The new commander had cause to be nervous. His predecessor was now dead. That commander had led the nation through a hostile wilderness; he now must lead them into the very stronghold of the enemy. He must wage battle against rulers and authorities, against the powerful forces that were at their command. But he was strengthened by the exhortation of the Great Commander – be strong and courageous – an exhortation backed up by the promises of victory.
Another commander now exhorts his troops. He has already presented to them what their God has accomplished for them in chapters 1-3. He has then instructed them as to how they are to live in response to such blessing (4:1-6:9). Now he prepares them for how they can live such a life (6:10-20).
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
This charge is reminiscent of the one given to Joshua by God – be strong and courageous. But here Paul’s emphasis is not so much on motivating his readers to be strong as it is to instruct them in the way to be strong – “in the Lord,” “in the strength of his might.” They are to “put on the whole armor of God” (v 11).
Verses 14-20 will explain what that armor consists of, but the very depiction of armor will show that not only is the armor that which God gives but that which God himself uses. And so, to be strong in the Lord entails bearing the very armor that belongs to the Lord. But that is not all what being “strong in the Lord” encompasses. Paul is also harking back to what we are to know in chapters 1-3. He prays that his readers will know,
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (1:19-21).
It is this power that has won our redemption, provided forgiveness, assures us of our inheritance. By this power we who were dead were raised to new life. This power has even strengthened us so as to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. And so we bless God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (3:20). Therefore, we are to be strong in that power of God and in our Lord which works for us and within us.
For what reason are we to “stand firm”? Why is it necessary to put on full armor? Verse 12 and 13 explain: 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.
Now we get to it – spiritual warfare! The battle is not against flesh and blood but against evil spiritual beings. A list of names or titles is given. There is the devil, the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. It is tempting to speculate about the identification of each term, but we will keep to the point of the passage. In order to live the life called of them, they must know the enemy who schemes against them to live out that calling.
Since chapter 4, Paul has been exhorting his readers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling as the children of light. They are to be united in one body. They are to put off their old dress of sin and put on the new clothes after the likeness of God. This means that they have to reject what use to entice them and to put away the old vices. They must no longer associate with the world in its darkness. This new life of light is to be exhibited in their marriages, their families, households and workplaces.
But in order to walk the walk they must understand just who or what it is that makes such a life so difficult. There is the flesh, to be sure. That is why we are to consciously and daily remove the old rags and to wear the new dress of Christ. There is the world, which in its darkness presents an enticing alternative and lures us back to our old lives. But we need to come to grips that the real battle lies not in self-control or resisting the world; rather, there is a spiritual dimension, a wicked spiritual force of demonic beings under the rule of Satan the devil fighting against us. The weak flesh and the luring world, as terrible as they may be in leading us into sin are but means by which Satan, our great enemy, uses to attack us.
And so, as verse 13 concludes: 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.
We are to take up the armor of God that we might withstand the assault of the Evil One and his forces “in the evil day.” Just what is meant by the “evil day” is unclear, but we can attest that there are days of particular temptation and battle for us, and that the very age in which we live is hostile toward a righteous life. In other words, the battle is about us now. The enemy is upon us now. And so we are to take up the armor of God and use it now to stand firm against the first assault and the second and the third, indeed, “and having done all, to stand firm” yet again.
So then, let us count the cost to wage such battle. Jesus said that before a king undertakes war with another king, he first considers whether he can win the battle. Well, can we? Can we win the battle? To count the cost we need to consider, one, the type of battle; two, the stakes; three, the foe; and four, our resources.
1. The Type of Battle
Just what is this spiritual warfare that we are to be engaged in? Are we the invaders, marching into Satan’s territory to claim it for Christ? Jesus spoke of how the very gates of hell would not be able to prevail against the Church. And there is the time that he sent his disciples forth to cast out demons, among other things. And when they came back, he told them how he saw Satan fall from heaven like lightening. Is that what is meant in our passage? Or does spiritual warfare consist of us battling against Satan’s forces when we are doing especially important work for the Lord? I will from time to time get requests for prayer to battle against the evil spirits. I am told that these are instances of spiritual warfare because someone or some work for the Lord is in danger.
