The Book of Ephesians Series
“The Church’s Struggle”
This morning in our series in the book of Ephesians we come to one of the clearest passages in Scripture that addresses the Church’s struggle against the schemes of the devil, the spiritual forces of wickedness, the evil that exists today, and our defense against these enemy forces. I’ve entitled this sermon “The Churches Struggle” because every Christian, every believer in Christ, every member of Christ’s Church will struggle against the enemy.
Before we read today’s text let me say two things. First, the Bible teaches that believers in Christ have a common adversary who is called the devil, the prince of the power of the air, and the serpent of old. (IPt.5.8; Mt.4.4; Eph.2.2; Rev.12.9) The devil and his demons are fallen angels who seek to blind the minds of the unbelieving and devise schemes against believers to cause doubt, confusion, and a variety of temptations. You might consider the existence of Satan to be a spiritual fantasy written into the script of Scripture because every good drama needs an evil villain. But this view opposes the truth of God’s Word. Satan is real whether you believe he exists or not. But I also want to say that the devil and his demons are not hiding behind every bush and the cause of every struggle we encounter in this life is not necessarily Satan’s doing. I think C.S. Lewis says it best, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence, and the other is to believe and to fell an unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally please with both errors and hail the materialist and the magician with the same delight.” (C.S. Lewis – Screwtape Letters)
Now, let’s turn to our text for this morning, Ephesians chapter six verses ten through twenty. Hear now the Word of God.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 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. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 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, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph.6.10-20)
The Church’s Struggle
The Apostle Paul tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. (6.12a) Here we see that the Apostle wants us to recognize the spiritual dimension to our struggle. Of course, in this world we often encounter conflicts with people but that’s not Paul concern in this passage. In this passage Paul wants us to understand that our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the schemes of the devil, the spiritual forces of wickedness, and the evil that exists today’s world. We will look at each of these spiritual realities in a minute but first I want to focus on this word “struggle”. The word “struggle” is also translated “wrestle” in many translations. We wrestle not against flesh and blood. (KJV) The word comes from the Greek “palay,” which is used to describe a contest between two individuals in which each endeavor to physically dominate the other. The contest is decided when the victor can hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck. The sport of wrestling was very popular in the Roman culture.
Both of our boys wrestled in High School going as high as the State Tournament several times. I wrestled in High School as well, but I never reached that level of competition. Barbara hated wrestling. She found it very difficult to watch her sons in man-to-man conflict in what she described as barbaric. But wrestling today is humane compared to wrestling in the time of the Roman Empire. The Holy Spirit was intentional by inspiring Paul to use this word “palay” to describe the spiritual conflict believers will encounter against the devil. This conflict is not against flesh and blood. It is not physical. This conflict is spiritual, and this spiritual conflict comes in three forms. The first by schemes of the devil. (6.11) Then through the spiritual forces of wickedness. (6.12) And lastly by the evil that exists in today’s world. (6.13)
It is also important to know that the devil is not all knowing, not all powerful, and not everywhere at the same time. These are attributes that only God enjoys. Satan, like any other creature, has limits and because of his fallen condition he has been limited even more. The best analogy is to see Satan as a vicious dog that the Lord has chained to a tree until the day when the Lord will throw him and his demons into the eternal lake of fire to be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev.20.2, 10) But until that day if you get too close to this furious dog, he will hurt you. Sometimes his chain is tangled causing his reach to be shortened. But at other times his chain is at full length causing us to be frightened by his range.
Schemes of the Devil
The first form of spiritual conflict that Paul describes is the schemes of the devil. (6.11) The schemes of the devil describe his cunning, deceitful, and crafty trickery. Jesus calls the devil the “father of lies” because he does not stand for truth and there is no truth in him. (Jn.8.44) We are introduced to the devil’s schemes in the opening pages of the Bible when he comes to Eve and creates doubt in her mind about God’s character, God’s Word, and God’s intentions. (Gen.3.1-5) Of course, Eve listened to the devil’s deceptive words which led to the fall of humanity. We see the devil again in Jesus’ wilderness experience where he once again attempts to create doubt about God’s Word, only to fail this time around. (Mt.4.1-11)
In the second epistle to the Corinthians Paul tells us directly that we must not be ignorant Satan’s schemes (2Cor.2.11) and I believe Satan’s favorite scheme against believers is to create doubt in our minds concerning God’s Word and His promises. This is why we are to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2Cor.10.5) The devil is crafty in his use of the art of suggestion. “Did God really say?” “You are not going to die.” “If you are the Son of God.” These are all phrases of suggestion that Satan used to create doubt with Eve and with Jesus. The question is whether you and I are going to give in to his deceptive schemes and doubt God’s character, God’s Word, and God’s intentions. Or are we going to say, “it is written”, “Satan begone!”
Spiritual Forces of Wickedness
The second form of spiritual conflict comes from the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Theologians have different options about this form of conflict but in my opinion, I believe this is the conflict described in the book of Job. The reason for my conclusion is because of this phrase wickedness in the heavenly places which is the location described in the first two chapters of the book of Job where we are now allowed access to witness a cosmic scene behind the curtain of human reality. In the first two chapters of Job, we are exposed to the drama in heaven between the Lord and Satan where Satan sneaks into a holy convocation and accuses Job of living for the Lord out of selfish motives.
