Brothers In Arms.
Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemesof the devil. – Ephesians 6:10-11 NET
This is one of those passages in Scripture that we tend to particularize and personalize to such an extent that we end up missing the whole point of its meaning. For six chapters, Paul has been addressing the corporate body of Christ in Ephesus. His emphasis has been on the unity of the body and the relationships they share with one another. He has gone out of his way to drive home their shared experience in Christ and the unifying presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives, who provides them with a capacity to live lives of mutual submission and love. Now he turns his attention to the spiritual battle in which these believers find themselves. Together, they are lights shining in a dark and desperate world. And as Jesus promised, that world hates them. So Paul warns them to be prepared.
But this is where we do this passage a disservice. In our me-centered, modern mindsets, we attempt to take every passage and make it a personal statement for our benefit only. In doing so, we miss out on the community context of these verses and the corporate nature of the Christian life. At the end of his letter, Paul is not suddenly changing his emphasis to the individual. But that is the way we typically read these verses. We see every personal pronoun as an opportunity to insert our name and make the passage about us. For instance, it would be so easy to read this passage as “Ken is to put on all of God’s armor so that he will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For Ken is not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities in the unseen world, against might powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” There is no doubt that this would be a true statement for every believer. But Paul’s message throughout this letter has been on the unity of the body of Christ. He has been speaking to believers as a whole, not to individuals. If I read this passage as a personal charge to me as an individual believer, I miss the whole point of Paul’s message, and I set myself up for failure. The spiritual battle in which we are engaged is not meant to be fought alone. This is not about me strapping on my spiritual armor and marching off into battle by myself. But that is how most of us read this passage and how many of us attempt to live the Christian life. We attempt to wage war with the enemy alone. We try to go mono y mono with Satan and then wonder why we come back bloodied and battered far too often. Spiritual warfare was never meant to be a solo sport. But in our individualized, it’s-all-about-me mentality, we end up battling all alone, with no one to watch our back or to help us when we fall.
The New English Translation is the only one that seems to keep the gist of Paul’s message. “Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” Yes, each individual is to put on their individual armor, but we do battle together, not alone. When Paul refers to the struggle in which we are engaged, he refers to it as “our struggle.” When we strap our armor and stand to fight the enemy, we do so as an army, not as individuals. We stand out ground together, not alone. We fight side by side, using our shields of faith to protect one another. Together, equipped with the weapons God has provided and standing side by side, we make a formidable army. There is strength in numbers. We are to fight together. Stand together. Pray together. And experience the joys of victory together. The body of Christ is an army. It is made up of individuals who have been chosen by God and placed into His service and equipped with all the resources they need to do battle in His name. We fight for a common cause and against a common enemy. We are not individual gladiators doing battle by ourselves in an arena, but members of the King’s army, waging war together.
And lest we believe that victory is up to us, we must always remember that ultimately, the battle and the victory are His. Even as an army of many, we are helpless and hopeless apart from God. So even as we strap on our armor and prepare for battle, it pays to remind one another of this very important reality: “This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15 NLT).
Father, remove the curse of individualism from our midst. The enemy’s greatest weapon against us is to divide and conquer us. We are far too self-centered and prone to fight alone. Our arrogance and pride cause us to run off and do battle alone. We want to experience individual victories. We want the glory. But the battle is Yours, and the victory is only possible because of You. Give us a mindset that allows us to see ourselves as members of an army with a common enemy and a common cause. Together, we can stand firm and resist the enemy in these evil times. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men