We Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood
Topic: Expository Scripture: Ephesians 6:10–20
Synopsis: In the second half of Ephesians, Paul has been exhorting us as followers of Christ to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling.” But why is that so difficult? In Ephesians 6:10-20, we discover at least one reason. We are at war and we face a fierce enemy. This message (We Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood) is the first of two messages on the topic of spiritual warfare and the armor of God.
We come today to the final section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Because it is such a rich and important section of Scripture, we are going to take two weeks to work our way through it.
The broad outline of Ephesians is quite clear. In chapters 1-3, we looked at the Believer’s Wealth. We have been blessed “in Christ” with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” As Paul expounds on our spiritual wealth he prays that our eyes will be open to see what Christ has done for us and the power that is available to us, and above all, that we will be strengthened in our “inner being” to comprehend his great love for us.
In chapters 4-6, Paul expounds on the Believer’s Walk. Once we comprehend our spiritual wealth and our new identity in Christ, we are called to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling.”
At this point, it all seems fairly clear and fairly logical. This is what God has done for us. He has saved us from our sins. He has given us all these spiritual blessings and resources. Now he wants us to live in a way that honors him. That’s fair and logical. So let’s do it. It should be simple enough, should it not?
But of course it is not simple, is it? Why not? Why is the Christian life so hard? Why is it such a struggle? The last section of Ephesians will help us answer that question. The Christian life is difficult because we face a very powerful enemy. We are living in hostile territory. There is a war going on.
The section opens with a word of both exhortation and encouragement: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (v. 10)
The basic command here is “Be strong.” Let me ask you a question. When do you need to be strong? When you are on your way to take a nap? When you on your way to a week’s vacation? As you sit down with a cup of coffee to read the newspaper? “Be strong!”
When do we tell someone to be strong? When we know they are going to face a challenge. When we know that what lies ahead is difficult, painful, stressful. Paul knew from personal experience that the Christian life is difficult. Remember, he was writing these words from a Roman prison!
There is a tendency in much of today’s preaching to proclaim an “easy Gospel.” “Follow Jesus and your life will get easier, problems will disappear, and you will prosper.” Don’t get me wrong. Following Jesus will bring you great joy, purpose and fulfillment in your life. But following Jesus will not make your life easier. That’s why we need this exhortation to “be strong.”
I want to point out something else in this verse. Where does our strength come from? “In the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
We have seen these words before. Turn back to Ephesians 1:18-20:
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
That underlined section is a translation of the very same Greek vocabulary words used now in Ephesians 6:10. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that we will have our eyes opened to see and comprehend his power. Now in chapter 6 he exhorts us to use that power and rely on Christ’s might in order to “be strong.”
Yes, the Christian life is tough, but we have all of Christ’s great power and might to draw on; his resurrection power!
But, why is the Christian life so difficult? Why do we need to be strong? Why do we need Christ’s power?
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.
There is an interesting mixture of metaphors here. In verse 12, he refers to “wrestling”. But in verse 11 we are told to put on “armor.” These two don’t go together in real life. Wrestlers don’t wear armor. So why are they put together here? I think it is because both metaphors are necessary to express the reality of our warfare.
First, we wrestle. Wrestling was a popular sport in the Roman world. As a word picture, it depicts the very individual, personal nature of the conflict. This is one on one, up close and personal. The root word for wrestling here speaks of twisting, turning and spinning. I am reminded of wrestling matches I have watched, as the fighters have engaged arms, head against head, lunging for a grip, or a handhold that will enable them to throw their opponent to the ground. This is no long-range battle. There are no remote control drones. There was a naval battle in World War 2 called the Battle of Midway, in which the ships engaged in the battle never even saw each other as they lobbed shells and launched aircraft against each other. Well, it’s not that way in the Christian life. This is hand to hand combat against a very personal enemy. We wrestle.
