June 10, 2018
At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul called his readers to arms against the devil. This conclusion isn’t an afterthought but the logical consequence of God’s purposes worked out among His people. Alistair Begg addresses the reality that Satan is a personal and powerful being who, though defeated, continues to act with his agents to oppose God. When men and women are united to Christ, they become Satan’s enemies and the objects of his opposition to God’s plan to unite all things together in Christ Jesus.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me as we read this morning from the fifth chapter of 1 Peter—Peter’s first letter. Convinced of the safety that he had found in Christ, he writes of that same safety to those who are the scattered Christians throughout the area. And we read from 5:1:
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Well, let me invite you to turn to Ephesians and to chapter 6. We are still in our studies there. It’s a couple of weeks since we were taking what was really a telescopical look at verses 10–20. You remember we said that we were going to try and fly over it, and in flying over it, we would hopefully not do despite to the text, but we would get a sense of it.
And now, this morning, I want to actually tackle again our subject, and to do it not actually expositionally as much as to do it topically. Throughout the week I was thinking of the words of the Puritan who had preached a sermon in the morning that had, you know, like, fifteen points, and at one point, you know, he’d said, “And now for my fifteenth point…” And people were just groaning under the weight of it. And in the evening, he came back, feeling sorry for them, and he said, “I had so many points this morning that my sermon this evening will be pointless.” And there is a sense in which that is true of the way in which I’m going to try and handle this. And I say that just to acknowledge it and to alert you to it, and to encourage you to try your best to see if there is any kind of logical progression to my thinking in it, and perhaps if not, you can just let me know, and I’ll try and fix it before the third service.
But here we are, just two verses: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
So, let’s at least call it “A Call to Arms” or “A Call to Battle.” If you, like me, always hear music playing in the background of things, then you would perhaps agree with me that as we come to this final section, it would certainly not be “Taps” that would be playing in the background—a single bugle call signaling dusk, signaling the end of the day, in certain cases signaling the end of life. That would not be it. But rather, it would—to keep a military metaphor, since it is a call to arms—would be a reveille and signaling for the army to be up and to be alert and to be ready for the day. That’s the kind of sense of it as we come to it.
Paul is making it very, very clear that it is important for everyone who reads this letter, which includes us, to be awake, alert, aware of the enemy, and suitably armed with the resources that are provided for the believer in Christ—hence his exhortation in verse 10. “You’re not going to be able to do this on your own; therefore,” he says, “find your strength in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
Now, Paul is himself not giving any indication of the fact that he’s thinking about shutting up shop or relaxing or going off to Crete to sail for a little while. You can see that in verse 19, his concern is that as the readers of his letter engage in prayer—in “making supplication,” as he says in verse 18, “for all the saints”—he very specifically asks that they will pray for him. And they don’t pray for him that he might be able to get out of jail. They don’t pray for him that his life might become a little easier. None of those things. They might have been legitimate prayer requests. But he actually prays, you will notice, “that words may be given … me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” He said, “I want to make sure that wherever I am and whatever my circumstances may be—here I am, imprisoned—that I might be bold in continuing to make this wonderful gospel message known.” So, if he is not to be ending up just relaxing and throwing in the towel, as it were, neither must they.
And it is for that reason that he is alerting them to the reality of the enemy that they face. They are up against one who is powerful, who is wicked, who is cunning, deceitful, described variously throughout the Bible as the devil, as Satan, as the Evil One, and so on. And he is making it very clear to them that it is because they have become the friends of God that they are now the enemies of the devil himself—that they are inevitably placed in the forefront of a battle, and he is exhorting them to take seriously the challenge that is there.
That’s why we read from 1 Peter chapter 5, where Peter is doing the same thing. He says, “You need to be sober. You need to be watchful. You need to be alert.” Why? Because “your enemy…” “Your enemy.” People say, “Well, we’re Christians. We don’t have enemies.” Well, we don’t want to make enemies, and have enemies that should be our friends. But you cannot be a believer in Jesus without dealing with one significant enemy. And it is this enemy that is the focus of the conclusion of Paul’s letter here.
