Apostle Paul: Passionate Discipleship
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Sermon on the Mount
15. Wrestling with the Enemy of Our Souls (Ephesians 6:10-18)
"10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For 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. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Gravestone of a Marcus Favonius, a Roman centurion of the 20th Legion (died after 43 AD), Colchester Castle Museum, England. Larger image.
"When you become a Christian," say some, "all your troubles are over. God smoothes out all the troubles and life is easier."
"When you become a Christian," say others, "your troubles are just beginning. Satan didn't bother with you before, since you were on his side. Not he will buffet you unmercifully. Fasten your seat belts."
Both are distortions of the truth, which is this: Before you were a Christian, whole areas of your life was devastated because of the way you lived, as well as from the emptiness and purposeless in your life. Now that you have become a Christian, God is renewing your mind and helping you to change your lifestyle. This in itself will save you from a lot of troubles. You now have the Holy Spirit within you to guide and teach and comfort you. You are a lot better off.
But you will face some terrible conflicts ahead. Before you were a Christian, you just gave into the temptations and then suffered the consequences of your sins. Now as you begin to stand against those temptations, you are beginning to realize the real source of them -- Satan himself. This struggle against temptation and evil is not against people. It is against the unseen evil spiritual world of the demonic. But you can stand your ground when you equip yourself with the tools God has given you.
In this passage, Paul spells out for the Ephesians the nature of the battle and describes how to find the strength to resist the temptations we will face.
Relying on God's Strength (6:10-11a)
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." (6:10-11)
So often we are overcome with a feeling of powerlessness. Much of powerlessness -- not all -- comes from not using what God has provided. The command in verse 10 is "Be strong1 in the Lord and in his mighty2 power."3 Our problem is that we try to be strong in ourselves, and have not learned the secret of drawing our strength from God.
Paul was afflicted with some kind of disease, it appears from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. What it was we do not know, though he called it "a thorn in my flesh" and recognized its source: "a messenger of Satan to torment me." Paul didn't sanctify his illness, even though God was using this evil thing, he asked for God to remove it. But God denied his request and instead told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." God used evil for good once again (Romans 8:28), so that Paul would remain humble and so that he would learn in his weakness to draw on God's strength. Paul learned to glory in it, "For when I am weak," he said, "then I am strong."
Not that he wasn't tested. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 he enumerates some of his trials: prison, severe floggings, shipwreck, betrayal, hunger, the pressure of his responsibilities.
"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
To the Philippian church he wrote,
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do4 everything through him who gives me strength!"5 (Philippians 4:12-13)
Indeed, the secret is to "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (6:10). Paul likens it to the armor (and armament)6 of a soldier, perhaps using one of his prison guards as a model as he penned these lines. "Put on6 the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes." When we do not rely on God's strength, we have not donned the full "armor"7 which he gives us for the struggle.
The Diabolical Nature of the Struggle (6:11b-12)
"11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For 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." (6:11-12)
Most of us in Western cultures grew up with a scientific, materialist mindset. If you cannot see it or touch it or measure it in a scientific manner, then it is not real. Science has made great strides in the last few decades in "seeing" particles so small they once eluded our electron microscopes, as well as heavenly bodies so far away that we couldn't find them with our finest telescopes, though they were huge.
But there are some things which science is not equipped to measure. Love, for one. Right and wrong, for another. Science can measure the physiological responses to fear, but it cannot "see" fear.
The place where you are reading this, this very moment, is being penetrated by all kinds of waves and signals --TV, radio, microwave. But you can't hear or see them unless you turn on a listening or viewing device. Spiritual beings are the same way. While we can't "see" spiritual beings, we can sense them so long as we have our antennae up.
"I believe in Jesus," I've heard people exclaim, "but I don't believe in Satan and demons." Interesting, since Jesus had a great deal to say about both. That kind of in-your-face ignorance is like a blind man denying the existence of street lights.
In case we didn't know, Paul instructs us on the nature of our spiritual struggle in 6:11b-13:
- The devil's schemes
- Not flesh and blood
- Powers of this dark world
- Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms
- Day of evil
Now for a few definitions of the Greek words which underlie our English translations:
"Devil" translates Greek diabolos (from which we get words such as "diabolical"): 1. adj. "slanderous", 2. noun, "one who engages in slander," in the New Testament the title of the principal transcendent evil being "the adversary, the devil."8 The proper name Satan (which is not used here) is a transliteration of the Hebrew word satan meaning "adversary," and in the Bible, in a very special sense, the enemy of God, simply "Satan, the Enemy."9 The word diabolos is used synonymously with satan in Revelation 2:9-10 and 20:2.
