“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.”
It is a truism of Christian discipleship that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. As the Scriptures emphasize, we fight against the wiles of the devil, the distorted perceptions of a fallen world, and the twisted longings of our own sinful nature. In our text today, Paul reminds us that the way we fight this battle is not the way battles are typically fought. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” We do not use swords, battle-axes, guns, or tanks. Our weapons are not carnal, but “mighty in God” for destroying the kingdom of darkness and building up the kingdom of God. So what does all this have to do with marriage?
I would like the two of you to conceive of your marriage as one of the weapons that God has given you in this war. Marriage is a powerful weapon, mighty in God, able to accomplish great good and just as able to effect great evil. The gunpowder that delights us in firework displays, that blasts a path through impenetrable rock, is the same gunpowder that slaughters the innocent victims of a suicide bomber or that maims a child who steps on an abandoned land mine. Marriage is a powerful weapon.
Earlier this week I shared the story of the end of monarchy in ancient Rome – and its end centers around a particularly bad marriage. The last king of Rome, a man named Tarquin the Proud, and his wife, Tullia the Younger, so incensed the Roman people that the Romans revolted against them and overthrew the monarchy. The causes of this revolt centered in Tarquin and Tullia’s marriage. Each had been married to the other’s sibling. But, as it turned out, the couples were tragically mismatched. While their siblings were virtuous and worthy Romans, Tarquin and Tullia were proud and conniving.
Soon Tarquin and Tullia discovered their similarity. So they killed their siblings and married one another. As if this weren’t enough, so insatiable was Tullia’s ambition, that she urged her husband to overthrow the current king of Rome – her own father. Eventually won over by her taunts, Tarquin orchestrated a coup. He deposed Tullia’s father and ordered some soldiers to murder him in the streets as he was making his way home from the palace.
Anxiously awaiting news of the coup at home, Tullia finally could bear it no longer. She ordered her carriage and made her way to the palace where she hailed her husband as the new king. But even Tarquin knew this wasn’t the time and ordered her to go back home. It so happened that her coachman followed the same route that her father had taken when he was fleeing the palace. Soon the coachman stopped. “What’s the matter?” Tullia demanded. “Your father’s body lies in the street; I cannot go around.” “Then drive on!” she commanded. And so Tullia drove her carriage over her father’s dead body.
Thus Tarquin the Proud and Tullia the Younger rose to power in Rome. But so disgusted were the Romans by their evil deeds – coupled with those of their son Sextus – that they cast them out of the city, vowing never again to permit kings to rule over them. Thus the Roman Republic was born.
You see, marriage is powerful. It makes and breaks children. It makes and breaks churches. It makes and breaks nations. It makes and breaks empires. Increasingly in our age, therefore, Christian marriage is an act of cultural warfare. What you covenant now, what you consummate tonight, is a powder keg. Will your marriage delight God’s people and destroy the kingdom of darkness, or will it maim the innocent and bring shame to God’s Name? These are the options: life and death, a blessing and a curse. Which shall your marriage be? I know that you both hunger and thirst for the former; long for your marriage to bring glory to God, joy to your friends, and stability to your (Lord willing) children. So to this end, let me leave you with three exhortations:
1. Remember what you’ve got – this thing is explosive, it is powerful – for good or for evil.
2. Because of this, exercise great care – don’t just toss it around; don’t neglect it; don’t treat it lightly.
a. Ross – cherish your wife, love her, esteem her, protect her; handle her like TNT – or you might just find out what happens when a woman explodes!
b. Taylor – honor your husband, give yourself to him; he wants you body and soul, completely; so rejoice in him and respect him with your words and your actions.
3. Plant your charges in the right place –
a. Make a home that is as electric and joyful as a firework display – that brings delight to your children, peace to others.
b. Make a home that blasts holes in the walls of Satan’s fortress – a home that is a light on a hill; that is salty and shows others the power of Christ’s resurrection.
Having heard these words. . . . Please face one another.
