The Christian’s Warfare

Arthur E. Travis  |  Southwestern Journal of Theology Vol. 6 - Fall 1963

An Exegetical Study of Ephesians Six (Ephesians 6:10-18)

The doctrinal section of this epistle in chapters 1-3 has been followed with the practical conclusions which necessarily grow out of such truth (4:1-6:9). There is never to be any conflict or inconsistency between the truth of God and its fruit in human heart and life. Anything that can stand as mere theory without exerting a practical impact on life is not true biblical theology. God’s truth will not rest in a human heart as a mere theory. Its very nature is to permeate and affect every part of heart and life.

Following the masterful application of Gospel truth, Paul comes to his “finally,” or “henceforth” (6:10). The paragraph that is given next is a general summary which views the entire Christian life under the figure of a warfare, or a series of battles to be fought against a deadly enemy. This war and this enemy are of such nature that defensive armor of the highest type is essential if the Christian is to be victorious. Paul discusses three phases of this warfare: the enemy; the struggle; and the necessary armor.

The first exhortation touches the very heart of the matter: “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The emphasis here may be on the state or condition of being strong, or it may be on the process of being made strong. Both are important. There is a sense in which the Christian can be made strong only as God empowers him. So it is “in the Lord,” and “in the strength of his might.” It is only in proper relation to the Lord that we can be made strong. Even as many other blessings of the Christian emphasized in Ephesians are “in Christ,” so being made strong is in Him.

The “be strong” could well mean “be made strong.” Or, “allow God to make you strong” could be its meaning. The idea seems to be that each Christian is to yield himself to God for the necessary strengthening. The relation between being made strong and putting on the whole armor of God could conceivably justify helpful suggestions here.

The call to put on the whole armor of God, which armor is to be discussed later, is urged as preparation for making a successful stand against the enemy in this warfare. An efficient intelligence service is mandatory if a successful warfare is to be waged. A knowledge of the enemy, of his strength and numbers, of his tactics and plans, can mean a great deal of difference in both our defensive and offensive measures. Our need to be fully armored is seen in the nature and power of the forces that oppose and attack us as Christians.

In general, Paul tells us that our stand is against the devil. He is the prince of all evil forces. There are two words in the New Testament which are translated “devil.” One of them 1s better rendered “demon.” It seems to refer in most of its uses to evil spirits from the devil rather than to the devil himself. The other word, “diabolos,” is the word Paul uses here. It literally means an accuser, one prone to slander, false accuser. It is used some thirty-five times in the New Testament. It is important that we recognize what the New Testament teaches about this person. Two things seem clear from its teachings. For one thing, the devil is a real person. The word does not apply simply to an evil influence nor to a tendency in human nature. Jesus spoke of the devil or Satan as a real person. He said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat” (Luke 22: 31). Peter, perhaps having learned from experience, wrote, “Be sober, be watchful: for your adversary the devil, a, a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour

(1 Peter 5:8). The particular passage under study is emphatic in presenting the devil as a real person. In verse twelve Paul leaves no room for the idea that he is speaking of impersonal influences. It is clear that the writers of the New Testament, along w1th Jesus Himself believed the devil to be an actual person.

The other matter which is of equal clarity is that this person called Satan, or the devil, is directly active in instigating temptation and sin in the Christian heart and life. It has been suggested that there are enough evil inclinations in our carnal mature to cause all our temptations without any aid from an outside influence. Without denying the affinity of our carnal natures with sin, we must recognize that the New Testament teaches that the devil is active in seeking to overthrow God s children. Otherwise why this passage at all?

