Ephesians 6:10-12 Notes
each Christian is engaged in a great spiritual battle and must equip himself for it.
Many Christians today would judge the teaching of these verses unimportant. They would encourage us to think positively and peacefully, as if there were no spiritual battles at all. They see Christianity not as an entrance into warfare but as an exit from it. They see it as the solution to our problems. If you are sick, Jesus will make you well. If you are discouraged, Jesus will make you happy. You get the impression from those who talk like this that to believe in Jesus is to enter upon a smooth path and to enjoy smooth sailing.
John R. W. Stott shows the inevitability of this struggle, given: (1) the purposes of God expounded in the first five chapters of Ephesians, and (2) the existence of a devil who is opposed to those purposes. Stott writes, “Is God’s plan to create a new society? Then they [the hostile spiritual forces] will do their utmost to destroy it. Has God through Jesus Christ broken down the walls dividing human beings of different races and cultures from each other? Then the devil through his emissaries will strive to rebuild them. Does God intend his reconciled and redeemed people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of hell will scatter among them the seeds of discord and sin.”
As Stott shows, the very fact that Paul follows his beautiful and uplifting portrait of peaceful Christian homes and happy Christian relations (in Ephesians 5:22–6:9) with this stark description of warfare indicates that even these things will not be achieved without conflict. Clearly the victories of the Christian life are to be achieved by a relentless and lifelong struggle against evil.
When Paul says that we do not struggle against flesh and blood he is not, in my opinion, denying that we do at times actually struggle on the human level. It is obvious that we do. He is saying that our struggle is not just on that level. We do have a physical, visible struggle. But over and above that, over and above what we see, there is an invisible spiritual struggle going on against the devil and his forces. We cannot see the devil or his legions. Yet, as Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Right here we have something that sets Christianity off from the philosophies of our world. The world of our day is secular; that is, it operates only within the categories of this age. And it is materialistic, which means that it considers as real only what it can see or touch or measure. For our contemporaries the world is a closed system. That is why talk about the devil is hardly regarded as serious. People still talk about God, of course. He gets some respect out of deference to religious traditions. But the devil? “You can’t be serious! A little man in red underwear with a tail and horns? Is that your enemy? He and his little demons?” People laugh at any suggestion that our warfare is spiritual and, on a more serious note, accuse us of neglecting the real battle which in their opinion should be waged against such tangible things as poverty, oppression, hunger, and various forms of injustice.
We do not want to deny for an instant that those are real problems or that we should do all we can to alleviate or abolish them. But we ask: If the real problems of this world are merely material and visible, how is it that they have not been solved or eliminated long ago?
How are we to understand the nouns that occur in this passage: rulers, authorities, powers, and forces? Some have taken them as if they are ranks in Satan’s army. At the bottom you have spiritual forces, mere demons. Over these are powers. Powers are governed by authorities, and above these are rulers. Presumably the devil is over all. Or they reverse it: first rulers, then authorities, followed by powers and forces. I do not think Paul is doing that. I think he is using terms which take the powers that are arrayed against us together. The distinction is not between the supposed levels of demonic authority but rather between the various areas of life over which they exert an evil influence.
But now Paul brings us down to earth, and to realities harsher than dreams. He reminds us of the opposition. Beneath surface appearances an unseen spiritual battle is raging. He introduces us to the devil (already mentioned in 2:2 and 4:27) and to certain ‘principalities and powers’ at his command. He supplies us with no biography of the devil, and no account of the origin of the forces of darkness. He assumes their existence as common ground between himself and his readers. In any case, his purpose is not to satisfy our curiosity, but to warn us of their hostility and teach us how to overcome them.
‘It is a stirring call to battle … Do you not hear the bugle, and the trumpet?… We are being roused, we are being stimulated, we are being set upon our feet; we are told to be men. The whole tone is martial, it is manly, it is strong’.
Moreover, there will be no cessation of hostilities, not even a temporary truce or cease-fire, until the end of life or of history when the peace of heaven is attained. It seems probable that Paul implies this by his Finally … For the better manuscripts have an expression which should be translated not ‘finally’, introducing the conclusion, but ‘henceforward’ meaning ‘for the remaining time’. If this is correct, then the apostle is indicating that the whole of the interim period between the Lord’s two comings is to be characterized by conflict.