8 He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
For the first three Sundays in Lent, we addressed our three chief enemies as Christians: the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we are outside of Christ, these forces dominate our lives and compel us to sin; they drive us away from our Creator. So having identified each of these enemies, we have begun to highlight the way that Jesus, through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, has conquered each of them. Last week we heard John’s announcement that Jesus was manifested to take away our sins. He died and rose again to free us from the guilt and power of sin. This week John reminds us that not only did Jesus die and rise again to conquer our sinful nature, he also died and rose again to conquer the devil. Listen again to John’s words: He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
John’s words remind us that though Satan is alive on planet earth, he is far from well. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection Satan’s power over the world has been fundamentally broken. He can no longer enslave the nations as he once did. Momentary victories he may have but his ultimate defeat is sure for his power is broken.
Consider, for example, the power he once had over death. Paul writes in Hebrews 2:14-15 – Inasmuch then as the children [we] have partaken of flesh and blood, [Jesus] Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. Jesus broke Satan’s power. He did, in John’s picturesque imagery in Revelation 20, chain Satan that “he no longer deceive the nations.”
This is why, therefore, our due sense of caution in the presence of the devil and his minions must always be tempered by a robust and profound scorn of his weakness – not his weakness in relation to us but his weakness in relation to God, the God who has promised to protect us and who has entrusted all authority in heaven and on earth to the Lord Jesus Christ. He holds the keys of death and hades. So we can remind one another, when fearing the devil, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” Even as John writes in 1 John 2:14 – I have written to you, young men, because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.
So as we enter into the presence of our Lord today, let us confess that at times we have failed to fill our hearts with the fear of God in our fight against the Wicked One and have instead fallen prey to his schemes and stratagems and intimidation. And as we confess, let us kneel.
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. 13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.
As Christians, God has called us to fight against three primary enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And since we find ourselves on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, continuing to anticipate our remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, it is fitting that we look at the third member of this unholy triumvirate – the devil. Last week we considered the power of our flesh; today, the malevolence of the devil.
The devil was and is a created being, an angelic figure, who rebelled against God in the beginning. He was filled with pride and rebelled against the Good Creator, seeking to exalt himself rather than to exalt His Lawful Lord. In this rebellion other angels took part – and they are the demons whom our fathers worshiped in their idolatry. These demons often possessed hapless victims and drove them toward evil and to this day they feast on human suffering and misery. The devil is their leader and prowls about seeking whom he may devour, endeavoring to swallow us up in his own judgment.
It was against this malevolent being that our Lord Jesus waged war during His 40 days in the wilderness, an event that Lent recalls. Jesus did three things in the wilderness that we must remember.
First, Jesus fought against the devil. The Spirit drove Him into the wilderness to enter into the lists. He did not go into the wilderness for an extended vacation but to contend with the Evil One. So we are called to imitate Him in this. We too are to “resist the devil” – are to be sober and vigilant; to be on our guard like good soldiers. Why? Because, like Jesus, we are at war with the devil who would like nothing more than to destroy us.
Second, Jesus fought using the Word of God as His weapon. The Word of God was for Jesus (even as for us) the Sword of the Spirit with which He manfully attacked the perversions of the wicked one. You see only occasionally does Satan show himself in lurid displays like demon possession; more commonly he seduces us through sin, temptation, compromise, and mediocrity. He is content to destroy people from behind the scenes. And he accomplishes this chiefly by undermining the integrity of God’s Word and causing us to doubt God’s reliability and goodness. “Has God really said…?” was not only the question he posed to Eve in the garden but also the question he poses to each of us in the moment of temptation. So what is the solution? How do we fight him? By clinging tenaciously and faithfully to the Word of God even as Jesus did. In Peter’s words, we are to “Resist him, steadfast in the faith…” To Satan’s question, “Hath God really said…?” we are to reply like Jesus, “Thus it is written…”
Finally, we must never forget that Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was but the prelude to the great contest between Jesus and the devil on the cross. The wilderness anticipated the cross even as Lent paves the way for Good Friday and Easter. On the cross, Satan believed he had achieved his greatest victory; in fact, however, it was his ultimate defeat. Paul writes that Jesus has taken away “the handwriting of requirements which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers [Satan and his minions], He made a public spectacle [a laughingstock] of them, triumphing over them in [the cross]” (Col 2:14-15). Hence, though Satan remains a bitter foe, we must never forget that he is a defeated foe. Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world.
As we continue anticipating the coming arrival of Good Friday and Easter, therefore, let us (like our Lord Jesus) enter boldly into the lists and fight bravely against the wiles of the devil. And reminded of our call to fight, let us begin by confessing that far too often we have given way to our enemy. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.