“Winning vs. Temptation: Jesus’ Example in Spiritual Warfare” (Matthew 4:1-11 sermon)

This last Saturday (March 18, 2017) an intruder kicked open the door of a house in Redding, California — but he picked the wrong home to invade. A California Highway Patrol Officer lived at that house, and he shot the intruder dead. Most of us would say that officer is a good example of the way that we should each be armed & ready to protect our homes against whatever enemies might harm us.

But we also need to be aware that there are enemies of a different kind than those who would physically attempt to steal, or kill, or assault us. There is an even more destructive enemy in the spiritual realm, who is bent on destroying you, your marriage, your family, your children and grandchildren, and every one of our souls. And this enemy can’t be warded off by a shotgun or a pistol. But Jesus shows us here in Matthew 4:1-11 how we can fend off his attacks with “The sword of the Spirit, the word of God.”
I. The Nature of Spiritual Warfare

HOW did Satan try to tempt Jesus? As we mentioned just briefly week, Satan tried to tempt Jesus to doubt what God had just told Him to be true. If you look back at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:17, the voice of God the Father in heaven calls down to God the Son, “This My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” So God the Father had just said that Jesus was indeed His Son. Now Jesus gets led into the wilderness to be tempted by the enemy, and it is significant that the devil attacks Him in the very thing that God the Father had just spoken to Him. He said to Him in the first temptation in :3, “IF You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” “IF You are the Son of God …”. Satan was attacking Jesus regarding the truth He had just been given by His Heavenly Father.

And this is a good lesson for us regarding the nature of spiritual warfare. In spiritual warfare, Satan tries to get us to doubt what God has told us, and to get us to believe lies about God and ourselves which are contrary to what He has taught us in His word.

We see this in the very first temptation of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. God had commanded Adam & Eve not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or they would die. So here comes Satan in Genesis 3, and he immediately begins undermining God’s word: “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden?'”. Right from the first, Satan’s temptation was “Has God said?” He always tries to undermine God’s truth and get us to believe his lies instead. Adam & Eve bought into his lies, and it brought sin and death and all the evil we experience into this world.

And that is STILL where spiritual warfare is going on today: Satan is continually trying to get people to believe his lies instead of the truth of God’s word. And then he destroys us when we buy into them.

See, spiritual warfare is in the area of truth vs. lies. We often think of spiritual warfare as annoying things the devil does to us physically, to hinder us: like “We had a flat tire on the way to the airport for our mission trip; Satan is trying to stop us” — And we think of things like that as “spiritual warfare.” But one of the best things I learned from our Pastor Ronnie Rogers while we served at Trinity Baptist in Norman when we were there is that spiritual warfare primarily consists in the LIES of the enemy. He wants us to believe something FALSE about God or about ourselves.

— In the Garden of Eden, he wanted Adam & Eve to believe that God was “holding out on them” by keeping them from eating from that tree: look how pleasant it was to look at; how good it would taste; how it will make you like God! Satan’s “spiritual warfare” in the Garden of Eden was to get them to believe his lies about God, and to disobey Him.

— And he is still doing that today. He tempts us to question the good qualities of God. For example, when I got sick 5 years ago, and there was no immediate cure for it, I had to step down from my 13-year pastorate in Louisiana. We had to sell our home, had to sell 2/3 of our possessions; I lost my job, my ministry. Cheryl & Michael were uprooted and lost their friends and support system. One of our temptations in that time was to think that God was somehow being “mean” to us. Why would He do this? Why would He allow all this to happen? Is God really “good”? So some of the biggest “spiritual warfare” we were going through was not anything physical; our “warfare” was in our hearts and minds: would we succumb to Satan’s temptation and believe a lie about God, that He was not good?

And Satan tempts us in all kinds of ways like this; trying to get us to doubt God’s word and to believe his lies instead:
— Jesus said in His word: “What God has joined together, let no man separate”, but Satan tempts husbands and wives to believe that “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” and if they will just break their marriage vows and get that “perfect soul mate”, everything will be great.
— God said in His word that He specifically crafted us in our mother’s womb, but the enemy tempts individuals to reject the gender or the person or the gifts that God gave them when He made them.
— God gave us a number of commandments to guide us and protect us, and give us the best kind of life, but Satan tempts us to believe that “real fun” is found if you’ll just go outside of God’s commandments.
— And one of the biggest lies of spiritual warfare is to get you to believe that someone or something other than God will satisfy you. The enemy will try to get you chasing after all kinds of people and experiences in an endless hunt for this “mirage” that will supposedly satisfy you — something you will never find outside of God, for God’s word says “In HIS presence is fullness joy; in HIS right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11) Satisfaction only comes from GOD — but the enemy wants you to distract you and destroy you by getting you to follow his lies after something you will never be satisfied with!

