What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
As in the previous verse, the figurative sense overshadows the literal. True, women and snakes are bitter enemies, but the real hostilities are spiritual - between Satan and the woman, a symbol of the church (see Galatians 4:21-31; Ephesians 5:22-32; etc.).
Some ask, "If this is so, how can Satan, who cannot reproduce, have 'seed'?" The answer, again, lies in the spiritual realm. Paul says in Galatians 3:26-27, 29:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. . . . And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
No matter what their racial makeup, members of God's church become Abraham's spiritual descendents because, as Jesus says, "Abraham's children . . . do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39). Jesus goes on to explain that Satan has spiritual offspring also:
But now you [those in Jesus' audience] seek to kill Me. . . . You do the deeds of your father. . . . You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. (verses 40-41, 44)
Satan's seed are those who do Satan's will in rebellion against God.
In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul writes of this enmity between seeds:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Genesis 3:15 prophesies of this spiritual war between God's people and Satan's.
"Seed" in verse 15 is collective (like "team" or "family"), but the following pronoun, "He," is singular. As Christ's body (Romans 12:5; I Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22-23), we are included as participants in the "enmity." However, the subjects of the "bruising" clauses are strictly Christ and Satan, the two leading opponents in the battle.
Paul also uses "Seed" in a singular sense in writing of Christ as "Abraham's Seed" in Galatians 3:16: "Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, 'And to seeds,' as of many, but as of one, 'And to your Seed,' who is Christ." Revelation 12:5 illustrates the connection between the woman and the Seed:
And she [the woman] bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.
Interpreting itself, the Bible shows that the singular "Seed" of the woman is indeed the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part One)
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
Some people draw a careless assumption from a surface evaluation of Exodus 23:20-33, leading to a shallow conclusion: that if the Israelites had just obeyed God, they would have marched into the land and taken it over without a fight. Such submission would have undoubtedly made their course easier and produced better results.
However, many other contexts show that God tests His people because He is preparing them for future responsibilities. Israel failed many tests. The march through the wilderness and the conquest of the Promised Land was a school, a vast, almost fifty-years-long training ground, for appreciating, using, and governing the Promised Land. This "schooling" included tests by which the Israelites could measure their progress, and at the same time, prove to God their growth and readiness.
We concluded that God's promises in Exodus 23 were indeed conditional. Their fulfillment depended on Israel's obedience, and part of that obedience was confronting their enemies, the people of the land, in warfare. The episode recorded in Numbers 13-14 reveals that the Israelite spies fully expected to have to fight the Canaanites, Hittites, Jebusites, etc. They did not understand Exodus 23 as a free pass, as many do today. Their responsibility was to drive them out in cooperation with God, as He promised to be with them, enabling them to drive the people out, which they were incapable of doing without His involvement. But they refused to do their part.
They were to drive out the inhabitants even as we, in cooperation with God, are to confront and drive out old habits, attitudes, and loyalties. These are negative characteristics left over from our pre-conversion days. Christian living parallels this Old Testament instruction. This is one reason why the New Testament has so many illustrations and exhortations regarding Christian warfare.
Our warfare is in many ways different. It does not involve bloody engagements featuring swords, spears, or rifles with bayonets. It is a spiritual warfare, one that takes place primarily within ourselves. Nonetheless, it requires qualities such as loyalty, patriotism, courage, self-denial, vision, understanding, and sacrifice for us to be victorious overcomers.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Two)
What does "greatpeace" mean? "Peace" automatically suggests an absence of war, no battling, no fighting. Under temptation, a battle always rages, even if we are winning. In such a case, no peace exists, much less "great peace." As an illustration, initially, the U.S. in Iraq won every battle handily, but it was still war. The spiritual war we fight is caused by temptation from Satan, our human nature, and the world. Remove temptation, and war stops. What remains is great peace.
