Editor's Note: "Creed" is an ongoing article series that discusses the core beliefs of Christianity as expressed in the Apostle's and Nicene creeds. Links to the other installments are listed at the end of this article.
In the last installment of Creed: What Do You Believe? we looked closely at Ephesians 6: 12, which reads: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
I told you at the end of the article that we'd be looking at more of the specifics of the armor of God and explore the one place in which we do not battle. So, let's get started.
How'd We Get Here In The First Place?
Some of you may be wondering how a series of articles about the Nicene and Apostle's Creed has managed to migrate to articles about the armor of God. Well, I'll tell you.
The whole point of the Creeds is to focus on what we believe. When you think about it, so much of what we claim to believe in is pretty...well...unbelievable! As I have stated before, this is the very essence of faith, to believe in that which the rest of the world would raise a brow toward.
The Bible is riddled with stories "strange" enough to make us go, "hmmmm." Worlds being created in seven days, floods destroying all but eight people and a few animals, seas parting, a city crumbling after being marched around seven times, the sun standing still, a shepherd becoming king, a King becoming a Shepherd, twelve men from a tiny country called Israel turning the religious world upside down...the list goes on and on.
Then, Paul adds to the mix by talking about things unseen. About wars going on in heavenly places. And about an armor we can't see to put on, but can see the evidence of when we don't wear it.
About a struggle against wickedness we fight every single day of our lives.
Wickedness, You Say?
Wickedness? Isn't that a bit of a harsh word?
If you look at The New American Standard Bible, you will read the passage thusly:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Forces of wickedness.
An interesting word, especially in light of the fact that it's used only seven times in the entire New Testament.
In Matthew 22:18, Jesus referred to the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians as "wicked" when they came to Him with bogus questions about taxes and the paying of them to the government.
In Mark 7, Jesus has been preaching some pretty meaty stuff. When He leaves the crowd and enters a house with His disciples, they question what He'd just said. (I suppose not wanting to sound dumb in front of the others.)
And He said to them, "Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?" (Thus He declared all foods clean.) And He was saying, "That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. (NASB)
When Jesus spoke to the Pharisee of whose house He'd been invited (Luke 11:37) about the "six woes," He said, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness."
After the Gospels, poneria (Greek for wickedness) is used four more times.
Acts 3:26 (When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.)
Romans 1:29 (They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.)
1 Corinthians 5:8 (Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.)
Reading those passages, we don't even have to look up the word poneria. They become self-explanatory.
In the last passage of the New Testament where the word is used, Paul boldly and plainly states that there are spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places.
In Heavenly Places?
One of my favorite cinematic lines comes from Gone With The Wind, where Aunt Pitty Pat says, "Yankees in Georgia? How'd they ever get in?"
I'm kinda wondering the same thing about wicked spirits in heavenly places. How'd they ever get in?
This word, Epouranios, can mean the Heaven where God and the angles dwell. But, it can also mean the atmosphere. The heavens we can look up and see. While viewing the sky with its clouds and sun, its moon and stars is easy enough for us, we are unable to behold that which is taking place within it. Literally, wickedness shooting about like fallen stars.
Years ago, author Frank Peretti turned the Christian fiction publishing world on its ear when he wrote This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness, novels with "unseen" characters - both good and evil. Readers who'd never entertained the notion of the hidden evil of the world were finally able to "see it."
To get it.
Paul got it. We must get it, too.
Let me say this emphatically: if we are going to win the battle against wickedness we must first be able to see our enemy for what it really is.
That sight takes Holy Spirit discernment.
The Enemy is Here, not There
So, where don't we fight the battle?
Paul said that our struggle is not with flesh and blood.
But...but...my neighbor is constantly attacking me...my ex harasses me...my boss picks on me...my family unnerves me...everybody's talking about me...at me....etc.
Listen. It's not them. It's the power of wickedness working through and around them.
In her upcoming book, I Told That Mountain to Move (Tyndale House, 2005), Patricia Raybon says that when you pray for or about someone, you must first look for Jesus in them. Before you pray for folks, she writes, look for Jesus in them...in that way, the heart gets softened. And God must need soft hearts to hear our prayers. Surely God must need us to look at each other as he does, seeing not our flaws but seeing Jesus in us. Even in me.
Wow. I like that. I like that so much I can't think of another word to add to it.
Two simple rules I'll leave you with.
Recognize the origin of the warfare.
Recognize the One who is Greater than all that and then look for Him as you battle what you think is the painful onslaught from others. Attack the right enemy and look for Jesus in the pawn being used against you.
Award-winning national speaker, Eva Marie Everson is a recent graduate of Andersonville Theological Seminary. Her work includes
Other Articles in This Series:
Creed: Going on the Attack Against Evil Forces