THE INEVITABLE WARFARE AND ASSURED VICTORY OF THE FAITHFUL SERVANT OF JESUS CHRIST
Larry Dean is pastor of Bridgetown Baptist Church of Nesbit, Mississippi, a conference speaker and Secretary of the SGBF.
Daniel Chamberlin has served as pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, Broken Arrow, OK, for 29 years. He previously served as a missionary in Mexico.
1. Should the minister of the Word anticipate and prepare for oppression and demonic opposition while in the pulpit?
A. Larry Dean: The short answer, of course, is ‘yes.’ There are two powerful tools (weapons?) that the Holy Spirit uses to damage and destroy the works of the devil and the strongholds of the Kingdom of Darkness, the Written Word and the Proclamation of the Written Word. Both of these are used by the true minister of the Word of God. So the devils success revolves around hindering what he does.
For a picture one need only remember Paul’s accusation and description of Elymus the Sorcerer when the man opposed the gospel on the island of Cyprus as Paul and Barnabus were speaking it to Sergius Paulus, the deputy of the country, “O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10) We ask ourselves, “would Paul not also consider the devil as an enemy of all righteousness?” And, of course, we would agree that he would.
If, then, that is so, the minister of the Word would be both foolish and derelict to think that there would be no demonic opposition to his labors from the pulpit. He should anticipate and prepare for attacks on his own person, on the minds and souls of the faithful who are in the audience as well as the minds and souls of the faithless who are present whether they be open unbelievers or false believers.
And, he must always remember that the devil is the original terrorist and he will use literally any means at his disposal to undermine the Word as it is preached.
So, the minister should prepare himself by his personal devotions (more on that later) as well as prayers for the service and for those who will be in attendance. There must be a discipline which precedes any such meeting regardless of what time of the week and how many are or are not in attendance. The devil hates the Word of God.
As a particular, the minister must have and well developed ability to evaluate himself and seek remedy for his own flaws. Any sin or hypocrisy, especially as he steps to the pulpit and opens God’s Word, is a potential opportunity for Satan to use to overthrow the well intentioned efforts to effectively declare Truth. The implications and ramifications of failure are vast.
A. Daniel Chamberlin: The challenge with this question is its specificity. Men whose preaching has caused the devil more trouble than has mine might give a more insightful answer. Scripture clearly tells us of fallen angels led by Satan. He is our great adversary. He opposes God, His truth, and His people. He is wily. He tempts, slanders, deceives, and seeks to sift as wheat and to devour.
Searching the Scripture, we see that the apostles and the seventy received power from Christ to cast out unclean spirits (Lk. 9:1; 10:17). But in neither instance do we read of any special preparation for that aspect of their work. Mark 16:17 indicates that this gift would continue throughout the apostolic time. Thus, in the Acts of the Apostles we see Peter (5:16), Philip (8:7), and Paul (16:16-18; 19:12) exercising that gift. But again, there is no insight as to if or how the apostles, and those on whom they conferred this extraordinary gift, anticipated and prepared for the exercise of it. In the Pastoral Epistles, where we would expect to find insight on this question, we find only scant references to the demonic. The ministerial novice is in danger of falling into both the condemnation of the devil and the devil’s snare (1 Tim. 3:6-7). Fallen angels are at work today, inasmuch as we live in the latter times. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1). However, the apostle does not instruct Timothy as to any particular anticipation or preparation for demonic opposition while in the pulpit.
The absence of explicit biblical instruction on this matter is an example of how God’s Word often addresses subjects in an implicit way. The biblical emphasis is to pray for and anticipate an encounter with the Holy Spirit while in the pulpit. (See, for example, Acts 4:29; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 1 Peter 1:12.)
I believe the best defense is a good offense. If we would be free from demonic oppression, we must cultivate a sense of the presence of God, and sue Him for it, both in and out of the pulpit. When God accompanies His Word, it is sure to be effectual. But there is no lonelier place on earth than the pulpit when God is not there. Should we expect God to meet us in the pulpit if we have not met with Him during the week?
As the gospel minister faithfully carries out his own personal discipline of daily reading, meditating, and praying, and as he prepares for his public duties, he is, perhaps unwittingly, preparing to face the powers of darkness that may meet him in the pulpit.
