Spiritual Warfare
by T. Austin-Sparks

Edited and supplied by the Golden Candlestick Trust.

"And behold, one of them that were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, and struck off his ear. Then says Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into its place; for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword" (Matt. 26:51-52).

"And He said... But now, he that has a purse, let him take it, and likewise a wallet; and he that has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword" (Luke 22:36).

There seems to be a contradiction in those two passages - "Put up thy sword... for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword"; "...he that has none, let him sell his cloak, and buy a sword".

Whatever other explanations there may be given to this seeming con­tradiction, I am going to ignore them and come down upon one particular point. I would have you note the necessary adjustment in the order of these two passages. They ought to be in the reverse order. The forbidding to take the sword came after the command to buy one. That word about taking the sword came at an earlier date, for, as you see, the words for­bidding the sword came in the garden of Gethsemane right at the end of our Lord's life.

Our Warfare: Spiritual not Physical

It is clear to us that the whole of the subsequent teaching of the New Testament about warfare is spiritual and not physical. You call to mind at once passages that bear that out. "The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but mighty before God" (2 Cor. 10:4). "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood" (Eph. 6:12). Wrestling is a very good word, by the way. It looks like a change of metaphor from wrestling to fighting. It means to sway. It is taken from the wrestler, to and fro. Our swaying to and fro is not with flesh and blood, but with principalities and powers. The teaching of the New Testament after this is that warfare is spiritual and not physical. And there is this fact, that we nowhere find the apostles, those to whom these words were addressed or any others added to them, with swords when they went out on their mission. There is no reference whatever to their carrying swords literally in their ministry, or in their work, or in their going forth into the world. So we are brought back by these passages, not to a contradiction but to this. On the one hand "Put up thy sword", because our warfare is not with flesh and blood (if you have the idea of anything in that realm [of flesh and blood] you are wrong. Put away the idea, as you are commanded to put away the sword which indicates that you have got that idea) on the other hand, sell your cloak and buy a sword.

So we are brought back by this seeming contradiction very forcibly to the fact of spiritual warfare, that there is warfare, and that it is spiritual, and although this is no new information to most of you, it is necessary from time to time for us to have things brought to remembrance which we already know. This is not a subject I delight in, and I asked the Lord if He would excuse me in this matter. I do not like it, but I am compelled.

The Reality of Spiritual Warfare

In the first place, it is an emphasis, or a re-emphasis, upon not just the fact of spiritual warfare - you know that - but on the reality of this. We may know all that there is to know as to the Bible teaching on this matter, and we may be full of information about spiritual warfare, but the fact remains that you and I at times, because of certain things, forget that is exactly what is happening at this moment. We put it down to other things. We begin to look at people, we begin to look at circumstances, we begin to look at our own misfortunes and disappointments, we begin to attribute it to physical conditions and all the secondary causes are made primary, when not always, but so often, the fact is that we are right on this thing now - a mighty spiritual conflict is going on and we are in it. If I were to try and safeguard every sentence that I uttered, I should be here forever. There are times when the strain is due to wrong relation­ships and our fault or faults. It is no use blaming the devil for that for which we are responsible, but there are times when we cannot make any secondary cause a primary cause, or we cannot say it is because of this or that. There is something that you cannot get at, something behind, something remote, something that you cannot lay your hand on. It may be coming through this or that means, but it is something extra to the people or the things. And I do bring this re-emphasis to you that you will seek to bear this in mind, that it is not always and not generally because of situations, conditions, people, upon which and upon whom you can lay your hand, but there is something else going on. There is a warfare in heaven.

Warfare with the Prince of the Power of the Air

When we, in the New Testament language, speak of heaven, do not let us think of something far away, remote, up there somewhere in or beyond the clouds. The New Testament makes it perfectly clear that what is meant by heavenly warfare is the very atmosphere all around us, "the prince of the powers of the air" (Eph. 2:2). Now, all the air is not above the clouds. We are breathing it now, the heavenlies are wrapping us around all the time, and this spiritual conflict is in the very atmosphere. If you need any illustrations of that, you have only to turn to the Old Testament. "Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see" (2 Kings 6:17), and when his eyes were opened, the very near things were seen to be encom­passed about by former and otherwise unseen forces. It is heavenly, but for us the better word is atmospheric. We know a little about atmospherics in spiritual conflict, but even then it is not always outward and objective because it is spiritual.

And because we have a spirit which is the medium of connection with what is spiritual, this thing cannot always be said to be outside of us. It seems to be right inside sometimes. It seems to be inward. You must not just divide up outward and inward in that way because flesh and blood are not barriers to spiritual conflict at all. Our bodies are not a bulwark against spiritual influences. They register them, but they do not resist them. It is very often inward, and so we feel this atmospheric thing right inside of us. It becomes very real - that is the point, the reality of this spiritual conflict, this spiritual warfare.