How do we achieve not just peace, but "great peace"? The last half of Psalm 119:165 tells us: "nothing causes them to stumble." What causes a human to stumble? Temptation! This means that we have to be sheltered from it. The American Standard Version renders this phrase, "they have no occasion of stumbling," Young's Literal Translation puts it as "they have no stumbling-block," and the Rotherham's Emphasized Bible reads, "nothing to make them stumble." All of these renderings mean that not even the opportunity to stumble is presented. Other scriptures mention protection from stumbling:
Psalm 121:3 (NLT): He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
I John 2:10: He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
Jude 24: Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. . . .
God through the gift of His Holy Spirit is the only power in the universe that can accomplish such a feat. If God does not place that shield around us, we have no hope of success. Alone, we are powerless in the face of temptation. We overcome it not by our strength, but by God's power, the shield of faith (I John 5:4) given to us as His gift (Ephesians 2:8). It is our only sure defense.
To acknowledge God and to pray always are to be in alignment with one of Christ's most basic principles, a principle found in Matthew 6:33—to "seek first the kingdom of God" in all things. Praying always is stepping out in faith, believing that if we seek God first, He will add all the things we need (Philippians 4:19), including the strength to overcome, to finish this journey, and to enter His Kingdom.
When faced with the myriad decisions we have to make during each day, if we are not acknowledging God's presence, we have placed ourselves in the position of fighting our battles on our own. Israel made the same mistake, choosing the hard road in their fight, one littered with bodies. We probably all know of some bodies that now litter the spiritual road we have walked. We veterans carry scars from the battles we have lost.
Our battles to overcome are more like skirmishes than battles. In fact, we experience our most severe temptations and trials in everyday events like eating, conducting business affairs, or relating to others in the family or community. Luke 16:10 acknowledges this: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in whatis least is unjust also in much."
What better way to win those little skirmishes than to have an invincible Champion, God, in the van of the battle? Because these skirmishes are in the myriad of details we deal with every day, only striving to pray always during the day gives us that unyielding first line of defense.
Our deceitful human nature has in its arsenal countless ways, reasons, and excuses to avoid confronting the real issue of life—overcoming and allowing God to form and shape us into His image. Just bringing God into the picture unleashes forces that will not only help us to overcome, but will also protect us from the pitfalls that litter our path (Psalm 91:12). It is this striving to pray always that a Laodicean naturally avoids because he feels no need.
Praying Always (Part Six)
The Kingdom of God will be the recipient of slings and arrows and wars and temptations, and its own people will need to be violent in return. He means "forceful." It will take a titanic struggle to enter it because so many things are acting against us. Jesus warns us it will not be easy. We are going to have to work vigorously and "violently" at times, to force ourselves to do what is right, because the Kingdom of God is now under siege in so many ways. Therefore, we have to fight as warriors in battle and violently engage the enemy.
From John 17:11-18, we know that the Kingdom functions in the world, and Jesus is not going to take us out of it. But He asks His Father to give us His protection from the Evil One so that we can at least have that added strength. We must constantly deal with the world, human nature, and the Evil One himself, as well as his demons.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part 2): Leaven
The heart symbolizes our innermost being, the source of our words and actions. Today we call it the mind. When God awakens us to some of His great truths, when we at last begin to realize the vital importance of righteousness, there is a blush of first love, and we begin to hunger to apply them in our lives. But what is already in the heart fights almost desperately not to be displaced by the new nature in hope of wearing down our enthusiasm for the truth. Paul illustrates this resistance in Galatians 5:17:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Why do we not do the things we wish? The answer lies in the extraordinary power of ingrained habits. They are most difficult to break because they have had free sway for so long one unconsciously does what they incite. Paul speaks of this using a different metaphor in Romans 7:23: "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
The almost constant persistence of these habits can be depressing. If we seem to be making no progress, life can become downright discouraging. But we must not give in to discouragement. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose except that which is of no value for the Kingdom of God anyway. Discouragement that feeds frustration only makes Satan's work that much easier for him.
There are things we can do to enhance the initial hunger God gives to us. If we were physically hungry or thirsty, we would give every last ounce of strength we had to find food and water or die in the effort. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to make progress in our quest for God's righteousness.