Now, the reason that they are now his enemy is because they were once his friends. And I need to ask you to backtrack with me so that we might set the context properly. If you go back to chapter 2 for just a moment, you discover there, at the beginning of chapter 2, that Paul has outlined for us what we might refer to as the human condition outside of Christ. The human condition. What are we like? Or what were we like? He’s writing to believers, remember.
Well, he says, we were actually the walking dead. We were physically alive but spiritually dead. That’s not a very nice way to describe things, and our friends would not like it if we suggested to them that that was the case, but that is what the Bible actually says: that we’re making our way through the world and that we are, by nature, dead. And that’s why he begins in that way—2:1: “You were dead in the trespasses and [in your] sins in which you once walked.” In other words, it was the habitual activity of your life.
And then he identifies it in this way—three things. First of all, “following the course of this world.” In other words, just going downstream with the way in which the world goes; it didn’t occur to you to do anything other than that. “Following the prince of the power of the air”—namely, the Evil One—and it is that spirit which “is now at work,” he says, “in the sons of disobedience”; there’s nothing peculiar about this: “among[st] whom we all once lived,” when we were “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out,” if you like, or following “the desires of the body and the mind.”
Now what is this? This is a description, as I say, of the inner disposition of man. And it expresses itself both physically—hence he says “the body”—and it expresses itself intellectually, hence “the mind.” So he says to them, “You know, you were alienated from God in the darkness and foolishness of your response to his truth. And as a result of that, you just went along with the crowd. Wittingly or unwittingly, you were engaged in these activities. But,” he says, “gloriously, this is no longer the case. You’re no longer the living dead. You’re now going to die one day, but you are spiritually alive.” And this is because—chapter 1—he says, “You heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, you believed, and you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.” In other words, “You have just been radically changed.”
In fact, if your Bible is actually open at that page, you look at 1:9… You say, “If you keep going back and back, we’ll be back in Galatians.” Well, don’t worry; I won’t go that far. But look at verse 9. What Paul is doing here in this opening section, as you know, is he’s just, like, giving us this huge symphony of praise for the wonder of God’s purpose from eternity. And he says in verse 9 that because of “his grace” he’s “lavished upon us, … making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”
Now, this is of great importance. This is of great importance—especially in light of what we’re going to see. We have an enemy who is diametrically opposed to the purpose of God, which is a purpose, as stated, “for the fullness of time,” when he finally wraps things up, “to unite all things … in heaven and … on earth” underneath the jurisdiction of Jesus. The Evil One hates the idea, is opposed to the idea, is opposed to Christ, and is opposed to the followers of Christ. That is what Paul is pointing out here.
Now, you realize when he states that as the purpose from all of eternity that the balance of the book of Ephesians then bears this out. So, for example, if this is God’s purpose, what do we find in chapter 1? We find the expression of a unity that he brings about between a holy God and sinful man—reconciliation between God and man. In chapter 2, the unity of the church itself, a unity that is expressed in a building “joined together,” growing as “a holy temple [to] the Lord”—Ephesians 2:21. It’s unity. Chapter , it is the unity between Jew and Gentile, that he has broken down the wall of hostility between the Jew and the Gentile and he has made out of two one new man. This is unity. Incidentally and parenthetically, when God in his purpose from all of eternity brings down barriers between people, it is the work of the Evil One to put them back up. When God shows men and women that this is the way in Christ to live together in harmony, the Evil One comes to destroy that harmony. And when he puts up walls for our protection, the work of the Evil One is to bring them down.
In chapter 4, he reinforces it, doesn’t he? “There is one body … one Spirit—just as you were called to … one hope … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father … over all.” In other words, unity. Into chapter 5, what’s he on about? Unity. The unity that God creates in Jesus between a husband and a wife. The unity that is then expressed in the body of Christ between parents and their children. The unity that is then expressed when genuine believers live in the light of God’s truth and go out into the marketplace either as a boss or as an employee. Unity!