THIS is the nature of spiritual warfare: it’s the lies of the enemy he tries to get us to believe and follow, instead of what God has told us in His word.

 

II. The Weapon of Spiritual Warfare: The word of God

How you do defeat the temptations that the devil and his angels try to bring against you?
Jesus shows us here. Three times, Satan tempted Jesus. And every time, Jesus responded the exact same way:
— Satan said: “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “IT IS WRITTEN: Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)
— Then Satan said: “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for ‘It is written’ …” and he even tried to use God’s own word against Him! But Jesus said to him again in :7, “On the other hand, IT IS WRITTEN ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
— Finally the devil showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said “All these things I will give You if You fall down and worship me.” But Jesus answered: “Go, Satan, for IT IS WRITTEN ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.'”
“IT IS WRITTEN … IT IS WRITTEN … IT IS WRITTEN ….”. Three times Satan tempted Jesus here, and every time He responded the same: “It is written.” Every time He was tempted, Jesus responded to the temptations of Satan by using the word of God. Scripture was the “sword”, the spiritual “weapon” that Jesus drew out to use against the temptations of the devil.

This is just what Ephesians 6 tells us. Beginning in :10, that chapter talks about spiritual warfare; about how our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” and “the schemes of the devil.” So it commands us to put on the “spiritual armor” to resist the attacks of the enemy, and in :17 it says “And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” GOD’S WORD is the “sword”, the Bible tells us, which we are to use agains the lies that Satan tries to get us to believe.

Whenever you are tempted to believe one of the lies of Satan about God, or about your life, counter that with the truth of God’s word.

I spoke earlier about how Cheryl & Michael & I were tempted during my sickness to think that God was not good because of our difficult circumstances. But I had read a verse in Psalm 119:68 where David had said to the Lord: “You ARE good and DO good.” God both IS good in His Person, and everything He DOES is good. He IS good, and DOES good. And I shared that verse with Cheryl & Michael. Numerous times during those couple of years of trial, we had the opportunity to share our feelings about what we were going through; and we would just keep quoting that verse. Sometimes we’d just say it out loud: “God is good and does good.” In fact, it became a kind of “unofficial family memory verse” for the three of us in that time: “You are good and do good.” God IS good, and DOES good. No matter what we might feel like; no matter how sick I was; no matter what we lost; no matter what the enemy tried to get us to think about Him; God is good and does good. So Psalm 119:68 became a special “sword” that we would draw out and use against Satan’s temptation for us to believe a lie about the character and nature of God. We used the word of God as a sword.

This is just what we need to do in every area of our lives when we are tempted. Satan and his forces will attack you, they will try to get you to believe something false about God or about yourself or about the direction of your life — but YOU have got to pull out the word of God and respond with His truth instead. THAT is spiritual warfare: using the truth of God’s word to dispel the lies that Satan tries to get you to believe. This applies in SO many different areas of our lives:

I shared in our discipleship class Sunday evening how many times people have said to me something like, “I just don’t know if God can keep on forgiving me or not, when I keep messing up.” But that is a lie from the enemy. I John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That is such a great verse, because it teaches us that if we will bring our sins to God, He is faithful — that means He will do it EVERY TIME! — to forgive us and cleanse us from ALL — and as my old Sunday School teacher used to say, “All means ALL!” Unrighteousness. Satan wants to keep you enslaved to unnecessary guilt, so he will keep hitting you with these lies that God can’t forgive you. He tries this with almost all of us — so this is one reason I believe that EVERY Christian should memorize I John 1:9. It is a spiritual “sword” that every Christian needs to have in their “arsenal.”

And Satan will attack every one of us in different ways. He is good at finding our weaknesses and attacking us there: tempting us to believe lies about what we should do; discouraging us with lies about who we are and whether what we are doing for God is doing any good — and on and on. The key for us is that in whatever area the enemy attacks you with his lies, you need to counter it with the truth of God’s word. “Take every thought captive” as II Corinthians 10:5 says:
— If Satan tempts you to be lazy on the job, you respond with the word of God: “With good will render service as to the Lord, not to men.” (Eph. 6:7)
— If Satan suggests to you that you’d be happier outside of your marriage, you respond with the word of God: “What God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:6)
— If Satan suggests to you that your ministry for the Lord is not accomplishing anything, you respond with the word of God: “In due time I shall reap if I do not lose heart” My work for the Lord is not in vain (Gal. 6:9).

