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James Merritt - The Art of War

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    James Merritt - The Art of War
TOPICS: Ephessians Bible Study, Spiritual warfare

I wanna welcome those who are watching online, watching television and our two campuses, thanks for joining us today. 2,500 years ago, there was a Chinese military strategist named Sun Tzu, and he wrote a book called "The Art of War". Today, the United States Army list this book is one that should be kept in every military units library. As a matter of fact, it is listed on the Marine Corps professional reading program, and is recommended reading for all United States military intelligence personnel. It is still the go to book for military commanders and strategists around the world. What's amazing is, the influence of this book goes beyond military. It extends to business leadership, even sports.

Bill Belichick, perhaps the greatest NFL coach in history, has read this book and said, he uses many lessons to gain insights in preparing for games. Now think about this; after two and a half millennia, "The Art of War" is still considered the greatest book ever written on the art of fighting and winning a war. Now, I read that I thought, you know, you might think a book that was written 2,500 years ago, before artillery, before missiles, before nuclear bombs, before automatic weapons, how in the world could that still be invoked? And you think, what good can that information be even today? But it's far more relevant than you may think for this reason; we are all in a war. Yes, sir, yes, ma'am, you're in a war. I am in a war. Every person on planet Earth is at war. Every morning, we wake up at war.

Now it is an invisible war but it has visible consequences. You say, what kind of war are you talking about? It is the war between light and darkness, between good and evil, between heaven and hell, between God and Satan, between Christ and antichrist, between the church and the world. If you don't believe that, let me ask you a question. Have you ever wondered why life is so hard? Even for the best of us, for the richest of us, let's face it, life is hard. Why is it such a struggle? Why is there all the suffering and pain and agony in the world? How about this? Have you ever wondered why is it so hard to maintain a good marriage? Why is it so difficult to raise good children? Why is it so agonizing to please your boss, to get your act together financially?

Have you ever wondered why somebody is always fighting somebody somewhere all the time? I mean, we got an alcohol problem, an opioid problem, a pornography problem, a road rage problem, we've got a racism problem, a sexism problem, why all these problems? Why are all these battles being fought? Well, it's because there's a war going on. It's going on between two rulers, Jesus and Satan. Two kingdoms, light and darkness. There are two armies, divine and devilish. And that's the reason why everywhere you look, you see struggles, you see suffering, you see strive. Now, we have a theological term for that battle, for that war, it's called spiritual warfare and it's real. Let me give you this definition. Spiritual warfare is the battle that's being fought in the invisible spiritual world that has visible, physical consequences.

We're in the series in the Book of Ephesians, we've been calling "Unbelievable," because God's Word tells us He's done unbelievable things for us, and wants to do unbelievable things in us. And one of the things that God wants us to do every day is to be victorious, to win the battle of life every day, to win the war that we are all fighting. And in Ephesian 6, He gives us the art of war that truly is the best manual of war that's ever been written. And if you have one of our discipleship booklets, it's on page 36, you can read along with us. Now the key to understanding what this was all about, and how to win it, is in verse 12. For our struggle, Paul says, that is the daily battle of life that we enter every day, it's not against flesh and blood, it's against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Now, this is the key to understanding the art of war. Listen, this is gonna revolutionize the way you look at things. The enemy that we face is not the people that we can see, it is the powers we can't see. Try to make this plain. Think about the worst problem you have in your life right now. I don't know what that problem is, think about the worst problem you have. Or better yet, think about this, who is the worst person you have to deal with in your life right now? Who might that may be? It may be an ex spouse, it may be a mean boss, it may be someone who's suing you for whatever the reason, think about the worst person you can think of right now. Here's, I wanna say this that may shock you. That worse person is not your problem. It really is the power that is at work behind that person or inside that person that's the problem. No, your greatest problem is not your ex spouse, it's not your hard work for a boss, it's not your cranky neighbor, they are not your enemy, Satan is your enemy. All these evil powers and principalities that you can't see, they are your real enemy.

So I want you to think of it this way, every problem that you have outside of you is really a problem either on the inside of you or on the inside of the person that is causing you the problem. So in this war manual that Paul gives us, he's going to share with us how to win the war every day over the struggles that we all deal with, all the suffering that we all experience, and all the strife that we run into on a daily basis. How do you do it? Three key strategies, ready? First of all, you got to show up to the war. You got to show up to the war. Now, listen again to the description of this war. He says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood". We have a struggle, but it's not against flesh and blood. It's against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. See, this is a war that's going on right now, right here, right where you are, this very moment.

