset the king!

    So he began to make plans to take care of this prophet who was interfering in his attempts at conquest. The king’s new strategy was really simple. Go after one man – Elisha. In Second Kings 6 the story continues with Elisha and his young servant in the little village of Dothan. We can imagine what it must have been like that morning. The servant gets up first, as was his custom, to go outside and prepare breakfast for his master. As he walks outside he looks in terror about him, as he sees the entire army of the Arameans surrounding the tiny village. He rushes back in and wakes up the prophet. Can’t you see Elisha walking outside the hut, muttering and rubbing the sleep from his eyes? The first words out of his mouth are amazing:

    "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (v. 16). His young servant had to be thinking, "Wait a minute. There’s just two of us…."

    Then Elisha begins to pray. What is astonishing in his prayer is what he doesn’t pray. He doesn’t begin to panic in prayer and say, "O Lord, save us from this army!"

    Instead there is this calm, yet amazing request:

    "Lord, open this young man’s eyes." And if it would be permissible, I would add to my paraphrase what I believe is implied: "Lord, open this young man’s eyes so that he can see what is already there."

    His prayer was answered immediately as his servant’s eyes were opened and he saw, surrounding the army of the Arameans, the army of heaven. A host of angels, decked out in battle armor, was ready to move at God’s command.

    I’ll let you read the conclusion of the story on your own. It has a fascinating finish. The point of the story for our purposes is that Elisha did not ask God to send angels. With his prophet’s discernment he saw or sensed their presence. His prayer was for his young servant, that he, too, would be able to know of the protective presence of God’s angels on their behalf.

Real Reality

    The Bible teaches, from beginning to end, of the existence of the invisible world, the world of the spirit. A world of angels and demons, yet a world that we touch daily as those who have been given, not merely a body, but also a spirit. Today it is difficult for many of us to believe in this invisible world. We tend to focus on that which our senses tell us is real. Things we can touch, taste, smell, hear or see, are those which seem to be real to us. An invisible world of the spirit seems a bit unreal or mystical.

    Because of that, even we who firmly believe that the Bible is God’s Word can become practical deists. We can go through life believing Bible stories, but never expect to see the reality of them in our own lives. We can firmly defend the supernatural events of Scripture, but deny that they are impacting us today.

    One of the things I love about the way God’s Word presents the things of the spirit, is the way it shies away from the mystical or unreal. It presents the unseen world as simply a matter-of-fact. There are things that are seen; there are things that are unseen. Both are real. One is not more real than the other. The invisible world is not a matter of myth but of solid, well-grounded reality.

    Jesus had a firm grasp of this reality. He was aware of and interacted with this invisible world on a regular basis. After His baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for forty days of prayer and fasting. During this time He encountered the devil and faced a time of temptation. This head-to-head battle is not presented with a flourish as if to say, "This is a unique, once-for-all battle reserved only for the Son of God." Instead, it almost seems as though it is a model of what may happen to any of the Lord’s followers who makes a decision to follow the direction of God at all costs. At any rate, the battle in the wilderness is not waged with miraculous signs, but with a clear-headed use of the Word of God to counter the enemy’s suggestions.

Putting Satan Behind

    As Jesus moved through His years of ministry in His earthly body, He encountered the invisible realm a number of times. There was the time He was preparing to go to Jerusalem and Peter spoke up against it. Jesus turned to him, and we can almost see Him pointing His finger in Peter’s direction as He said: "Get behind Me, Satan!" (Matt. 16:23).

    How unnerving that must have been for Simon Peter! I don’t believe Jesus was calling Peter, "Satan," but rather was responding to Satan himself. Jesus understood how Satan could put words into the mouths of others, like Peter, and simply went to the root of the problem with His rebuke. By the way, if Satan could put his thoughts into the mind of the Apostle Peter, do you suppose he can do the same for us? I’m convinced that one of the major reasons for the many commands given in Scriptures regarding watching what you say, is the possibility that our words unchecked, may contain our enemy’s thoughts.

Healing of a Crippled Woman

    There is another encounter with the unseen world that gives great insight into Jesus’ beliefs concerning the role of the enemy in human affairs. It concerns the healing of a woman who had experienced a crippling for eighteen years. She was so bent over that she couldn’t stand up straight. Jesus healed her on the Sabbath, and in response to His critics said: "Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" (Luke 13:16).

    Jesus believed and taught that the enemy can at least cause some illnesses. He did not teach that all illness is from Satan, but that some may find its source in the spirit world.

    And have you ever noticed, as you read the Gospels, how many times demons manifested themselves in the midst of Jesus’ times of teaching? Jesus gave us a great model for dealing with the demonic. He interrupted His teaching just long enough to get rid of the distraction, then turned immediately back to His teaching. His focus was not on the kingdom of darkness, but on God’s kingdom. Jesus did not have a deliverance ministry, in the sense that He went out looking for demons to cast out of people. He went about proclaiming the kingdom of heaven. When a demon had the audacity to interrupt, Jesus dealt decisively with it. Then He went right back to proclaiming the advance of the kingdom of God.

Paul and the Battle

    The Apostle Paul continued the attitude of His Master toward the invisible world. He clearly saw Satan as a real, created being, who was scheming against God and those who followed the ways of God. In Second Corinthians 2:10-11, Paul spoke of the importance of forgiveness: "in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." Later in Second Corinthians he spoke of the god of this age (a clear reference to Satan) who blinds the minds of unbelievers (4:4). In First Timothy 4:1, Paul warned us that in later times (ours?) some would abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.

    It was Paul who began to develop a military terminology for this spiritual conflict. He referred to Christians as soldiers. He told us that we do not wage war as this world does, but rather we use spiritual weapons. Then in Ephesians 6:10-18, he gave us this great treatise on spiritual warfare with special emphasis on putting on the armor of God.

    "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.

    "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

Seriousness of the Battle

    Not to be left out, the Apostle Peter added his teaching concerning the battle in First Peter 5:8, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." In his second letter, he wrote of angels who sinned, whom God sent to hell to be held for judgment (2 Pet. 2:4). In his short letter, Jude also spoke of these fallen angels, and gave us the amazing story of how the archangel Michael got into a dispute with the devil over the body of Moses (Jude 9).

    It’s obvious the New Testament authors take spiritual warfare seriously. We ignore it to our detriment and danger. Certainly some may go too far in their practice of this doctrine. We often hear reference to some Christian teachers who see a demon behind every bush. I doubt demons are much interested in bushes, but the point is well taken. If we are not careful, we can end up focusing more on the devil than on Jesus. But much of the Church has taken the opposite tact of simply ignoring or denying the devil.

Finding Biblical Balance

    C. S. Lewis gives us great insight into these opposite errors in The Screwtape Letters: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight" (Preface, p. ix). My purpose is to help restore that broad biblical middle ground to the thinking and practice of the Church.

    The issue here really is: What does the Bible say? It is not a matter of personal experience or perception. Experience and perception can be distorted. It is also not a matter of personal like or dislike. Occasionally I run into people who will say something like this: "Well, it’s okay for you to teach on spiritual warfare, but I’m just not into that sort of thing." It really doesn’t matter whether you are "into" spiritual warfare or not. The only issue is, "How are you doing in the battle? Are you winning or losing?" We don’t get to vote on this. It’s not a game where you can take your ball and go home. God’s Word is clear:

    "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" (Eph. 6:12).

    Spiritual warfare is a reality that must be faced! It won’t go away. It is time to prepare ourselves to wage war, not as the world does, but with the weapons provided by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 10:3-4).

   – From The Devil Goes to Church by David L. Butts. Copyright ©2003 by David L. Butts. Used by permission.