We are told that Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil (Matthew 4:1). Jesus told the Jews that they were bent on doing the lusts of their father, the devil (John 8:44). John attributes the betrayal of Jesus by Judas to the working of the devil (John 13:2).Paul admonishes the Ephesian Christians not to give place to the evil, suggesting h1s attacks (Ephesians 4:27). Paul speaks to Timothy of the snare of the devil (1 Timothy 3:7; 2 Timothy 2:26). James reveals that resisting the devil will cause his defeat, an indication of his active efforts against the Christian (James 4:7). Peter calls the devil the adversary (1 Peter 5:8). John involves the devil in human sin (1 John 3:8). It seems clear that the New Testament teaches that the devil is active in tempting men to sin. Whether or not he is behind every temptation may be a matter of speculation, but we are safe in saying that even if he does not instigate every temptation, he is interested in all of them, and they are always in line with his purposes.

There is a cheap escapism that would hide behind this truth and deny any personal responsibility for sin, claiming that since the devil tempts us to sin, we cannot be blamed for our sins. This is nothing more than an irresponsible excusing of one’s indulgence in his own desires. However, the way to deal with this effort to evade responsibility for one’s own sinning is not through denying the reality of the devil and his active efforts to lead us into sin. We do need to emphasize that the devil is only an influence, even though a personal one, and that he has no power to go beyond what we ourselves allow him to go. We are only tempted by him, never forced to sin. We are fully responsible for every sin we commit, even though the devil has been wily in tempting us. To resort to a denial of the evil’s part in our temptation, simply to combat this cheap escapism, is like the minister who confessed a belief in the eternal security of the believer but who felt he could not afford to preach it to his people, because if they believed it, they would not live as they should. He felt that he had to keep them in fear of losing their salvation in order to keep them from sinning. Although the end in view in both instances may be a worthy one, yet the means in reaching that end—denying the Scriptures—is unworthy. There is a better way to cope with the man who tries to lay all the blame for his sinning on the devil.

In verse eleven Paul speaks of the “wiles of the devil.” The word “wiles” revels a great deal about the person and the methods of the devil. It means craftiness and is applied either to the strategy wh1h the evil uses in his attacks, his plans and methods of working; or it may refer to the trait of his character as wily, sly, deceitful. Jesus refers to him as a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He is called the one who deceives in the book of Revelation (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 20:10). The word diabolos has in it the idea of a deceiver, or caluminator. Paul warns here of the kind of enemy that is attacking us and the need for our being alert to his trickery.

The craftiness ascribed to the devil is also evidenced in the false teachers whom he directs. Paul has warned against these in 4:14: “That we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error.” It is fitting in view of this emphasized trait of the devil to look ahead a moment to note the fact that the first article of armor which Paul mentions is the girdle of truth. Since the enemy is the father of lies, we must be fully established in the truth of God in Christ. This has already been stressed in 4: 13f.

In verse twelve the discussion is widened to include the whole ghastly array of the enemy and his cohorts who are set to destroy the Christian’s character, usefulness, and work. Pal corrects an erroneous idea which many Christians hold; that is, that our warfare is against the outward and physical; that we are fighting against men; and that we are to use the means and methods which are applicable to physical and material warfare. Such a misconception can lead only to failure. We are not to fight men. We are not to use physical force. Rather we must recognize the evil powers and forces behind the physical, and we must use methods which will be effective in that sphere. What is of greater importance, we must recognize the enormity of the enemy’s power. It is not against mere flesh and blood that we have to do; nor is it merely against the fruits that are borne. It is not enough to prune off the branches or to pluck the leaves from the evil tree. The axe must be laid to the root, and that means that the warfare against evil must deal with the spiritual principle and force. We must not spend our energy denouncing the outward manifestations but rather center our attack on the causes behind those manifestations. If the devil can be defeated in the heart, then he is defeated in life and works. Too often we only arouse antagonism by attacking the outward when we should deal with the root of the matter. Since our wrestling is not against flesh and blood our weapons are not to be carnal (see 2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

The wrestling about which Paul speaks is a personal warfare; it -is to each one as an individual. A lady called one day to say that after she read a book about the devil, she found herself thinking more about him than about Christ. This experience suggests that we are not to spend our time thinking about the devil nor are we to spend our energy chasing him. The devil is on the offensive the Christian is to stand. He is to withstand, to resist the devil’s attacks, to refuse to give ground. The devil wants nothing better than to get and to hold our attention, or to get us to occupy our time by chasing him, for thereby he takes our minds from Christ and defeats our work for Christ.

