Staying Close – Part 1 (Eph. 6:10-12)

William Golding, in his famous book, Lord of the Flies, tells the story of a bunch of rather proper English lads marooned on a deserted island. In the course of events and in the struggle for survival, the true characters of these proper English boys come to the foreground.

Elemental to the story is the struggle between Ralph, the representative of decency and civilization, and Jack, in whom the spark of wilderness burns hot and close to the surface and who is the leader of the boys who thrive on anarchy and fear.

And of course, there is Piggy, the fat little boy whose sensitivity and common sense mark him as the resident intellectual of the group. And of course, he becomes the target of Jack’s bullying. At first, only his glasses are shattered, leaving him rather handicapped, being so short-sighted. But, in the end, he is killed by Roger, a decidedly mean boy, who topples a boulder on his head. As they are about to kill Ralph as well, they are rescued by a passing ship.

The theme of William Golding’s book, Lord of the Flies, is evil. He has created a picture of evil in society that takes on frightful force by being presented in juvenile terms.

In recent years, many great novelists have put to pen their insights into the human condition with more thought to the origins of evil in society.  We have seen in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, what men can do to each other. We see the human trafficking, the wars and genocide, the discrimination and abuse, the violence, and cold-hearted disregard for human life.  We looked into the face of evil and man blinked, confounded, and frustrated that such evil exists in the heart of man. And here, we, as Christians, can only agree for the Bible lays the misery and evil of the world at the feet of a rebellious and fallen, human race.

The title, Lord of the Flies, is a translation of the Hebrew word “Baal-zebub.” Baal was one of the two major gods of the Philistines whom we read about in the Old Testament. Their other god was “Dagon.” Israel was often warned not to become followers of Dagon and bowel but even so, by the time of King Ahab and the Prophet Elijah, Baal and Yahweh were so mixed together that many of the people thought they were the same God.

But not Elijah. Remember how he called Israel back to the true worship of Yahweh and how on Mount Carmel he constructed an altar and soaked it with water and call down fire from heaven to prove to the people that Yahweh and Baal were not the same.

That Baal god was often called “Baal-zebul” with an “l” at the end, meaning “exalted Baal” or “Baal the prince.” It was a title of honor and worship. But at the time of Elijah, the followers of Yahweh changed the last “l” to a ”b” so that the name now meant not “Baal the prince” but “lord of the flies.” It was a way to ridicule the Philistines and their God “Baal.”

Don’t forget that Baal was supposed to be the god of fertility and rain.  In other words, he was supposed to be the god of life.  That is why, to some degree, the Israelites confused Yahweh, the Creator, with Baal, the god of fertility and life.  By changing his name to the “lord of the flies” (a clear reference to the flies that swarm a dead body), Elijah and his followers were saying that Baal was not the god of life but of death.

Over the years the name “Baal-zebub,” Lord of the Flies, came to be used with reference to the devil. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to Satan as “Beelzebub” now with two e’s rather than two “a’s” because this is the Greek form. The Pharisees said of Jesus, “it is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” and Jesus rebuked them for their faulty logic as well as their stubborn unbelief.

The Lord of the Flies is a good name for the devil. He flaunts himself as worthy of followers and thinks that he ought to be worshipped as a god who gives life, who gives abundant harvest, who gives happiness, but he is devoted only to decay, destruction, demoralization, hysteria, and panic. He is a bully at heart and rules by fear and deception. In William Golding’s book, Jack is the Lord of the Flies. Jack, as you remember, is the bully.

The interesting thing about the author of the book, Mr. Golding, is that he does admit to a dark side to human nature but will not fall back into medieval ideas about a real devil. Here we part ways with him for we do believe in a real Lord of the Flies, or do we?

As we read these first couple of verses in our text are we not just a little annoyed at how unrealistic these words are? Do we as Christians live every day with the constant awareness that we are in spiritual warfare and that we have a personal, devilish enemy dedicated to our downfall? I think not, for many of us. We wouldn’t deny that there is a devil. We just don’t think he’ll bother us very much. Perhaps a temptation or two, but nothing serious.

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter surrounded by guards. He was in the capital of the greatest war machine of his age – Rome. He had every reason to think of Rome as the enemy, but Paul sees beyond the sin and injustice of the Roman penal system to the true enemy behind the scenes. The great manipulator was at work. Paul does not write political peripheral against the Roman authorities, and he does not call on his followers to fall on the Roman guards to set him free. Paul knew who his enemy was.

In his other letters, he encourages us to fight against our “old man” and to “remain pure from the stains of the world” but here, he speaks of the dark one who manipulates our weaknesses and who organizes the worldly influences around us in his fight against God and his people. It is not just the sin in us and in the world that we must fight but the sin in us and in the world manipulated and organized by a cunning and subtle being. We have a personal, real enemy dedicated to our downfall.

But God reminds us that he is a defeated enemy and that all of his schemes can be turned aside if we use the armor God has provided.