We need to learn to respond to the lies of the enemy the same way that Jesus did: “It is written … It is written … It is written …”. We need to fight the good fight of spiritual warfare in our minds against the attacks of the enemy. And we fight that fight with “The Sword of the Spirit”, the word of God, just like Jesus did.

 

III. Equipping For Spiritual Warfare

But there is one thing we’ve got to realize: being able to use God’s word against the temptations of the enemy like Jesus exhibited here, takes some effort; it takes some equipping. Jesus didn’t just “happen” to have all these scriptures on hand, and was able pull them out and use them when the devil came. He had prepared Himself in advance. He had repeatedly read, and studied, and memorized the word of God, like no one ever had before, and so He was ready when His moments of temptation came. He could quote Deuteronomy 8:3 that man shall not live by bread alone; and when Satan tried to take Psalm 91:11 out of context, Jesus knew that word better and could counter it with Deuteronomy 6:16, that the fact that God would take care of you didn’t mean that you should put Him to a foolish test. Jesus had read, and studied, and memorized the word of God, so He could pull it out like a “sword”, the moment He needed it, against the temptations of the devil.

So if we want to be successful against the schemes of the enemy, we must do the same thing. We must equip ourselves with the word of God, by reading it, by studying what it really means, and by memorizing it and having it ready to use to “take our thoughts captive” when we are tempted.

When our family went through that trial a few years ago and we were tempted to doubt the goodness of God, I had already studied Psalm 119 and read :68 “You are good and do good.” I didn’t have to go and look it up; I had read it in my regular daily Bible reading, and that verse had stood out and I had made some notes about it, and I had memorized it. And when I needed it, that verse was there, because I had equipped myself with the word. I could draw that verse out like a sword against the temptation of the enemy.

Ephesians 6 tells us that that “the sword of the Spirit is the word of God” — the problem that many of God’s people have is that they have NOT given the Holy Spirit a sword to use in the battle of the mind. Proverbs 24:10 says “If you are slack in the day of distress your strength is limited.” In other words, if you are not armed and prepared when the battle comes, there is going to be little that you can do against your enemies. And that is just the situation that many Christians are in today. It is NOT that you aren’t saved; it’s not that God’s Spirit is not IN you; He is — but the problem is, you haven’t given the Spirit a sword to work with when Satan’s temptations come. The Spirit can’t bring scriptures to your mind that you haven’t already hidden in your heart! The Spirit can’t bring truths to counter Satan’s lies when you haven’t studied them. You’ve got to prepare yourself for spiritual warfare by putting the “sword” of the word of God in your arsenal so God’s Spirit can use it when you need it.

You’ve probably heard that old expression, “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to PREPARE to win.” That definitely applies to spiritual warfare. You may really want to stand firm for God; you may really want to overcome that temptation; you may really want to hold to God’s truth — but “the will to win” the spiritual battle is not nearly as important as the will to PREPARE to win: have you prepared yourself to win your spiritual battles by getting the “sword” of the word of God ready in your life?
— Preparing to win means reading the word of God, so that His truth is familiar to you.
— Preparing to win means studying the word of God, so that when the devil (or one of his servants) tries to quote a scripture to you out of context like Satan did to Jesus here in Matthew 4, you know the truth of that verse and you don’t fall for his deception.
— Preparing to win means memorizing verses, so that when a temptation comes you have a “sword” ready to draw and use in the spiritual battle.
But you have to PREPARE to win. Jesus was prepared to win His spiritual battles. You must be too.

And parents, you need to prepare your children to win by equipping THEM with the word of God. Some of you parents today are dedicating yourselves to bring up your children in the Lord’s ways. A BIG part of that commitment is training them in the word of God, so that your children have “the sword” of God’s word ready for the spiritual battles that will face them.
— that means being committed to bring them to church so that Keith & Amanda and our Sunday School teachers and other workers can teach them. It should be a basic commitment of your life to be in Sunday School and worship as a family each week. What does that mean? If your kids have to look at you on Sunday morning and say “Are we going to church today?” — then you know you are not committed. They should already KNOW: we ARE going; this is what we do. We are committed to go every week and be trained in God’s word.
— But listen mom & dad. Bringing your children to church where our teachers can pour into them in only a PART of the training they need in God’s word. It is an hour or two, or maybe 3 a week. That’s good; but it is not enough. Their primary training has to be at HOME, from YOU!

