God's Provisions for Needy Soldiers
No responsible government sends soldiers who are untrained, under-resourced, and unarmed into a war zone of which they know nothing. That would be irresponsible, reckless, and even murderous!
Instead, a country trains, equips, and arms the members of their military in response to what they know about potential enemies.
This is really what the closing paragraphs of Ephesians 6 are about.
As believers, whether we realize it or not, we are soldiers at war. And, through Paul’s pen, God wants to set us up for victory by teaching us about the type of war we’re in, the enemy we are up against, and the weapons he’s provided for us with which we can fight
The war we’re in
Paul begins by describing the type of battle in which believers find themselves. In verse 12, he makes an important statement: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood.”
This war is primarily spiritual. Every believer is engaged in close-quarters combat, but, ultimately, it isn’t against the material, tangible, visible world.
Christians of every generation need to be reminded of this truth because the temptation is to fight only what we can see—the physical manifestations of a spiritual war. We want to debate our atheist classmate, protest liberal policy makers and supporters, boycott ungodly companies and their products. And, while these activities are not inherently wrong, they can serve as distractions from the place we should be fighting hardest.
This strategy of the enemy is as old as it is effective: Get us fighting in the wrong places, expending energy and resources on tertiary fronts at the expense of the most important area. We must keep reminding ourselves that we do not struggle primarily with what is seen but with that which is unseen. Behind all physical manifestations of secular and anti-Jesus ideology are spiritual realities that must be beaten back. This is a spiritual war.
The enemy we’re against
Not only that but our enemy is supernatural. Paul writes that this battle we’re in is “against the rulers … [and] authorities … [and] powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
In this spiritual war, our enemy is supernatural and influential—they are “rulers” and “authorities.” They have dominion; they are not pawns, but rooks, knights, and bishops.
Our enemy is also powerful—Paul calls them “powers” and “forces.” Ephesians 2 reminded us that we were all once enslaved to that power (2:1–3).
In addition to this supernatural enemy being influential and powerful, he is also crafty. Paul insists that God’s soldiers put on the full armour of God. Why? “so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (6:11). The enemy is planning and devising ways to advance their troops and the wicked agenda they promote. We’re told they’re agents of “this dark world” and “forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Here’s the bottom line: Our enemy is supernatural and formidable.
A brief celebration
It must be said, and perhaps celebrated, that we’re fighting a defeated foe. That, while our enemy is powerful and influential, we serve one who is even more so. Consider what Paul has previously stated regarding these enemies we’re up against in their relation to Christ:
[God’s mighty power is on display] which he brought about in Christ, when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph. 1:20–23).
[God did these things] so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places (3:10).
Christ is above all our enemies in this war … and they know it! As Christians, we can celebrate the fact that our God has won, is winning, and will win and that, through his Son, we also win.
However, until Christ returns and reveals his total victory, our enemy, though defeated, is still dangerous and “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
God wants us to appreciate the reality of the war we’re in, one that is being fought primarily on a spiritual battlefield against a supernatural enemy who is influential, powerful, cunning, and absolutely evil. And it’s against this enemy that Paul calls us to be strong and stand firm.
And in trying to do that, there are two errors we want to avoid: One, overestimating our enemy, and two, underestimating our enemy. The first mistake occurs when we start to believe that he’s too powerful for us and the second when we think we’re too powerful for him. One error is characterized by hopelessness, the other by arrogance. Both leave us vulnerable.
The weapons we have
We want to avoid both mistakes as, instead, appreciating the reality war we’re in and the enemy we’re up against, but doing so with courage and hope. And Paul helps us in that direction as we move on in our passage and begin to understand the weapons available to us.
The only way to fight a spiritual war is with spiritual arms. The only way to combat a supernatural enemy is with supernatural weapons. Paul has already hinted at that reality in verses 10, 11, and 13. We need God’s weapons. To bring anything else to this battle is tantamount to fighting a nuclear war with slingshots (see also 2 Cor. 10:3–4).
Spiritual warfare necessitates spiritual weaponry and, in the verses that follow, Paul describes God’s gracious provision of both his armour and his ear.
Beginning with the armour Pauls says, “Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth” (v. 14a). In a war against a deceptive, cunning enemy who has watched more game-tape on us than we have on him, clinging to objective, divinely revealed truth is essential. So, Paul says, cinch up that belt!
“And having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14b). While made righteous in Jesus (4:24), believers are still called to pursue righteousness and inso doing, we guard our hearts against the doubt, guilt, and shame our enemy, who is called the accuser (Rev. 12:10), would love us to carry.
