The Sword of the SpiritPastor Lutzer | September 21, 2008
A Scripture verse quoted out of context and wrongly applied is very dangerous.
Selected highlights from this sermon
The sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon against Satan. Jesus shows us, more than anyone else, how to wield the Word of God against Satan.
But in Matthew 4, not only does Jesus quote Scripture, Satan does too. Here is evidence that a Scripture verse quoted out of context and wrongly applied can be very dangerous.
We must prepare for spiritual warfare by memorizing Scripture to the point where we know it well enough to use it against our greatest temptations.
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Let us pray together and ask God to speak to us.
Our Father, we ask in Jesus’ name that You might come and speak to us by Your Spirit. Open those minds that might be closed. Give instruction. Surprise those who have come today not expecting to be changed and blessed. We ask that You will help us to listen without distraction, and may Your grace and Your power be evident. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Satan does his work in secret. He really doesn’t like to be detected, particularly if his detection puts him in unfavorable light. He’d prefer to go incognito, and that’s why you have today secret addictions, secret practices, secret occultism, secret immorality, and the list could go on and on.
I’ve long ago learned that it is impossible for you to know what the person sitting next to you is really going through. They may be going through unbelievable darkness and you don’t know it even if they happen to live in your home. It is certainly possible that someone is repressing, denying, living with guilt, living with a struggle that no one knows anything about, and the devil is there to make sure that it stays secret because secrecy is his great weapon, and shame comes along and confers upon the secrecy that respectability.
Well, this actually is the last in a series of messages on spiritual warfare. Maybe it’s not permanently the last. At some point I’d like to preach one more message in the series but I hope that you’ve had the opportunity to listen, and if you haven’t had the opportunity to listen, you know that these messages are available, and I say that because of the desperate need we have to know the enemy and know how we can combat him.
Today our text of Scripture again is Ephesians 6, though I recommend that you not turn to that because we’re going to use another passage, but in Ephesians 6:17 it says, “and take the…sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” and this sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon. All of the others are defensive, so that we might be able to stand, but now we’re speaking about the sword in which we can actually begin to move forward, and the thing that you don’t want to do in your war against the devil is to drop your sword, or have it dulled by wrong kinds of combat.
Now there are many passages in the Bible that talk about the sword of the Spirit. For example, one that I shall simply quote to you comes from Hebrews 4. In Hebrews it says, “The word of God is living and active and it is sharper than any two-edged sword.” The Romans used to have a sword that was two-edged so that it would cut either way. “It is sharp and active more than a two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit and the joints and marrow, and is the discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.” What the Bible is really saying is that the sword goes through, just like a physical sword goes through the joints and the marrow of the body. Spiritually speaking, the Bible is a sword that goes right deeply into our souls and reveals what’s there if we allow it to. The very next verse is speaking about God. It’s amazing how God and the Bible are tied together. If verse 12 says that, verse 13 says, “And there is no person who is not exposed in God’s sight because all things are naked and open unto the eyes of the one to whom we give an account.” That ought to give us some pause.
Imagine all the musings of your mind that no one knows about, those parts of your mind that you think are cordoned off, where neither God nor anyone else is permitted. Those are totally bare before God. The imagery is surgical. It is as if God lays us on the table, as if you are doing an autopsy, and then He begins to unravel us and to take us apart, and He knows the thoughts and the intentions of the heart. That’s how thorough God’s knowledge is, and what God will do for us is to actually begin to show us that so that we know we need a Savior.
Dr. Alan Redpath from England, who pastored here for nine and a half years, was a very good and godly man, and a great preacher, but he said that he thought he had conquered most of his sins, and then he had a stroke. In the midst of that stroke God began to show him all of the sins that were still in his life—unbelief, moral impurity, the inability to concentrate and to worship, self-centeredness, bitterness, anger. All that, he said, was in his soul until he was so desperate it was as if God said to him, “Alan, I want to show you that the only good thing about you is Jesus Christ.”
And that really is true. The only good thing about us is Jesus Christ, and the benefit, you see, of knowing who we are in God’s presence is that then we are driven to him and we see our need of Jesus, and the word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, and it shows us who we are if we allow it to.