Now, you might not hear the bullets whizzing, you know, by your ear. You might not hear the bombs exploding over your head, but let me tell you something, the war is going on. For example, is going on in the home. Marriages are falling apart at a record rate. And there's constant conflict between parents and children, is going on in our hands. Why do we lust? Why are we bitter, jealous, angry, why do we do that? What's the problem? By the way, it's not only a problem in our head, it's a problem in our heart. Why do we do things every day that we know we shouldn't do? And why is it we don't do the things that we know we should do? Why is it that when you pick up the newspaper, get on the internet, listen to the radio, you see the casualties of this war everywhere, everyday; murder, rape, prostitution, sex trafficking, robbery, terrorism, drug addiction, child molestation, why? These are the rotten visible eggs that are being hatched every day by this invisible war we're fighting against an invisible enemy.

And this is what breaks my heart; the reason why so many Christians, so many followers of Jesus are losing their battle with the devil, they're losing the battle of temptation, they're losing the battle with divorce, they're losing their battle with pornography, they're losing their battle with sin every day, here's why; you're not even showing up for the war. You don't even realize there's a war going on. It's time we finally realized what kind of a war that we're in, and we finally realize this war is going on every single day. Listen, every Christ follower is in this war. And every follower of Jesus is to fight. There are no deferments in this army. There are no conscientious objectors. And the reason why so many of us are falling so far short of the life that God wants us to live, we're falling so far short of the potential that we all have, can I be honest?

We're at war, we're not even showing up or we've just surrendered. Some of you have decided just to go along to get along, to do what the Romans do, not to fight, you know, go with the flow, and just hey, I'm just gonna kind of live my life the way everybody else is living theirs. And I wanna be very honest, many, and it may be true that's most followers of Jesus, this is the way they live. They live with one foot in the kingdom of God and one foot in the kingdom of this world. Many people put one foot in the kingdom of God on Sunday, and then they put one foot in the kingdom of the world the rest of the week. Well, let me tell you something, let me be honest, you can't straddle the fence in this war. You can't be neutral in this war, you're going to be on one side or the other.

C.S. Lewis, the author that I dearly love, he said it this way; "There is no neutral ground in the universe, none. Every square inch, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan". So there's a war going on right now for your heart. There's a war going on right now for your home. There's a war right now going on for your head. There's a war, for example, right now, what's gonna control the way you look at money? What's gonna control your finances? There's a war going on, for who's gonna even control your money, you or God? There's a war going on right now as to whether or not you're going to decide to stand for what God says or go along with what the world says.

So just remember this, every time that alarm goes off in the morning, and you've got to pull yourself out of bed, God is standing by your bed, here's what He's saying; battle stations, it's time to go to war. And to win your war, first of all, you got to show up for the war. There's a war going on, you better be ready. Second strategy, you got to suit up for the war. Too many people show up for the war but they get beaten, battered and bruised because they don't suit up for the war. Any soldier knows, when you go to war, you better be loaded for battle. You better be ready to fight. I just got through reading a great book about D-Day, the history of D-Day, and it's amazing how much armor and how many guns and how much ammunition, all those sorts of things they we carrying as they knew they were in a fight for their life. When you go to war, you got to be ready to fight.

So here's what we read, Paul says, "Put on the full armor of God". Now what that verse literally says is this, in the way it reads in the Greek language, every day put on the full armor of God and don't ever take it off. Got to keep it on. When you go to bed, you go to bed with the armor. When you get up, you keep the armor on you. Put on all whole armor of God and you keep it on, why? Because in this war, there are no furloughs. There's no truces. There's no ceasefires. There's no leaves of absence. In this war, it's fought every single day. And every day when you get up, you've got to put that armor on and you've got to keep your guard up, you can never relax, you can never let your guard down. And here's why; the moment you take the armor off, the moment you say I just need a break, the moment you say man, I'm just tired of the fight, that's when Satan will sucker punch you, when you least expect it.

So you've got to put on the full armor of God. And by the way, you can't leave one part of the armor off, you got to put it all on. Do you remember the story of Achilles? If you don't, let me remind you. In Greek mythology, when Achilles was a baby, it was foretold that he would die when he was very young. Well, to prevent his death, his mother went down to this river, which was supposed to offer him the power of invulnerability. If he bathed in the river, then nothing could hurt him. If you remember, she dipped his body into the water but when she did, she held him by the heel. And so she dipped his entire body into the water except the heel was not dipped into that river.

