Throughout the past months, we’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians. Ephesians is one of the profoundest books in Scripture that applies the gospel to all of life. Although there are many themes and topics that Paul writes about, the big two are these:
- God is redeeming all things and bringing them back to unity under Christ; and
- The church is God’s new humanity, his pilot project in restoring all things
There are lots of things that you can say, but they really boil down to this: God’s eternal purpose in bringing everything under Christ is unfolding just as he planned, and the church is central to what God is doing.As we close Ephesians, I think that Paul is anticipating a danger that we all face. Sun Tzu wrote an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy called The Art of War in which he said:
All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far way; when you are far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
All warfare, he says, is based on deception.What does this have to do with us? According to Paul, everything. Paul writes in verses 10 and 11: “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.”Paul is saying that we have an enemy who engages in deceit and who has all kinds of other schemes. The word schemes there actually has the idea of deceit.In essence, Paul is saying that God’s eternal plan in reconciling all things under Christ, beginning with the church, will not go unopposed. And at the end of Ephesians, he says that there are two things we need to do to respond. First, we have to recognize the nature of our battle. Second, we must use God’s resources in the battle.
The first thing we must do, according to Paul, is to recognize the nature of our battle.
Paul writes in verse 12:
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.
What does Paul mean here? He’s already given us a hint in verse 11 when he mentioned the taking a stand against the devil’s schemes. What Paul is saying here is that we are in a spiritual battle with God against Satan. We have an enemy who has all kinds of cunning strategies, who will attack us in surprising ways. We will not be able to withstand his attacks on our own. We are in a battle, and we must be prepared.If you go to the average church, you will not hear a lot about this. We talk about our churches as families or hospitals. In most churches, there is more danger of getting bored than getting wounded. In churches where there is fighting, the fighting is infighting. It’s easy to forget that there really is a battle, and that we are participants in a battle. One of Satan’s schemes is to lull us into complacency so that we forget there is a battle.It’s scary enough to think about this battle, but it gets worse. The word that Paul uses is struggle. It’s actually a wrestling term. When I think of battles these days, I think of wars with guided missiles and all kinds of technologies. That’s not the type of war Paul talks about. The type of war we’re engaged in is hand-to-hand combat. We are hand to hand with evil, face to face.And who does Paul say we are struggling with? Not flesh and blood. It’s not that the church does not encounter human opposition, but Paul says that the struggle goes much deeper than that. Paul says that our struggle is with “rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our enemies are not human, he says, but demonic.We don’t know as much as we’d like to about what Paul describes here, whether he is referring to different ranks of evil spirits. We John Stott notices that they have three characteristics.One: they are powerful. They are rulers and authorities, powers and forces of evil. They do have power. When Satan tempted Jesus, claiming that he could give him all the kingdoms of this world, Jesus didn’t argue. Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). We know that Satan was defeated, but he is unwilling to concede defeat, and has not yet been destroyed. So Satan continues to wield power.Second, they are wicked. Paul says they are the powers of this dark world, forces of evil. Jesus said that Satan is a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). Peter writes that he is prowling like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Stott says:
If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They recognize no Geneva Convention to restrict or partially civilize the weapons of their warfare. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs.
Third, they are devious. They rarely attack openly. They try to catch us when we are not expecting it. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Satan and the powers of evil do not always attack us openly. They also like to lull us into complacency or discouragement or error. In The Screwtape Letters, the fictional demon Screwtape writes, “Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.” These forces are powerful, wicked, and devious.This is our battle. Paul has outlined God’s purposes in chapters 1 to 5 of Ephesians, and in chapter 6 he reminds us of the existence of a devil who is opposed to those purposes. In a minute, he’s going to tell us how to respond, but first I need to pause here and ask if you’ve really grasped that we are part of this battle against the cunning and powerful forces of evil.Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:
I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his ‘fiery darts’. And, of course, because we are not aware of this we attribute all temptation to ourselves. So the devil in his wiliness will have succeeded admirably. We become depressed and discouraged, we feel that we are failures, and we do not know what to do…
The first thing that Paul says in this passage is that we are in a spiritual battle, and this is our enemy.
But secondly, he reminds us of the resources that we must use in this battle.
