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 (Ephesians 6:12).
The city of Ephesus is one of the most thoroughly excavated ancient cities in the world, a huge archaeological site covering almost 500 acres. When we visited the city, we actually explored places where the Apostle Paul must almost certainly have walked 2000 years ago: the local synagogue, the massive 24,000-seat outdoor theatre, the impressive facade of the library – once one of the 3 largest in the world until Mark Antony raided its contents to present an enormous literary gift to Cleopatra in Alexandria.
But as impressive as Ephesus was in Paul’s day – arches, columns, public baths, lavish use of marble to make it a world-class Mediterranean city – it was also known throughout the Greco-Romans world as a city of great wickedness, mixing pornography and religion on a large scale together with heavy consumption of alcohol – all as components of pagan worship. And the town was famous for the temple to Artemis (or Diana) situated just outside the city, and one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. (Only foundations, sculptural fragments, and a single column remain of the temple today, the rest having been carted away to other museums around the world.)
Very few churches in the first century could parallel Ephesus for its apostolic line-up of pastors and teachers. Imagine being part of this local fellowship: Paul shepherded the church for 3 years, and it also benefitted from the spiritual influence of church planters Priscilla and Aquila, and Apollos, and later from Timothy’s ministry (near the end of Paul’s life).
In his epistle, Paul was concerned that the Ephesian believers recognized and prepared for what in our day is often the unacknowledged enemy. Paul knew that wherever the work of the Lord advances – wherever the Kingdom of God progresses – that the evil one and his minions will attack.
But spiritual protection of the highest magnitude – the ultimate in personal and corporate protection – is supplied by our cosmic Commander-in-Chief. However, there is a role – an essential task – that is left to us.
And so the apostle warned in chapter 6 to appropriate the power that is provided: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God” (v.10, 11a).
Notice Paul’s stated purpose: “so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (v.11b). He’s calling out encouraging instruction like a military general or athletic coach. He’s calling for Christ-followers like us to not only protect ourselves from personal injury, but more importantly to stand our ground, field our position, fulfill our role, defend our turf as we are used by Him to collaboratively defend our corporate existence as the Body of Christ.
And the warning clearly identifies those who are our spiritual enemies – and it’s not God-denying governments, or morally corrupt movements, militant atheists, or even Christian-targeting terrorists. Paul spells out for the programme those who are daily launching a powerful attack against us: “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 (v.12).
There are 2 admonitions implicit in this passage, warnings about what not to do:
- the first is to be naive about the battle, to assume because we can’t see the battle or read about it in the headlines, that it must not be real or authentic.
- and the second is to have the necessary equipment to protect and defend, and to fail to put it on.
But the clash is genuine. Evidence of discouragement, disappointment, and despair among God’s people proves it to be true. And reminds us of our need to enter the fray with His protection.
Takeaway:“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 (Ephesians 6:13).