As adolescents, we were unaware that growth was taking place until someone who had not seen us for a while brought it to our attention. Even though we were not aware we were growing, we still made efforts to grow by eating and drinking the things that promote growth. In the same way, spiritual growth may also seem so slow that we think it is not happening. But we should not let that stop us! We must keep on making the spiritual efforts even as we did the physical, and growth will occur. Keep on praying for others, thanking God for His goodness and mercy, asking for wisdom, love, and faith. Keep studying God's Word, filling the mind with
Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness
In our day, "watch" has lost much of its original power. Is there anything more passive than watching television? We live in a spectator nation. We watch movies, news, the markets, and sporting events. Watching has become an activity that puts us on the sidelines and not on the field of battle, an idea foreign to the original meaning of the word. At the time of the King James translators, "watch" emphasized the carefulness, attention, and vigilance in the way a soldier kept alert for any sign of enemy movement.
A concept that has more meaning to us today can be found in the word "overcome." This word implies that we watch ourselves to spot our problems, do battle with them, and conquer them. "Overcome" better communicates the battle we have joined (Romans 12:21; I John 5:4-5; Revelation 21:7).
If we watch ourselves spiritually, we are not just watching our human nature, but doing battle with it. We are not just watching the world and its influences as they bombard us, but fighting against them. We are not just watching Satan's devices as they toy with us, but defending ourselves against them. In other words, "watch" as originally intended covers the entire process of overcoming that is our calling. We are to be identifying the problems, engaging them, and putting them to flight (Revelation 3:2; 16:15; I Corinthians 16:13; I Thessalonians 5:6-8).
Therefore, "overcome," more clearly than "watch," communicates to someone living today what Luke 21:36 says we should be doing as we near the end of the age. The premier end-time book, Revelation, repeatedly emphasizes that overcoming is "job one" for us (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 12:11; 21:7).
Luke 21:36 suggests that those who alertly overcome and pray always are those that may be counted worthy to escape and stand before Christ in God's Kingdom. In verse 36, Christ ties together all He has said throughout the chapter. If we do not neglect the spiritual (verses 34-35), and instead watch and pray always, we can "escape all these things" (verses 7-33) and enter God's Kingdom.
Luke 21 is a chapter about the end time, and in verse 36, we have spiritual instruction directly from Jesus to anyone living during that time. He is telling us how to escape the final effects of the turmoil that is ahead and to enter God's Kingdom. This, therefore, becomes an extremely powerful verse in helping us to understand exactly what we should be concentrating on at this time. It is a roadmap to safety and salvation.
What if someone told us where to find two tickets, which if purchased by us, would grant us escape from the end-time tumult and entrance into God's Kingdom? What price would we pay? Two such "tickets" exist, and we have the wherewithal to purchase them. Luke 21:36 shows us the two tickets. One is the "watch/overcome" ticket and the other is the "pray always" ticket. If we choose to be lackadaisical about overcoming or prayer, are missing either ticket, or have only a partial ticket, we will likely be required to "buy" those same two tickets at a very dear price in the Tribulation.
The Bible states quite a few "formulas" for producing certain things. We need to understand that none of these formulas stands on its own. They fit into a whole that includes other factors supplied from other instruction found elsewhere in Scripture. However, there are formulas, and then, there are formulas. Those that Jesus gives tend to be "trunk of the tree" formulas. They must be our base, and then we can stack other instruction on them.
These "trunk of the tree" formulas not only form a foundation that supports everything else, but they also give direction and boundaries for what and how we can add to them. Once a builder lays a foundation for a small, three-bedroom house, it automatically limits what he can and cannot construct on it. Consequently, we cannot build a beautiful spiritual temple on the wrong foundation. Luke 21:36 is an integral part of the right foundation for those of us living at the end.
As we have seen, in Luke 21:36, Christ reveals that the roles of watching—or paying careful attention to overcoming—and praying always are vital to our Christian lives at this time.
Praying Always (Part One)
1 Corinthians 16:13-14
Are we not in a spiritual fight? Do we not face an adversary that wants to destroy us? Have we not committed ourselves to give our lives, if necessary? Matthew Poole, who published his commentary in 1685, makes a good point when speaking of "quit ye like men" ("be brave", NKJV):
. . . you are as soldiers fighting against the world, the flesh, and the devil; do not behave yourselves like children, whom the least opposition will terrify and throw down; but like men, with a spiritual courage and fortitude, becoming such who have so good a Captain, and so good a cause.