"Rulers" (NIV, NRSV) and "principalities" (KJV) translate Greek archē (from which we get words such as "archbishop") which means "ruler, authority, official."10 It can be used of good rulers as well as bad. The idea here is that some of the "rulers" in the spiritual realm are demonic in their allegiance. We believe (though the scripture is pretty silent here) that Satan was once an archangel who rebelled against God and was thrown, with the angels under his authority (perhaps a third of heaven's angels), out of heaven (Revelation 12). We call these rebel angels "demons" or "evil spirits," though that terminology was mainly used by Jesus in the Gospels, not so much in Paul's writings.
We see in a hint of this in Daniel 10:12-13, 20, where Daniel relates an experience in which Michael the archangel was delayed in answering Daniel's prayer because of a battle with "the prince of the Persian kingdom." Peter Wagner and others in the intercessory prayer movement in the US believe that spiritual rulers seek to control and influence neighborhoods, cities, regions, and countries. Wagner reports local spiritual breakthroughs in response to prayer directed against the ruling spirits of an area.11
"Authorities" (NIV, NRSV) and "powers" (KJV) translate the plural of Greek exousia, a generic word meaning "the right to control or command, authority, absolute authority, warrant," both good and bad.12 When the words archē and exousia ("principalities and powers") are used together in the New Testament, they always refer to the evil spiritual powers (1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Colossians 1:16, 2:10, 15; 1 Peter 3:22).
"Powers of this ... world" (NIV), "cosmic powers" (NRSV) or "rulers ... of this world" (KJV) is Greek kosmokratōr which means "world-ruler." But the world here is described as "darkness," in other words, Paul is describing here the "rulers of this sinful world."13
"Spiritual forces (of evil)" (NIV, NRSV) or "spiritual (wickedness in high places)" (KJV) is Greek pneumatikos, "pertaining to the spirit, spiritual," here pertaining to evil spirits. Notice the words to which "spiritual" is appended: "evil" and "heavenly realms" (epouranos, "heavenly"). Since Hitler's day it is common to hear people try to make Paul's words refer to the evil social structures of the day -- institutionalized evil -- and translate the Greek word epouranos as "high places," but this doesn't really fit the context here. (Though there is such a thing as institutionalized evil that must be resisted!) We have seen the word "heavenly realms" (epouranos) used a number of times in Ephesians, always concerning spiritual realities (Ephesians 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). Paul is speaking here about spiritual wickedness in the unseen but very real spiritual sphere in which we presently dwell.
|Q1. (Ephesians 6:11-13) Why is it difficult to believe
in the devil and demons in our day? How does their existence help explain
the struggle humans face on earth? With all their power, how do we stand a
chance? Did "the devil make me do it"? What kinds of things can't
we blame on the demonic?
Stand Your Ground (6:13)
Our problem is that we don't see the spiritual realm and often misunderstand the very nature of the life and death struggle in which we as humans are engaged. It's easy to focus on people as evil. Often they are. But the real struggle is not with the people themselves ("flesh and blood"), but with the evil spiritual forces that are motivating them. If we fight the people, we lose. If we try to fight with intellectual or psychological or metaphysical weapons we will lose. But if we will arm ourselves with God's weapons and fight they way he instructs us, we can succeed.
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (6:13)
What is victory? Is it to swashbuckle our way across the hoards of hell and capture Satan himself? No. But it certainly is to remain standing at the end of the battle.
On Sunday I asked an elderly gentleman at church, "How are you?" and he replied, "I'm still vertical." That's the idea. That is victory: to hold our ground, to stand our ground, not to give in, not to give up. To remain standing at the end of the conflict.
If Satan can discourage us, wear us down, we may fall, we may retreat, we may give up. But victory is to remain, to stand, to be left standing at the end of the day.
One of my interests is American Civil War history, especially the mighty battles of Gettysburg, Antietam, Sharpsburg. The army that was left standing in possession of the battlefield at the end of the day was the victor, even though it may have been wounded and took serious casualties. The armor of God is designed to help us to stand. Jesus said, "In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, KJV).
|Q2. (Ephesians 6:13) What is difficult about standing
our ground in today's world? In what way can standing our ground be
considered victory? Why are the saints in Revelation 12:11 considered
victorious over the devil? How did they stand their ground?
The Nature of the Armament (6:14-17)
"14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."(6:14-17)
Let's look at the pieces of the armor Paul describes as he develops this military analogy:
Belt of Truth (6:14a)
"Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist..." (6:14a)
First, the belt16 of truth. Think of the wide belt that the weight lifter wears to protect and strengthen him.