Now what I want you to do is to take your Bibles now and turn to Matthew 4 because I think of all the illustrations of the Bible, Jesus shows us more specifically and clearly how to use the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, more than anyone else. The fourth chapter is a very familiar passage of Scripture but don’t allow its familiarity to cloud you from its life-changing principles and message, because at the end of this sermon I am going to be giving you some life-changing principles that will enable you and equip you in our war against Satan.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, are there some people who don’t believe in the devil?” The answer is yes. All those who the devil has deceived do not believe in his existence. Matthew 4:1 says, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” and we want to say, “Wait a moment. Jesus is led up by the Holy Spirit to be tempted?” The answer is yes. God does lead us to the place of temptation. There’s no question about it. He does that to bring out the best in us, and in that process, Satan is there to bring out the worst in us, and how we choose is going to determine which wins.
So Jesus is there and he’s driven by the Holy Spirit to be tempted of the devil, and after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry, and the tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Well, what’s wrong with that? I have never fasted for forty days. I’ve fasted a few days but never forty, but I am told that during the fast itself you aren’t very hungry, but afterwards you are just ravenously hungry when the forty days are over.
So the devil comes when Jesus is very hungry and says, “Since you are the Son of God (that’s the way we could translate it), command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Now what’s wrong with that? Nothing. I’m sure that afterwards Jesus did indeed eat bread. As a matter of fact, there is evidence that later on, as you know, Jesus actually took fish and created bread, so what was wrong with this? Well, the answer is simply that this wasn’t the time yet for Jesus to eat, and Jesus was saying, in effect, that this was not the time and He could not act independently of His Father in heaven, who basically day by day communicated to Jesus what He should do, and this was not the exact time to do it. And so Jesus reports to the devil and says, “The Bible says that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every words that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” So Jesus says, “There are some things that are more important than the cravings of the body. There are some things that are more important than bread. There are some things that are more important than money. There are some things that are more important than satisfying your physical desires.” And there are some things that are more important than that, aren’t there?
You see, we are given bodies with physical desires, the sexual desire, which not only is good Biblically, but it is also very holy, but what Satan wants us to do is to misuse it, and so what he wants us to do is to use it independently of God’s instruction in God’s book. And then there are all kinds of cravings of the body that are artificially created. Some of you are struggling with alcoholism, some of you are struggling with drugs and you know how those cravings want to control you, and Jesus said, “There are some things more important than fulfilling those desires." The devil is involved in these things in various ways and on various levels.
The best way to describe the devil is to say that he is like a firebug. He’s like an arsonist who is sent to his own fires after they’ve begun. He comes and he wants to take our natural passions which we struggle with anyway, and he wants to inflame them, to pour gasoline on them and throw a match on them, so that we think in terms of a certain inevitability that we need this or we need to do this, and then after everything is burned up, and everything in our lives is decimated, and we begin to cry to God for help, Satan shows up and says, “You know, you’ve really messed up, haven’t you? As a matter of fact, God is so mad at your there’s no use even turning to him.” And so people go their own way and they believe the lie at both levels. Lie number one: do it once; it won’t matter. Lie number two: Now that you’ve done it, don’t bother standing up. Stay down.”
When I was growing up in Canada we used to play a game that some of you may be acquainted with. It’s Fox and Goose. It was played out in the snow, and we had a huge circle and then like wagon spokes, and we had certain areas where you would be safe, and we’d play tag, and we used to stay in the trail whenever we had a new circle that we made. We had lots of room for new circles where I grew up and went to school. I went to school with a horse and buggy, and a sleigh in winter. Can you believe that? I guess I belong to a different era because some of you are not connecting at this point [laughter], but one of the things I noticed was that when we made a brand new circle we were very careful to stay within the lines, but then eventually it would become so messed up, we’d just go through it and we would kick dirt into it and we would mess it up good and proper.
That’s what Satan says. “Here’s a craving of your body,” he says, “and I promise you that if you do it you’ll be able to control the consequences.” After you give in to it and you can’t control the consequences, he comes back and says, “Now that you’ve messed up so badly, mess it up good and proper. There’s no use even turning to God.”
So what we have to do is to use the Word in fighting against the temptation to fulfill every craving of the body. Jesus said, “Some things are more important than bread.”
Secondly, the devil took Him to a pinnacle of the temple. We don’t know exactly where that was in Jerusalem at the time because all of those buildings have been destroyed, but it says in Matthew 4:5, “The devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written….” Now I hope that your Bible is open at this point. Jesus quotes a verse of Scripture, so what the devil do? He quotes one too. You know, the Navigators like to memorize Scripture. They have Scripture verses on little cards and they take these little cards wherever they go. They put them on the dashboard of their car. I don’t know whether or not Satan carries cards or not, but he knows the Scripture well. He’s quoting Psalm 91, and he says, “You can quote Scripture, Jesus. I’ll quote you some also,” and he quotes Psalm 91 and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you.’”
Some people criticize the devil because he did leave out a little phrase, and that is “to keep you in all your ways,” but I don’t know if that’s germane to the essence of it. “On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” He was saying, “Jesus, what you could do is to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple. People would see you. They would recognize that you are the Messiah, and after all, God does say that if you fall, he’ll pick you up. Prove it!”
You know, there are some people on television who are very good. They preach the Gospel. Then there are others who say very wild and weird things, and I can just imagine some of them that I’ve watched say something like this: “You know, I just had a special revelation from God, and it’s that I could just jump off a wall, and God would catch me. Hallelujah. Praise the Lord.”
A Scripture verse that is quoted out of context and wrongly applied can be very dangerous. Yes, that is Scripture, but the Scripture is referring to those, for one thing, who might trip and fall accidently. It is not referring to people who can simply test God and say, “Okay, God, I’m going to force your hand, and I’m going to demand that you do this for me, and I’m going to force you to make sure that you do what I think you should. Here we go, God. I’m going to test you.” No. There’s only one place in the entire Bible where God says, “Test me,” by the way, and that is in the book of Malachi where he says, “Why don’t you test me? Why don’t you bring the tithes to the storehouse? Why aren’t you generous in your giving? Test me to see whether or not I will bless you as the result of it.” That’s the only place where God invites a test.
We cleave to His promises, but we are not presumptuous. We don’t pretend to know His will and we don’t force Him into a corner, and so Jesus said that there is a higher principle even than trying to jump down from the pinnacle of the temple. He says, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test,’” and Jesus is quoting there from the book of Deuteronomy. The context is Israel, which complained about God’s taking care of them in the desert. They were putting God to the test. They were saying, “If your promises were real we’d have bread to eat. If your promises were real, we wouldn’t be hungry and thirsty. If your promises were real, we’d be winning more battles than we are losing.” And so what they were doing is they were provoking God and putting Him to the test, and Jesus is quoting Scripture that says, “Don’t put God to the test. Don’t force his hand by some promise that you’ve taken out of context.”
And then there’s another temptation. There’s the temptation for the pride of life, and now we get to wealth and power, and this is the bottom line. This is really the heart of the whole thing. You’ll notice it says in Matthew 4:8, “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.” Do you know that the Gospel of Luke adds this interesting phrase? It says, “In a moment of time.” We don’t know what mountain this is, and there must have been something very supernatural going on, because in a moment of time to see all the kingdoms of the world and their glory? In a moment of time to be there in Israel and to see the pyramids of Egypt and to see the splendor of Rome and the Roman Empire in a moment of time, and to see Athens, and all of the wealth that they would have had even back then? In a moment of time, Jesus is shown all these kingdoms and then the devil says, “I’ll give you all of them if you fall down and worship me.”
Theologians have debated if he even had a right to make this promise. I mean, how much power does Satan have? Yes, he’s the prince of the power of air, but after all, can he tell the Son of God, “I can give you these kingdoms”? Well, probably he was bluffing, and most assuredly he was very deceptive, but what he wanted Jesus to do is to bow down and worship him, which is really the heart of what the devil wants. If there’s anything that he wants it is worship and he is being worshipped today in many, many different disguises. He’s being worshipped by false religions. He’s being worshipped by the new spirituality that I’ve spoken about, where there’s a transformation of conscientious, and people are into touching that outer realm—that inner consciousness, which eventually, without a guide, leads to occultism and the whole spirit world, and they think that they are in touch with God, and they are actually in touch with the devil. It is his most dazzling deception.
And so Jesus replies with a verse of Scripture, but He adds something, and I like what He added. This time he says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Be gone and so the devil leaves, but does he leave permanently? No. Here it says the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him, but in the Gospel of Luke it says, “And Satan left him waiting for a more opportune time.”
New converts especially don’t get this. You see, they think to themselves, “Well, I fought the devil and I won a victory. Praise God, I am on the victory side,” and they don’t realize that the devil comes back, and he comes back, and he comes back, and he isn’t nice. He doesn’t play by any rules. He is the quintessential example whose essence is only ever totally evil. He is totally angry, totally enraged against God and his people, and he has no conscience whatever. All that he can do is do evil.
