April 19, 2020

Close Quarters Combat (The Armor, part 17)

I have never seen (nor do I wish to see) an exorcism. What I have seen, and perhaps you have seen them as well, are cinematic portrayals of exorcisms in movies and on TV. Linda Blair’s stunning scene from The Exorcist (1973) remains one of the most dramatic and terrifying scenes of spiritual warfare in cinematic history. While I know little about whether the movie portrayed such an event accurately, I am certain that such combat in our daily lives is always up-close, personal, and dangerous. There truly is no such thing as safe, long-distance spiritual warfare.

Photo by Matthias Kabel
The same could be said of combat as experienced by Roman legionnaires of the first century. Heavily armored and wielding large protective shields, Roman soldiers required a weapon which could be easily wielded in one hand. While spears and javelins were certainly used by the Romans in conjunction with their large shields, Paul mentions only one weapon in his references to the Whole Armor of God: the Sword of the Spirit. The sword wielded by the typical Roman soldier of the era would have been the gladius, a short sword with a blade approximately two feet in length. The length and weight of the gladius complemented the use of the scutum, the large shield commonly in use during the first century.

Many commentators have found it curious that a weapon should be included as belonging to a set of armor. In our modern culture, the two seem to belong to different categories. Armor is typically thought of as being any worn item which is primarily defensive in nature, while something which is used to attack the enemy would be categorized as a weapon. However, the Latin root word arma literally means “tools or implements of war” and technically applies to both modern categories of armor and weapons. Similarly, the Greek word Paul actually uses, panoplia, also refers to armor and weapons collectively. Thus, it is not incorrect to include the Sword of the Spirit as part of a set of armor.

A short sword such as the gladius is designed specifically to be easily maneuvered in close-quarters combat. Both Paul and his original readers would have known this. They would also have appreciated the resulting implication that spiritual warfare is a deeply personal thing. One cannot engage in spiritual warfare from a distance. There are no snipers among prayer warriors, only infantrymen.

I have observed far too many instances of Christians who practice a form of what they call spiritual warfare which consists primarily of pointing out the faults and sins of others, particularly of those outside the church. I cannot stress this point enough: that is not spiritual warfare. It’s nothing more than a judgmental attitude, and as such, is a sin itself.

So then, what is spiritual warfare?

Intercessory prayer is certainly a form of spiritual warfare. When you ask God to intervene and protect or heal yourself or another person, you are engaging in spiritual combat. You have a personal stake in the outcome of the situation, be it physical or spiritual. That stake is obvious when the prayer is for yourself, but it may seem less apparent when you pray for somebody else.

When you lift up another person in prayer, you become spiritually involved in their situation. Whether you realize it or not, you are placing yourself between that person and whatever outside forces are working against them. If you pray for an addict, you are taking up arms against the spirit of addiction. If you pray for someone with cancer, you become entangled with their fight against that monster. Perhaps most daunting situation is when you are trying to reach a lost person with the word of God. The enemy does not give up his hostages easily. The more intense and heartfelt your prayer, the more deeply entrenched you become in spiritual warfare.

What about general prayers for the nation or certain groups of people like police officers, firefighters, teachers, etc?

Again, the depth of your prayer indicates your level of engagement with the enemy. Many such prayers, while perhaps heartfelt and sincere, are unavoidably vague and generic. It is extremely difficult for most people to invest as deeply in such a broad prayer as compared to prayer for an individual, a close friend, a family member, or oneself.

It is also important to remember that most spiritual warfare is not something into which you actively choose to enter. Notice Paul’s wording in the following passage…

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

While it is certainly possible to choose to enter spiritual combat through prayer, Paul’s words here strongly imply that the Whole Armor of God is intended to protect us from outside attacks. Even when we pray for someone else, we cannot fight their battles for them. Likewise, no matter how vast and effective your own personal support network may be, it is up to you to stand or fall.

Your greatest weapon in this fight is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. For the moment, let’s focus on the Bible - the written word of God. How do we put on this sword?

We must believe it to be true, that it might strengthen us (just like the Belt of Truth).
We must keep it clean and free from sin (like the Breastplate of Righteousness).
We must sharpen it by studying it (like the Boots of Preparation).
We must use it constantly (in all circumstances, like the Shield of Faith).
We must allow it to influence our thoughts, opinions, and actions (through the Helmet of Salvation).

You may notice, once again, the considerable overlap between the Sword of the Spirit and the rest of the Whole Armor of God. This is not an accident. The Bible is our textbook. It is our unchanging source of information about God, the universe, and everything. The Bible exists so that we may learn about God and His ways.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction

It takes practice to learn to swing a sword effectively. Likewise, wielding the Word of God is something that takes a lifetime to master, but don’t hesitate to use whatever gifts you have to verbalize and spread the Word of God today!

Preach it.
Teach it.
Pray with it.
Sing about it.
Write about it.
Most of all, live by it.

You don’t have to perform a dramatic exorcism to be involved in spiritual warfare. Truly, some of our most difficult struggles come disguised as mundane and repetitive circumstances which the enemy uses to wear us down over time. Pick up your Bible daily and read it. Encourage others to do the same. Speak words of hope and joy. Spread the good news! In so doing, you put on the Sword of the Spirit and win the battle by standing yet another day.

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