Remember, Job had no idea this interchange was happening. This drama in heaven is only revealed to the reader. Brothers and sisters, there will be times when we don’t have a clue why certain things are happening, but we have a sense that something is going on behind-the-scenes of human reality. Even though this heavenly drama recorded in the book of Job makes us uncomfortable we can clearly see that Satan is an accuser of the brethren that only wants to steal, kill, and destroy. (Rev.12.10; Jn.10.10) He is a “murderer from the beginning.” (Jn.8.44) What Job teaches us is that the only way to defeat the spiritual forces in the heavenly places is by holding fast to our faith as we face adversity.
The Evil Day
The Apostle identifies the third form of spiritual conflict as the “evil day” when he writes in verse thirteen, “that you may be able to stand in the evil day.” (6.13) The Apostle Paul had already encouraged us in chapter five to make the most of our time, because the days are evil (5.16) and we are told that more difficult days are ahead as people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,
unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,
treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. (2Tim.3.1-5) In many ways this describes the way things are today. The temptation is to consider these ways as acceptable and normal behavior instead of knowingthat friendship with the world is hostility toward God. (Js.4.4)
The Apostle John writes, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (IJn.2.15-17) Let us be the people who overcome the evil day by doing the will of God.
Put on the Full Armor of God
Paul not only identifies the three forms of spiritual conflict, but he tells us twice to “put on the full armor of God.” Putting on the full armor of God is how we stand firm against the schemes of the devil and resist the evil day. (6.11, 13) Paul uses the imagery of a Roman solider in full armament from the top of his head to the soles of his feet. From his helmet to his shoes the believer is to put on the full armor of God.
However, the pieces of the armor; the belt, breastplate, shoes, the shield, helmet, and sword, are not the main point but rather what each piece represents. Truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God, and prayer are all key components for the believer to stand firm in the faith. Describing the sequence of putting on of each piece of armor is a memory devise to aid the Christian as he equips himself daily for spiritual attacks. A football player is the closet example we have today. The football player doesn’t put on his helmet before his shoulder pads, nor does he put on his cheats before putting on his pants. A football player must put his equipment on in a proper sequence. And that’s the point here. Paul is using a solider putting on his armor in an exact sequence as a memory devise for believers to remember the essentials elements for standing firm.
It is interesting that in Paul’s earliest letter, the first letter in the New Testament, written in 50 A.D. to the church of the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” (IThes.5.8) Now at least ten years later, Paul writes to the Ephesians a complete description of the full armor of God. It seems that the Holy Spirit helped Paul to develop this imaginary over a period of ten years. Like any preacher he hopefully gets better with age.
The first thing a solider would do in putting of his armor would be to gather up his robe and secure it around his waist with a belt. So, Paul begins the memory device telling the believer to first gird their lions with truth. This is easy to understand, since Satan is the “father of lies.” (Jn.8.44) Therefore, proclaiming the truth about Jesus Christ and being truthful person are essential to standing firm against the schemes of the devil.
Putting on the breastplate of righteousness comes next. The believer must put on the righteousness of Christ knowing that his righteousness in nothing but filthy rags. (Is.64.6) Like the breastplate of the armor protected the vital organs of the soldier so putting on the breastplate of the righteousness of Christ protects vital truth of the gospel. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. (Tit.3.5)
The Gospel of Peace
The shoes come next having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. (6.15) The Apostle had already admonished us to be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise (5.15) and here we see to walk in wisdom takes preparation and forethought. This is what I call “premediated righteousness.” What I mean is that I know that traps and snares that seek to cause me to act in an unbecoming way so I must take time to make proper preparation to avoid those traps so I can be a messenger of the gospel of peace, especially in times of conflict.
And 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. (6.16) After the Christian girded himself with his belt, put on the breastplate, and laced up his boots, he is now ready to take up the shield of faith. The enemy will launch numerous arrows of fire into the air to strike down the believer, but the believer’s faith will not only protect him from harm but will extinguish the flames of the arrows. God’s Word is true that “No weapon that is formed against you will prosper; And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me,” declares the Lord. (Is.54.17)
And take the helmet of salvation. (6.17a) In First Thessalonians Paul refers to the helmet as the hope of salvation. (5.8) The helmet of salvation protects us from doubt, discouragement, and the desire to give up. The hope of our salvation is in knowing that we are saved, and we will be saved. The hope of salvation is knowing in whom you have believed and are persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against any attack.
Word of God
And take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (6.17b) While all the other pieces of the spiritual armor are defensive in nature, the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon in the armor of God. This speaks to the holiness and power of God’s Word. A spiritual weapon greater than the Word of God is inconceivable. In Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, the Word of God was always His overpowering weapon against the attacks of Satan. Truly, the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword. (Heb.4.12a)
And now that the Christian has put on the full armor of God the Apostle calls us to prayer.
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, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speakboldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph.6.18-20)
The idea is all kinds of prayer or prayer upon prayer. We should use every kind of prayer. Group prayer, individual prayer, silent prayer, shouting prayer, walking prayer, kneeling prayer, eloquent prayer, groaning prayer, constant prayer, fervent prayer. The idea is to pray, pray, pray!
Brothers and sisters, the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful to defeat the enemy! (2Cor.10.4) Yes, in this world we will have tribulation, but we take courage because Christ has overcome the world. (Jn.16.33) Christ has disarmed the rulers and authorities and has made public specular of them having triumph over them by the cross. (Col.2.15) For whoever is born of God overcomes the world because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. (IJn.5.4, 4.4)