I saw a video clip of seven lions eating a water buffalo. They took on this water buffalo but because there were seven lions, they conquered that beast, and they began eating and tearing at the animal while it was still alive. No conscience! The Bible says that Satan is a prowling lion that goes about seeking whom he may devour, without conscience, without rationality, without sensibility, without compassion, destroying, destroying, destroying, and Jesus said, “Be gone, for it is written that you shall worship the Lord your God only.”
Notice that Satan wanted Jesus to avoid the cross. In other words, don’t die, because he knew that when Jesus died on the cross, that would be his downfall and his defeat, so avoid the cross and get all that you want, and today Satan says to people, “Wealth and power is where it’s at,” and people have sold their souls for wealth and power. Wave big money and you’ll be surprised at what people will sometimes do, and Jesus said, “Beware of wealth and power. Don’t sell your soul for wealth and power.” So Jesus conquers these temptations.
So the questions is, what do we do, and how do we bring this down? Why should this message change our lives? Let me give you some suggestions of application and transformation.
First of all, number one, what we must do is to prepare ourselves for the battle. Jesus was ready because He knew the Scriptures. Are you ready? Do you know the Scriptures? Do you know what verses of Scripture you would appeal to in the midst of temptation? Let us suppose that there would be an enemy who would come across a wall, and he would come across in the very same area of the city wall each time. Wouldn’t you think that the leaders in the city would say, “This is the part of the wall that needs to be strengthened”?
Now, what part of your wall, so to speak, needs to be strengthened? Are you ready for the enemy? You’re struggling with moral impurity. Do you know the verses such as what Jesus Himself said very clearly on the Sermon on the Mount? “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Have you quoted that verse four or five times?
What does it say in the book of Philippians very clearly? “Whatever is right, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, think on those things,” and on and on we go through God’s Holy Word.
I was reading in Psalm 119 just the other day, and it says, “Oh God, divert my eyes. Turn my eyes from worthless things.” Have you ever prayed that prayer? Do you know the Word of God well enough to be able to use it against that which is your greatest temptation? Your greatest temptation is anxiety. Do you know the verses of Scripture regarding the peace of God that passes all understanding that should come to you?
How do we wield the sword? Well, we wield the sword by very directly using passages of Scripture as Jesus did that relates to our temptation and our situation. That’s how we overcome Satan, because if we continue to stand on those promises, he will eventually leave us.
Secondly, it is so important for us, whenever possible, to rebuke the devil verbally out loud because he may not be able to read your thoughts. Let him know what you think so that he can hear it. Now don’t do this tomorrow morning in your cubicle at work, or two men who are dressed in blue might come and take you away, and we might not hear from you again. But I’ve done this many times. I remember parking a car and I was just angry. I don’t know what it was, and I was supposed to speak at this conference in about an hour, and here I was. I was just discombobulated, you know. Everything had gone wrong and I felt so guilty and unworthy, and of course, that is right. We are unworthy, but I remember parking the car and I just said out loud, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written, ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again, and is even now on the right hand of the throne of God who also makes intercession for us.’” And just like that [applause]… I’m only telling you that if you say that two or three times, the sense of guilt and frustration and the attacks of the enemy are muted, and you begin to say, “Wow, there is freedom.”
The Word does work when it is applied, and that’s why we should be memorizing Scripture. We should be using the Scripture and we should be able to take that sword and put it into the teeth of the enemy who wants to destroy us, and destroy us he desires to do. He’s after you. “The thief comes not but for to steal, and to kill and to destroy,” Jesus said, and he’s out there, and he’s after you and he’s after me.
So whenever possible, speak directly to the devil because he can hear you. That’s why I have said to people that one of the best things we can do in our homes is to get wonderful Christian music that still does exist, thank God, on CDs and play it in your home. Play the Hallelujah Chorus. Make sure that your home is filled with positive praise-filled music and you will discover that it frustrates the enemy who wants to get to you.
So, secondly, whenever necessary or possible, speak to him and let him know what you think. Especially quote God’s Holy, Holy Word.
Next, always remember (and now I’m beginning to bring this plane down) that Satan has as much power as we give him. Give him a lot of power. He’ll take it and more. How much power did Satan have over Judas? The Bible says that Satan entered into Judas. Judas began to dicker in his mind about selling Jesus. He was involved with the high priest and said, “If I betray him to you how much money will I get?” They were working out a deal, and he had already made up his mind that he was going to betray the only one who could have possibly redeemed him. Judas was not a believer and never was. Clearly Jesus had trouble in His own personal staff, and Judas is there, and the Bible says that when Judas was in the upper room with the other disciples, playing the game so well, they had no idea who it was when Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.” This is another proof of what I said earlier. You never know what’s going on in the heart of the person next to you, even if you know them.
