There is one thing in life we all have, and it is one thing in life we tend not to talk about with others.  What is that? We have or will have a spiritual struggle.  Many, if not most of us, will be reluctant to talk about the depth of that struggle with others.  We don’t talk about a spiritual struggle with another person because we don’t want to be a burden.  We don’t talk about a spiritual struggle because the other person will not understand us.  We don’t talk about a spiritual struggle because we don’t want others, and we especially don’t want God, to think differently about us.  We don’t want to talk about spiritual battle and some Christians have peculiar beliefs about the supernatural.  They believe in a supernatural place called heaven but do not believe hell exists.  They believe in supernatural beings called angels but do not believe in demons.  They believe in the supernatural person of the resurrected Jesus but do not believe in Satan or the devil.  Jesus was quite clear there is a heaven and a hell, there are angels and demons, and he did raise from the dead and Satan, the evil one, is alive among us.  And so we deal with the reality of a spiritual struggle in ways that are not helpful or productive.  Let’s walk through a very familiar Biblical illustration that show the existence of spiritual forces pushing against us.

The illustration comes from Genesis, Chapter 3.  The man and woman were in the Garden of Eden.  It was a wonderful place of paradise.  There was food to eat, water to drink, and the man and woman shared perfect fellowship with each other and, most importantly, they each shared perfect fellowship with God.  There was one commandment to follow, and they were following it perfectly.  Then, as the man and woman were minding their own business, a serpent appeared in the garden.  But this serpent could speak.  The serpent spoke to the woman, 1b”Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:1b-3). So far, so good.  The serpent asked a question and the woman without hesitation or struggle spoke the truth to the serpent affirming what she knew to be true and correcting what seemed to be the serpent’s misunderstanding of God’s word.  This is a wonderful illustration of a life faithfully lived in harmony with God. 

But then something happened.  The woman was confronted by a spiritual force that sought to separate her from God and her husband.  She was not looking for this spiritual force.  The spiritual force, in this case in the form of the serpent, came looking for the woman.  The serpent said to the woman, 4 “You will not certainly die...  5 For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).  The tactics employed here by the serpent were simple.  He used word games, half-truths, and different meanings to God’s words to corrupt the truth.  The woman started her day just fine was now in a spiritual battle.  The woman is beset with the questions, “Is what God said true?  Is there an opportunity here to become like God?”  The way the woman dealt with the struggle shows the natural human pattern for dealing with spiritual struggles.  She had a perfect relationship with her husband and a perfect relationship with God, and yet share talked to neither of them about her spiritual struggle.  The woman did not recognize that spiritual forces were aligned against her. Instead, she kept those questions in her mind and heart.  And “6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).  A spiritual force had persuaded the woman, had corrupted her spirit to not believe God but instead to believe in a lie.  This was and has become the typical human response to spiritual battles.

Our New Testament reading today dealt with a spiritual struggle and gives us further insight into our spiritual battle.  We would find that Barnabas and Saul were sent from Antioch by the Holy Spirit to the island of Cyprus to proclaim the word of God.  Barnabas and Saul were accompanied by John, sometimes called Mark and at other times called John Mark.

Luke described the battle this way.  “6 They [Barnabas, Saul, and John] traveled through the whole island [of Cyprus] until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus” (Acts 13:6).  Here, Luke tells us straight up that the evangelic outreach on the island of Cyprus suddenly encountered a person who represented a spiritual force that was contrary to these missionaries.  We were told that the missionaries, Barnabas and Saul, along with John, we sent at the direction of the Holy Spirit of God.  We are told this so that we would know that the missionaries were acting under the spiritual force of righteousness.  Luke said they encountered a man who said his name was Bar-Jesus and this man was a sorcerer and false prophet.  The name bar-Jesus can be read as, “son of Jesus.”  This could be the man’s real name, meaning he was the son of a man whose name was Jesus.  But I favor the reading that the man had given himself this name, bar-Jesus, because the man wanted Barnabas and Saul, as well as others, to believe he was closely aligned with Jesus.  But Luke tells us that the man was a sorcerer, a man who deals in supernatural with magic or as a medium, and that the man was a false prophet.  A prophet is someone charged by God to speak God’s words to the people.  A false prophet claims he speaks God’s word but usually does so by corrupting or changing the meaning of God’s word.  The sum of Luke’s description was that the man who had encountered the missionaries was a supernatural force who presents himself in name, words, and deeds as having supernatural relationships.

This man, bar-Jesus, Luke said, “7 Was an attendant [advisor] of the [Roman] proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God” (Acts 13:7).  Bar-Jesus was an advisor to the Roman official, likely the Roman official responsible for the entire island of Cyprus.  So, this man, Bar-Jesus, of supernatural relationships, had moved himself into the position of governmental influence.  But the proconsul, Paulus, wanted to hear what Barnabas and Saul had to say.  A meeting was held, and Barnabas and Saul shared the story of Jesus Christ with Paulus in the presence of Bar-Jesus.

