Envisioning Spiritual Warfare as Paul Did

All of Ephesians is about our conflict with darkness—within ourselves, with other people, with the spiritual forces of evil. Christ’s triumph over all that is evil, dark, and deadly is the message throughout. Now all these strands come together in one final description of life in Christ. Spiritual warfare is our participation in the Lord’s cosmic war with darkness. The Lord is the warrior. The weapons describe his strength and what he does. By his strength we participate in what he is doing. Ephesians 6:10–20 shows us how.

As image-bearers of God, we all have an imaginative capacity. When we think about a coming event, we have a whole set of associations that help us envision what that will be like. Take, for example, when snow is predicted. Depending on your point of view, how you envision that event will vary. Some people envision a problem, a hassle—a struggle to shovel, to get the car out, to get to work. Children usually envision a snow storm quite differently. They are excited and happy—no school, sleeping in, sledding. I grew up in Hawaii and so I envision a snowstorm as a special treat—one of life’s great joys.

In a similar way, how we envision spiritual warfare will affect how we think about our lives as Christians. It will affect how you seek to help and counsel others. Some Christians envision spiritual warfare as a scary movie with ghosts and bizarre special effects. Others don’t envision the battle we are in at all. They don’t live in the reality that we are up against forces bigger than ourselves, forces that are highly deceptive, and are vying for our allegiance.

Paul, in Ephesians, provides the counterpoint to fear and to indifference. In the previous chapter, we saw four ways the Bible helps us understand spiritual warfare. To build upon that understanding, we will here hone in on four key truths Paul offers us about how to envision spiritual warfare. These truths will clear up our misconceptions about spiritual warfare and the role of the armor of God. Then we will look at how “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” is the overarching theme of all of Ephesians, including the section on spiritual warfare.

Here is Ephesians 6:10–20:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

Ephesians 6:10–20

First, It Is Important to Remember That Ephesians 6:10–20 Is Not Introducing a New Topic

Paul begins this section by saying “finally” and that’s our signal that he is giving a summary of his letter. This passage draws together everything that Paul has already been saying, and puts an exclamation point on it. Here are six key elements that thread through the whole letter and simply come to a climax in this conclusion.

  • Jesus Christ is the Lord. Throughout Ephesians, Paul shows how God’s grace has brought us into his Son’s mercy, power, and mission. At the center of spiritual warfare is not the devil. It’s Jesus Christ.
  • God is powerful and merciful. Paul has repeatedly affirmed the life-giving strength of God working within us (1:19; 2:5, 10; 3:16–20).
  • The spiritual forces of evil—devil, flesh, world—are active. Paul has already brought in what we might call this dark trinity of evil throughout the letter and how they work in synergy with each other. He has already described the cosmic authorities (1:21; 3:10), the deadly hold of the world, the evil and darkness of fallen hearts (2:1–3; 4:17–19), and our call to stand against the devil’s purposes (4:27).

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