The Struggles We Face
It is my understanding that during World War II there was a saying used in response to people who would complain about conditions on the home front. The response given to those who were grumbling was, ‘Remember, there’s a war going on.’
In our study of Ephesians, the apostle Paul has given us a comprehensive body of instruction to help the Christian function within the Church, and to assist the Church as She seeks to transform the world. And lest we imagine the implementation of this instruction to be easy, Paul issues a final warning that sounds something like, ‘Remember, there’s a war going on.’
I recognize that there are some Christians who are uncomfortable identifying with images associated with war and conflict. And yet, the apostle Paul nonetheless employs these images, perhaps fearing that we might otherwise underestimate the forces at work against us.
The burden of Paul’s teaching in Ephesians chapter 6 is to prepare the Christian for spiritual warfare. As I unpack the apostle’s teaching on this subject, I will do so within the confines of 5 main points.
First point: When at war, one needs to be acutely aware of where our strength lies. This is how Paul begins this section, “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (6:10).
It is clear from the verses that follow that this battle is not being waged on the human plane. If this were the case, human strength and human resources would suffice. But, because the warfare being waged against us is from the spiritual realm, it is necessary for our strength and resources to be of a spiritual nature. For this reason, Paul exhorts us to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ who, not only promises us His strength (Mt. 28:18-20) but also reminds us “apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5).
When at war, we need to be aware of where our strength lies; we need to be aware that our strength comes from the Lord.
Second point: When at war, half-measures will not do. Paul does not suggest a single tool or a single weapon, but rather, his command is “put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (6:11).
In other words, every resource is to be accessed. When speaking about the resource we have in the Holy Spirit, Paul explains that we are to “be filled with the Spirit” (5:18)—not partially, not almost filled, but completely filled—when at war, half-measures will not do.
Third point: When at war, we must accurately identify our enemy. Paul tells us “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12).
What amazes me about what Paul says here is not what he affirms, but what he denies. I am not surprised to hear Paul say that we are fighting against wicked, supernatural, powers. We learned this from Jesus who told Peter how “Satan had asked permission to sift (him) like wheat”(Luke 22:31). And, we learned this from Peter himself who warns us in his epistle, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”(1Peter 5:8). I suspect that few of us are shocked by Paul’s warnings relating to our spiritual enemy.
What may be surprising to us is, however, is what Paul denies. Paul is adamant: “our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood.”
This world of ours is a mess, and yet, Paul insists that this world is not our enemy. Flawed governments are not the enemy; unjust employers are not the enemy, distrustful colleagues are not the enemy; unkind neighbours are not the enemy; inconsiderate family members are not the enemy—“our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood.”
Even in the church, where discord and disunity sometimes carry the day, no fellow church member should ever be regarded as the enemy. I think Charles Spurgeon frames it well when he exhorted young ministers to, ‘Fight the devil and love your Deacons’.
A caution must be stated. Christians tend to move between two extremes on this issue. On the one extreme, some Christians, understanding the reality of our warfare, become unduly preoccupied with the devil. This extreme sees little else except ‘the devil around every corner’. On the other extreme, are those who altogether ignore the devil—either because they don’t believe in him, or they imagine that his influence is best muted by pretending that he absent.
Both of these extremes must be avoided. The Bible explains that the devil is a real enemy and facing him requires a full compliment of armour.
This leads us to our fourth point: When at war, we must be furnished with appropriate equipment. Beginning in verse 14, Paul lists the components of the Christian armour.
Paul says, “Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with truth” (6:14). Strictly speaking, the girdle is not part of the armour, but before the pieces of the armour can be put on the garments underneath must be bound together (Foulkes, Ephesians, 181). With this metaphor, Paul is identifying the preparatory role of truth for Christian living.
The second item of the armour that is appropriated is “the breastplate of righteousness” (6:14). You are likely aware that, in the Bible, there are different kinds of ‘righteousness’. This is unlikely a reference to the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to every believer. That righteousness is already mine, and so I need not ‘put it on’. The breastplate of righteousness is likely a reference to the protection from harm we gain by leading a morally righteous life.
Notice the relationship between the first two images. If we line up Paul’s metaphors we see a relationship between truth and right living. Before I can do what is right, I must first know what is true.
Paul then describes putting on the shoes “of the Gospel of peace” (6:15). Shoes relate to action. We don’t sleep with our shoes on; we don’t usually sit on the sofa with our shoes on. We wear shoes when we are seeking to go somewhere and when we are seeking to accomplish something.
Shoes also relate to readiness. This is something every parent quickly learns. We explain to our children that we are going to a particular place at a particular time and that they need to get ready. In our home, as I finish gathering what I need, I call downstairs to Anya, ‘Are you ready yet?’ And she responds, ‘Ready!’ I head downstairs and what do I see? Anya is standing there dressed, with a hat on, and holding her knapsack . . . but she has no shoes on.
You might have everything else you need, but if your shoes aren’t on, you’re not ready. You might know the truth of God’s Word and you might be leading a morally upright life, but if you are not declaring the Gospel of peace, you really are not ready to execute God’s purposes.
Paul then says that we must “take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (6:16).
A traditional 1st Century wooden shield would suffice against most kinds of arrows. But against flaming arrows, a leather covering would be necessary to prevent the shield from catching fire. Our faith in Christ provides that necessary layer of protection against flaming arrows that would otherwise harm us.
Similarly, the most vital part of the body, the head, is also protected by the work of Christ, described by Paul as “the helmet of salvation” (6:17). Here Paul wants us to not only bring to mind all that Christ is for us now in the present, but also, all that Christ promises for us in the future. By appropriating the helmet of salvation, we are reminded that regardless of the injury we may sustain in our earthly life, our eternal destination cannot be altered by the attacks of the enemy.
And finally, Paul names for us a single offensive weapon, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (6:17).
The fact that Paul lists only one offensive weapon is interesting in light of the fact that a typical Roman soldier usually carried two weapons—a sword and a spear. Paul would have known this, yet he names only one weapon. Perhaps this is because Paul understands that, for this battle, the Word of God is all that we need.
And yet, is it enough to simply possess an effective weapon? What good is a sword if it is still in its sheath? What good is a sword if the soldier is slumbering? What good will your Bible be against the attacks of the devil if it continually lies unopened on your bedside table?
It is not enough to own a Bible, we must be familiar with its contents, and know how to apply its truths. When at war, we must not simply possess the correct weapons, but we must also handle the correct weapons correctly.
Fifth point: When at war, we must always keep the end goal in view. War is challenging enough, but how much harder is it for those who do not understand why they are fighting in the first place.
Paul declares that his purpose is to “make known . . . the mystery of the Gospel” (6:19). Paul explains, elsewhere, to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1Cor. 2:2). Clearly, Paul understands the end goal of his efforts.
What about us? Do we understand our purpose? Do we understand that, as the Church, we are part and parcel of the grand, cosmic, eternal plan of God to transform this world? And as such, do we realize that we are currently at war?
We have been called to make Christ known while engaging a largely unseen enemy. The fundamental nature of this war is different. Our hymn writer captures this when he writes,
Not with swords loud clashing, nor roll of stirring drums,
But deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.
In Christ, we have the resources to make a difference in this world. So as we engage our community let us be mindful of the spiritual battle at hand, let us utilize the resources made available to us, and let us determine to know nothing among them except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Amen.