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Tuesday, June 12, 2012 | Comments (7)

by John MacArthur

The language of warfare is sprinkled throughout the apostle Paul’s writing, especially where it relates to leadership. He urged Timothy to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). And he commanded believers to take up the armor of God (1 Thessalonians 5:8) and prepare for battle. His life was a spiritual war as he combatted false teaching and religious error.

But Paul knew the real battle was not ultimately against human false teachers. It was nothing less than full-scale war against the kingdom of darkness. “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” (Ephesians 6:12).

All believers are engaged in that same battle. We are fighting for the preservation and proclamation of the truth. We are fighting for the honor of Jesus Christ. We are fighting for the salvation of sinners, and we are fighting for the virtue of saints.

In fact, even Christian leaders in business, politics, education, the military, or any other legitimate pursuit will inevitably engage the kingdom of darkness. Since all Christians, in whatever they do, are supposed to be engaged in the advance of Christ’s kingdom, they face opposition from the powers of evil.

You cannot fight a spiritual battle with human weapons. Carnal tools have no power whatsoever against the kingdom of darkness. Human weapons have no power at all against Satan. They cannot transform sinners. They cannot sanctify saints. They have no effect in the spiritual realm or the kingdom of darkness.

Those weapons include human philosophy, rationalistic arguments, carnal strategy, fleshly ingenuity, human cleverness, entertainment, showmanship, and every other innovation that is supposed to augment the power of the gospel. Such strategies are in fashion these days. But all of them are impotent weapons. They represent vain attempts to fight spiritual battles on a human level.

You can use such gimmicks to sell soup and Chevrolets. You can employ them in political campaigns or for public-relations purposes. But in spiritual warfare they are utterly useless.

Paul said the weapons he took to battle were “divinely powerful” (2 Corinthians 10:4). He was saying these were weapons that came from heaven—from God’s personal arsenal. He certainly was not talking about gimmicks and novelties designed to make his message more marketable. Clearly, what Paul had in mind were not weapons of human invention, but divinely ordained, spiritually powerful weapons.

Why? Because the enemy is formidable, and gimmicks and human cleverness can’t do what needs to be done. We need divinely powerful weapons “for pulling down strongholds” (v. 4, NKJ).

The fortresses Paul was describing are corrupt belief systems, sinister philosophies, false doctrines, and evil worldviews. Obviously, if we are in a battle for truth, the fortresses we need to demolish are the bastions of lies—wrong thoughts, wicked ideas, untrue opinions, immoral theories, and false religions. In such ideological citadels, sinful people try to hide and fortify themselves against God and against the gospel of Christ.

Therefore, spiritual warfare as Paul described it is ideological rather than mystical. Our enemies are demonic, but the warfare against them isn’t fought with common tactics people usually refer to as “spiritual warfare.” Despite what some charismatic teachers might tell you, we’re not fighting demons in face-to-face confrontations. The simple fact is that we can’t wage spiritual warfare with magic phrases and secret words. We don’t overpower demons merely by shouting at them. I don’t have anything to say to a demon anyway.

But I have a lot to say to people who have barricaded themselves in fortresses of demonic lies. I want to do everything I can to tear down those palaces of lies. And the only thing that equips me to do that well is the Word of God.

In other words, “the weapons of our warfare” Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 10:4 are instruments of truth. The Word of God. The gospel. Sound doctrine. The truth of Scripture.

Spiritual warfare is all about demolishing evil lies with the truth. Use the authority of God’s Word and the power of the gospel to give people the truth. That and that alone will pull down the fortresses of falsehood.

What does all that have to do with leadership? One of the fundamental qualifications for spiritual leadership is a knowledge of the truth, an ability to recognize lies, and skill in using the truth to refute the lies. In short, a leader must be discerning.

One of the key requirements Paul listed for elders in the church was that they have to be skilled enough with the Word of God to “be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). One who is not able to engage in the spiritual warfare on this level is simply not equipped to lead well.

Furthermore, you cannot be a good leader and avoid the warfare. As Paul’s life demonstrated, the more effective you are as a leader, the more the enemy will bring the battle to you. That is the nature of leadership. We therefore cannot lead well or fight the battle well unless we learn the Scriptures and acquire skill in using God’s truth to answer lies.