2. What are some ways in which a pastor may be attacked spiritually in the course of his duties? By what means is victory achieved, so that a true man of God becomes unstoppable?
A. Daniel Chamberlin: Most of Satan’s attacks against men in the ministry are the same as those against believers generally. We need the same grace of God on both sides of the pulpit. But because the work of the ministry is so crucial to the health of the whole assembly, the minister may be attacked more relentlessly and viciously.
Physical sickness may lead to some measure of spiritual struggle. This was part of Satan’s assault against Job. Even in good health, a man with a shepherd’s heart may overwork himself and burn out, neglecting necessary rest and recreation. He must discipline his time. Our Lord admonished His disciples to come to a quiet place and rest for a while (Mark 6:31). A few days away from stressful routines, spent with family and some good books, is not wasted time for a pastor. It is medicine for his weary soul. Some find a fishing pole or backpack helpful!
As for more direct spiritual attacks, Inspiration seems to assume that we are already familiar with the devices, or thoughts and purposes, of Satan (2 Cor. 2:11). We are in mortal combat against him and must put on the armor of God so as to withstand him. We are to be sober and vigilant. We must not give place to the devil, allowing him a foothold. We must not give him an advantage. Twice we are commanded to resist him (Eph. 6:10-20; 4:27; 2 Cor. 2:11; Jas. 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8-9).
Surely no assault is more devilish than pride. It is ever-present and wears many masks. It figures into every attack, whether it be discontentment, discouragement, jealousy, impatience, anger, fear, lust, etc. The weapon that slays this giant is, of course, self-denying humility. We must see ourselves as God sees us, nothing more and nothing less.
One of Satan’s favorite tools is discouragement, often from lack of visible fruit. We must labor our best and leave the result with God. His promised harvest time will come. What if we die before harvest season? We will be happy to have had the privilege to sow and water.
The ministerial life is lonely in many respects. We must cultivate more of a sense of living with God. No person can substitute for God. However, the companionship of a discerning, understanding, and supportive wife is priceless. Furthermore, a trusted fellowminister can be a source of needed encouragement. Thank God for telephones! There is benefit in attending meetings and conferences, where you can visit with others who bear burdens like yours. However, retreating into social media is counter-productive and easily becomes a poor stewardship of time, not to mention an open door to all manner of temptation.
Sometimes we are assaulted with feelings of inadequacy. “The Lord should have called someone else!” Woe to the self-confident man who thinks he is up to the task! Our sufficiency is of God, not of ourselves (2 Cor. 3:5). We must keep drawing strength from above. Never forget that it is an unspeakable privilege to labor for the Lord in the pastoral ministry. Serving such a good God and Savior is its own reward.
Certainly, reading biographies and church history tends to encourage us in our labors. All who have gone before us have faced difficulties. Ours pale in comparison to theirs. Perhaps we will get to shine their shoes in heaven! The same God who led the heroes of the past is leading us today. This should cause us to take heart. Need I recommend Spurgeon’s sermons, so warm and gracious, as a spiritual tonic?
We are attacked by the fear of man. We want man’s approval; we want to appear successful by man’s standard; we love our reputation in the world. So we become man-pleasers rather than God-pleasers. We must keep reorienting our heart to desire God’s approval more than anything else. The fear of God delivers us from the fear of man.
We are attacked by the fear of the future, all unknown to us. But we must live and walk by faith. It is high time we got some good out of our theology. The sovereign God of the universe is our heavenly Father in Christ, who loves us and is working all things together for our good. There is much that we do not understand, and much He does not presently explain to us. Be comforted by the words of our Lord to Peter in John 13:7, “What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.”
Satan may attack ministers by church members who become his tools. We may be misunderstood. Our motives may be questioned. We may be the object of insult and slander. If we react with bitterness, we only add sin to sin. Remember that the One we call our Master suffered all manner of injury, false accusation, namecalling, and bodily suffering. If He loved the church and gave Himself for it, ought not we? We must be Christ-like and love the unlovely. If we are unforgiving, we give Satan an advantage (2 Cor. 2:10-11).
