(This article is the eighth in a series tracing the theme of spiritual opposition in Ephesians.)
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. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. Ephesians 6:10-20
Now at letter’s end, Paul addresses the subject of spiritual warfare that is normative and continual for Christian living in this fallen world. The stream of thought that has wound its way throughout the epistle now emerges for practical consideration. Ephesians 6:10-12 lays out our enemy, our battle plan, our weapons and our strategies.
Paul wrote Ephesians while in prison. But he knew that his jailers and persecutors were not the ultimate enemy. His enemy (and ours) is not flesh and blood, but spiritual forces of evil.
These forces follow the direction of their leader, the devil. As fallen angels, they share the character of Satan. We learn of that character through the intelligence given us by God in His Word of their leader. They carry out his schemes and employ his tactics, for his ends of bringing dishonor to Christ and defeat to His church.
Paul describes our enemy as “…the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12). Some describe this as “hell’s headquarters.” Others suggest various forces of evil or strata of military groupings are referred to here.
It may well be that divisions of spiritual militia are in view in this description of our enemy. Scripture does speak of divisions among the elect angels. Michael is referred to as an archangel. But (and here is the important point) neither Paul nor any other biblical author would have us take a breakdown of spiritual forces into account in the conduct of spiritual warfare for our sanctification or expansion of the kingdom. Rather, our attention is directed to the forces of evil through the devil and his schemes (v. 11).
What is pertinent for us to see is that these rulers and authorities and powers are those who have been vanquished by Christ in Ephesians 1:19-21 (cf. Col. 2:14-15). Hence, Paul’s initial charge in Ephesians 6:10 to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” That harkens to all Paul has explained about what Christ has accomplished.
The armor of God is laid out for us. We have a right and responsibility to don it as the called of the Lord, citizens of heaven, soldiers of the kingdom. The armor is not of our own making or design, but crafted by God and presented by grace.
A survey of the armor in verses 14-17 is sufficient to ward off and fight against the devil’s schemes (v. 11). While it is true that most of the armor listed is defensive, that in no way suggests passivity in spiritual warfare. Armor was donned for protection in the waging of the battle.
Awareness of Satan’s schemes (cf. Eph. 4:14; 2 Cor. 2:11) helps us to understand the nature of the armor as Paul presents us with each piece.
Satan is a liar, a counterfeiter and a deceiver. He promotes unrighteousness and false righteousness. He fosters division, discord and disunity. He offers up competing counsel to God’s, with the sales pitch that it leads to life. He accuses, prosecuting our offenses against us, turning up the meter of guilt in our consciences.
All the panoply provided by God has to do with what Christ has accomplished in the power of God that is received by grace through faith. To wage spiritual warfare is to walk in the reality of the gospel of the kingdom Paul has been driving home to us throughout his letter.
That’s why Paul speaks so pointedly of “standing” as the strategy for spiritual warfare in the course of everyday life.
“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…” (Ephesians 6:13–14a)
To stand is to remain steadfast, unmoving in the gospel. As Paul puts it in Colossians: “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). That gospel, as Paul made it clear in the Sentence of Ephesians 1, is bound up “in Christ.”
In John 15, Jesus bids us to “abide” in Him. Why? Because apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Conversely, Paul says that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13). What Jesus in John 15 calls “abiding” is what Paul in Ephesians 6 calls “standing.” To abide in Christ is to stand in Christ, finding our salvation, sufficiency and strength in Him alone.
Note: Those interested in a more general study of spiritual warfare will find an brief overview in What is Spiritual Warfare? (Basics of the Faith Series). My book, Warfare Witness: Contending With Spiritual Opposition in Everyday Evangelism, addresses evangelism from the perspective of spiritual warfare. A study guide to the book is available under CHOP resources.