Well, how did he die? One day, a poisonous arrow hit him right in the heel and it killed him. Very appropriate for where we are, you've got to put on the full armor of God because if you don't, there will be this Achilles heel that you have, there will be this one weak spot that you have; it may be a weak spot for women, it may be a weak spot for men, it may may be a weak spot for sex, it may be a weak spot for money, it may be a weak spot for anger, it may be a weak spot for drugs, but there's gonna be this weak spot and Satan is gonna find that weak spot every single time, and it's at that very point that Satan will attack you and he will defeat you. So here's what Paul is going to do; he described to us the various pieces of armor that a Roman soldier would wear back in the day when he went to battle.

As a matter of fact, it looks something like this; so you've got this Roman soldier, and you've got the various pieces of the armor. You've got the sword, and you've got the breastplate, and you've got the helmet, and you've got the boots, and you've got the shield. And every one of those pieces are very, vitally important. So Paul begins, he says, first of all, he says, "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist". Back in that day, soldiers, when they were not in uniform and we're not fighting, they wouldn't wear what everybody wore, they would wear a long flowing tunic that would reach down basically to the ground. When it came time to fight, they would pick that tunic up, they would bundle it up, and they would tuck it in their belt so that they would have the mobility to fight. They also would carry their sword on their belt, the breastplate would be connected to the belt. In other words, the belt was fundamental because everything else connected to the belt, this is so important. It was the belt that held everything else together.

Did you hear me? It was the belt that held everything else together. What does he call the belt? He calls it the belt of truth. You know the one thing that will hold everything together for you in your life, when everything's going to hell in a hand basket? This book, the truth in this book is the belt that will help you hold everything together. You know why? The devil is a liar, and he loves lying. And he loves to lie to you and he loves to lie to me. And if you wanna win the battle, you've got to know the truth, you've got to live the truth, you've got to believe the truth, you've got to tell the truth, you've got to stand for the truth. He says, put on the belt of truth, that's the most important part 'cause everything is held together by the belt. Then he says, the next piece is, you put on the breastplate of righteousness.

Now the Roman soldier would put on a breastplate and that would cover him basically from his neck, all the way down to his waist, why? It protected his chest, his lungs, his heart, his liver, his vital organs. Now Paul said, our breastplate is righteousness. We have the righteousness of Christ in us. Let me tell you what that means; if you're a follower of Jesus, when you put on the breastplate of righteousness, every time you're tempted to do wrong, no matter how great that temptation is, you've got the power to say no. And every time you have the opportunity to do what is right, you have the power to say yes. So you've got within you, when you put on that breastplate of righteousness, you've got the strength and you've got the power to say no to evil and to say yes to good.

So every day when you say okay today, I'm going to take the breastplate of righteousness, I'm gonna do what's right, I'm gonna do what's good, I'm gonna do what God tells me to do, I'm going to say no to sin and yes to what is good. I'm gonna say no to temptation and yes to righteousness, you know what that means whether you realize it or not? You're winning your spiritual war. You put on the belt of truth, you take up the breastplate of righteousness, and then he says this, and with your feet fitted with a readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Now, why does Paul talk about the feet? You would think probably the least most important part of the body in a battle would be your feet. However, it's one of the most important parts. Here's why; if you've ever been a soldier in hand to hand combat, you know this, there's one thing you cannot do if you're in hand to hand combat, don't lose your footing, don't fall to the ground, because the moment you fall to the ground, and now your enemy has the high ground, you are dead.

So a Roman soldier would wear a sandal but it wasn't an ordinary sandal, it had something like hobnails on the bottom of them which they would be kind of like spikes on a golf or shoe. Or it'd be like cleats on football player shoes. And it gave that soldier the ability to stand up and to hold his ground, even when the ground was unstable, or it was rocky or it was muddy, he could stand his ground. And what Paul says is, the shoes that we ought to put on everyday have on their soles the peace of God. Why is that so important? Because we all go through tough times. You live long enough, you're gonna face disaster, danger, disease, disappointment, and discouragement. But you know what? You'll never be knocked off your feet, you'll never be knocked to the ground as long as you have peace with God and you have the peace of God.