The Occasion of the Conflict

In passing on, let me remind you of the occasion for it, and the occasion is the destiny of the church. All departments and realms of truly spiritual work come into touch with these spiritual forces in opposition, and this stands to be borne out and can be verified. The nearer you get to the great eternal conception of God as to the destiny of the church, the Body of Christ, the nearer you get to the antagonism of the enemy, the more pronounced it will become. You will meet spiritual antagonism in seeking to win souls for Christ because that is the beginning of this thing, but when the full thought of God in a corporate body is brought into view, the church, then the full challenge to the forces of evil is registered because it is in the church and the church's destiny that the whole conflict of Satan is to be met and overthrown, hence, of course, the tremendous significance of corporate life. On the one hand, the enemy hates corporate life and will do anything to break it up and he will do it always by the simplest means possible if they will succeed; he just interferes with the corporate life of the Lord's people by simple means. For example, if you are a mood person you very soon fall out of the corporate life - "I just do not feel like it!" That is all the enemy needs very often with some people to put them out, and he has struck a blow at the very destiny of the church by the moods and temperaments of Christians. And if on simpler lines he cannot succeed, he will press to the more complex or highly developed forms just to destroy the relatedness and fellowship of the people of God, and therefore fellowship and relatedness become a battleground. We think fellowship is a kind of picnic, a religious festival, having a good time. Praise God for all the joy and blessedness of fellowship, but it goes far beyond that, and it is more a matter of real battle, warfare. A field of desperate conflict is the maintaining and preserving of true inward heart fellowship with all sorts of Christians, not just the sort that we like.

We have to think this matter out sometimes when it comes to difficulty with regard to some, and we seriously get before the Lord and say, "How can I find a ground of going on with So-and-so? I have to eliminate this, ignore that, refuse to come on to certain ground with them and keep on other ground, but at all costs I must go on." The battleground of fellowship is very real and fellowship is truly a great factor in this spiritual conflict. Do remember it. Fight for it, stand for it and withstand for it, and having done all, stand for it.

Warfare in the Realm of Corporate Prayer

And of course, as a part of that is the great corporate function of prayer. We know that this matter of spiritual warfare is carried into the realm of prayer. "With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints" (Eph. 6:18). Corporate prayer. We perhaps just need to be reminded again from time to time, maybe at this time, that our times of coming together for prayer are not just to ask the Lord for a lot of things. Let me be clear here. There are times for coming to ask the Lord for things, but what things? You look at the book of Daniel, and you find that Daniel was stretched out for three whole weeks fasting and praying, giving himself to prayer. What was he asking for? He was asking for things, yes, but what things? He was asking for the fulfillment of the great purposes of God. He knew what they were. He knew the great purposes of God in relation to God's people. He had acquainted himself with God's purposes. He says to begin with that he understood by the books (Dan. 9:2), he knew the details God had given to other servants of His - and more than that, that he was a part of those purposes; it was in his own heart. He knew inwardly what the purposes of God were concerning God's elect people, and it was because those purposes of God were at the time in a state of suspended animation, because there was a contradiction to God's intention, because the people of God were not coming into or standing in those purposes and the realisation of them, and because the enemies of the Lord had been given an advantage over the Lord's people because of their unfaithfulness. It was that that drew out Daniel in that prayer.

And then we know there was a great warfare in heaven. I think we have some tremendous revelations. During the twenty-one days of his praying, a terrific scene had been going on without his knowledge. The very principalities and powers had been so stirred and moved because of this kind of praying that they had withstood the messengers of God. A fight had been going on and one archangel needed to come to the support of another, a greater. Supreme archangels had been drawn into this, showing that archangels are not almighty, for one was not enough, there was no way for them to get through. It is not the asking for things, it is the things that we ask for that touch heaven.

When we come together for prayer, we ought to be right in line in full view of God's great revealed purposes concerning His people, and making this the burden of our hearts - not, forgive me, I do not underrate the importance of praying for all sorts of things and there are times when those things may come in, but they must not occupy the ground in the place of the major things, the great purposes of God. What God needs is a people who have seen His intentions and purpose, the destiny of His Son and of the church which is His Body, and are really giving themselves to pray this issue through. It will be warfare. Sometimes there is a blanket over the atmosphere; then you give it up. No, that is the occasion. Oh, for discerning hearts to say, "There is something happening tonight, something against things tonight, we are not going to take this on; in the Name of the Lord we set up our banners." The Lord does need that. You have heard that said here many times. We do need to serve the Lord in this capacity, but He must have an instrument for it, and that kind of prayer is the warfare prayer that sets the conflict going and makes us know the conflict and sells us out in the conflict. So the occasion of the conflict is the destiny of Christ and His Body, and it touches this matter of corporate life and corporate prayer.