The scope of our enemy is broadened in the four terms which are used here to describe the antagonists against whom we wrestle. The unseen world is the real arena in which life’s greatest battles are fought. Blindness to the reality of the unseen forces mentioned here only serves to make one a greater slave to them. The devil wants nothing better than a denial of his existence. His wiles include ways and means of deceiving men into intellectual blindness to the unseen forces which he administers. The general emphasis here is on the real nature of evil forces. They are not imaginary or illusory, but real. Furthermore, they are intelligent, orderly beings, set on definite purposes, and actively engaged in carrying out those purposes.

The terms used are instructive. Although there is a definite indication from the first term which Paul uses that among these enemies there are ranks and order, yet it would seem that these different terms are used of the general group of evil enemies, each one adding its particular quality of being. So let us examine each of them for its own peculiar contribution to our understanding of the entire lot.

“Principalities.” The idea expressed here seems to be that some are in charge; that there are offices, or positions with authority, among the demonic powers. This term is “transferred by Paul to angels and demons holding dominion entrusted to them in the order of things.”[1]Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: American Book Co., 1889), p. 77. Perhaps beyond this idea we should not go, for Paul speaks here of an area where dogmatism has no safe ground upon which to stand. It would seem to be safe, however, to suggest that order, administration, and recognized authority are exercised among these evil rulers. It would also appear from this term that the attack against God’s kingdom is not haphazard, but an organized one. It would appear further that since there are those with position and authority to rule, the subordinates are obedient and energetic in carrying out the predetermined strategies. All of this emphasizes the dire urgency for compliance with Paul’s admonition for full armament.

“Against Powers.” Not only are these evil enemies ruled over by those with administrative positions of authority, but also, all of them, rulers and executioners, are endowed with power to do their work. They are not weaklings, nor will their assaults be easily withstood. They exercise not only wily schemes, lying delusions, tricks of all sorts, but also power in carrying out these blueprints of destruction. Paul refers to all the powers that exist in the world of evil. These powers are greater than any and all of man’s ability to overcome, and, in his own strength, no man can but become their victim.

“World Rulers of this darkness.” Paul is not here speaking of different evil spirits than those in the foregoing terms, but rather is describing further their qualities and workings. In regard to this world, of which the devil is called the prince, these empowered satraps of Satan are in full control. Briefly, this indicates that in the affairs of the men of this world, wherever God’s rule is refused, Satan’s reign is exercised. All that is not of the kingdom of God is under the dominion of Satan. Therefore, men, movements, governments, and all else in this world are ruled over by the principalities of evil. This does not mean, however, that God has relinquished His control over the destiny of this world nor that His plans and providences are not moving steadily onward to final consummation of all things after his ordained will and plan. It does mean that individuals outside His reign, and this entire world system are directed by satanic powers to evil ends. Darkness, spiritual and moral, rules in this world wherever the light of Jesus Christ has not been allowed to shine. Superstition, ignorance, fears, and false religions are all included in this kingdom of darkness ruled over by these world-rulers.

“The spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Space forbids more than a brief discussion of this difficult statement. Many ideas have been projected concerning the term, “the heavenlies.” It is used differently in various places in the Bible. It seems that the most practical meaning of it here applies to something directly connected with Christian people. Paul begins this admonition with the idea that we wrestle against these powers. So there is no need to speculate on what may be going on in heaven itself or in a realm above us which might be referred to as the heavenlies. The term here can very well refer to all the higher spiritual life and experience of a child of God. The entire spiritual life, that is, everything outside the physical and material, is in one sense “of the heavenlies.” If this be true, then Paul is saying that these enemies and organized antagonists not only rule this world, but they also invade the sacred relations and experiences of God’s children. And they do it with wickedness. A Christian’s prayer life is not respected; his worship of God is attacked; his service in God’s kingdom is sabotaged by the hosts of wickedness.

