Frank Peretti’s book “This Present Darkness” was published in 1986 and changed forever my view of spiritual warfare. While this book, and his follow-on “Piercing the Darkness”, were only novels, they did paint a very realistic picture of a spiritual realm that was all around me, freely interacting with the physical world I live in. And while the spiritual battles the two books portrayed were fanciful, they did illustrate the battle that we, as followers of Jesus, are engaged in, oftentimes unknowingly.
At the end of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul provides some similar insight to spiritual warfare. Paul’s words serve both to open our eyes to that conflict, as well as how to prepare to successfully engage the enemy. The goal is to be able to stand strong in the face of the evil one.
In the first few verses of Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul tells us four times to stand: stand against the devil’s schemes; stand your ground; to stand; stand firm. This always reminds me of the accounts of two of David’s might men in 2 Samuel 23:9-12.
Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite. As one of the three mighty warriors, he was with David when they taunted the Philistines gathered at Pas Dammim for battle. Then the Israelites retreated, but Eleazar stood his ground and struck down the Philistines till his hand grew tired and froze to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day. The troops returned to Eleazar, but only to strip the dead.
Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel’s troops fled from them. But Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the Lord brought about a great victory.
While Israel’s army fled, Eleazar stood his ground against the enemy, and the Lord brought about a great victory. Again, when Israel’s army fled, Shammah took his stand against the enemy, and again the Lord brought about a great victory. Paul challenges me to follow their example. Get involved in the fight, take my stand on the ground where God has put me and defend it. And then see the victory the Lord will bring about.
While the enemies that Eleazar and Shammah fought against were human, Paul warns us that our conflict is not primarily against flesh and blood enemies. Rather we are fighting against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our battle is primarily spiritual in nature, but I believe we too often lose sight of that and instead direct our energies against those we can see with our eyes rather than the real enemy, the ones directing the affairs of the physical ones we see. In some ways we are fighting against the sword rather than the one who wields it.
It is frightening to think about fighting evil spiritual entities; surely we are powerless against such as that. But Paul encourages us to take our stand against them, not in our own strength, but with the weaponry and armor of God. Paul uses the imagery of the Roman soldier of his day to illustrate this armor, something that is not particularly familiar to us today. But even removed from the analogy to Roman armament, the specific attributes are meaningful.
Paul starts off with instructing us to have the belt of truth buckled around your waist. How important is truth to us? I do not believe its importance can be understated. If we veer from the truth we open ourselves to all kinds of attack. Speak the truth, even when it hurts. Walk in the truth and never give into the temptation to color it to make it more appealing to others, or less threatening to yourself. The truth is not always pleasant, and it may cost you in the short term. But how many people have you seen fall into disrepute, because they left the way of truth.
He next instructs us to have the breastplate of righteousness in place. Always, do what is right. Do not give into the temptation to do what is expedient or convenient rather than right. Do not let your personal righteousness slide, adopting the morality of the world around you. Live such good lives among unbelievers that, even they they criticize you, they will see your good deeds and glorify God (1 Peter 2:12). Righteousness protects me from attack, as well as protecting me when I go on the offensive. I will not be very effective in God’s service if my life does not reflect well on him. This really goes hand in hand with living in the truth. Believe, teach and practice what is true and right. Doing so will protect your core, keeping you safe in the battle.
With the core protected, we can then get our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Are we ready to march out into the battle with the gospel, the good news that a relationship with Jesus brings one into peace with God? The fight we are in is to bring the light of Christ into a world of darkness. Allow the light of Christ to shine brightly out from you. If that light is not there, or if you are not walking in the light, it will be difficult to take the gospel to others.
Another piece of the armament that we are to take up is the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. If I depend on what I can see and experience in the physical world, and what I am capable of accomplishing on my own, I will never be successful in the battle. Instead I will become a causality in the war, and maybe never even know it. Faith allows me to overcome my own limitations and wield the weapons that the Father provides, weapons that have the power to tear down strongholds (2 Cor 10:3-5). It is with the eyes of faith that I can see the enemy and deflect his attack, the flaming arrows of doubt, discouragement, feelings of inadequacy, pride, greed, and a host of other arrows that would sideline me if they hit their mark.
With the helmet of salvation in place we can have an assurance of our relationship with God, and do not need to fear anything that the enemy might throw our way. I can echo Paul’s sentiment “I know who I have believed and am convinced that he will guard what I have entrusted to him (2 Timothy 1:12)”. Having an assurance of my future makes me less concerned about what might happen to me here, and will enable me to fight more fearlessly.
And, finally, take up the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. The word is sharper than any double edged sword and able to divide soul and spirit (Hebrews 4:12). Spend time in the word; learn what it has to say to you; apply its teaching to your own life; be ready to share it with the world around you; use it to attack the enemy like Eleazar and Shammah did the Philistines.
While prayer is not listed as a part of the believers armament, it is included here in this discussion. Keeping the communication lines open with our Lord is vital to a successful mission. We are not in this fight alone; rather we join with other believers across the earth in waging this battle. Only as we stay in touch with our commander can we fight as an army rather than as a ragged collection of individuals, each with our own thoughts as to how the battle should be fought. Pray for your own life as well as for others that are engaged in the fight with you.
Know your enemy. Put on the armor that will enable you to fight against him. Take your stand. And when the battle is over, be standing.