That does not make it easy, in fact, it’s downright difficult. You see, Satan is a real handicap to God. He can really cause trouble. It isn’t that God could not easily destroy him and all of his strongholds in the governments on earth and in the mass media and in the thoughts and loyalties of men. God could easily wipe away every trace of his evil and throw him into the Lake of Fire so that he would not trouble his people again.

But to do that would be the final judgment and clean-up which will happen when Christ returns. God has won the war, of that there is no doubt, but many battles and skirmishes yet need to be engaged in and the casualties can still be high. Satan is dangerous and let’s never forget it.

God has limited his power so that he cannot destroy our salvation. But he can sabotage our efforts to bring up our kids “in the fear and knowledge of the Lord.”

He can make us depressed and lonely Christians, weak and defeated and useless.

He can make sure that our best friend never comes to church because she doesn’t see much in our life that shows her that Christianity is anything more than an old-fashioned social custom.

Satan’s power is real even if it is limited.

But to fight properly, in God’s way, we must know a little more about this enemy. Verse 11 of our text identifies him as the devil. “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

And verse 12 makes it clear that this is no ordinary flesh-and-blood adversary. “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.” It is precisely because of this unique character of our enemy that it is of the utmost importance that we know all we can about him.

I would like to emphasize three things about this enemy of God and his people. First of all, we must know that we have an enemy. Second, that this enemy is a spiritual being, and thirdly, that he is a deceptive being.

To say that a Christian must know that he has an enemy seems too basic and many of us may be wondering why I mentioned it at all. Paul himself simply assumed this to be the case. But I submit to you today that one of the main reasons that the devil has been advancing in his campaigns against the church is that too many Christians don’t realize or don’t care that they are in a war and that they have an enemy that they must fight. Ignorance of the facts supports the devil’s cause.

There are so many people in our churches today that are uncertain about their faith, that find no vitality and life in their relationship with God, that have very little meaning in their life beyond the desire to make something of themselves in their jobs or their families. It is no accident that many in the church have fallen away. It is no accident that many find Church boring. It is no surprise to those who see life with the eyeglasses of scripture, that many Christians place enormous value on a normal middle-class lifestyle. There is a devilish mind behind much that happens in our age. And we are naive indeed to think that it is not so.

So many of us are weak and we give in to temptation quickly. Some of us know that we are deliberately holding back on God. Some of us are at our wit’s end to know how to revitalize our life and relationship with God. We are under attack, and we have strayed from the source of our strength. God’s word of encouragement to us is – BE STRONG. But in order to be strong, we must first of all realize that we are in a fight.

But ignorance of the true state of affairs as the Bible sees them isn’t the only reason the Lord of the Flies is so effective today. There is also the problem of denial.

It is well documented that in moments of crisis, there is a tendency in humans to deny the reality of the danger. Many movies and novels are based on this human weakness and the question always is, will they come to their senses on time?

We cannot wish it away. The word of God states very clearly that we are involved in a battle whether we like it or not. Many of us are unprepared and undisciplined and this is incredibly beneficial to Satan’s attempts to neutralize the power of the church.

But of the three, ignorance, denial, and indifference, it is surely indifference that is Satan’s greatest ally. Many of us are vulnerable to attack simply because we are lazy or inattentive to the basic weapons of the Christian battle.

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Screwtape Letters, has the devil briefing his nephew Wormwood, on the techniques of tempting men. From the very outset, one can see that Lewis holds the Prince of Darkness in healthy respect. He knows that Satan is neither stupid nor clumsy. “It is not the devil’s aim that good men should do evil,” C.S. Lewis says, “but simply that they should do nothing at all.” His great ally is not wickedness but indifference.

“The important thing,” the devil instructs his nephew, “is to keep your patient comfortable. Let nothing upset or disturb him. If he becomes the least bit concerned about anything vitally important, then get him thinking about what he plans to eat for lunch, warned him not to do anything that might upset his digestion or disturb his well-being. I the devil will always see to it that there are bad men. Your job, my dear Wormwood, is to provide me with men who do not care.”

But we are not all indifferent. Some of us do recognize a devilish mind behind our temptations and spiritual depression. Some of us want to fight but feel helpless because of all this spiritual talk. It’s so hard to pin down sometimes. We want something concrete to fight against. Spiritual enemies don’t seem real.

This leads us to the second thing we must know about our enemy. He is a spiritual being. This truth is seen in the very name Paul gives him, the devil, the slanderer, the Accuser. He has a long history of interference in the plans of God. He is the number one hater of God and seeks to destroy whatever God has made. He is a corrupted Angel, falling through Pride from his high position. He is of another order, another dimension so to speak, for he is a spiritual being.

And yet, if a stranger would walk in off the street and hear what I just said, he would think I was crazy. For the world, there is no spiritual dimension to life. The only reality is the one we can see and feel and touch and the scientists can discuss with their instruments.

But we say, by faith, there is more. There is a spirit world. There are such beings as Angels and Demons. There is more going on between Heaven and Earth than scientists can detect. The devil the lights in the fact that the world does not believe in him or in God because it leaves them wide open to his influence.