The "captain of their salvation" (Hebrews 2:10) is our commanding officer in battle. Our Captain has given us the equipment we need to carry out our duties: these four imperatives. All of them—watching, standing firm in the faith, acting like men, and being strong—can be considered as masculine traits due to the military analogies; but they are not limited to men, nor should they be.
Satan has perverted the minds of today's world to the point that these traits are regarded negatively. Feminists might concede that men are strong and courageous, in some cases, but foolishly so. We are told that women are loving and nurturing and these qualities are to be preferred. So much so that homosexuality is considered normal and a man that truly acts like a man is abnormal—a Neanderthal. It is a mixed-up world indeed.
However, these traits are not mutually exclusive! Notice what Paul says in verse 14: "Let all that you do be done with love." Verse 13 is not for lumberjacks, and verse 14, for women and sensitive, new-age males! Not at all. As Christians, we are to "be men" and do all with love. Is not love showing concern for others? In the Christian fight, are not watching, standing in the faith, exhibiting courage, and being strong—in order to protect their loved ones and their way of life—showing love? Certainly!
The entire book of I Corinthians is, as Henry Halley says, "Mainly about Certain Church Disorders." Brethren met in their homes and small halls in one of the largest, richest, and most important cities of the Roman Empire. The brethren there were faced with decadence, temptation, and vices of every sort. They experienced corruption on a grand scale. There were factions and competing groups. Sound familiar? Truly, "there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Our lives to this point have been difficult, and more tough times lie ahead. We know that God will provide. God is faithful (I Corinthians 1:9), and we do not need to worry about how He will do it. Instead, we need to take care of our end of the deal: to be ever-vigilant, standing firm in the faith, courageous and strong, doing everything in concern for others. All this is summed up by andrizomai: quit ye like men!
Courage and the Dog Soldier
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
We are not carrying on a physical war, but the battle for us is no less real. We need to understand that we are not fighting for material success, earthly power, or social prestige. We are not even trying to make our enemies look bad. The real issue is the victory or defeat of God's purpose for our lives.
We must realize that we have merciless, implacable, and powerful spiritual enemies, so that such things as human cleverness, ingenuity, organizing ability, eloquent arguments, charm, or forcefulness of personality are simply not the answer. Those things may impress men, but they in no way impress demons. Those things are the weapons of carnality, of flesh.
The good news is that the Captain of our salvation has already defeated their Goliath. Their leader is defeated, beaten, and the Victor lives in us, lending us His strength and insight.
Paul indicates that the enemy invades our minds, our imaginations. He does this through opinions, convictions, and feelings that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God. Paul uses the phrase, "casting down arguments," in verse 5. Some Bibles render arguments as "reasoning," "convictions," or "opinions." Even "feelings" would be appropriate to the thought. Whatever the application, these arguments exalt themselves against the knowledge of God.
These satanic thoughts or attitudes are designed to affect or alter first our minds and then our behaviors. Satan did this to Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-6). These wrong reasonings are the key to understanding what Satan is trying to accomplish.
God created humans with the ability to reason, but what line of reason should a Christian follow? We can grasp what not to follow by considering Paul's phrase, "against the knowledge of God." In other words, the thoughts that invade our mind, which come from this evil, wicked, subtle, deceitful spiritual leader, will lead us to exalt or prioritize our reasoning above God's knowledge.
This knowledge is not primarily about God, but the knowledge He has revealed. Knowledge about God is certainly included, but what Satan desires is for us to exalt our ideas over godly and true knowledge and understanding.
Why would he want to do this? Because we have a relationship with a Person—a Being with personality, character, and a wonderful, wholesome way of life that produces every good thing. Satan tries to destroy that relationship by getting us to doubt either the Person and His goodness or the rightness and goodness of His promises and way of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Satan (Part 2)
2 Corinthians 10:5-6
Our battle is to bring down every deceptive argument and every imposing defense that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ. Once we are sure of your obedience we are ready to punish every disobedience. (Phillips)
Paul makes it very clear that we are involved in a war! This does not mean that this warfare will always be going on at the same level of intensity. In warfare between nations and states, there are lulls in the battle as one side or the other prepares to make their next push. There are short periods during war in which a great number of people die or are injured, which are usually followed by longer periods when the two sides regather their strength, regroup, and get ready for the next attack.