"If you hold to my teaching," Jesus said, "you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). When we don't know any better, the "father of lies," the "great deceiver" can hoodwink us and get the better of us. But when we hold firmly to the truth that we know and seek diligently to acquire wisdom, we are protected. This is a good piece of equipment to put on in the morning with a regular reading of the Scriptures.
Breastplate of Righteousness (6:14b)
"... With the breastplate of righteousness in place..." (6:14b)
The steel, leather, or coat of mail breastplate (thorax17) of the Roman soldier protected the torso in the thick of battle. Our protection is righteousness. This is two-fold. First, we have been made righteous by Christ's death on our behalf (imputed righteousness). We are "holy," "set apart," we are "saints," we belong to God now. His righteousness is our righteousness, and his blood covers our sins. We can often be fooled when Satan reminds us of our sins and weaknesses, and tells us, "You've done it now! God will never forgive you after this." Our protection is our understanding of the righteousness in which we stand in Christ.
But this righteousness must not be only imputed righteousness from Christ. We are also protected by living holy lives, by obedience, by walking in God's ways righteously. When we do that we deprive the devil of a "foothold" (Ephesians 4:27) from which to attack us further. Our righteous ways are a powerful protection from the destruction that sin brings with it.
|Q3. (Ephesians 6:14) Why are such simple things as truth
and personal holiness such powerful armament? Are they defensive or
Footgear for Battle (6:15)
"... With your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace." (6:15)
Strong footgear18 is important in a battle situation. If we wear thongs on our feet instead of Army-issue boots, we may slip in the struggle, and leave ourselves exposed to the enemy. But notice that shod feet are also an offensive weapon, an enablement for us to be ready to run with and share the gospel of peace. Truth and good news are a weapon in that they give us sure footing against darkness, deceit, and despair.
"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!'" (Isaiah 52:7)
|Q4. (Ephesians 6:15) What would be the characteristic of
a person who didn't have his feet ready to run with the Gospel? How
does heart preparation make you more ready to share the Good News with
those around you? How does this help defeat the dominion of darkness?
The Shield of Faith (6:16)
"In addition to all this, take up the shield19 of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." (6:16)
Often before battle, soldiers would soak their leather shields in the local creeks. This made them much heavier, but made them impervious to the flaming arrows shot by the enemy. A shield is both a defensive weapon to hide behind as well as an offensive weapon, which enables you to strike with your sword hand while protecting your body with the shield held in the other.
Sometimes we have devastating circumstances that come upon us like a flaming arrow and threaten to consume us, our family, and our whole position in life. We can react with fear and terror. Or we can put up the shield of faith and start to trust God when all hell breaks loose. Your faith helps you to stand in the intense battles within your mind as well as in your home and workplace. Trust God no matter what is going on, for he knows what he is doing. Put up the shield of faith; don't let it hang useless at your side.
The Helmet of Salvation (6:17a)
"Take the helmet20 of salvation" (6:17a)
Helmets protect the head, hence battle helmets, bicycle helmets, hard hats, and the like. Our salvation from God protects us against self-doubt and fear that God won't forgive us when we mess up. We must put on our confidence in His salvation daily and not let Satan slam us in the head with his lies. Lack of assurance of our own salvation can be devastating when we're in a spiritual battle for our lives. Get this straight. If you're not sure of your salvation, discuss this with a pastor who will give you some counsel and scripture to help you receive the assurance from God that you need to resist Satan. Remember, we are not saved by our own good works, but by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Sword of the Spirit (6:17b)
"Take ... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (6:17b)
The sword,21 too, is both offensive and defensive. We parry our enemy's blows with our sword, as well as thrust home when we see a weakness in his defense. Our sword is God's Word. When we study the Bible for its principles and truths, we can stand against Satan's lies. When Jesus was tempted during the 40 days he spent in the wilderness before beginning his ministry, he answered Satan's half-truths with Scripture (Luke 4:1-13), and so stood his ground against the Tempter. Reading the scripture often, studying it, and committing it to memory are all ways to sharpen this sword, so when we are attacked we'll know how to respond.
|Q5. (Ephesians 6:15-17) Why is it important to have your
"shield" up each day? In what way does the "helmet of
salvation" protect you? Is the "sword of the Spirit" an
offensive or defensive weapon? How do you keep it sharp and ready for the
Pray in the Spirit (6:18)
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." (6:18)
"Pray in the Spirit" is Paul's transition from the military analogy to a further exhortation, which we will study in the next chapter. Perhaps, though, the military analogy in our day would be, "Carry your walkie-talkie and call in when you get in trouble so we can direct firepower where you need it."
