Spiritual warfare is a reality that ministry leaders can't ignore.
Genesis 3:15 tells us that, as one component of His judgment on the serpent in the Garden of Eden, God put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. That is to say, we have spiritual conflict in our lives because God put it into the story. In what ways, then, does a sovereign God use spiritual warfare?
1.It led to the cross. This enmity hit its peak on Calvary, where the demons surely thought they had won. Not so, though—for God had from eternity planned to disarm the powers through the death of His Son (Col. 2:15).
2.To keep us humble. Paul learned this truth when God allowed the enemy to attack him through an intense "thorn in the flesh." Whatever the thorn was, it weakened Paul—and God refused to remove it (2 Cor. 12:7-10). In his ongoing spiritual struggle, Paul learned to avoid conceit.
3.To remind us that He is our warrior. That theme echoes throughout Scripture (e.g., Ex. 15:3, 1 Sam. 17:47, 2 Chron. 20:15). The battle is His, not ours; even the armor we wear is His (Eph. 6:11). He uses the conflict to show us that we can't win without Him—and that He is willing to win the battle for us.
4.To push us to pray. Prayer is both a cry for relationship and a confession of dependence. Spiritual conflict forces us to see our need, and God's gracious care and protection in the battle lead us to love Him more. Prayer is the right response in the battle.
5.To teach us about grace. The enemy sought to destroy Adam and Eve, and he has worked to destroy God's people since then. The only reason we live in victory, though, is not because of us; it's because His love for sinful people is greater than the power of the enemy. That's grace.
6.To magnify His name among the nations. When God grants a victory, we can achieve only through Him, He alone gets the glory. He leads His people to seas they can't cross (Ex. 14), calls them to tackle giants they can't conquer (1 Sam. 17), and sends them into battles with armies reduced from 32,000 to 300 (Judg. 7)—all so that He is glorified among the nations.
The bottom line is this: For most of us, one of our biggest problems in our Christian walk is not that we are too weak; rather, it is that we are too strong. Thus, the God who defeated Satan through death on a cross puts us in spiritual conflict to reduce us—and we will ultimately say with Paul, "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10b). His grace in the battle truly is sufficient.
Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. In addition, he is global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.