Now, when you realize that, you suddenly see that the closing section—which is ours, now, from verse 10—that the closing section is not a new idea tacked on at the end of the letter. It’s often regarded in that way. People do series, and Gurnall has a very famous book on [The Christian in Complete Armour], and it is a tempting thing to do. But it’s not right to do. Because what Paul is pointing out to them when he begins, “Finally…”—in some of the sources that give to us our English translations, the word is not translated “finally.” It’s translated “henceforward.” So in other words, I’m not just saying, “Finally, here’s a few thoughts about the devil before I wrap this up.” No, what he’s saying is this: “From now on, between the two comings of Jesus, there will be no cessation to these hostilities. There will be no ceasefires until it is all wrapped up. Finally, you need to know that the Evil One seeks to come and disrupt all of that which God establishes for unity.”
Now, just track back through that. Right? In the church, what’s the biggest problem in churches? Disunity: “Well, I’m annoyed. You’re annoyed. She’s annoyed. I didn’t like that. I don’t like that. I don’t like the next thing.” Well, these are all natural, unhelpful responses, but behind them is the work of the Evil One. When you see the breakdown between races, it’s the work of the Evil One. When you see a marriage that is beginning to crumble, it is ultimately the work of the Evil One. It is not simply that I like to sleep with the windows open and you like to sleep with the windows closed, so goodbye, goodbye, goodbye. No, it is something far more significant than that. Now, it may not be in the forefront of our thinking, but that’s what the Bible says. And the real question, as we will see in a moment or two as we finish, is, Do you actually believe the Bible? That’s the real question.
You see, Paul is not writing here to stimulate their curiosity about the notion of satanic involvement. No. He is actually writing to make them clearly aware of the hostility that they face. They are facing the challenge, as he’s already outlined, of the world in which they live. They’re not only in Christ, they’re in Ephesus. In Ephesus—remember, what was Ephesus? Occult. Artemis. “Great is Diana of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis!” The whole place was dominated by satanic, occult activity, and the expressions of that were everywhere to be seen.
That world, then, impinged upon them every day. It would’ve been impossible to live in Ephesus without being confronted by that. “But now you’ve become a new person in Jesus. It hasn’t removed you from Ephesus, hasn’t removed you from that context.”
And the same is true for all of us. We live in a world, in Christ but in Cleveland, and the inner disposition of our hearts is drawn to that which is opposed to Christ. That’s why Paul says in Romans 7, says, “The good that I want to do, I don’t do, and the bad I don’t want to do, I end up doing it.” How in the world does that keep happening? Because the inner disposition of our hearts, although renewed—sin no longer reigns, but it remains. And the work of the Evil One is to bring the attractive nature of a world in its orientation against God and opposed to God and come to us and say, “Look, it’s far more fun over here. You don’t have to do what these people are on about. The law of God? Who believes the law of God? Who pays any attention to the commandments of God? That was another time. It was another place. It was another era. That was the pilgrim fathers. That was…” whatever it was. You see? And if we’re not careful, we say, “Ah, that’s a good point to that. Maybe marriage is not just what marriage is. Maybe it doesn’t really matter.” The devil would say, “That’s it. That’s the way to think. That’s it.”
Now, you see, this reality—and it is a reality—is not something that Paul is introducing out of the blue, but it is there from the very beginning of the Bible, and it is there from the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. The same devil who opposed Jesus in the wilderness is entirely opposed, is the enemy of all who are in Christ.
And this enemy is not an inanimate force. Don’t go wrong on this. This is not a description of a force. This is not Star Wars. Interestingly, people who are unclear about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit and you will hear referring to the Holy Spirit as “it,” when in fact, the Holy Spirit is a person, is the third person of the Trinity—that same confusion exists on both sides of the divide. So let’s be perfectly clear that what Paul is talking about here is a personal being. A personal being. A personal being who does not act alone. That’s why, as you go down in your text, you will see that we are up against, he says, certainly not flesh and blood: “rulers, … authorities, … cosmic powers over [the] present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We’ll come back to this, but for now, note this: the devil is not a solitary power. He has his agents, and he has his agencies.