The attacks we face gain enormous strength when we are negligent in our devotional life. If we do not keep our hearts fanned into flame, they grow cold. Then we become detached professionals, not hearty participants in the things of God. We must fight constantly against spiritual lethargy and maintain a God-fearing drive in our work. Perhaps the best thing we can do to thwart spiritual attacks is to preach the gospel to ourselves every day, renewing our own repentance and faith.
It is noteworthy that both Paul and Peter emphasize the importance of faith in connection with spiritual warfare. “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph. 6:16). “Whom resist steadfast in the faith (1 Pet. 5:9).” Confidence in God and His promises is vital to victory. Faith extinguishes evil fires and ignites holy ones.
Larry Dean: I will answer these as ‘A’ and ‘B.’
A. Some ways in which a pastor may be attacked’ would require a book thicker than Gurnall’s ‘The Christian in Complete Armor’ (which, by the way, is an excellent resource for anyone studying these issues).
Even to list the general categories is a severe challenge for the space allotted here, but let me attempt to name a few. First and far away the preeminent one is the continual attack upon the man’s own walk with God. Any disruption here grieves the Holy Spirit and weakens a man’s usefulness as a spokesman for Christ. Within this category were could list Presumption, Arrogance and Pride as some of the more dangerous. But, any uncleanness in the man in the pulpit which is unrectified by Repentance is a useful tool for the devil to use against him and attack him. So, the enemy works to pollute the man in any way available to him. Unrepented sin is an open invitation.
Temptations to be lazy, to not be diligent, to be fearful of declaring the Truth plainly, to waste time on unprofitable things, to be over or under balanced in theology, to be overly concerned about the approval of men and a thousand other things are hurled at the man seeking to prepare to preach and then to actually proclaim the Word of God.
Then, there are always the moral issues about which we sadly hear so much as men once thought to be earnest and sound are overthrown by their lusts. The devil knows that impurity will ruin a spiritual leader, destroy his family, do grave injury to the church and dishonor the Gospel of the Lord Jesus so he is willing to invest a great deal of effort in seeking to pull the minister into this pit.
B. How is victory achieved, by what means, so that a true man of God becomes unstoppable?
The short answer is, “the same way all other Christians achieve victory.” The minister is not running on a separate track or living in a different spiritual world than his people. What is necessary for one is necessary for all and what achieves victory for the man in the pew will achieve the same for the man in the pulpit. But, of course, our world is filled with ideas and opinions about what causes that to happen, is it not? Therefore, I am going to lean on some older resources.
The pastor, or minister, like every Christian is to do the hard work of truly walking with God. His call to the ministry gives him no ‘leg up’ on the process nor does it become easy for him. The ‘abiding’ about which the Lord Jesus spoke is to be a close, interactive communion, not merely a set of religious disciplines. He must actually have and sustain a relationship with God.
He must begin his day, every day, renewing his devotion and commitment to the Father by Hallowing His Name, consciously and profoundly adoring the Living God in His Glorious Person. He must re-commit himself to His Glorious Father’s Kingdom and the Kingdom Work to which he has been called (“Thy Kingdom come”) and he must renew his purpose to the Revealed Will of God. “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.” (Ps 27:8) Then, just as the ancient Israelites in the Sinai desert had to arise each morning and gather the manna, he must seek and find his spiritual enablement and provision for the day (“my daily bread”). He must petition for repentance and forgiveness while at the same time releasing those who have sinned against him from their debt. Then, he must put out his hand, as a conscious act, for the leadership of God, (“lead me”). Finally, he must face the reality that he has an enemy who is already awake and making plans. He must also recognize that he has no resources except those which the Lord might enable and entrust to him. These alone will prevent his spiritual defeat that day.
This consideration of the reality of the spiritual war at large and the battle that this day is going to be calls the man of God to deliberately and consciously embrace the spiritual equipment which Paul detailed in Eph 6:11-20. As carefully as any soldier ever bound on his physical armor the minister must ‘put on,’ bind to himself, Salvation, Righteousness (including his commitment to personal holiness), Truth (which also implies integrity), the Pure Gospel, Faith (his full confidence in God) and then the Word of God as his only weapon in the battle.
Then, this thought of the Word of God should send him to his Bible for a time of personal devotion.
If one fails in the battle for any day it will be because he has failed to consider one or more of these principles properly or has let go of it. This is the same preparation every Christian should make for every day. And..... there are no shortcuts.