But we need full armor to be successful. In adding this metaphor, we quickly see the deadliness of this conflict and its fierceness. This is no game. This is no sport. This is war. The enemy is using real arrows, real spears. In today’s analogy, he’s using live ammunition. Life and death are on the line. This is serious business. Put on the full armor of God because you are going to need every piece.
Who is our enemy? Against whom are we wrestling? Verse 11 tells us that our ultimate enemy is the devil himself. Let’s do a quick summary of Biblical teaching on this subject. The word “devil” or “diabolos” means literally a “slanderer.” Another name for him found in Scripture is “Satan” which means “adversary, enemy, one who opposes.”
If we piece together the different Scriptural references, we discover that Satan is an angel; a spirit being created by God. In fact, he was the most beautiful and powerful angel God created. But in his great beauty and power he became proud and lusted after the place of God himself. And in his pride he rebelled and took roughly a third of the other angels with him.
God cast them out of heaven, and since that time, Satan has been using all of his awful power to set up an alternative kingdom on earth; one which obeys him. And he is doing everything he can to thwart the eternal plan and purpose of God on earth. He is still very much alive and active in our world today. In fact the Bible even refers to him as “the god of this world.”
More bad news. He is not alone. He has forces with him. Those fallen angels or spirit beings are also referred to as demons. And they are apparently organized into a hierarchy of evil spiritual power. This is what Paul is referring to in verse 12 when he speaks of “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So where does this spiritual hierarchy of evil forces operate? Do you see that at the end of verse 12: “in the heavenly places.” This is the same phrase we found early in Ephesians. The spiritual realms. There is a physical and visible world that we experience with our sense. And there is a spiritual and invisible world that we cannot see. It is in these “heavenly places” that we have been given every spiritual blessing. But it is also in this spiritual realm that Satan and his forces work.
But this spiritual and therefore mostly invisible realm nonetheless has very real impact in the visible and physical world in which we live. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. In other words, our real enemies are not visible enemies. But that does not make them any less real. They may be “forces of evil in the heavenly realm” but they are able to project their influence into the earthly realm and they do make every effort to attack, defeat and destroy Christ’s kingdom and his followers. This is no Sunday School picnic. This is war. This is no cute little devil with horns, a tail and a pitchfork. These are evil forces with awesome power. And they are at work in our world today.
I want to comment on one particular verb that Paul uses repeatedly in these verses. In fact it occurs 4 times. It is the word “stand.” It occurs in verse 11, twice in verse 13 and again in verse 14. Throughout this section, Paul is calling us to a defensive stance. The picture he is using is that of a soldier under attack. His job is to hold the line, to stand and to defend his ground. We find this same emphasis in other New Testament references to spiritual warfare.
In James 4:7 we find this: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Peter uses similar language in 1 Peter 5:8-9: Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith,
There has been a great deal of writing on spiritual warfare in recent years. Some of it calls on the church and Christians to take the offensive against the devil; to advance, to storm the devil’s ramparts. This makes for good sermons. But I don’t find that language or emphasis in Scripture. Here we are told to “stand our ground” against the devil. He will attack. We need not go looking for spiritual warfare. It will come to us. We are called to be strong, to be alert, to be ready, to resist him and to stand firm in our faith when the attacks come.
There are two phrases here that Paul uses in connection with the call to “stand against” the devil. The first is found in verse 11. We are to stand against “the schemes” of the devil. The word Paul uses here is the Greek word from which we get our English word “methods”. In the original it carries with it the idea of deceitfulness and trickery. I find this significant. Satan knows that he cannot come against the kingdom of Christ and his followers with raw power, because he lacks the fire power. Christ’s power is much greater than Satan’s power and he knows it. So Satan resorts to “schemes” and trickery and deceit. Satan is identified as a liar and the “father of lies.” He has no real power that he can bring against Christ’s power, so he lies to us. He deceives us. He accuses us. He tricks us. And he is a master at it. That is why we need the “full armor of God.” I appreciate the approach to spiritual warfare that is based on the understanding that our conflicts with the spiritual powers are not so much power encounters as they are truth encounters; countering Satan’s lies with God’s truth. But more on that next week.
