Chapter 6:10-18a (ESV) - Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. 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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
Question to consider: Why does Paul tie spiritual ideas to instruments of war in this passage?
When faced with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple after Israel’s exile into Babylon, Zechariah received a message from God in his vision of the lampstand, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (Zechariah 4:6-7) God made it clear that His will would come to pass by His sovereign hand and not by the power of king Zerubbabel or high priest Joshua.
The same promise holds true to the new temple being built up in Christ Jesus (the church). We do not have a hope of standing in the faith against the schemes of the devil in our own strength. Without the Holy Spirit, we are like Peter who was sifted as wheat by Satan when he denied ever having known Jesus. After Pentecost, Peter went to his death proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to the throne of God. Paul’s emphasis today is that our job is to stand firm in our faith and rely on the might of our Lord to win the battle.
Unlike Islam which conquers nations for Allah through physical warfare, disciples of Christ are made through the word of God and the waters of baptism. The “church militant” is not a description of the Knights Templar with their cross-handled swords cutting down the enemy and invading the pagan lands. It is the body of believers who go about their lives throughout the world glorifying the Lord in their jobs and families and serving their neighbor all the while sharing the good news that Christ is the one who has reconciled us to God. In doing so, we are promised to face persecution and hardships, for we have an enemy in the world who despises God and desires that everyone should perish in their sin.
However, in case we get confused by who our enemy really is, Paul very clearly states here that our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is spiritual. And so our protection is found in things like truth and righteousness and the gospel of peace. Our salvation is found in the Lord, and we are shielded from the enemy’s weapons by faith. Our weapons against the enemy are the word of God and prayer. Being filled with the Holy Spirit is not a mystical experience at a revival meeting. It comes by the prayer and encouragement of other believers, the study of God’s word, and the receiving of Christ and His forgiveness through word and sacrament.
Paul has established that God was the one who brought the Ephesians to life in Christ. Paul has encouraged them to live out the reality of their salvation through the good works God created them to do. Now Paul is showing them how the Spirit works in their lives to help them stand firm in the faith. All of this was true for the Ephesians, and all of it is still true for us today.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for being mighty to save us and powerful enough to keep us growing in our faith. Help us to see other people as our neighbors and not our enemies and to realize that our battle is against the lies of the evil one who is bent on our destruction. Amen.