It will be much the same way in the warfare we are involved in. I am here to tell you, please do not let down when it appears as if nothing is happening.Those very dangerous periods of time—the easy times, the good times, the affluent times.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Endure as a Good Soldier
In conclusion, be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless strength. Put on God's complete armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil's craftiness. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. (Phillips)
It is clear that we are fighting a spiritual war against enemies who are far greater in numbers, intelligence, subtlety, and power than Israel had to wage war against in terms of the Amalekites, the Moabites, and so forth. In addition, our enemy is invisible.
Paul tells us to "stand," a military term for holding on to a position. In effect, before one can launch an attack, he must first hold the position he is in. In the Phillips translation, the word "against" is used four times, probably to stress the determined hostility that our enemy has. The Christian soldier is confronting something that, as a soldier, he could not overcome except that he himself also has invisible help to draw upon as a resource.
In military strategy, perhaps one of the most basic of all rules is never to underestimate the enemy. Our struggle is not merely against human foes, yet we find, in other places, that it is a war to the death. In fact, here in Ephesians 6, this idea is hidden in the Greek. It is a war to the death against supernatural forces. The word "powers" denotes those who aspire to world control, and ancient writers used the term to designate the savior gods of pagan religions. That is who we are fighting against—demons!
Our warfare, then, has all the trappings of a literal war, but it is something that we cannot see yet happening nonetheless. The qualities that we need to fight this war are not things we have inherently. We have to be given them by God. Our relationship with God is of supreme importance as to whether we are going to have the proper resources to fight this battle. We have to go to Him to get them, and we also need to be on good terms before He gives them to us.
One of the most valuable of all of these resources is the mindset that we are involved in a war. There are times when we, as a soldier, are going to face privation and hardship. There are going to be times of pain—both physical and mental. There are going to be times of sorrow that may lead us to depression or even bitterness. There will be occasions when we will be in fear and feel a great sense of insecurity. There are times we will win our battles, but other times we will lose and thus feel guilty and maybe depressed. There are going to be times of obedience that give a feeling of exhilaration and of being in control, as well as times of disobedience when just the opposite will be the effect.
There will also be times when we will be aware that God is disciplining us—sometimes in terms of punishment for sin and at other times in training to prepare us to master what we are doing. There will be times of sacrifice and even times of death. Nevertheless, all of these are part and parcel of a soldier's life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Endure as a Good Soldier
Notice the number of times in these few verses that we are exhorted to stand. We must hold our ground as we fight against the pressures of Satan and this world. In verse 11, Paul tells us to "stand against" the Devil's tricks. In verse 13, he encourages us to prepare "to withstand in the evil day" and "having done all, to stand." In the next verse, he concludes, "Stand therefore" and put on the armor that God can supply.
There are two things to notice here. First, we are to stand firm. Paul does not instruct us to be agile or swift of foot. To the contrary, he advises us not to move; we are to stand on a firm foundation, as it were. We are to be securely grounded, rooted and unmoving. A person living a life of integrity is not shifty, but has solid convictions rather than preferences that vary with circumstances.
Second, Paul details the armor we need to "take up." He lists several pieces of "the whole armor of God," but "the breastplate of righteousness" deals mostly closely with integrity.
Most soldiers in Paul's day wore a breastplate, and even today, the most basic protection offered to police and soldiers is the armored or bulletproof vest. The Roman breastplate, primarily made of bronze and backed with leather, was worn around the chest, protecting the heart and other vital organs. In Paul's spiritual analogy, the breastplate guards the heart, the seat of our attitudes and emotions. In other words, if we are to stand firm in the truth, our heart must be protected!