The second phrase that intrigues me here is the phrase “the evil day,” which occurs in verse 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.
What is the “evil day” that Paul is referring to? There are several different interpretations. Some commentators define every day as an evil day. Others take this as an eschatological reference to the evil days that will precede the return of Christ to the earth.
I take a third approach. In one sense, we can all agree with the writers that every day on earth is an evil day. We are surrounded by sin and temptation; by stress and problems. But personally, I do not find that every day is equally evil. Some days are pretty good days. There are days, even weeks and months, when things go right and life flows relatively smoothly.
But then, suddenly, often when we least expect it, trouble erupts. Disaster strikes. Life falls apart, and we find ourselves in the midst of an “evil day.” We are under attack. We find this in the lives of men and women of Scripture: Job, Moses, David, Daniel and others. And so with us. We lose our job. A loved one dies. The doctor tells us we have cancer. Our marriage disintegrates. An earthquake strikes.
I am not suggesting here that Satan directly initiates these tragedies or even that he has the power to do so. However, I do know that he is quick to move in on us in those times when our defenses are down. It is in those evil days that the battle wages most fiercely in our hearts. Everything we believe and stand for is called into question. Will we stand or will we fall? That is the question we face in “the evil day.” To be able to “stand firm” in the evil day, we will need the whole armor of God.
At this point, if you agree with my interpretation of the “evil day”, we might be inclined to slack off a bit. “Things are going pretty well right now. I can take a bit of a spiritual break.”
OK. But remember, we are still at war. And we do not know when the next attack is coming. Evil days and disasters come without warning. When they strike, there may not be time to run to the closet and try to dig out your spiritual armor. “Where is that helmet? I know I left it in here somewhere!” And Satan is quick to move in on the unsuspecting. Peter tells us that he is like a roaring lion, just looking for someone to devour.
There is a picture from the Old Testament that I think helps us strike a good balance. It comes from the Book of Nehemiah and the story of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. There were enemies who did not want the walls to be rebuilt. So Nehemiah instructed the people to work with their armor on, carrying their weapons with them. That is a good picture of the Christian life. We are building; positive, constructive work as we seek to “walk worthy” of our calling. But we are also alert and ready for attack at any moment, so that when the evil day comes, we will be able to stand.
There is more to be said. What is the armor and how do we put it on? But we will save it for next week. I just want to conclude today with one more application, jumping to the end of the passage. It is not part of the armor. But it is an essential element that is to pervade every phase and arena of life, both good days and evil days. It is found in verse 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,
It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of prayer in the Christian life. Prayer makes the vital connection between the physical world in which we live and the spiritual realm, the “heavenly places” in which our spiritual blessings and riches and resources are to be found. “Praying at all times.” Literally, on all occasions or at every opportunity and at every critical moment. Praying, not only for ourselves, but for “all the saints.” Even when you and I might be having a good day, someone we know is enduring an “evil day” and his or her faith may be under attack. Be alert and keep praying.
Read the passage together.
Why do we need to “be strong”? Why is the Christian life so difficult?
Compare verse 10 with Ephesians 1:17-23. Why is it important to keep these passages linked in our understanding?
4. The emphasis of this passage (and others relating to spiritual warfare) seem to be primarily defensive rather than offensive in nature (“Stand fast”). Do you agree? And if so, what is the significance of this observation?
Contrast the images of “wrestling” and “full armor”: how are they the same? How are they different? Why are the two together important in order to have a complete understanding of spiritual warfare?
“The devil’s schemes”: What do we know about his schemes? What is the difference between understanding spiritual warfare as “power encounter” or “truth encounter”?
What is the “evil day” referred to in verse 13?
What is the significance of prayer to spiritual warfare and spiritual victory?