The attack of these evil powers is subtle. It may be only a suggestion, an idea, or a word that is used. It may be some carnal desire that becomes the Trojan Horse which principalities ride into the very holy of holies of our hearts. Some thought is planted and cunningly directed as it takes control of the mind, and what we had intended has been sidetracked, and the hosts of wicked­ ness have invaded the heavenlies of our souls.

Were our wrestling only against flesh and blood, we might face it casually. But to us as Christians, and the emphasis is on the “to us,” the battle is a face-to-face conflict to the finish with the invisible, intelligent, organized, disciplined, and empowered personalities who already rule in all this world. They have not only demons but also men on their side. They wage a wily, conniving, and deceitful warfare, invading even the thoughts and most sacred desires and efforts of our hearts.

This entire twelfth verse is given as a reason for putting on the whole armor of God. Furthermore, it is followed in verse fifteen by a repetition of the same admonition drawn from the truth of verse twelve. In the light of the nature of the enemy, there is dire need for the armor that will enable the Christian to stand against all the wiles of the devil.

The conflict of the Christian against his enemies is rather graphically reflected in several words which Paul uses. The word “wrestling” in verse twelve speaks of a vicious conflict. Robertson defines it as a “contest between two till one hurls the other down and holds him down.”[2]Archibald Thomas Robertson, The Epistles of Paul (“Word Pictures in the New Testament” Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), IV, 550. Thayer adds that the contest is decided when one is able to hold his antagonist “down with his hand upon his neck.”[3]p., 474. Great struggles take place in the minds and hearts of men. Our wrestling is with an invisible enemy in the realm of spirit, mind, thought, ideas, attitudes, and reactions. The organized forces of Satan are seeking to bring our thoughts into captivity, to subdue and thus to control them. When this is done, the outward becomes easy; but when we are able to subdue evil powers on the battle grounds of the “heavenlies” of our inner lives, we can control outward evil -actions.

Another word that describes the conflict is “against.” It is used once m verse eleven, and five times in verse twelve. Robertson says that it denotes “face-to-face conflict to the finish.”[4]p., 550. The enemies of our souls make a frontal attack. Although sly and conniving, they meet us head-on. They are determined to turn us back, to impede our progress, to storm the center of our beings, to capture and control us. This is a vicious, unrelenting attack, for it is to the finish.

In the light of this truth we can understand why Paul uses the term “to stand.” In verse thirteen he uses the word, “withstand,” or “to stand against”; and in verses eleven, thirteen, and fourteen, he uses the word “to stand.” In verse eleven he speaks of their being enabled to stand because fully armored. In verses thirteen and fourteen he urges them to stand. As has already been suggested, the Christian’s conflict with the devil is primarily one of defense, of warding off his attacks, of refusing his mastery. This is perhaps why Paul uses these terms that call for us to stand our ground. The positive warfare of a Christian soldier is to extend the reign of Christ. Too often Christian soldiers expend their energies on campaigns against Satan by opposing and fighting his works. Paul’s instructions seem to suggest that our warfare against Satan is to be primarily a personal rejection of him in our own hearts and lives. We are to withstand his assaults and stand firmly against being swept along with his gang. This would include a refusal to turn aside from positive good to pursue him in his evil works. The better offense for a Christian is to magnify Christ.

Let us note several things in general about the armor which Paul urges Christians to put on. For one thing, the idea of being made strong in the Lord of verse ten and putting on the whole armor of God are closely related if not inseparable. Being made strong or endued and being able to stand are close together in meaning. So, as was noted earlier, God Himself must make us strong, yet at the same time, His making us strong depends at least to some degree upon our putting on the whole armor which He has provided.

Again, the armor of God enables one to stand; in other words, it is the means of defense against Satan. It is the key to victory in our wrestling against him. It both prevents his “pinning us down,” and also makes it possible for us to “throw him and place our feet upon his neck.”