Interestingly, the translation of the New Testament by J.B. Phillips renders "the breastplate of righteousness" as "integrity your breastplate." Paul instructs us to protect our heart, our love, and our emotions with a breastplate of integrity! As part of the equipment each Christian needs to stand firm in the spiritual war we have been recruited to fight, we must fasten integrity right across our chests to provide protection. What happens when a soldier takes off his breastplate? He opens his soft abdomen to attack; he is unprotected! Spiritually, the heart becomes vulnerable, apt to be turned away.
Building With Integrity
This verse tells us that our warfare is against demons, and they—angels who rose up against God—look upon us as invaders. As any invaded people would, they see themselves as rising to defend their home and territory despite the fact that they probably know that God has given this earth to us as an inheritance.
This is a spiritual parallel of Israel coming out of Egypt, going through the wilderness to their inheritance in Canaan, but Canaan was already inhabited. The Canaanites rose up to defend themselves against those they saw as invaders. Who knows if the Canaanites knew that God had promised their land to Abraham and his descendants? Rahab seemed to understand this in Jericho, so it is likely that the Canaanites also knew these things.
God does not do things in a corner; He witnesses to people when He acts. The demons are well aware that they are defending themselves from those who will take over their estate—and they are going to fight to hold it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What I Believe About Conspiracy Theories
"Proved" ("approved," NKJV) comes from the Greek word dokimos, meaning "stood the test; tested to be trustworthy; of sterling worth, like metal which is cleansed of all alloy." Dokimos or one of its forms describes the successful testing of precious metals and coins, as well as the approval of the tested objects as genuine.
"Crown" is translated from stephanos, which in turn derives from stepho, meaning "to encircle, to twine or wreathe." Stephanos describes the victor's crown, the symbol of triumph in the public games or a contest. It can also be the reward or prize given to honor a person. Though the word can denote a crown of royalty, its more usual sense is the laurel wreath awarded to a victor or a festive garland worn when rejoicing.
In early times, it was a token of public honor for distinguished service. At other times, it symbolized the joy of a wedding or the gladness of a festival, especially at a king's coronation. These early crowns were woven as a garland of oak, ivy, parsley, myrtle, or olive branches. Later, these natural wreaths were imitated in gold.
In James 1:12, the apostle is saying that the man who overcomes trials becomes a man of sterling worth and emerges strong and pure spiritually. But what must we overcome? In Revelation, each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor contains the phrase "to him who overcomes." Later, in a summary statement near the end of the book, Christ says, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7). It is obvious that overcoming is a prime activity in a Christian's life.
Paul says we are in a warfare against "spiritual wickedness" (Ephesians 6:12, KJV). He also writes that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7) and that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (verse 8). John says those who "overcome the wicked one" are strong (I John 2:14), and then he says we are not to love the world or its lusts and pride (verses 15-16).
We have, therefore, three general areas in which to overcome:
1. We must overcome Satan, his demons, and their evil influence.
2. We must overcome this world and its ways.
3. We must overcome our fleshly, carnal, human nature.
The way that Christ taught to overcome is not only to avoid sin, but to do what is good and right. Paul explains this succinctly to the Christians in Rome, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). So we see that the crown of life is a crown of righteousness, and righteousness can be defined simply as "right doing." An overcomer is victorious over sin!
Martin G. Collins
The Crown of Life
1 Peter 4:1-2
We are commanded to arm ourselves with the same mindset and attitude of Christ. He had the entire host of heaven at His disposal yet never lifted a finger in His own defense! He threw the moneychangers out of the Temple, not because they were threatening Him, but because they were desecrating His Father's house. When it came to His own security, He always chose to remove Himself from the situation—until His earthly ministry was over, when He humbly submitted to the most unfair treatment that has ever been imposed on a human being.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:10 to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." In the next several verses, He shows that we are involved in a war, one in which no sword, gun, or any other human weapon can help us. Our battles are spiritual battles, and even when those battles involve human instruments, our articles of defense are still spiritual: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and of course, the "sword" of the Spirit—the Word of God (verses 14-17). This is the sword that we should carry with us constantly and look to for defense.