3. What are some ways a pastor should prepare those under his ministry for their own conflict with the forces of darkness?
A. Larry Dean: Paul said to the Corinthians, people whom he had trained, “we are not ignorant of his devices.” (2 Cor. 2:11) and some in our day seem to think that every child of God is born fully informed because of those words. But ignorance of “his devices” is, in my opinion, both widespread and profound. People need to be taught what the devices of the devil are so that they can at least recognize them when they see them and the man of God must take the education of the people of God as his task, for it is.
He must also teach the methodology of scripture for preparing one’s self for the battle of each day. The ministers must master the teachings of scripture on this matter not only for his own benefit and for the success of the public ministry but also for the personal counsel needed by his people who will most assuredly be set upon by the wicked one.
Then, he must take the opportunities presented in personal counseling to reinforce these principles. It is difficult to get over that hurdle of actually saying to someone, “this may be a spiritual attack of the evil one,” but it is even more challenging then to answer the question, “so what do I do?”
People need to be taught clearly and often of the means by which a believer may access the help of God. This, too, is a learning curve and much enduring patience is needed to guide people to the place where they can lay hold of Divine Remedies for the attacks they will face.
The pastor must pray earnestly for the spiritual survival and growth of those souls under his care. He must frequently call their names before the Father and speak with Him in detail concerning the spiritual challenges of their lives. If he doesn’t who will? If it is not his task, whose, pray tell, is it?
It goes without saying that the man of God must be a personal living example of the things he is teaching. Of what benefit are teachings on how to deal with devilish attacks if the man standing before the congregation is obviously losing the battle. It is just as devastating if he is losing the battle secretly. As I said earlier, the minister to the people must himself be actually, in reality and in truth, walking with, in communion with, the Living God.
Finally, I would say this. All of these principles work best when struggling souls believe they have a real and tender friend in the person of their pastor. No one can effectively help a person who does not have enough trust to share his struggle.
It is my sincere prayer that something I have said here is used of God to bless the reader.
A. Daniel Chamberlin: As I explained in Question 1, the biblical approach is more oblique and indirect. As the child of God grows in his understanding of the truth and in his experiential walk with Christ, he is increasingly equipped for spiritual warfare. By God’s design, the pulpit plays a significant role in this process. That said, we must preach the whole counsel of God. It is the job of the shepherd to serve up a steady, balanced, biblical diet. It is the job of the sheep to come to the feeding.
We must preach doctrine. Without a solid doctrinal foundation, we cannot expect a stable experience. We must also preach practically. Without a practical application, the truth is merely cerebral and theoretical. The New Testament Epistles demonstrate this balance between the indicative and the imperative, that is, what we are to believe and how we are to live. If we are setting forth these things in the proportion that the Bible does, we are preparing God’s people for their own conflict with the forces of darkness. We need heavenly wisdom to know when to afflict the comfortable, and when to comfort the afflicted. Both have their place in the Christian ministry.
We must encourage our people to maintain a healthy devotional life at home, in their own closet, and with their family. They must learn to use God’s Word skillfully. Also, promote the reading of good books. Beyond the Holy Bible, they could read nothing better than Pilgrim’s Progress. (The battle with Apollyon is especially relevant to the present discussion.) Every believer must become proficient in encouraging himself in the LORD his God, as did David (1 Sam. 30:6). These basic skills will help them mature and fight the good fight of faith. Thus, they will be able to edify and admonish one another (Rom. 15:14).
We should not overlook the power of example. How will our people be victorious in their spiritual warfare if they see their pastor afraid, floundering, and defeated? We must keep careful watch over our own soul and be soldierly models of steadfastness, self-discipline, courage, and cheerfulness. Let us, by God’s enabling grace, show our church how to walk with Christ, even if we plod ever so slowly. Admit your weaknesses and confess your mistakes. Be transparent. Be accessible.
Finally (but first in importance), we must remember the power of prayer. Our spiritual battles are fought and won on our knees. The ministry of intercession is easy to neglect because only you and God know about it. Like Epaphras, labor fervently in prayer for your people (Col. 4:12). Encourage them to pray for each other. We will not know until we get to heaven how much our arrival there was in answer to our intercessory prayers for one another.