To what extent are these weapons offensive or defensive? In a very real sense they are all offensive weapons, since they allow the warrior to continue in the battle instead of being wiped out early. Part of active fighting is protecting oneself from blows so one can continue to fight.
Sometimes I've wondered if these weapons are too weak. The battle rages and all I have is a hope and a prayer and my Bible. How can I expect to find victory?
Martin Luther, who wrote that great hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," had many well-chronicled battles with the devil. One line of this hymn is particularly telling about the devil: "One little word shall fell him." Truth will win the war with deceit and half-truth. "The pen is mightier than the sword," and God's truth is stronger than all of Satan's well-crafted lies.
We are weak in ourselves. But in God these simple weapons -- truth, righteousness, the good news, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer -- are more than we need to fend off an attack and remain standing at the end of the day.
"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand... and having done all, to stand." (6:11, 13)
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Whether we like it or not, to succeed at the Christian life we must undertake it as a conflict, a fight. That doesn't mean that we have to be negative and pessimists -- only realists. There is a foe against which we must defend ourselves or live miserable, defeated lives. There is a King for whom we take the ground and claim the lives of those who are perishing. It is a fight, yes, but it is a good fight of faith, a joyous fight fought in the camaraderie of Christ and our brother and sister Christians. It is a positive fight, too, for if you've read the end of the book -- we win! "Fight the good fight (agōn) of the faith," Paul tells young Timothy (1 Timothy 6:12). Then close to the time of his death, Paul recalls his own struggle -- and victory in Christ:
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day -- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 2:7-8)
Father, the more we know about the spiritual enemies arrayed against us, the more we realize we need you. I pray for faithfulness for me and for my brothers and sisters to put on the weapons daily and stand ready to fight. Help us, O Lord, for we are weak without you. Supply us continually with the strength and protection of your Spirit -- and teach us to fight! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
Key Verses"For 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)
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13)
- Endunamoō , "to become able to function or do something, become strong" (BDAG 333).
- Kratos , "ability to exhibit or express resident strength, might," here "of intensity in might" (BDAG 565, 1.b).
- Ischus, "capability to function effectively, strength, power, might" (BDAG 484).
- Ischuō , "to have requisite personal resources to accomplish something, have power, be competent, be able" (BDAG 484).
- Endunamoō , see note 1.
- Enduō , "put on, clothe oneself in, wear" (BDAG 333-334), which we saw in 4:24 -- "Put on the new self...."
- Panoplia , "the complete equipment of a heavy-armed soldier, full armor" (BDAG 754), from hoplon, "implement, weapon," and pan, "all."
- Diabolos , BDAG 226-227.
- Satan , BDAG 916-917.
- Archē , BDAG 137-138.
- See C. Peter Wagner, Engaging the Enemy: How to Fight and Defeat Territorial Spirits (Regal Books, 1991) and C. Peter Wagner and F. Douglas Pennoyer (eds.), Wrestling with Dark Angels: Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Supernatural Forces in Spiritual Warfare (Regal Books, 1990).
- Exousia , BDAG 352-353.
- Kosmokratōr , BDAG 561.
- Pneumatikos , BDAG 837.
- Zōnnumi , "to gird. "The girdle is an item of military equipment, e.g., as a broad leather band for protection, as an apron under the armor, as a belt studded with metal, or as a sign of rank" (Albrecht Oepke, hoplon, ktl., TDNT 5:292-315).
- Thorax , ibid.
- Hypodeō , "to furnish with footgear." "The Roman legionnaires wear half-boots with strong soles." Ibid.
- Thuros , "probably a long oblong shield (shaped like a door, thura) (BDAG 462). "The thureos is the ancient four-cornered long shield.... The rectangular Greek shield is almost a portable wall [and] covers the whole person, which poses the hard problem of reconciling strength with lightness. The Romans take over a later form of the long shield around 340 BC and retain it until the days of Constantine, who reverts to the round or oval form" (Albrecht Oepke, hoplon, ktl., TDNT 5:292-315).
- Perikephalaia , "helmet," also 1 Thessalonians 5:8 (BDAG 802). "Greek soldiers wear bronze helmets, as do the Romans. The helmet is slung on a strap during marches and put on for battle" (Albrecht Oepke, hoplon, ktl., TDNT 5:292-315).
- Machaira , "a relatively short sword or sharp instrument, sword, dagger," also used figuratively of the Word of God in Hebrews 4:12 (BDAG 622).
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- Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
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