Now, how would we ever arrive at this if we were not just studying the Bible? Because, after all, let me pause and acknowledge the voice that’s going round in at least a few heads and minds. There’s at least one or two people out there going, “Come on, Begg. Come off it. This is not the case. No. We’ve outgrown these things. This is not Little House on the Prairie. No. We’re materialists. We’re rationalists. We’re scientists. You might as well ask us to believe in fairies at the bottom of our garden as to believe what you are saying right now concerning a personal devil and his agents.”
And yet, you know, there’s something very interesting, at least to me, maybe to you. We’re told all the time that post-Enlightenment, we have now been living in the great Age of Reason. Reason is now opposed to anything that would challenge it in terms of faith. Faith is regarded as a leap into the dark, a leap into oblivion. It is a conjecture; it is a wishful desire or design to grab hold of something that will make sense of our journey through life—whereas, if you would stick with the materialist, then you would be a lot better off. In fact, it goes further than that, and the idea is that essentially, science has delivered a deathblow to religion—that now we no longer need to pay attention to this, and any talk of angels on the good side and demons on the bad side is simply dismissed as a superstition of a bygone age when people were up for mythology and glad to embrace it for a wee while. Now, I may be missing the point, but I think that I pick that up pretty clearly just in the day-to-day routine.
And yet, despite that, here are the facts. Here is one description of the circumstances in America, written eleven years ago:
A growing number of supposedly super-rational … men and women now subscribe to a range of New Age cults, paganism, witchcraft and belief in psychic phenomena such as reincarnation, astrology and parapsychology.
What previously belonged to the province of the quack and the charlatan have become mainstream treatments and therapies.
Let me just pause there for a moment and say this: you don’t need to go and find interesting books to discover this. You just need to walk down through Coventry, through Chagrin Falls—in fact, I would probably say just about any place in our entire nation now. You can actually find on a summer’s day people engaged in activity that is directly related to this observation. In fact—dare I say it?—you can find evidence of this not in the heart but on the fringes of the teaching hospitals of the United Kingdom and America: departments that grow up in a scientifically rational, materialistic universe, confused about the nature of any kind of spiritual realm, reaching out for some way to say, “There has to be something here,” completely unprepared to pay attention to what the Scriptures have to say about it, and therefore susceptible to just about every other idea out there in the universe to include somehow or another in the therapies and treatments that are on offer to the patients.
“‘Wicca’—or witchcraft—and paganism constitute the fastest-growing religious category in America”—this is eleven years ago—“between 500,000 and 5 million adherents.” And if you add “New Age spirituality” to it, which you should, then the number reaches nearly 20 million people and growing. It’s quite amazing, isn’t it? It’s amazing! No, it’s only amazing if you don’t understand that we’re up against the schemes of the devil.
You see, humanity doesn’t even know how to handle history. Past history: “Why did everybody kill everybody? What’s the point of that stuff?” Present history: “Why don’t people just have a nice conversation and a cup of tea and just get it all sorted out. Why can’t Mom and Dad just love each other? Why can’t this child just do as she’s told?”
You say, “You’ve finally lost your mind.” You’ve got your Bible in front of you. There is in our culture a profound, widespread irrationality. It is pervasive. Don’t you find that you every so often have a conversation with somebody who is totally angry at God? “I’m so mad at God!” But you say to them, “But just last week you told me you don’t believe in God.” The person says, “I don’t believe in God. But it doesn’t mean I can’t be mad at him.” You say, “It doesn’t?” People who are toying with demonic forces while claiming that the forces don’t exist. That is irrational.
Now, you see, the Bible says, “Think!” The Bible does not say, “Just leap into oblivion.” Paul is an intellectual. Paul is a converted intellectual. Paul is speaking out of a jail cell and writing to believers in his day and saying to them, “Here is God’s purpose from all of eternity. If you want to understand the sweep of human existence, this is it! And in the midst of that, you need to understand that you are up against a warfare, the great powers of evil that are at work in the world.”
