spiritual war

Spiritual Warfare for Missionaries


THE TITLE.  The fact that we are in a “spiritual warfare” is revealed in verses like Ephesians 6:12, which says we are struggling against “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenlies” (that is, in the invisible spirit world).  1 Peter 2:11 tells us that there are fleshly lusts which are “at war with your soul.” There is a war on, but we do have weapons available that are above and beyond our personal capacities, for 2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us that though we are in a war,  “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly but are the power of God for breaking down strongholds.”

THE EMPHASIS. In this unseen warfare, I will emphasize today not so much the warfare against us by our spiritual enemies (making us flustered about being surrounded by Satan and demons), but rather the reality of the warfare that God carries on for us, and our function in that battle. I hope your view of God’s power will be enlarged through this topic, building up your faith in Him, for “the Son of Man has come to destroy the works of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8).

OFFENSIVE AND DEFENSIVE WARFARE. We will look into both how God defends us from spiritual attacks, and also how God empowers us to go on the offensive to combat Satan and demons.

BASIS. There is no end of books and anecdotes about Satan, angels, demons, and deliverance. I want to base today’s teaching on God’s Word, not base it on anecdotes. Using God’s Word as the basis will also help us find the balance between the extremes noted by C. S. Lewis, that people tend either to ignore Satan or to become overly obsessed with him. Our focus will be on Christ  as the Victor, for “through His death He has destroyed him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

DISCERNMENT.  I myself cannot ordinarily differentiate whether my attacks are coming from Satan, or from demons, or from my own flesh, (for, after all, they all think the same way — putting self first instead of God first), just as I cannot differentiate whether the help I am getting is directly from God or through His angels. But I feel I don’t need to know – it is enough that God knows. My role in the process is the same: to pray,  to trust, and  to obey .

PLAN. Therefore this presentation will be organized not according to types of spiritual creatures, but according to four areas of your life: personal attacks, attacks on your team, blockades in evangelism, and difficulties in discipling.


Satan would like nothing better than to see you fall into some sin that would discredit the mission. And his arsenal for bringing this about is daunting.  Satan’s avenue of attack is in your thought life. Because you are in a new culture, and apart from your usual support system, you are in a vulnerable situation. You will be assaulted by despair and fear, and temptations that could lead you into moral failure.  Your strategies to combat Satan’s wiles include:

  1. Avoid “giving a foothold  to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). The term “foothold” refers to sins in your thought life that seem small at the time, but can grow, for Scripture warns us that “one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is drawn away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin.” (James 1:14-15). The term “besetting sins” is sometimes used for those areas that just don’t seem to go away, and often these are the very ones we really don’t feel like repenting of.  Examples are greed, pride, sexual sins, and bitterness (refusing to forgive someone).  These do give a foothold to Satan and can lead to bigger problems. Our strategy is to be ruthless in repenting of these evil thoughts.
  2.  Use God’s Word to combat temptation (In Psalm 119:11 the reason the author focuses on God’s Word is so that “I might not sin against you.” ).  God’s Word is useful as an offensive weapon to resist Satan, for Ephesians 6:17 calls God’s word the “sword of the spirit.”  Reading God’s Word regularly prepares you to face the battle. Following is a practical application:
  3.  Use God’s Word against Satan. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be strong, be vigilant. Your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in the faith.” Resistance then is possible, and the resistance is to be done “in the faith.” If the verse had said “firm in faith,” that would be true, for it would mean that the resistance is based upon trust (not upon our own strength. Because the verse adds the word “the,” saying “resist firm in the faith,” it focuses our attention on  the “content” of Christianity, that is, the warnings and promises. When an evil thought comes, you have “caught Satan in the act,” and can say (whether it be to Satan or to your sinful flesh) “get away from me, because God’s word says … “(here you add the law or promise that counters the temptation, just like Jesus did in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-14)).  For example, when we are tempted to sin, it is God’s law that reveals our sinfulness, so that we repent and turn to God. Then the Spirit will lead us to say, like Joseph did, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God” (Genesis 39:10).
  4.  Cling to promises. Your baptism includes promises that help you combat temptation. That is the point of Romans chapter 6, where in verse 11 Paul says “in the same way, (that is, because we are united with Christ by baptism) count yourselves as dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” The phrase “count yourself” means that even though we do feel the allure of the temptation, we can regard ourselves in Christ as being as unresponsive to temptations as a corpse would be.  As we become more familiar with God’s promises, the Holy Spirit can bring to mind the exact weapon we need for the situation. For example in fighting discouragement, we can say,  “get away from me, Satan, for God has promised that He will help me with a way to endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13.) The value of knowing the promises provides a further motivation to spend time in God’s Word each day.
  5.  Pray for discernment. Don’t blame Satan for the wrong thing. It’s not a physical event (like a flat tire), that represents Satan’s attack, but your inner thoughts about the event. We often have a double problem: the problem itself, and then our worries about the problem. Overcome the worries first, and then you can see clearly to deal with the problem. Example: Culture shock is not an attack from Satan: it is a normal part of cultural adjustment. But Satan could tempt you by getting you to worry about your culture shock, and that would be a spiritual temptation to resist with God’s help.


SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Read about temptation in 1 Corinthians 10:1-14, looking for:  spiritual problems, God’s power, and our role.


  1. A  mission can fail due to team conflict, and people can end up coming home prematurely because of disagreements within a team.  Unity is so hard to maintain that Jesus took time to pray for us to have unity. (John 17:20-21). Since you know Satan will try to destroy your unity, you can pre-empt his attack. Here are three strategies:

1.Strengthen the body. Make it a point to form a strong fellowship with your fellow missionaries. Make it a priority to come together regularly for worship, Bible study, prayer, and sharing.

  1. Forgiveness. Don’t be surprised when conflicts flare up – again, look at it as “catching Satan in the act.” Being quick to forgive has spiritual power, for “love covers a multitude of sin.” (1 Peter 4:8)
  2. Identify the real enemy. Since Ephesians 6:12 tells us “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces or wickedness,” therefore we know that the human being who is in contention with us is not the enemy. It is Satan who is the enemy. The human is our brother.

You may have experienced mental blockades when trying to think of what to say in witnessing: even Paul realized he needed spiritual power for this because he asked for prayer that he could proclaim the message clearly. (Col.  4:2-4). We pray then not only for our own witnessing, but for one another’s


  1. There are spiritual blockades keeping the person from coming for faith,  for  “Satan has blinded the eyes of the unbelievers;” (2 Corinthians 4:4). We pray then against Satan and to pray for those eyes to be opened.
  2. Since “no one can say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 12:3), we pray for the Holy Spirit to fall upon the listener even while we are talking. (Acts 10:44).  Prayer for salvation is according to God’s will, for God “would all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim. 2:4.)
  3. Paul’s preaching was hampered in Acts 13 by “a certain magician.” In the world today, there are also people who perform unexplainable actions, such as non-medical healings or providing messages from the dead, which give them credibility and thus compete with the gospel message. They may even insist that their power is divine. Deuteronomy 13:1-3 however tells us that even if a sign or wonder comes true, we are not to accept the person if he then invites us to follow other gods.
  4. We may not know, in a given instance, whether a mysterious occurrence is due to an evil spirit, or due to a natural explanation that science does not yet understand.  Fortunately, there are certain activities God tells us not to do, so even if a particular occurrence is not demonic, the person is still disobeying God and that gives Satan a handle and leads to undesirable consequences. In Deuteronomy 18:10-11, God tells us specifically not to engage in divination, witchcraft, interpretation of omens , sorcery, casting spells, being a  spiritist, or calling up the dead.  We call upon God to protect us from persons who do these things. We still present them with the salvation message, because “the gospel is the power.” We proceed in faith that after they hear and believe the gospel, they will eventually stop their occult acts.


  1. Problems of social rejection by family and friends, and  conflict with former beliefs, require you to spend a lot of time and effort to support the new believer. Continue to remind them of God’s promises, for Satan will put up a fight in the person’s thought life with assaults of doubt and fear.
  2.  There are additional spiritual reasons why a new Christian in a non-Christian culture will have difficulties, for Paul tells us that those who worship idols are worshipping demons (1 Corinthians 10:20) and that there are false teachings that  are “doctrines of demons.” (1 Timothy 1:1-4). Satan certainly will not want to lose someone from his domain without putting up a fight.
  3. In the face of these spiritual assaults, Paul relied on prayer. Paul prayed for spiritual power to come into play in the lives of the new Christians that had come to faith due to his work. For example, in Ephesians 1:18 he prayed that the eyes of their hearts be enlightened. Similar prayers are in Ephesians 3 and Colossians 1. If Paul’s converts needed prayer for spiritual power to grow in Christ, how much more ought we to be praying for new Christians.
  4. If you suspect a demonic problem, do not be afraid, for those who believe “will cast out demons.” (Mark 16:17).   Don’t be too quick to conclude that it is a demon, for the symptoms may have a medical explanation or may be due to our sinful nature. In Mark 1:32-33, Jesus took care of those who were diseased and those who were demon possessed. He knew the difference. I must not assume that I do.
  5. Prayer is always in order. Pray in a way that leaves it in Jesus’ hands how to deal with the problem. Do not leave the person with the impression that because of your prayer they no longer need to seek additional help. Do not give them the impression that if they go on to seek care from a doctor or counselor that they are showing they do not have faith.
  6. Dealing with a suspected demonic problem is best done as a team effort. Pray for protection; pray for discernment. Note the two aspects in James 4:7: “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” The person needing help would confess sins, to remove the “ground” for demonic access, and confess truths, such as that Jesus is the Lord and that Jesus has defeated Satan. Resisting Satan is modeled by Paul’s words to the “spirit of divination” in Acts 16:18: “I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her.” And it came out at that very moment. We are used to doing this as part of the baptism ritual, when we ask “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?”

SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION: Read about evangelism in 1 Corinthians 1, verse 18, verses 20-27, and chapter 2 verses 1-4,  looking for: spiritual problems, God’s power, and our role.
© Jim Found 2009    Jude 24-25

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