David C. Grabbe
Living By the Sword
We can see what most concerns Christ—what is most important to Him—at the end, when the pressures will be more intense than they have ever been in the history of man, when Satan is lining up all of his forces, all of his armies, all of his weaponry. The Devil will mount a persecution against God's people to such an extent that the whole earth will be thrown into convulsions, the likes of which this world has never seen!
Christ, like any good leader who sees what is coming, will take steps to prepare His people. He will focus their attention on what is most important to survive and grow during that period. This is why He talks about what He does to the churches in the messages in Revelation 2 and 3.
The word translated as "overcomes" can just as easily and correctly be—and is perhaps better—translated "conquers." We are involved in a war against Satan and his demons, against a world he designed and built through men, and against ourselves, who carry with us the self-centered nature, habits, and attitudes of Satan and his system. Thus, Christ's concern for us as we approach the end is whether we are carrying through in the warfare, continuing in well doing, and enduring to the end, because Satan is bringing about every pressure to make us surrender.
Loyalty is not a quality that we Americans and Canadians are endowed with to any great degree. Our cultures tend to stress individuality—doing our own thing. This lack of loyalty in America and Canada perhaps shows more clearly in divorce and infidelity than anywhere else. Loyalty's synonym is "faithful." It means "faithful in allegiance to one's lawful sovereign; to be faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due; or faithful to a cause." It means to be steadfast in affection, to adhere to the performance of duty, to be conscientious, to give firm resistance to any temptation to desert or betray. Can we see what the works are Christ is so concerned about?
This is why every message says, "I know your works!" (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). He does not say, "I know your profession" or "I know your desires." Neither does He say, "I know your sincerity" or "I know your wishes." He says, "I know your works"! Why? Because works prove what a person is doing with his knowledge, time, and energies.
Titus 1:16 says, "They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified." Notice that they "profess" to know God. Christ says, "I see what you are doing. I know your works." Why are works so important? They prove where our heart is! They prove our loyalty! They prove whether we are conscientious and faithful. They prove whether there is fidelity to Jesus Christ—whether we are steadfast in our affection for the One we are going to marry.
Many believe that we do not have to qualify for the Kingdom of God. It is true that works cannot justify us; they cannot wipe out our sins. However, it does not follow that, because they cannot save us, they are of no importance. Recall that James uses Abraham, the father of the faithful—the father of the loyal, the conscientious—as the illustration that faith without works is dead! Living faith works! Jesus says, "I know your works"!
Revelation 2 and 3 are an examination of our works because Christ wants to see whether we believe Him! Living faith exhibits itself in works! It is a test of our faith. If we are faithful, we will be working: overcoming Satan, the world, and our self-centeredness. That is what works accomplish.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
The Laodicean may not necessarily say these things consciously, but he broadcasts it for all to see by his works and way of life! He thinks he lives in his "golden years." Being blind to his own spiritual poverty, however, is the real tragedy of his situation. He thinks he is in good standing with God. Christ judges differently, very concerned that the Laodicean cannot see his spiritual condition. He is spiritually bereft.
Christ describes the Laodicean as "poor." Biblically, "poor" does not mean the same as our normal English usage of the word. It indicates someone who is weak, with no consideration of how wealthy he may be. To God, the Laodicean is spiritually weak, when he thinks he is strong.
Next, he is "blind." Of course, this is not physical blindness but a lack of spiritual comprehension or judgment. Just as a blind person cannot use his eyes to judge a circumstance, the Laodicean is unaware, unknowing, unobservant, uncomprehending, and heedless.
Christ also judges him as "naked." Clothing—or its lack—illustrates a person's state of righteousness, and here it shows converted people who are still carnal, as Paul called the Corinthians (I Corinthians 3:3). The Laodicean is dominated by his fleshly attitudes. Physically oriented, he is governed by human nature, rather than by God.
"Wretched and miserable" together provide further descriptions of "poor, blind, and naked." Because they are poor, blind, and naked, they are wretched and miserable, even though they have not realized it. Miserable has been translated elsewhere as "pitiful" or "pitiable." Wretched is especially interesting. In other places in the New Testament, it indicates destitution because of war. God means that while they may be wealthy, they are losing the spiritual war against Satan and their carnal nature.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
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