“And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 15). Standing in the truth of the gospel is like wearing cleats on a grass field. Understanding who I am in Christ grants me a divine stability and mobility.
“In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (v. 16). Here we see the enemy firing darts of lies, temptations, doubts, and troubles. As a soldier trusts God and walks by faith they are protected from such evil projectiles.
Finally, Paul closes with the two last pieces: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17). Going into battle with a certainty of personal salvation and holding in our hands the word of God, a blade so powerful we’re told it was by his word the heavens were made (Psa. 33), makes for a prepared soldier.
As if providing his own armour wasn’t enough, God has also given us his ear if we should call out to him.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints (v. 18).
It’s hard to miss the scope and role of prayer in this war. There isn’t an occasion in which we shouldn’t be praying, a request we shouldn’t be bringing to God, a moment in which prayer should be far from our lips, nor another believer we shouldn’t be lifting up in prayer.
Then Paul gets personal in verses 19 and 20, asking for prayer that he may remain battle ready and courageous. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that mature Christians need less prayer. Paul would disagree. He includes himself in that last statement of verse 18: “keep on praying for all the saints.” Pray for your fellow soldiers, he says, including those who lead.
Spiritual warfare demands spiritual arms. And we find that God graciously provides for us his armour and his ear. And when we make use of his provided resources, we find in the final verses that we can have peace in spite of the fighting:
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love (vv. 23–24).
What a contrast between this benediction and the opening verses where Paul described the intensity of war and power of our enemy. How can we have that peace in the midst of that chaos? Standing between those two things are the resources God has given us—his armour and his ear.
This leaves me with an uncomfortable question. If this is true—the serious war, the powerful enemy, and the divine weaponry—why do I so often default to fighting by myself? Why do I try and out-think, out-maneuver, and overpower the enemy? Why do I feel I can withstand his attacks of accusation or doubt through human logic, reason, willpower, or grit?
And, perhaps an even more uncomfortable question: Why do I struggle to pray? To consistently ask for help for myself and my fellow soldiers?
I can think of a number of possible answers to those questions, none of which are flattering and all of which are addressed by Paul in this passage. Here’s a sample of what ran through my mind and how I found this text responding:
Me: “The enemy isn’t that tough.” Paul: “Yes, he is. He’s stronger than you know.”
Me: “I think I’m pretty strong on my own.” Paul: “No, you’re not. You’re weak alone.”
Me: “I don’t have the resources to march into battle even if I wanted to.” Paul: “Yes, you do. God’s given you everything you need.”
Me: “I don’t pray because I don’t have time.” Paul: “Make time.”
Me: “My prayers are too small to make a difference.” Paul: “No, they aren’t.”
The winning strategy
After exhausting all of my rationale and being stripped of all my excuses, there was nothing left to do but ask God to help me become a better soldier. And so, assuming I’m not alone in my struggle, I want to close by considering how we can implement a winning strategy for this war.
And I want to suggest three things we should all ask God to help us add, strengthen, or sharpen in our lives that we may each, and all of us together, be battle ready.
First, Be realistic! We must discipline ourselves to think rightly about our war and our enemy. We live in a culture that shuns the supernatural and worships empiricism—reality is what you can sense and measure. In such a culture, Satan is able to work largely undetected.
One 19th-century theologian wrote: “One of the [great tricks] of Satan is to induce [humanity] to believe that he does not exist: another, perhaps equally fatal, is to make them [think] that he is obliged to stand quietly by, and not to meddle with them.” Well, our text today made clear that our enemy is both very real, and very meddlesome. God help us as a church avoid that naiveté. We have to be realistic.
Second, Be dressed! We must discipline ourselves to consistently wear God’s armour—to cling to truth, rehearse the gospel, walk by faith, understand our salvation, pursue righteousness, and swing that sword. Just as I wouldn’t think about taking a pizza out of the oven without some form of hand protection, so I shouldn’t think about leaving my bed without asking God to cloak me in his protection. We must be dressed for battle daily.
Third, Be talkative! One author said this: “Probably the number one reason prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom.” We must be disciplined to keep lines of communication open with our Commander at all times, for all things, for all people. Prayer is a wartime method of communication, and we need to be talkative.
There’s a war raging around us whether we acknowledge it or not. Our enemy is as cunning as he is evil and as real as he is powerful. Yet we are called to stand firm against him using the weapons we’ve been given for such a task. And, in doing so, we, as God’s people, can have peace in the midst of battle, a peace that is available when we’re realistic about the war, dressed in the armour, and talkative with our Commander.
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