Both ideas are true, no doubt. To bring the gospel anywhere on this earth is to march into Satan’s territory, and he does fight back. And there are crucial times in which a life or work seems to be hanging in the balance, and we must all the more fight with prayer and with God’s armor. But Paul has already presented the battle scene for his soldiers. What is it? It is walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called (4:1).
The battle, as presented in Ephesians – the very real spiritual warfare which requires our daily putting on the armor of God – is living at peace and in harmony with one another in the church. It is working together to build each other up in Christ. The battle to fight is to put off the old self with its corrupted desires and its selfishness and to put on holiness, righteousness, and love. The battle is a wife submitting to her husband and a husband laying down his life for his wife. It is a child respecting his parents, and a father being patient with his children. The battle entails a subordinate working with a good will even under an unfair superior, and a superior treating those under him with the same good will. You see, the warfare takes place wherever you are, in whatever circumstance you now encounter.
Some might ask, “That’s the warfare? That’s it? No casting demons out of strongholds? No mighty battle to wage for the sake of God’s kingdom?” Well, is there a more difficult battle to wage than that which takes place in one’s own heart? I have never been in the military and know nothing of training for combat or being in combat, but tell me, those of you who have, which is harder – to learn how to fight or to learn how to curb the sinful impulses of the heart? Which is harder – to fight courageously or to love sacrificially? Is it more difficult to be unified during an enemy attack or during the peaceful lulls?
2. The Stakes
But you might protest that these are but small battles in terms of significance. Kingdoms are not at stake. But is that true? Rest assure that, if you are in Christ, your soul cannot be stolen by Satan. You are protected. Nevertheless, how you live out your calling has consequences more significant than you realize. Satan cannot take your soul, but he can render your witness and service ineffective, indeed, even to be harmful.
How many gifted servants have been disgraced by their sin that they did not guard against? How many have caused Christ’s church to be made odious to those who had considered the gospel? How many broken Christian marriages and broken Christian homes led to others rejecting the gospel message? How many Christian bosses and authorities have turned those under them away from the gospel because of being blinded by Satan to their sinful behavior? Churches have split; movements have failed because Christian individuals and communities have failed to stand against the schemes of the devil. The stakes are high indeed.
3. The Foe
So to count the cost is to consider the battle itself and the stakes. It also entails knowing the foe. We cannot win a battle when we do not know our foe, nor accurately assess his strength. That is why our passage alerts us to the real enemy – Satan and his evil spiritual forces.
This alone is crucial knowledge and can make the difference in our overcoming many of the daily struggles we face. Those of you right now in a difficult relationship – it may be marriage or in the family; it may be in the workplace or in school; it may be with a problem neighbor – know that the flesh and blood individual is not your foe.
An incident in Jesus’ life demonstrates this. You recall the moment when Jesus is telling of the sufferings he will face even unto death. Peter interrupts with a protest that Jesus should not be speaking of such things. How does Jesus respond? “Get behind me, Satan!” What was happening? Satan was using a friend to tempt Jesus to avoid the cross. But it did not work because Jesus was alert to the true enemy. Our Redeemer never faltered for he knew his Enemy and his Enemy’s ways.
What are those ways? There is outright affliction, for one way. Paul himself describes his chronic pain condition as “a messenger of Satan to harass me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). Jesus describes a woman bent over for eighteen years as bound by Satan (Luke 13:16), and believers in the church in Smyrna are warned that the devil would soon be throwing some of them in prison (Revelation 2:10). And of course, we know the story of Job. These are very real attacks for which we are to use the armor of God, not so much in warding off the affliction but for enduring it in a godly manner. They come to us under the permission of God to test us, to sanctify us, and to promote God’s glory. Satan intends harm, but God overrules to bring good.
Probably more to the point in our passage is the type of situation mentioned in 4:27 where Paul cautions his readers to “give no opportunity to the devil.” The specific context there is dealing with anger. We all get angry for one reason or another. Most of the time the anger itself is sinful, but regardless, the point is that if we are not careful with our anger, Satan will use it as opportunity to wreak havoc. And who here does not winch at the memory of hasty action or words made in anger? Churches have been split, families broken, friendships ended, and the Gospel dishonored before the world because of the hurtful folly committed in anger. That is the work of Satan. He does not cause your anger, but he does exploit it.