Many years ago, there was a convention at which it was decided that there was no personal devil. One of the colonists in a New York newspaper wrote, “So they voted the devil out, and of course, the devil is gone. But some people would like to know, who carries his business on.”

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that spiritual things are somehow not quite real. Remember this, the devil is just as real as we are, but he is also different and so must be fought in a different way.

“I’m convinced,” you say. “I have an enemy and I can’t see him or fight him like a flesh-and-blood enemy because he is a spiritual being. How will he attack us? What kinds of weapons does he use? What do we have to look out for?”

To answer this, we must know that our enemy is a deceptive being. Verse 11 tells us that “we must stand against the wiles of the schemes of the devil.” These words imply a subtle, deceptive manner of attack. Jesus said of him, that he is the father of lies. He seeks to deceive us as he deceived Adam and Eve in the garden.

Isn’t it strange that when the Bible talks about demons and such that it uses such common, everyday language?

So, the devil is deceptive, who cares? What really scares us is the hint we get from news reports and the like, that talk of demon worship, skinned cats, inverted crosses, and even the rumors of a human sacrifice once in a while. We’re not sure whether we should even take these reports seriously, but they do sound a lot more like demonic activity than this business about deception.

But then again, the Deceiver is good at deception, even deception about deception.  He uses whatever he can to get the job done. For many years Satan has gotten a lot accomplished by convincing people that he didn’t even exist. But in recent years, people have once again turned a questioning eye to the Eastern religions and strange sects. Once again Satan is more than happy to accommodate them.

Most people simply don’t realize that Satan has them trapped in a dead-end religious sect. But some people actually enjoy the bizarre and perverse practices of the occult. They are enthralled at first by something that turns most people off and they are thrilled that they belong to a secret society that would frighten their friends to death. But little do they realize that what they thought was at first harmless and bizarre, traps them in a world of strange rituals and even stranger beliefs. Once again, the deceiver has one. The manipulator has gained another soul who worships him with the fear that he craves.

I suppose that kind of demonic activity would make us more serious about the spiritual battle we are in. But that is the very reason why Satan does not normally confront us in that manner. He is nobody’s fool. If he were to confront us with signs of his terror and power, we would only sink to our knees in horror and cry out to God for help. Which is the first step in using our Spiritual armor and releasing the power of God against the forces of Darkness. “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world,” Jesus reminds us.

No, Satan is no fool. He will take the soft approach. He promises not to bother you if you do not bother him. Out of sight, out of mind, in a sense. After all, if he can neutralize the power of the church, then the church will indirectly be won over slowly but surely. He doesn’t care if we are basically good people, he wants to make sure that we are not warriors for Christ and able to penetrate his strongholds and destroy plans that he has been working on for years. And we can do it. He knows that we can do it, we can cause serious damage to his plans if we learn to use the armor of God.  What is the saying?  “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.”  No, he would rather neutralize us by using a soft approach.

Perhaps the greatest deception, the greatest soft approach, that he has been able to use effectively against Christians, is the idea that we can go it alone. That we can coast along without a close relationship to our Lord, not worrying much about obedience unless it’s something big, getting used to dry devotions and meaningless prayers, that somehow, we can get along well enough without the armor of a close relationship to God. If we are in a spiritual battle, then our spiritual disciplines are absolutely necessary. Yet for many of us, the spiritual disciplines are foreign. And then we wonder why we fall again and again into temptation and spiritual depression. As the old saying goes, “if you feel far from God, guess who moved?”

We can do nothing apart from a personal and disciplined relationship with our Lord. We should sacrifice everything, go to any lengths, and protect with all our energy and resources our relationship with our Lord. Allow no sin to compromise you. Allow no interference with your prayers. Allow no other desire to take hold of you than the desire to please God in everything you do, for you are in the midst of a spiritual struggle. This is no tea party; this is no part-time war.

We ought to have a little more anger in our Christian lives at the Devil who seems to have his way with us too easily. We ought to be angry that he can get away with what he does in our lives as if we were a bunch of pushovers.

If we are in fact in a battle, our spiritual disciplines, and our ability to fight should take priority over everything else – jobs, school, family.  We can’t go it alone, we need to be close to the source of strength. We need the armor of God.

If you find this topic a bit overwhelming and a bit depressing, I’m sorry. But a dose of realism is necessary every once in a while. There is no cause for depression or fear if you use the armor of God. The devil is dangerous, but he is defeated. We have been given the victory but only through Jesus Christ the armor of God.

I invite you to become Warriors for the cause of Christ. We have the power of God at our disposal. “He who is within you is greater than he who is within the world.” But it must be used.  This is the central issue of the Christian life.

This evening we will talk some more about the armor of God and what it’s all about. For now, it is of the utmost importance that we all recognize that spiritual warfare is part and parcel of all our lives and that victory in Jesus begins with the recognition that we have let the devil neutralize the power of God in our lives for much too long now.