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. – Ephesians 6:10-13 ESV
Having just addressed the topic of godly submission by illustrating its impact and influence upon three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought to the topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same thought he began when he called them to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. For two chapters Paul has been emphasizing the need for believers to live out their faith in everyday life. He has called them to put off their old selves and to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. They were to put on their new natures, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). They were to walk in love, as children of light. There were to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ and willingly sacrifice their rights in order to selflessly love others as Christ has loved them.
But this was not going to easy. It was not going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature, their flesh, would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord over one another, not submit. They would be prone to pride and self-exaltation, not humility and selfless service. Submitting to those who don’t appear to deserve it or loving those who don’t seem to appreciate are not easy things to do. And to make matters worse, Paul knew that believers have an enemy at work behind the scenes to make our walk of faith as difficult as possible. He was keenly aware that there was a spiritual battle taking place behind the scenes to which most of us as Christians seem to be oblivious. What Paul is asking us to do is impossible to pull off in our own strength. We are not equipped for it. Our human nature, apart from the help of God, is not suited for spiritual warfare. We are like the man who brings a knife to a gun fight. So Paul tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV). Earlier in this letter, Paul had told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly, asking God that they would be “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV). He prayed the same thing for the believers on Colossae: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11 ESV).
When Paul called the believers there in Ephesus to “be imitators of God” and to “walk in love as Christ has loved us” (Ephesians 5:1), he knew that he was asking the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and His all-sufficiency. The impossibility of the task should drive them to the reliability of their Father. The life to which God had called them was only possible through the power He had graciously provided for them. And that same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice he refers to it as the whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor is to be left out or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has provided all that we need, but we still need to put it on. And we must always keep in mind that his “armor” is spiritual in nature because “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). In other words, our battle is not against other people. Our enemies are not those on the left or the right, the liberals or conservatives, the Muslims or the atheists, the irreligious or the immoral. Paul reminds us we are fighting “against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). Sound scary? It should. Because it is real. What we see happening all around us today is an orchestrated effort on the part of the enemy of God to subvert His will and supplant His authority. Satan stands opposed to all that is godly and that includes every single believer. As Jesus Himself warned, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10 ESV).
So what are we to do? Paul is quite clear. “Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil” (Ephesians 6:13 NLT). Notice that Paul says “to resist,” not defeat. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this all works. He writes, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Humility before God comes before resistance of Satan. Acknowledgement of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy’s attack. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is because we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. God has provided all that we need. Our arsenal is complete and each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. And these are spiritual tools designed to fight a spiritual battle. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4 ESV).
We live in evil days. We have a formidable enemy whose mission is to destroy us. We still have our old sin-prone nature, weak and worthless when it comes to resisting a spiritual enemy. But we have not been left defenseless or devoid of help. Our gracious, all-powerful God has given us His divinely empowered armor to protect us and the indwelling presence of His Spirit to do battle beside us. Like Paul, we need to recognize our own insuffiency, the enemy’s reality, and God’s gracious provision for our security. “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT).