April 22, 2012
Rev. John Watts
Nampa First UMC
HOW TO DEFEAT THE DEVIL
Jesus was an exorcist. I preached an entire sermon with this as its theme a few weeks back. Jesus took on the devil in the wilderness for those 40 days and 40 nights and then Jesus came out of the wilderness and he took on the devil in people who were possessed by demons. He cast those demons out. The devil was no match for Jesus. Jesus had no problem defeating the devil. But sometimes we do.
Now I realize that the subject of the devil gets reactions that range the gamut. Some of you don’t believe in a literal devil. Some of you think of the devil as some kind of a laughable cartoon character, in that red costume, with the horns and the pitchfork. Others of you take the devil very seriously. He’s no laughing matter for you.
I got a call years ago from one of my Sunday school teachers. She told me that she hated to tell me this because it involved my daughter. Heather was maybe 4 at the time. Apparently there was a new little girl in class. Her family was visiting our church for the first time. Heather was engaged in an animated conversation with this new little girl. The entire conversation was not heard but the part that was and that was reported to me were these words coming from my adorable little daughter: “There is too a devil, and he’s going to get you!” That visiting family never came back to my church.
We can get carried away with this subject of the devil. But I think we’re more likely to not take this subject seriously enough. I can testify that I have experienced God’s love in my life in many wonderful ways, but I can also testify that I have experienced the devil trying his best to get in God’s way. We can give the devil too much credit. It’s not always the devil causing our problems. But as I read the Bible, I read about a devil who’s not just a cartoon character. He’s not as powerful as God. Not even close. But without the whole armor of God that this passage from Ephesians describes, the devil is certainly more than powerful enough to cause me some serious problems. So we’re going to talk today about how to defeat the devil.
We put on the whole armor of God. That’s how we defeat the devil. But what does that mean? It sounds good, but in practical terms what does it mean for us to do that we aren’t already doing? Fortunately, this is a passage that’s eminently practical. Paul breaks the vague concept “whole armor of God” down into specifics that you and I can easily apply to our daily lives. So that, as Paul puts it, we can “stand against the wiles of the devil”.
First, we gird our waist with truth. That means that we begin by putting on our belt. Ancient soldiers going to war would put on the belt that held their sword. We’ll come back to the sword. That’s later in Paul’s list. For now, we’re just worried about the belt that holds the sword. It goes all the way around us. It is pressing against us on every side. We feel its embrace. And it’s not just any belt. It’s the belt of truth.
We enter the battle with the devil with truth on our side. The truth actually on our every side. The devil loves to lie. Convincing lies. He’s a good liar. Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden? “God doesn’t want you to eat that fruit because God doesn’t want what’s best for you. But I do.” They believed him. He tricked them. It’s easy to get tricked. It’s scary how a smooth talker can talk you into just about anything, especially when you’re kind of interested in being talked into it in the first place. How can you tell if a lie is a lie? You know the truth. If it doesn’t sound like the truth that you know, it’s a lie. If it sounds like something you wish were true but you know it isn’t, it’s a lie. And one more question: How can you tell the devil is lying? His lips are moving.
Next comes the breastplate of righteousness. In ancient times the warrior’s breastplate would protect his chest and his throat. A wound in that vital area can be lethal. And there is one organ in particular that needs special protection. Your heart. The heart is one organ you cannot do without. Both physically and spiritually. The breastplate of righteousness protects your heart.
Righteousness is the active interpretation of faith. It is faith in action. You don’t just believe something. You do something about what you believe. One of my Bishop Paup memories is the story he loved to tell about a letter a Congressman received from a constituent. The letter read: “Dear Sir, I know that you are a busy man, so just one question: What is it you are presently doing about whatever it is you believe is right?” Righteousness is doing something about what you believe is right. When you’re actively doing something for the good, it makes you less vulnerable to the devil’s efforts to talk you into something that isn’t good. So put on the breastplate of righteousness.
And then we come to the shoes of peace. You don’t go into battle barefoot. You go into battle with your shoes on. You go into battle ready to move.
A couple of backpackers were getting ready for bed. One of them insisted on climbing into his sleeping bag with his shoes on. The other thought that was the strangest thing he had ever seen. He asked, “Why are you sleeping with your shoes on?”
“This is bear country. If I hear a bear in the night I want to be able to move out in a hurry.”
“But you can’t outrun a bear.”
“I don’t have to. I just have to outrun you.”
It’s a good idea to have your shoes on if you’re expecting trouble. Shoes here represent your willingness to move from wherever you are right now to wherever God wants you to be.
But there’s more to it than that. They are shoes of peace. Who ever heard of going to battle wearing shoes of peace? It’s a reminder that Christians have a different way of waging war.
I heard Jay Leno the other night doing his “headlines” routine. Someone had sent him a newspaper ad with the title of a pastor’s sermon: “How to Destroy Your Enemies.” That got a good laugh. That fit right into the stereotype. Christians just talk about peace. They’re actually some of the most violent people around. But the point of the title was completely missed. Often preachers work real hard to come up with clever sermon titles. I should know. I’m pretty sure that sermon, “How to Destroy Your Enemies”, was based on Romans 12 where it says, “Bless those who persecute you, do not curse them . . . do not repay evil for evil . . . do not avenge
yourselves . . . overcome evil by doing good.” In other words, destroy your enemies by making them your friends. And so the shoes we wear into battle are paradoxically the shoes of peace.