See, we have the peace of knowing, no matter what I face, no matter what bombs, no matter what bullets that Satan fires my way, I've got this peace of knowing, you know what? God's in control, you're not. And God's gonna work everything out together for my good. So you put on your feet, have your feet soled with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Then there's the next part of the armor. He says, in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Now the Roman soldier carried a shield and it was covered with thick leather. It was about two feet wide and about four feet tall, about eight squared feet. It would protect his face, it would protect his side, it would protect his flank, it would protect whatever body part he needed to protect. Paul says, our shield is faith.

So what do you mean by that? There is a forcefield, there is a shield that Satan can't penetrate and it's the shield of believing that God keeps His promises. It is shield of believing that God honors His Word, but most importantly, it is the shield that says, I not only believe that what God says is true, I'm gonna live like it's true. I'm going to act like it's true. I'm not just gonna believe truth, I'm gonna behave truth. And let me tell you what happens, when you get up every day and you say Lord, today, I choose to believe you, I choose to trust you, and I'm gonna live like what you said is true, you know what? It's like kryptonite to Satan, he can't handle it. You take up the shield of faith. Then he says, you take the helmet of salvation.

Now, you know why you need a helmet, ask a football player there, right? You wanna protect the head. And what Paul is saying is, the one thing you always keep in mind every day is your salvation. You get up every day and you remind yourself, God loves me so much, He sent Jesus to die for me, He brought Him back from the dead so He could save me, He could call me, He could adopt me, He could empower me, He could use me, He could protect me, and I wanna tell you something, it is impossible to lose your joy, your love, your peace, and your patience, when you're constantly remembering what God has done for you through Jesus. But there's one other part of the armor, he says, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Now I'll give you a pop quiz. What is different about this part of the armor from every other part of the armor?

Think about it. Every other piece of the armor that we've been talking about, every piece is for defensive purposes. We only have one part of the armor that is for offensive purposes and that is, the sword of the Spirit. You say, you mean that's the only weapon that I've got? Hey, it is the only weapon you need. The only weapon at the end of the day that you need against the world, against the devil, against your own flesh is the Word of God. Jesus proved it. He was in the desert, He was being tempted by Satan. He hadn't eaten for 40 days and 40 nights, He was weak, He was tired, He was hungry, He was exhausted. His energy was totally depleted and yet, He only had one weapon to fight Satan, and it was the Word of God. And every time He took the sword of the Spirit, Satan was defeated, that was the point. I cannot emphasize to you enough.

If you're gonna win your war, if you're gonna win the daily battles of life, if you're gonna make sure the devil doesn't kick you when you're down, he doesn't put you down and put his neck on your throat, you got to every day when you get up, you got to get into this book and you've got to get this book into you. You know why? It is the only weapon that you have, that I have, that can cut the devil in half. That can cut temptation in half. That can cut sin right in half. You've got to suit up for the war. But there's one last thing you got to do, you don't have to show up to the war and suit up for the war, one last thing, you've got to stand up in the war. You got to stand up in the war.

Douglas MacArthur, one of the greatest military generals, I believe in all of history, once said this, he said, "In war, there is no substitute for victory". You have to be a military person to understand that. Can you give me any substitute for that in war? There is no option, there is no substitute, there is no plan B. In war, there's no substitute for victory. I want you to listen to this carefully. I don't care how defeated you may feel like you are right now. I don't care how whipped you may think you are right now. I don't care how helpless or hopeless you may feel in your battle right now. I don't care if you've already run up the white flag, listen to me, God wants you to be victorious. God sent Jesus to die on the cross. God brought Jesus back from the grave. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to us, why? He didn't do all that so we'd be whimpering, whining, griping, complaining, whip and defeated. He did all of that so that we would be victorious.

You say, well, I wanna be victorious, how do I do it? The way that you do that is gonna be surprising. So what I do tell me, you're ready? Something we can all can do. All God wants you to do every day is just stand. So what? Just stand. In matter of fact, Paul repeats this four times, listen to what he says, "Put all the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil schemes". He goes on to say, "Therefore, put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. And after you've done everything to stand," and then he just says, "stand firm". Now, that word for stand is a military term, you know what it means? It simply means one thing, just hold the line. Just don't move. Don't cut and run, don't dig a foxhole, don't quiver and quake, don't cower before the devil, take your stand. You don't retreat, you don't run, and you never surrender, you just stand, you just hold the line.

