I was preaching on Ephesians 6:10-18 on Sunday. Our pastor was wrapping up a series on Ephesians from the lectionary and since she was away all week asked me to preach on this concluding text. I kidded her about wanting to get out of a difficult text. She told me I could preach on whatever I wanted. So I went with the challenge - and finished the Ephesian series. Eph 6: 10-18 is on spiritual warfare. Judging by the number of Christian books written on this subject, it is a huge deal. I have read some of them. They get into spiritual mapping and many other technical aspects of spiritual warfare. It would seem there is a lot to know - beyond what Paul writes. Some Christian writers/preachers believe that the legion of devils led by satan have targeted individual Christians and their churches to disable the good work God is doing through them. In their thinking, this text becomes very individualized and personal. There is a good bit of anxiety and fear of the devil that is a consequence of their teaching. Which seems the opposite of what Paul is saying.
Ralph Martin points out in his commentary on Ephesians that it was a fear of the demonic that led Paul to write about spiritual warfare in the first place. Because of that fear, Christians were defecting under pressure. Thus, Paul writes, Resist, Watch, Pray, and Be Alert!.
What Paul says here is not all that different from the counsel he has given in other places. In fact, to call it spiritual warfare is to put words in Paul's mouth and strange ideas in our own minds. This is not about some special battle with evil we are called to fight. It is a reminder that we live out the gospel in a hostile world. Calling the Church to remain steadfast in the midst of constant trials is a common theme of Paul (and James and Peter). The point here is the strength of God's power (6:10, echoing 1:19) - Which was a at work when God raised Jesus from the dead to rule over all the principalities and powers.
Be strong in the Lord is a command! In the Lord means in union with Christ in whom we are raised and seated above the principalities and powers. But, not just yet. Our hope is tempered by the realities of living in a world that poses numerous opportunities for people to resist God and His will. No less the Church which can be distracted by all sorts of silliness and worse, and tempted to act as if we were above temptation to sin. We can be so optimistic we ignore the evils around us, or so pessimistic we cringe every time a demon peeks at us from behind a bush, or we can be realistic which is what Paul advises here.
God has given us what we need to resist the assaults of the evil powers. We do not have to rely on our own strength which is not very strong at all but that's ok because we have God's mighty strength. "In the interim we are to resist the resistance to God's cause. We are not called to defend God, not even called exactly to defend our own souls; we are called to defend the beachheads God's cause has made, the displays here and there of a renewed creation and a new humanity, the places and times that bear the promise of God's good future." (Verhey and Harvard, Ephesians).
The weapons of war that Paul enumerates are not the secret of our success but the fact that they are God's weapons give us confidence. The weapons have all been mentioned before in the Bible. And they were visible to Paul every day that he was held as Roman prisoner. As Martin notes what is important is that no provision is lacking, no part of the body is unprotected. Our protection as believers is complete and sure.
The Bible does not explain evil - where it came from or why it is - it only says it is and we can readily agree with that. We know it when we see it. As we live out the Kingdom of God life here on earth we will have many encounters with it. "We will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us." (Martin Luther).