Then we’re told “above all” to take up the shield of faith. This shield will protect us from the “fiery darts of the wicked one.” Ancient warriors would use a wooden shield that had been drenched in water. We’ve all seen the movies with those flaming arrows. Well, a wooden shield would catch them and a wet wooden shield would keep the fire from spreading. And so in our spiritual battle we need a strong shield against whatever the devil might throw at us. Our shield is faith.
The sign outside says faith means “Fantastic Adventures in Trusting Him”. When we have faith in God, when we truly trust God for everything that matters, we are holding a shield that protects us from the devil. Not only that. We don’t just hunker down while the fiery darts bounce off our shield and fall harmlessly to the ground. We move forward. Those shoes of peace carry us forward. We don’t have to worry about protecting ourselves. The shield of faith takes care of that, We are free to experience the life that is full and good and abundant that God has for us. Yes, the “Fantastic Adventures in Trusting Him”.
And whenever you have a fantastic adventure, whether it’s riding a bicycle or a motorcycle, racing a car, climbing a rock wall, working in a construction zone, or playing in a football game, or fighting a war, there is one piece of equipment that is absolutely essential. You have to wear a helmet. You have to wear a helmet because your head must be protected above all else. The New Orleans Saints football team was offered bounties to do what the devil loves to do for free. Go for the head.
The devil loves to mess with your head. Have you ever wondered, where in the world did that thought come from? It may have come from the devil. God wants to fill your mind with good, healthy, positive, hopeful thoughts. As it says in Philippians, “Whatever is true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and gracious and excellent and worthy of praise — think about these things” (4:8). And so to keep the “stinking thinking” out, we put on the hard hat. The helmet of salvation.
Your salvation is a precious thing. Did you hear that somebody dropped that beautiful Waterford Crystal national championship trophy thatAlabamawon earlier this year? It’s now in a million pieces. It cost $30,000, but it was worth a lot more than that. I don’t thinkBoiseStatewould have been that careless. The devil wants to attack and destroy what is most precious of all. Your salvation. Don’t let him. Wear that helmet at all times.
Up to now we’ve been talking about defensive armor. The assumption is that the devil is on the attack and we need to protect ourselves. But next we’re told to put something in that belt of truth that we can take out and use that will put the devil on the defense — “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Hebrews 4:12. “The Word of God is living and active; sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Jesus is the model for us here. He used the Word of God as a sword against the devil in the wilderness. Three times the devil attacked with an enticing temptation. Three times Jesus counterattacked by quoting the Word of God.
I know many of you are self-conscious about how little you know of the Bible. I’ll tell you a secret. You can get a masters degree in Biblical studies and preach the Bible for 30 years and you will still be astounded by how much you have to learn! But I’ll tell you another secret. With a little effort, you can make tremendous progress in a hurry. We need to all be life-long students of the Bible. There is no graduation. The more you learn the more you will want to learn more and the sharper will be your sword when the devil decides it’s time to work his mischief.
Finally, Paul tells us to “keep praying in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and entreaties to God.” Prayer is not part of the armor of God. Once we have on belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword, we have on the whole armor of God. But we don’t want to go to battle, certainly not against the devil, without prayer. What prayer does is to take every piece of armor we are wearing and sanctifies it. That means it makes it holy. It makes it so God can use it. Prayer reminds us that in the battle with the devil it’s not us against him. It’s God and us against him. We don’t trust the armor. That was the mistake Goliath made against David. We trust God.
The passage ends by telling to be alert. The world can always use more lerts. To be alert simply means that we are always on guard. The devil won’t give you advance warning of his attacks. Surprise attacks are his forte. So never take your armor off. Sleep with your shoes on. Be alert. And pray without ceasing.
When it comes to the devil, people are magnets. But remember, powerful magnets can both repel and attract. There are some people who just have to stand up and the devil comes running to them. They are favored targets. They are magnets that attract the devil. And there are other people who stand up and the devil runs away. The devil wants nothing to do with these people. They are magnets that repel the devil.
But even those who send the devil running need to be alert. Because the devil may leave for a season, but as soon as there’s an opportunity for a surprise attack, there he is again. It says that when the devil left Jesus after Jesus won the battle in the wilderness, the devil “departed from him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13).
The devil is always looking for an opportune time, an opening, a weakness. We all have vulnerabilities. If you love to work, he’ll turn that into an addiction. If you tend to be negative, he’ll make sure you see everything in the worst possible light. If material possessions excite you, he’ll attack you with shopping malls and credit cards. If you have a desire for unhealthy food or alcohol, he’ll make sure you have more than enough to wreck your health. If sexual temptation is your weakness, he’ll make sure you have plenty of opportunity. If you’re one who needs to be noticed, he’ll make you feel unappreciated. If you struggle with low self-esteem, he’ll make sure it gets lower. If you’re a loner, he’ll make sure you get separated from the pack, the easier to move in for the kill.
Pick the devil up as a hitchhiker, and before long he will want to drive. So put on your armor. Not just part of it. The whole armor of God. Pray without ceasing. Be alert. Never let your guard down. And remember, if the devil ever gets you one-on-one, then you’d better worry. But as long as you have company — God’s people, God’s angels, God’s Son — you’ll be OK. The devil will turn tail and run away. Or to give 4-year-old Heather’s words a new twist, “There is too a devil, but he’s not going to get you!”
God, some of us are running around without any armor on. Some of us are running around all by ourselves, separated from the pack of those who love us and can help us. And some of us haven’t even taken time to pray. We are at risk. Help us to take the necessary precautions. And then help us to move from defense to offense. So when the devil sees us, he’ll turn tail and run. In Jesus’ name, Amen.