 Luke tells us though, “8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith” (Acts 13:8). There are a couple of things going on here.  First, Luke refers to Bar-Jesus by a different name, Elymas.  Luke seemed determined to remove any reference of Jesus from this man and refer to him for what the man was, Elymas, meaning sorcerer, not son of Jesus.  Second, Elymas had a mission and that was to keep the proconsul from coming to faith in response to God’s word.

You can almost see Jesus’ parable of the Sower come to life here.  We will recall Jesus said that Sower spread seed along the path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and the rich soil.  Jesus explained that “19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (Matthew 13:19). Barnabas and Saul were sowing the seeds, the word of God, and Elymas was trying to snatch up those words before the proconsul Paulus had a chance to understand the words.  Elymas, no doubt citing his supernatural relationship and understanding, was likely perverting and corrupting what Barnabas and Saul said to dissuade Paulus from faith.  Jesus said those who snatch away the word of God are from the evil one, the supernatural being of Satan.

We then come to a turning point.  Seeing this corruption of God’s word occurring, Luke said, “9 Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:9-10). 

Luke recorded for us three important points.  First, name of the man opposed to the missionaries changed again.  He was at first bar-Jesus or son of Jesus, then Elymas, meaning sorcerer, and final the son of the devil himself.  This man who claimed supernatural connections was now identified clearly as deriving his spirit from the devil.  As such, this man was completely opposed to the missionaries who are filled with the Holy Spirit.  The encounter between these men then was a spiritual battle. 

Second, Paul’s words show how a spiritual battle is most often waged against us.  Paul said his opposer used tricks and deceit of every kind to pervert the ways of God. Another way of saying this perhaps is that this man played games with words, spoke half-truths, and gave different meaning to God’s words that corrupted the truth, just as the serpent did with the woman in the garden.  This makes this man a child, a son of the devil, who Jesus said was the father of all lies (John 8:44).

Finally, Luke recorded that Saul was also called Paul. In this short passage with the opposer’s name changing, so too does Saul’s name for he is known only as Paul after this spiritual battle.  And to bring conclusion to the spiritual battle and to accentuate the change in names, the Holy Spirit working through Paul blinded the opposer as had been done to Saul when he opposed Jesus.  In the end, the proconsul Sergius Paulus believed and “was amazed at the teachings about the Lord” (Acts 13:12).

What does this all mean to us?  There is one point I want us to focus upon today.  That point is that we today are engaged in spiritual battles whether we know it or not.  Now some people here won’t believe that statement but let’s consider some numbers. 

In the United States, about 60% of the people are religious and believe in the spiritual dimension of their religious beliefs.  If you are a Christian, then you should find yourself in the 60% category.  Another 21% of the people say they are neither religious nor spiritual.  They believe themselves to be soulless beings, atheists.  For today, we won’t consider them further because these people are easily identified and offer opposition to our faith only in the form of mockery.

Finally, there is another 22% of Americans who believe themselves to be spiritual but hold to no religious beliefs.  They will say things like, “I am a very spiritual person, but I just don’t believe in all of the traditions of the Bible.”  I have met many people who are “spiritual.”  I suspect that everyone here has met someone who claims they are spiritual but not religious.  When these people say they are spiritual but not religious, what they are saying is that they do not believe in a spiritual relationship with the God of the Bible, nor with Jesus Christ as the son of God, and certainly not with the Holy Spirit of God.  But they believe in a spiritual life meaning they must have a spiritual relationship with some other spiritual being or presence, none of whom from a Christian perspective are good.  This is the group from which the spiritual battles will come.  A full 20% of the people in this country will engage in spiritual battles with the faithful.  They will present their views, sometimes argumentatively and other times gently and politely, against Christian beliefs using the tactics of the devil.  They use word games, half-truths, and give different definitions to God’s words.  They may as bar-Jesus did use titles that try to claim a relationship with Christ such as Progressive Christianity, but they are not Christian.  The intent and the effect are to pervert and corrupt the truth of God, the truth that our eternal lives guaranteed by Jesus, and the necessity of the Holy Spirit to guide, direct, and comfort our lives.  When we have such conversations with “spiritual” people we need to recognize that whether we asked for it or not we are in a spiritual battle.  The person speaking to us is opposing the Holy Spirit within us, just as had happened in our Scripture reading today.  When that happens, and it has happened to you and will happen again, you are in a spiritual battle even if it does not feel hostile.  The Apostle John was very specific on this point.  John wrote, “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).  Remember over 20% of Americans are spiritual but deny Jesus of the Bible is from God.

What are we to do?  I think there are three things we can do.  First, hold onto God and tell him what is happening.  Second, grab hold of another faithful Christian so that you are not tricked by being alone.  And lastly, we should follow the lead of the proconsul of Cyprus and “be amazed at the teachings about the Lord” (Acts 13:12).  Bring into your life, daily, some element of God’s word to be amazed and to protect yourself from the deceit of others.  When God called out the Hebrews and prepared them to go into a world with countless spiritual people, God told the Hebrews to prepare themselves this way, “These commandments [My Word] that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). God’s direction was not just to honor God but to protect His people from the inevitable spiritual battles that they would face.  God’s direction is still our best defense.  Turn to God, hold fast to other faithful people, and be amazed at the teachings about the Lord and protect yourself in the spiritual battles that await each of us.  Amen and Amen.