But notice. Because Judas had given Satan room in his heart, the Bible says that Satan entered into him. It was without an invitation. Judas didn’t say, “Now Devil, I don’t think I can do this unless you inhabit me.” No, no, no, Satan doesn’t play by rules. He is thoroughly evil and will take every advantage, and so much sin was in Judas’s heart that as he left, the devil entered into him. Judas gave Satan a lot of rope, and Satan took that rope and took even more.
Every time I walk through our Christian Living Center, I marvel at how well our building committee put that together as they guided it, and how wonderful it is to see, by the way, that all of the rooms are filled. We have evenings such as Wednesday when I don’t think that there’s any space. Even after this service there won’t be any extra space. There is room for you by the way. You can attend the TMC Communities, but the new CLC is completely full. But if you ever go to the top—the roof deck (and I’m not sure if it’s open today because it can only be open when there’s a TMC Community that wants to meet up there or when there’s a potluck lunch or something going on up there), but when you are up there, be quiet for just a moment and you will hear a very interesting sound, particularly if you go to the east side of the roof deck. You will hear the screeching of a bird, and then you will hear the screams and the squawk of another bird, one bird eating the other. Just listen for it. It’s up there 24/7.
Here’s what happened. When we built it, we discovered that we had a problem with pigeons. In fact, one time it was estimated there were 200 pigeons on the roof deck, so our trustees, thanks to their ingenuity, discovered that we could purchase a box, and that box was the recording of a falcon killing a pigeon. And so, what they did is they put that box up there, and as I say, it runs 24/7. About every minute you hear this screeching of a falcon and you hear a pigeon squealing for its life, and I challenge you to find a pigeon even in the area. [laughter] I’m serious. Not only have I never seen a pigeon on the upper deck, but I’ve not even seen one in the sky fly around it. [more laughter]
Now here’s today’s question. How much power does that box with the tape recorder have over the pigeon? None. The 200 could come back and they could bring another 200 with them, and enjoy the afternoon, but they don’t know that, and by the way, we’re glad that they don’t. They don’t know that, and they have given this box so much power that they stay away.
How much power does tomorrow have over you? I’m thinking about that, because I was concerned about something and I was being diverted because of anxiety even this week. How much power does tomorrow have over you? None! It has as much power as that box has power over a pigeon, but if you listen to the devil squawk, if you listen to all of the fears that are out there that we don’t understand, if you begin to think about tomorrow’s troubles already today, you’ll discover that the devil has awesome power over you, and some of you have yet to see the extent to which he can do damage in the life of sinning saints. He’s awesome in his power if you let him.
Jesus said this very interesting thing. He said, “The prince of this world comes but he has nothing in me.” What a beautiful statement. In other words, there’s nothing in me that corresponds to him. He can’t get to me because I’m protected by the power of God, I’m in the will of God, and I’m in communion with my heavenly father. Now I know we’re not Jesus, but that’s our goal. It’s to be like Him in those ways that we can be like Him.
The devil is as strong and as powerful as you allow him to be, but the Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Resist, resist, resist, and then resist, and suddenly you are at peace and you realize you’ve just won a victory, but he’s back, but you learn the principle. “Be gone, Satan, for it is written,” and you stand on the Word and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and Satan begins to say, “I can’t conquer this person because he knows his resources and his assets and knows who he is in Jesus.”
How does Satan end? He ends in a lake of fire. He knows it and he’s angry and he wants to destroy us, but Jesus, the Bible says, conquered him. The Scripture says in the book of Colossians, “Having disarmed him he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” You and I, through prayer and through other believers together, have enough resources to conquer him, but we must learn to use the sword effectively.
Father, I do pray in the name of Jesus that You might help those today who feel so defeated, those today who have experienced devastation, and we ask that You’ll build them up by the comfort of Your Word, by Your promises, and help us to know, Father, that Satan does not have authority over us. We have authority over him in Christ, and therefore, we pray that though we recognize his awesome strength, we also recognize that Jesus is stronger than the devil, and Jesus conquered him. Give hope to those who are here today who have never trusted Christ as Savior, and while we did not speak specifically to them, use this message anyway that they might understand their need to trust Christ, to believe Him, to be in Him, that they might be saved.
In Jesus' name, amen.