< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: The Full Armor of God

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Full Armor of God

I wrote a Sunday School lesson from the book The Full Armor of God by Larry Richards. I thought I'd share it over the next half dozen or so posts. The book goes into much more detail and I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

The author uses Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to explain to his readers how God provides protection from every attack of Satan and his demons. He tells us how we can put on the full armor of God every day. Ephesians has been called Paul’s handbook on spiritual warfare.

In the 1st century, Ephesus was the third most prominent city in the Roman Empire. It had a quarter of a million inhabitants and it was both an economic and a religious center in Asia. Thousands of religious pilgrims came to the city every year to worship the goddess Artemis. (Also known as Diana.)

Paul went there in 53 AD as a missionary for Jesus Christ.

Ephesus wasn’t just a center of pagan religion; it was a center of demonic activity. A place where magic and sorcery were practiced in an effort to control the powerful spirits that people believed ruled their destinies. Ephesians 6:12 talks about the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Paul was going to war!

In Acts 19 Luke gives an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

Acts 19:11-12 11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

Paul is described as casting out evil spirits and healing the sick. He did the miracles publicly so everyone in the city knew he was casting out demons. In Acts 19:13-16 Luke tells about the 7 sons of Scevin who were exorcists. 13 Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 One day the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

And Acts 19:17 17 When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.

Because they had no relationship with Jesus they had no authority over evil spirits.

The third story is in Acts 19:18-20 and indicates how powerfully Paul’s defeat of demons influenced the Christian community. 18 Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. 19 A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. 20 In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.

Before Paul came a lot of the new Christians practiced sorcery to protect themselves from the demons. Now they brought out their books of spells and magic and burned them publicly. Luke says the books were worth 50,000 drachma. (50,000 days’ worth of income!)

So from Acts we know Ephesus was a center of satanic activity. This gives us a clue to understanding the purpose and value of the book of Ephesians. Ephesians has more references to demonic activity then any other New Testament letter.

We are told in the Bible that there is spiritual warfare going on. But we don’t think about it much. Except maybe as entertainment in books and movies. But in the 1st century people were well aware that the Spirit world was real. And there were all types of spirits. There were spirits of the dead. Spirits of heroes of old. Spirits who were gods and goddesses. And there were demons: evil spirits. All of these spirits were thought to interact with and have an impact on living people. So everything – success in business, in love, health, etc. depended on whether the spirits were pleased or displeased with an individual. And the spirits were capricious. They didn’t care about the person. Mostly people just made offerings to placate angry or hostile spirits. Or resort to magic to try to control them.

No one in Ephesus had ever seen a person dominate demons the way Paul did. Paul wrote the letter after he left Ephesus to reassure the young Christian church and tell them plainly how to defend themselves against the attacks of evil spirits who were armed with strategies devised by Satan himself.

Many people today are hooked on the occult. I mentioned books and movies, but Tarot cards, Ouija boards, horoscopes, witchcraft and even people who believe in reincarnation go against Christianity. And the numbers are growing every year.

One of the differences between modern belief and 1st century belief is today many people think the spirits want to help them! So they go to palm readers, psychics and mediums. And ask for help! This opens the door to demons.

Many Christians today are ignorant of demons. They don’t realize that they might be the cause of their spiritual, emotional and even physical problems. Satan works best behind the scenes.

In the Bible there were only 3 time periods when the struggle against demons broke out into the open.

1.  The Exodus. The plagues God sent were judgment on the gods of Egypt. (Who were demons presenting themselves as deities.)

2.  The time of Elijah and Elisha in the 8th century BC. Elijah and Elisha performed miracles that demonstrated that the Lord, is God.

3.  The time of Jesus and the apostles. There were a lot of demons when Jesus walked the earth wanting to do battle with Him.

Today they are still active. But hidden. So Christians discount their influence. Paul knew this would happen and left this letter so we would recognize and combat demons. To recognize them we need to realize Satan is trying to cripple believers to make them miserable and ineffective. And that they are always looking for an open door to get in.

Demons created a lot of misery in the Old Testament, but in the gospels every time they ran into Jesus the demons lost.

Paul wrote “our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” And while demons are spiritual they are also personal beings. The Gospels use personal pronouns when reporting dialog with demons. They have emotions. And groups of demons have team names. Luke 8:27-30 27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” 29 For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.30 Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.

Most Bible students believe demons are angels who followed Satan when he rebelled against God. Revelation 12:4 suggests that 1/3 of the angels God created went with Satan.

Demons are hostile to God and hate humans. They can get inside our personalities. Jesus threw demons out of people. The author says though that demons do not possess people. The Greek word used in scripture means demonized. They influence us. They tempt us, twist our thinking, cloud our understanding. They lie about Christ. They tell us we are hopeless. They encourage bitterness and anger. They push us toward addictions that can ruin our lives.

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