Verses 10 and 11 say, “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.” And then verse 14: “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.”If you’re scared by the idea that we are in a spiritual battle, that we’re in hand-to-hand combat with spiritual powers that are powerful, wicked, and devious, then you’re smart. Left to ourselves, we’re both overpowered and outmaneuvered. We don’t stand a chance. But Paul reminds us that we haven’t been left to our own resources. He says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God.”What we see here is that Paul gives us an image for the whole Christian life as spiritual warfare. And the way to respond is to use the Lord’s resources: the Lord’s strength, the Lord’s power, and the Lord’s armor. God supplies all that we need in this battle, and it’s more than enough.We could spend weeks unpacking what’s in these few short verses. Martyn-Lloyd Jones took 26 chapters – 736 pages – to unpack the passage that we’re covering this morning. One day I hope to return and cover this passage in more depth, looking at the various pieces of armor that Paul lists for us.But I want to especially highlight one thing that we sometimes miss when we read this passage. Whose armor is this? Verse 13 tells us that it is the armor of God. I don’t think this simply means that it’s armor that God provides for us. It actually goes much further than that. The prophet Isaiah gives us a fascinating picture of God who is offended by sin. He looks around to see if anyone is able to do anything about it, but there is no one. So here is what God does:
He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:16-17)
This is amazing. God himself puts on armor and goes to battle against his enemies. What does this mean? It means that the Jewish people came to understand that God himself would intervene in this world and on behalf of his people. God himself would come and win victory over evil.And that’s exactly what happened. God himself came in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us images of his victory over Satan. For instance, he said that Satan is like a strong man who has been tied up, and his house is being plundered. He said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In other words, Satan is being defeated. His authority and power has been broken.And at the cross, God struck a fatal blow against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of “this present darkness.” Paul tells us in Colossians that Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And Jesus now sits at God’s right hand, having struck a fatal blow against Satan and all evil powers.But – and this is important – Satan is fatally wounded, but he’s not dead yet. His defeat has been accomplished, but he’s in his dying throes. He still continues to send his flaming arrows our way. You may have seen a hockey game with a lopsided score with the clock running out. The losing team has no chance of winning, but there’s bad blood between the two teams. Fights break out in those dying minutes of that game. There’s no way the losing team can win, but they can make it miserable. Satan is like that. He’s been defeated, but he’s still fighting in the dying minutes of the game.So, Paul says, we must strap on the armor that belongs to God and take our stand based on what God has already done for us in the gospel. We’re to put on:
- the belt of the truth revealed in the gospel;
- the breastplate of God’s righteousness – putting on “the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24);
- the shoes of readiness to tell others about what God has accomplished through the gospel;
- the shield of faith, which means we latch onto God’s promises in the middle of the battle;
- the helmet of the salvation we have received from God – to live in light of the fact that God has rescued us from death, wrath, and bondage through his salvation; and
- the sword of Spirit, which is the word about the gospel that comes to us through the Spirit’s power.
Together, God has given us six pieces of his armor that all come back to the gospel. What he’s given us is enough, and yet we have to take up each piece of armor and stand confidently against all the powers of evil. God’s provided the armor; we just have to use it.So, Paul is saying, we face a spiritual battle against enemies who are powerful, wicked, and devious. And the only way we can stand against the enemy is to use the Lord’s resources. We can’t rely on ourselves. If we do, we’re dead. Jack Miller wrote:
What we fail to see is that reliance on people, their capabilities, their keeping their promises, is a demonic faith, a cooperation in heart with the powers of darkness. We join the enemy, Satan, when we fail to rely on the promises of God to move on our behalf.
Satan’s strategy is to get us to rely on ourselves or to lose confidence because of his evil power. But Paul says we must stand against Satan because we are relying on God’s power and the gospel. “Satan is no match for my Jesus. No match at all. One word from Jesus and the whole host of hell must flee” (Miller).Paul closes with an appeal for us to pray. “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 Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:18). Paul says this is how we are to pray: at all times, with all kinds of prayers, with all perseverance (“always keep on praying”), and for all of God’s people. This is compared to how we normally pray: sometimes, with some prayers, with a little perseverance, and for some of God’s people.Theologian John Frame writes:
Our only offensive weapons are the Word of God and prayer. This may seem a puny arsenal to the rulers of this world, but God tells us it has more power than any of those rulers. People sometimes say mockingly, “Well, we can always try prayer.” But God’s weapons are more powerful than anything in the mockers’ arsenal. A gun will subdue a man, but only the sword of God’s Word, wielded in prayer, will subdue Satan. (Salvation Belongs to the Lord)
Somebody else said, “The devil trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.” When we are prayer-less, it shows that we are relying on our own power and have not put on the armor of God. But when we recognize the conflict we’re in, and when we respond by using God’s resources through prayer, then we will be be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Lloyd-Jones said, “There is nothing that is more urgently important for all who claim the name of Christian, than to grasp and to understand the teaching of this particular section of Scripture.” There is nothing more important than understanding the nature of the battle, and understanding the resources we have in the Lord to respond.This is why the two most important things we can do as a church are to continually dwell in what God’s Word tells us about the gospel, and then to rely on the Lord’s power through prayer. Everything else flows out of these two. Without them, nothing else matters.So friends, be strong in the Lord. Understand what we’re part of: we’re part of what God is doing in uniting all things in Christ. Realize that this will not go opposed. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Let’s pray.
Father, some of us have not realized the type of battle we’re in. We are in a battle that we cannot win if we rely on our own strength. Yet our battle is against a defeated foe, and we cannot lose the battle if we use the resources that you have provided for us.Forgive us for relying on our own power. I pray that we would not only grasp the resources that you have provided for us through the gospel, but that we would use them as we pray.May every person here understand what Jesus Christ has done to save us from sin and death, and to reconcile us to God and to each other. May every person here repent and put their hope in Jesus. And may we as a church massage the gospel into all of our lives, and rely on your power. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.