But, you know, there is an evil at work in the world, isn’t there? Even our friends are prepared to admit it. Every day that I read The Times of London, they’re explaining to me about plastic straws in the ocean. Now, I’m not a fan of plastic straws; I am a fan of the ocean. I have no interest in polar bears choking on a half a dozen plastic straws. I agree with this. I understand the ecology. But it is the underlying notion that somehow or another, in two hundred million years’ time, the polar bears may not be able to just have as nice a time as they’ve been having recently, and we’re the problem. Okay, well let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the way the world is apparently winding down ecologically. Now, hold that for a minute, and let’s just also have a conversation about the vote that just took place in Ireland: a registered Roman Catholic, bona fide, committed country, in terms of its Roman Catholicism, voting for the free access and unlimited possibilities of abortion.
So you’ve got the same irrationality which says that “we have to do something with this.” Yeah, well how about we do something with this? “Oh no, because there’s no morality. If there’s no morality, then let’s just deal with the straws. That’s it! That’s the big issue!” No, it’s not. Man is alienated from God, thumbs his nose at God, turns his back on God—and that disunity and that disruption represented in the chaos of our universe ecologically, but also morally, definitely spiritually. And that’s what Paul is saying.
Now, I need to stop, you’ll be glad to know. But there’s an underlying question here, and that is, What of these great powers at work in the world? Where did they come from? How have they ever come into being? How can a perfect God create a perfect universe, and we find ourselves in this reality? What happened that led to the serpent in the garden, that led to the fall of man, that led to disruption and death?
What really matters in this, and where it finally has resolution, is it confronts us with this question: Do I believe the Bible? Am I actually prepared to believe what the Bible says? Not in a way that involves you as a scientist, as a materialist—many of you are here. Some of you are very annoyed with me for saying things about the teaching hospitals, because you’re very good teachers in the hospitals. But that’s okay. I know you like me really deep down, and I like you, so I’m not worried about that just now. But I am deeply concerned that you’re prepared to say, “Yes, I believe this Bible.” You see? And why do we believe the Bible? Well, you know, the real answer to that is, our belief in the authority of Scripture, our submission to the authority of Scripture, is a necessary consequence of our submission to the lordship of Christ. Jesus believed the Bible.
Listen to this final quote, and then we’ll be done. “We believe in Jesus.” That’s true of the genuine Christian. “We are convinced that he came from heaven and spoke from God.” So
we are prepared to believe what he taught for the simple reason that it is he who taught it. Therefore we bring our minds into submission to his mind. We want to conform our thoughts to his thoughts. It is from Jesus that we derive our understanding of God and ourselves, of good and evil, of duty and destiny, of time and eternity, of heaven and hell. Our understanding of everything is conditioned by what Jesus taught. And this everything means every thing: It includes his teaching about the Bible. We have no liberty to exclude anything from Jesus’ teaching and say, “I believe what he taught about this but not what he taught about that.” What possible right do we have to be selective? We have no competence to set ourselves up as judges and decide to accept some parts of his teaching while rejecting others. All Jesus’ teaching was true. It is the teaching of none other than the Son of God.
So, the question is straightforward: Do I believe in Jesus? And if I believe in Jesus, then I believe in the words that Jesus spoke. And therefore, I believe the Bible. Therefore, when it says, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might,” then I say, “That’s a tremendous encouragement. ’Cause I am weak. I’m prone to fall. I’m prone to failure. I have no strength in myself to take on the onslaught against a world that allures me, an inner disposition that drives me, and a devil who opposes me. But actually, he promises me the resources. What a gracious and good God!”
 See Ephesians 1:13.
 Ephesians 1:7–10 (ESV).
 See Ephesians 2:14–16.
 Ephesians 4:4–6 (ESV).
 See Ephesians 5:22–6:9.
 Acts 19:28 (paraphrased).
 Romans 7:19 (paraphrased).
 Melanie Phillips, The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power (New York: Encounter, 2010), 3.
 Phillips, 3.
 John R. W. Stott, The Authority of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1974), 6–7.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.