Then, as has been suggested before, the word Paul uses here is one that means a unity of armor, the “panoply” of God. No spot is to be left vulnerable to Satan’s attack. We must not leave our “Achilles heel” exposed to him. He is adept at finding our weak places, and if we would stand, we must be thorough in armor.

One of the interesting things about this armor for the Christian is that all of it except perhaps one item, is defensive. If one is to get the full force of this armor and realize its urgent need, let him realize the vicious attack of Satan upon him and the demand for something with which to withstand that attack. We know that Satan is a liar and the father of lies, therefore, we must be armed with the “girdle of truth.” Falsehoods, half-truths, misconceptions, and the like are truly among the devil’s most effective weapons. Only as we are absolutely true and truthful can we withstand his lies and false accusations. Genuineness, reality, inward truth, are matters most difficult to cast down. Satan most likely all and easiest “pushover” is hypocrisy. The Christian must be true m character if he expects to stand.

Furthermore, since the devil is the arch accuser and fault-finder, we must have “the breastplate of righteousness.” This is possibly the righteousness which God provides in Christ, but preferably the righteousness of purity which Christ produces in the Christian’s own heart and life. Job was a righteous man, and although Satan made his accusations, Job was able to prove himself. God regenerates the spirit of man and, as Paul says in Romans 8:4, makes it possible that “the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.”

Again, because of the devil’s rushing attack in accusing the Christian to his own heart, along with his ability to forment trouble between Christians, we need to have the readiness of being “shod with the gospel of peace.” When we are well-grounded in the Gospel of Christ, we can resist the devil’s efforts to shove us around. Perhaps the idea Paul has in mind is that of hobnailed shoes that give the soldier firm standing. Holding on to the hope of the Gospel will enable us to stand our ground against doubts and fears. The idea may be here also that we shall be able to ward off the strife and contention between ourselves if we have on the shoes of the Gospel of peace. A grave danger for all Christians is the fighting spirit among themselves. Satan is a past master in getting us at each other’s throats. So to stand against him here, we need the Gospel of peace.

The “fiery darts of the evil one” may be any of a large number of weapons which the devil uses in his attack. They may be discouragement, false accusation, failure and despair, doubts, resentments, or questionings. Whatever they may be, “the shield of faith” will be able to turn their sharp points and prevent their destructive wounds. Faith, like a shield, can be used protectively for a Christian. The very nature of the Christian, the nature of God and His revelation, the relation of this world to our spiritual beings, the probings of the reason, and other kindred matters call for a constant use of the shield of faith to ward off the onslaughts of the devil.

Just exactly what Paul intends to convey by the “helmet of salvation” it is difficult to say, but the metaphor would still suggest protective armor. The salvation to be “taken,” (literally “to receive or take with the hand) is God’s gift of salvation. Likely Paul has in mind all that salvation means to a Christian and places this as the helmet to protect his head, the seat of his senses. The receiving and possessing of full salvation, with assurance of having received it as the gift of God is a mighty helmet of protection against Satan’s attack.

It has often been noted that when we come to, “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” we have come to the one and only offensive weapon which Paul names. This is true, for the ones previously mentioned are evidently protective. However it seems in one sense that the Sword of the Spirit is also defensive as well as offensive. The Word of God is the best defense of all against all error and false teachings which the devil may urge upon our own hearts. In the knowledge of God’s truth we have our firmest footing and most unmovable standing.

Yet, it is equally important that we use this Sword of the Spirit in our offensive warfare of extending the kingdom of Christ. Fully armored from foot to head, Christians can step out and stand against the most subtle onsets of Satan, and having stood can go forward using the sword.

It is not at all out of line with Paul’s thinking here to include prayer also as a part of the Christian’s means of standing. The idea seems to be that in all and through it all, prayer is to be the Christian’s constant contact and communication with God. Lines of communication need to be kept intact and ever-tended. Regardless of our being fully garbed with the armor of God, none of it is effective except as God works in and through us. So “praying at all seasons” is not at all out of place following this list of the Christian’s armor. Praying and watching are vitally important if we would fight the good fight of faith and be enabled to stand against the wiles of the devil.


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