A few years ago, David (not his real name), a young lawyer, was in our small group on Alpha. On the first night he told us that he was an atheist and had come with a sole purpose of disrupting the small group – which he attempted to do every time he came. Unlike many who come with this attitude he did not change at all throughout the course.
After the talk on ‘How Can I Resist Evil?’, one young woman, Sarah (not her real name), who was not a Christian, said that she could not possibly believe in the power of evil. This was a major stumbling block to her becoming a Christian.
But later that evening David became extremely angry for no apparent reason and, as if he were taken over by a demonic power, he physically threatened one of the helpers in our group in a terrifying way. Sarah happened to witness the incident and her eyes were opened to the whole spiritual world. She put her faith in Jesus that night.
John Wimber defined ‘power encounters’ as the clashing of the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. We saw an example yesterday in the encounter of Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal.
The apostle Paul writes, ‘Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12). God and the devil are not on a par, fighting it out with one another as equals. God is all powerful, whilst the devil is merely a fallen angel.
1. Understand the nature of evilPsalm 78:32-39
God wants us to learn from our mistakes and not to keep on repeating them over and over again. He does not want us to stay trapped in stubbornness and rebellion against him.
As the psalmist continues his account of the history of the people of God, he writes that they ‘kept right on sinning; all those wonders and they still wouldn’t believe!’ (v.32, MSG).
God, in his love for us, respects our freedom. Although he has the power to overrule our freedom, he does not.
Time and again we read of God’s ‘wonders’. He acted supernaturally on behalf of his people. He disciplined them and they would return to him. ‘But they didn’t mean a word of it; they lied through their teeth the whole time. They could not have cared less about him’ (vv.36–37, MSG). Yet he was merciful and forgave ‘their iniquities and did not destroy them’ (v.38).
Why does evil seem to prevail so often in spite of God’s power? Perhaps this passage gives us part of the answer. It is not simply an encounter between the supernatural power of God and the supernatural power of evil. Human beings and human freedom are part of the equation. As the apostle James writes, ‘Each of you is tempted when, by your own evil desire, you are dragged away and enticed’ (James 1:14).
Lord, thank you for your power and your wonders. Thank you for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you that time after time you restrain your anger. May it not be said of us, ‘their hearts were not loyal to him’ (Psalm 78:37).
2. Take authority over the power of evilActs 18:9-19:13
The apostle Paul took on the powers of evil in the power of the Holy Spirit. He faced ‘a united attack’ (18:12). ‘One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you” ’ (vv.9–10). ‘That was all he needed to stick it out’ (v.11, MSG).
Presumably the Lord spoke to Paul in this way because Paul was tempted in the face of evil, being hauled off to court again on trumped-up charges, to be afraid, to give up speaking and to be silent. Paul’s example is an encouragement for us not to give up in the face of opposition.
We read in this passage of power encounters between good and evil: ‘God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them’ (19:11–12).
The power of God in Paul’s ministry was so impressive that even people who were not Christians tried invoking ‘the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out” ’ (v.13). Tomorrow we will see the dangers of this approach (vv.14–16). The attempt to ‘tap the power’ of the name of Jesus by these Jewish exorcists had ‘disastrous consequences’.
Paul overcame the power of evil through the power of Jesus to perform miracles. However, this was only part of the way in which the Holy Spirit worked in his ministry. Paul’s ministry was multifaceted. We see in this passage that it included the following:
‘He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians’ (18:11, MSG). Paul must have needed the sort of encouragement that he received from the Lord to stay for one and a half years.
Paul spent a great deal of time ‘strengthening all the disciples’ (v.23). Priscilla and Aquila were probably amongst those that he mentored. Often those who have been mentored well become the best mentors.
We see an example of how mentoring worked with Apollos. Apollos was ‘a terrific speaker, eloquent and powerful in his preaching of the Scriptures. He was well-educated in the way of the Master and fiery in his enthusiasm’’ (vv.24–25, MSG).
Priscilla and Aquila mentored him. They took him aside. ‘They invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately’ (v.26). He then became even more effective. ‘He was a great help to those who by grace had believed’ (v.27).
We see an example of ‘ministry’ in the power of the Holy Spirit. ‘Paul placed his hands on [the Ephesians], the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied’ (19:6). Every Alpha Weekend we have the immense privilege of laying hands on people and praying for them to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Paul ‘had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus’ (v.9). We have found that the small group discussion on Alpha is perhaps the most important part of the course. Among other things, it gives people the opportunity to explore, to talk through issues and to begin to find some answers to their questions.
Part of the discussion involved what we might now call “apologetics”. This comes from the word ‘apologia’, which Paul uses at his trial when he says ‘I make my defence (apologia)’ (26:2). It means presenting a rational basis for the Christian faith against objections and misrepresentations.
Earlier on in the passage we read that he ‘reasoned’ with them (18:19). He argued ‘persuasively about the kingdom of God’ (19:8). He taught Apollos, who entered into public debate, ‘proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ’ (18:28).
From this passage we see something about different areas of ministry where we need training. These are the kinds of areas that our theological colleges, training schools and discipleship of all church members need to cover.
Lord, help us to minister like Paul in the power of the Spirit by proclaiming the word of God and overcoming the powers of evil through the name of Jesus in all we do – in our teaching, mentoring, ministry and discussion.
3. Be prepared to confront evil1 Kings 20:1-21:29
Most of us do not like confrontation. But sometimes God calls us to confront evil.
In this passage we read about Ahab, ‘pushed by his wife Jezebel and in open defiance of God, set an alltime record in making big business of evil’ (21:25, MSG).
First, we read of an encounter between evil and evil. Ben-Hadad king of Aram attacked Ahab. Out of the mouth of an evil man come wise words: ‘One who puts on his armour should not boast like one who takes it off’ (20:11). It is never a good idea to boast about what is going to happen. It is better to report it afterwards!
Then, we see how God’s power is greater than the power of Aram (chapter 20).
Next, we see just how evil Ahab and Jezebel are in the way they treat Naboth (chapter 21). In order to steal his land, they plot to have him taken out and stoned to death. Then they steal his vineyard.
Elijah was a man of extraordinary courage. He is utterly fearless in the face of evil. God tells him to go and ‘confront Ahab’ (v.18, MSG). Fearlessly he accuses him of theft and murder and tells him that he is in ‘the business of evil, defying God’ (v.20, MSG). He warns him that God’s judgment is about to fall on him.
Elijah’s words were so powerful that when Ahab heard them he repented. ‘He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted … and went around meekly’ (v.27). God had mercy on him.
Lord, give us courage in the face of evil. Fill us with your Holy Spirit. Help us, like Elijah and the apostle Paul, not to be afraid to take on powers of evil.
1 Kings 21
Choose a good wife. Jezebel is the most evil woman we hear about in the Bible. Ahab might not have done so badly had he had a good wife.