The Ground of Triumph

Now just a word about the ground of triumph. We have an assured ground of triumph, but we must take that ground. I am not going into all the details of Eph. 6:10 and onwards. I think the metaphor there has led us astray. "Wherefore take up the whole armour of God... having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness... and take the helmet of salvation" (v. 13-17), and so on, a very earthly picture, and people begin to operate in a mental realm of material things and what do we do in the prayer gathering? Say, "We take the helmet of salvation, we take the whole armour of God"? You are wrong. It is the past tense: "Wherefore having taken". You have got to come in armour. The battle has already started! We have to live on this ground.

a) Reality

And what is the ground? Dismiss the metaphor, get right down to the spiritual reality. Loins girded with truth. The ground in the first place is truth. That is, we must be on the ground of reality. There must not be anything false about our position, anything artificial or unreal - and that may be in mere mental knowledge of truth which is not heart knowledge. It must not be something we have been brought up in, or taught, but this spiritual warfare, this spiritual conflict is very real indeed. We must be girded, we must be strong by being on the ground of down­right reality.

b) Righteousness

The breastplate of righteousness, the ground of righteousness. And what is it? We know here by much teaching that righteousness is that which is of satisfaction to God. The whole question of righteousness is God's rights, what He has a right to, and what God has a right to is that which accords with His own nature, and God is right, righteous. He is equal, He is true. So God has to have that which satisfies Him. Justification by faith is another way of speaking of righteousness by faith, imputed righteousness. God is satisfied because of something or someone, and that is our ground. You see, the wiles of the devil are always against that, to get you off the ground where you stand in the absolute satisfaction of God by faith. The enemy is saying, "God is dissatisfied, God has all sorts of things against you". What is our ground for meeting the enemy? God's satisfaction, God's rights, secured unto Him in Jesus Christ. Righteousness covering the most vital part - the breastplate of righteousness, the ground of that righteousness which is through faith in Jesus Christ.

c) The Gospel of Peace

"Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace". Forget the picture of the feet and the shoes. What is the thing? Peace, and it is the gospel of peace, the good news of peace. Anybody with real divine good news is a menace to the kingdom of Satan. What is the enemy always trying to do? He is trying to make us look and feel as though we had bad news or were going to have bad news. The good-news heart - it is only another way of speaking of joy. "Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel" - bringing news of peace. How the enemy hates it when we go to the world with good news! He does not mind you going with bad news, or a face that looks like it. Go with good news in spirit and manner. Paul and Silas went to Philippi with good news, the gospel of peace, and you know very soon the enemy rose up to try and take that off their faces and out of their voices! (Acts 16:11-34). He did not succeed. Triumph over the enemy was because the good news Spirit was in their hearts. It is a tremendous strength against the enemy to stand in the good of your feet shod, standing in the good of the good news, the good news of peace. He "made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col. 1:20). There is now no need for estrangement or enmity or anything like that. God is not against you. You are countering something there. God is for you. In Christ He has shown He is for you. It is good news.

d) Faith

"The shield of faith". We all know how needful for spiritual triumph the spirit of faith is.

e) The Strength of Salvation

And ''the helmet of salvation" - what is that? Well again, it is salvation, it is assurance that all is well. It covers a lot of ground. It is on the head where all these arguments, debates, fears and uncertainties take place. It is the mighty strength of this salvation which is of the Lord. You have got to stand on this ground.

f) The Word of God

Finally, "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". That will mean that we know the Word of God and know how to use the Word of God at the right time. You see how the Lord met the enemy in the wilderness with an apt quotation of the Word of God in which He had soaked Himself. It came not only as a quotation of Scripture, but just the right thing for the right moment. Therefore, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col. 3:16). Do not let anyone think that they are going to triumph in the spiritual warfare if they neglect their Bibles any more than prayer. Neglect prayer and the Word and you will be worsted, just as you will if you neglect fellowship. These things are essential: the Word, prayer, fellowship; all that on this ground of truth, righteousness, peace and salvation.

Well, the Lord use this, if for no further enlightenment, then for fresh provocation to stand and withstand, remembering, while we know we are in a warfare, not to let the enemy, as he so often does, make us as though we did not know, as though it did not matter. We must be active in our knowledge of these things.

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