Satan wages battle by taking advantage of our lack of self-control. Thus Paul warns married couples not to withhold physical relations for long periods of time, lest Satan tempt the spouses in their lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:5). We are to avoid putting ourselves in situations where temptation would be particularly strong because we have an enemy who will use the opportunities against us.
Again, we all have our weaknesses and sinful tendencies. Satan is the opportunist. He is prowling around looking for moments when he can exploit our weaknesses, not only to bring us down but to harm others, disgrace the Gospel, and dishonor God’s name. And so he will take Ananias’ greed in Acts 5 and use it to slip in lying and deceit in the church. He will take the pride of an officer in the church and lead him into folly that will disgrace his witness and leadership (1 Timothy 3:6-7).
Opportunity – that is what Satan is looking for. He uses guerrilla tactics to attack unguarded prey. Who is the Christian straying from the fold? Who is keeping out of fellowship? Who is lagging in prayer and study of the Word? Who is not dealing forthrightly and righteously with a hurt, an offense, and with besetting sin and weakness? Where are the weak spots in the church? Maybe it is a great teaching church but the people are not coming alongside one another and upholding each other. Maybe the church puts so much emphasis on relating that it becomes sloppy with teaching. Maybe the fellowship and teaching are strong, but it has turned inward and lost its drive to witness. Or maybe the church is doing well in all these areas, but someone’s pride, someone’s grievance, someone’s temptation produces a sore that grows and infects the body. Be sure that Satan will exploit whatever the weakness may be, so that, again, he may use us to bring disgrace to our faith and dishonor to our Lord’s name.
4. The Resources
What then can we do against such a foe? Who can outwit him? Who can be strong in every area? Be sure that Paul has not presented the warning to invite despair, but to help his readers obtain the resources they needed. This will lead into the recitation of the armor of God that they have available for combat.
But the key for us in our battles is to know what David knew when he fought Goliath. Remember how King Saul equipped David with his armor? That was a generous act. But it was too big and David had to go forth by himself to fight the enemy. Surely he had the well-wishes of the army, but no one could impart to him strength or skill. David was left to his own resources, or was he? He didn’t think so. As he said to his enemy on the battle field: “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand…that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s…” (1 Samuel 17:45-47).
That is what Paul has already been teaching his readers, as we have seen. We possess not only armor but the very power of God displayed in the raising of Jesus Christ and seating him at his right hand above any and all our enemies. Whoever these rulers and authorities and cosmic powers may be; whatever these spiritual forces headed by Satan entail – Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer is seated above them in great power, and it is he who fights our battles for us. It is he who has already won the great battle on our behalf against sin and death. He has already won the decisive battle against our enemy. We are strong in his strength. We stand in his power. We stand against our enemy in his name, the Lord of the armies of God.
David fought Goliath out of righteous anger. He was angry that this enemy defied the armies of God, and so, God himself. He was angry that God’s name was being dishonored, both by the arrogance of the enemy and the cowardliness of God’s army. We need to have such anger.
Here is an enemy that we can honestly and righteously hate. Here is an enemy that has tricked you into thinking your spouse, your parent, your teacher, your neighbor is the problem. He has tricked you, so that he can make you fall, so that he can laugh at you and accuse you before God. He delights in making a mockery of you because he despises your Maker and Redeemer. Here is an enemy who delights in turning the Church of Christ into an object of derision, with turning the Gospel into an impotent, empty promise.
Are you going to let him get away with it? You, who belong to the army of God; you who possess the power of the Gospel; you who have the Lord Jesus Christ as your Commander, as your very strength; are you going to take your stand in the evil day? Fight this enemy and his evil forces! Determine that you will stand in your marriage, in your singleness, in your adverse circumstances, so that all might see the power of the Gospel and the Church of Jesus Christ. Withstand the evil schemes of the devil. And when you have done all that day, when you have withstood the first assault and the second and the third, then, with your Commander Jesus Christ by your side, stand against the enemy yet again until your Lord returns or calls you home.
© 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page, or embed the entire material hosted on Tenth channels. You may not re-upload the material in its entirety. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Tenth Presbyterian Church.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By D. Marion Clark. © 2023 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org