10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, 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. 13 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 on three different relationship settings, Paul now makes a somewhat jarring shift in thought as he brings up the seemingly unrelated topic of spiritual warfare. But upon closer examination, it seems clear that Paul is simply continuing the same train of thought he began when he called the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they had been called. Throughout 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 had loved them.
But this was not going to be easy, and it wasn’t going to come naturally. Paul knew that their old sin nature or flesh would fight them every step of the way. Their natural inclination would be to lord it over one another, rather than 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 worthy of it 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 their walk of faith as difficult as possible.
He was keenly aware that there was an unseen spiritual battle taking place to which most of us as Christians were blissfully oblivious. What Paul was asking the Ephesians to do was impossible to pull off in their own strength. They were not equipped for it. Their fallen human nature, apart from the help of God, was not suited for spiritual warfare. Without the assistance of God, they would be like someone bringing a knife to a gunfight. So Paul tells encourages them to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10 ESV).
He doesn’t tell them to gut it up or get busy. Paul doesn’t berate or belittle them for their lack of effort and determination. No, he calls them to place their hope and trust in the all-sufficient strength of God. Earlier in this letter, Paul told the Ephesian believers that he prayed for them regularly. His request was God would empower them so that might 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 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 them to do the impossible. But not if they did it in the strength that comes from God. Not if they recognized their insufficiency and God’s 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 the good news is that the very same power is available to us today. Paul calls it the whole armor of God. Notice that he refers to it as whole or complete armor. We can’t afford to be selective or picky about it. Not a single piece of the armor was to be left off or left behind. It is only as we are wholly equipped with the divine protection God has provided that we will “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11 ESV). God has given us the armor 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’s meant to be because it’s true and the enemies are very 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 because the Spirit of God lives within them. 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 go on the attack. Our job is not to destroy Satan, but to resist His efforts to destroy us. James gives us some invaluable insight into how this is all supposed to work. 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 the resistance of Satan. Acknowledgment of your need for God’s strength must precede any attempt to withstand the enemy’s attack. By putting on the armor God has provided, you are acknowledging your need for Him. The reason so many of us fail as Christians is that we refuse to put on the whole armor of God. We think we can survive without it.
But God has provided a complete set of armor that must be put on and depended upon. Each piece is designed to work in concert with every other. They are spiritual resources 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 insufficiency, 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
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.