By the way, John MacArthur also said, that the most important principle to win any war is this, he said, you must, he said, the greater the knowledge of the enemy, the greater potential of victory. He said, you've got to know your enemy. The greater you know your enemy, the greater potential for victory. All right, who's our enemy? No, it's not your ex spouse. It's not your mean boss. It's not the person that's suing you, that's not your enemy. Your enemy is the devil. Your enemy is the forces of evil. Your enemy are the rulers and the principalities, and the demons in this world. It's the wicked powers you can't see. You say okay, but how do you defeat what you can't see? How can you fight and win a battle against an enemy you can't see?

Well, it may shock you, this will blow your mind, did you know we're never told anywhere in the Bible ever to run from the devil? We're never told in the Bible to attack the devil. Think about that. So when the devil comes against you, we're not told to run away but we're not told to attack. Well, why is that? Well, there are two reasons. First of all, you probably already know this, but if you don't, you better figure it out in a hurry, the devil is not afraid of us. Number two, we have no power on our own against the devil. That's why we don't have to attack the devil. You know why? He's going to attack us. You don't have to bring the fight to the devil, trust me, he's going to bring the fight to you. And when he does, Paul says, just stand firm. Just hold the line.

That's exactly what a man, an apostle by the name of James meant when he wrote these words. He said, resist the devil. You don't run, you don't attack, you just hold the line. Resist the devil, here's what happen, he will flee from you. Here's how this works. Every day, the devil loads his quiver with these fiery arrows of temptation. And you'll be tempted to either run away from the devil or surrender to the devil. But Paul says, when that happens, just stand firm. Don't move, just hold the line. Here's what will happen; when he sees you all armored up, he will stop dead in his tracks because he quakes at the sight of the breastplate of righteousness. He quivers before the shield of faith. He quails before the sword of the Spirit. You know why? There's not one piece of the armor of God that the devil can pierce.

And oh, by the way, then, when you take up the sword of the Spirit, you don't even have to wield it. When you take up the sword of the Spirit, he will run. Now, I know what you're saying. You may be saying right now, well, sounds good in theory but how do I know that's what will happen? I mean, how do I really know this will work? Well, because of the way the entire passage begins, okay, this is key, watch this, Paul said, finally, be strong in the Lord, not in your willpower, not in your education, not in your flesh, not in the strength of your spirit, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Those are the first marching orders that general Paul gives to his army. By the way, that verb, to be strong, it literally means to be strengthened.

What was Paul saying? I've told you this before, you're not fighting a battle for the Lord. It's not your battle, it's his battle. Your job is to put on the armor. Your job is to dress for success. Your job is to hold the line. Your job is to stand firm. And when the battle comes to you, guess what? The Lord is the one who will fight it and the Lord is the one who will win it. See, here's how it works, the armor we've been talking about, that's what God has done for you. The victory, that's what God does in you. And that's why the last verse in this section brings it all together, listen to what Paul says; "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert, and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people".

Now, are you ready for this? Do you know where the battle is gonna be won in your life? It's always going to be one on the field of prayer, on the battlefield of prayer. There will never be a time in your life, listen, this is impossible; there will never be a time in your life when you're going through a struggle you think you can't win, you're fighting a war, you think you cannot get victory in, there will never be a time when you pray for God to give you victory over anything and everything you're going through, you just name it, emotional, financial, marital, mental, cultural, social or personal, there will never be a time in your life that you don't go to God fully armored up, fully suited up, and you've prayed to God and ask God to give you victory that He will not give you victory if you will just stand for Him. God gives victory to everyone who just stands for Him.

See, too many people have the wrong idea of heaven. People think, you know, when you get to heaven, that's when you win the war. Too many people, that's why they wave the white flag of surrender. That's why they quit. That's why they desert. That's why they go AWOL. They think oh man, I've tried, I've tried, I've tried, I just can't win. That's the problem. God's never told you to try anything, you put on the full armor of God. You take your stand for God. You take your battle to God, let Him fight the battle because here's the truth, God never said okay, guys, you win the war on earth and then we'll celebrate in heaven, that's what people think.

When I get to heaven, slam the door, I can finally say, finally, I won the war. That's not what this Bible teaches. That's not what this passage teaches. No, here's what God's plan is for you and me; you win the war here, and you win the war now, and you win the war every day of your life, then we celebrate the victory in heaven. So I'll only close you with this thought, this book is just like any other book. A book's never finished until the last chapter is written. And the last chapter of this book says one simple thing, we win it.
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