Too many parents are using the “Do as I say, not as I do” method of child-rearing — and I am here to tell you today, IT DOES NOT WORK! Your kids are going to do what they see YOU do!
— If they see you being faithful, they will be faithful.
— If they see you reading God’s word, they will read God’s word
— If they see you memorizing scripture and using it in real life situations, then they will.

But they have to see it at home. Honestly, this is why we lose so many of our kids — because for a couple of generations now we’ve been sold the bill of goods that if we just bring our kids to church 3 times a week they’re gonna be ok. And that is not enough. It has to come from home. It has to come from YOU. And the truth is if you don’t do it at home then they will most likely be lost!

You know this. You know it in sports don’t you? You dads, who want your son or daughter to be really good in baseball or softball; do you just wait till that first t-ball practice and take your child up there and drop them off, and expect that the coaches are going to teach them to excel at baseball in those 2-3 hours a week? NO — you KNOW that doesn’t happen; that’s what happens with the kids who aren’t any good. The kids that excel in sports are the ones whose dad (& mom) teaches them how to throw and catch when they’re little bitty, before practices ever start; and they take them to games; and build a love for the game in them, and they work with them on hitting and throwing and catching and hustling AT HOME — and they already have a certain mastery of the game before they ever get to that first practice. The ones who really succeed don’t get it from those 3 hours a week at practice — the ones who succeed get it at HOME!

And can you see that it’s the same in your kids’ SPIRITUAL life as well?! Part of the problem is that we moms and dads need to care about our kids spiritual lives more than we do baseball or basketball or whatever sport they are in. I’m not telling you that sports aren’t good; I love sports. I enjoy watching them on tv; I was out this week watching some of our church kids compete; I love that. Teach your kids all the good lessons on discipline and teamwork that they can get from sports; there’s a lot of good in it.

But as beneficial as sports can be, you need to care MORE about your kids spiritual lives than you do their athletic performance. I Timothy 4:8 says “bodily discipline IS of limited profit – but godliness is profitable for all things; since it holds promise for the present life, and for the life to come.” Sports are good, but whatever personal effort and training you put into your kids athletic career, you need to do even MORE for the spiritual growth. Because listen: it is not really going to matter in 50 years whether your son was the starting shortstop on his baseball team — but whether or not he had the spiritual foundation of the word of God will make all the difference in his life, in his marriage, in his family, in his work, his service for God, and his eternity.

So Mom, Dad, Grandma & Grandpa; lead your kids spiritually. Don’t tell them to go to church; TAKE them. Let them see how YOU read your Bible & pray every day. Show them how YOU do spiritual warfare by memorizing verses and using them regularly. YOU read & quote passages to them as they go to bed at night and help them to learn them — I did that with every one of our kids when they were young, and it was one of the best things I did. I would quote Genesis 1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” or Psalm 150 “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” over and over each night as they were going to bed, until they could quote it themselves.

But we have to realize that strength in spiritual warfare is not just going to “happen” — not for your children, and not for you either. If we want to be able to defend ourselves against the spiritual attacks of Satan; if we want our kids to be able to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy against them, then we’ve got to follow the example of Jesus, and be prepared, and equip both ourselves and those we love, with “the sword of the Spirit” — the word of God.

 

CONCLUSION:
As I read about that story of the highway patrolman and the break-in in California last weekend; I thought: if I know the members of our church, I would not recommend for a burglar or some intruder to enter most of the homes of the members of our church. You all are just NOT the kind of people who are going to be caught helpless in the face of some intruder. Our folks are “armed & ready” against evil invaders!

The thing is, you may never have an enemy invade your home physically to threaten you & your family. But I can promise you: there is a more sinister intruder, who IS coming against you, against your family, against your kids & your grandkids — but he’s not the kind of intruder you can just shoot with a gun. There is only one means of protection you can have against him: you must be personally armed with the word of God. The most important job you have in life is to equip yourself and those you love to defend yourselves in your spiritual battles with “The Sword of the Spirit”: the word of God.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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