Lies yield only to the truth. Rebellion ends when truth prevails. If you’re a leader who is also a Christian, you may not realize it, but you are engaged in spiritual warfare. You need to be armed. You need to know the Word of God. And you need to develop skill in using it against the lies of the Evil One.

(Adapted from Called to Lead)

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#1  Posted by Daniel Macsay  |  Wednesday, June 13, 2012at 9:19 AM

John,

Thank you for the post! One of the most difficult battles I face is how to addresss sinful activity in the lives of professed Christians. It's disconcerting to see the faithful claim the status of a saint, but act much differently than a Biblical representative of Christ. Don't get me wrong, I often fall short of the mark and need more than a few reminders of my own shorcomings. How do we approach our brethren in a Christ-like fashion when seeking to address their attitudes and actions that may actually hinder the gospel's progress vice further it?

#2  Posted by Jeremiah Johnson  |  Wednesday, June 13, 2012at 10:19 AM

Daniel,

Humility is key when confronting a sinning brother. If you're aware of your own weaknesses and shortcomings--and it sounds like you are--then you're able to come alongside a struggling brother rather than hammering him. The goal isn't merely to confront the sin; that's only the first step. You want to help restore the sinning brother to a right relationship with the Lord (Galatians 6:1). That takes humility as well as a lot of patience and prayer.

Remember also that a humble approach can make a significant difference on whether your sinning brother hears your rebuke or shuts you out completely. No one wants to be confronted with his own sin, or the fact that the sin is hindering the testimony of God's truth and His people. But your attitude in conveying that message can help shape the way he responds to your rebuke.

It's good that your heart is soft to the impact sin makes on the testimony of God's people; it's evidence of godly compassion. Just be sure to show that same compassion when you're confronting stumbling and struggling believers.

#3  Posted by Brian Jonson  |  Wednesday, June 13, 2012at 12:04 PM

Thank you for this. This simple article should be embraced by every pastor in the world. But, it is the case that men like MacArthur are rare. God give us more like him.

#4  Posted by Matthew Aube  |  Wednesday, June 13, 2012at 5:32 PM

John,

Your focus on leadership is very timely. A friend and I agreed to begin downloading your sermons for your study through 1 Thessalonians. We have also made a commitment to put Paul's letter to memory. Thank you for your faithfulness as Gods undershepard.

#5  Posted by Jean Selden  |  Wednesday, June 13, 2012at 11:42 PM

John,

Thank you for the post. After coming out of a denomination that used all forms of tactics in the flesh trying to defeat the enemy, it is very satisfying to get thorough teaching on spiritual warfare. Your insistence on the importance of studying and knowing the scriptures cannot be overstated. It has changed my life.

In Him,

Jean Selden

#6  Posted by Daniel Macsay  |  Thursday, June 14, 2012at 6:30 AM

Jeremiah, thanks for the response! Humility; I need a big dose of it. Thanks again.

#9  Posted by Greg Begemann  |  Monday, June 18, 2012at 12:05 PM

reminds me of Peter who, like most of us, had to learn this lesson the hard way! Confident in his own arsenal, he whipped out his sword and used it on the slave of the high priest. Jesus' sharp rebuke must have stripped him of the self-confidence in his own device because he followed that mob escort from a safe distance then a short time later denied the Lord altogether. Peter got the message. (We can see his heart on that in the wonderful epistles of 1st &2nd Peter!) The reality of having succombed to the power of satan, Peter learned the bitter lesson that tactical human defence of any kind is absolutely powerless in spiritual warfare. It is the "Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God" (Eph 6:17) that wields the power over darkness.

Thank you so much for this post pastor John! I think many would agree that God has given us pastor/teachers our own personal "General MacArthur"!! (Spiritually, of course) having been in the battle for many years yourself, you faithfully, with great wisdom and strength, continue to lead us soldiers in the Truth by word and by example. You train us how to skillfully use the one effective weapon we have, The WORD! thank you for your leadership, guidance,instruction, and encouragement as we battle the evil forces with constant exposition of God's Word in the places He has put us around the globe