A lecture given by Paul G. Watts at Evington Chapel, Leicester on November 20th, 1993.
‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.’ Ephesians 6.10-13.
The analogy of this well-known passage is clear. The true Christian is like a soldier: but is engaged in a spiritual rather than a physical warfare, and needs to be equipped with spiritual armour in order to fight the fight of faith.
There are three main strands of thought in the passage as a whole. Firstly, there is the exhortation to be strong and to stand. The keynote is holding a position. This requires bravery, vigour, control. The secret is not our own strength but “the power of his might”. Faith gets hold of the almighty power of God. (That was the subject of the last in this series of lectures). Secondly, there is, in verses 11-13, a warning about the enemy (the subject of the present lecture). And thirdly we are given an inventory of weapons (the subject of subsequent lectures). Notice it is the whole armour: so great and subtle is the opposition that we need every individual piece of armour. Notice also that it is the armour of God: attention is focussed especially on the provider of the armour. It is God’s armour for us: He has devised it. Some try to fight spiritual battles with armour of their own design – their own religion, works, or tradition – but the armour which God has provided will surely fit us well. Notice also that the armour must be put on: it is an entirely different thing to have armour on display, or dress up in it for show, than to put it on to use it. It is one thing to know about faith or grace: another for these to be exercised.
Now as we come to the opposition which confronts all believers we will consider how and why we assess the enemy, who he is, what are his methods and what our response should be.
1. An Assessment
Assessment of the enemy is a vital part of strategy in warfare. The opening verses of this famous passage are almost like a briefing session. We must know our enemy, assess the strength of his position, the extent of his ammunition, the strategies and methods he is likely to use, the psychological advantage he is going to try to gain. Paul often speaks of the devil’s methods and of his intention to gain an advantage over us. “We are not ignorant of his devices”. This sort of assessment was going on in the camp of Israel in the days when Goliath roared his challenge across the valley: and it is still going on in the hearts of believers and in the life of the Church of Jesus Christ.
2. The assessment is made in order to stand against the enemy
The passage contains a presupposition – that believers must stand against the enemy. Like David against Goliath we are to stand against him in faith whatever superior might he seems to possess and whatever threat he seems to pose. In older methods of warfare this was something deliberate. The putting on of the armour and the taking up of a position was a public declaration of intent to stand against the enemy. Sometimes this was done when it was obvious that the enemy armies vastly outnumbered the defence. The attitude was: “If we go down we go down fighting”. This is why it is so important for believers to make an open profession of the name of Jesus. It is a public declaration of intent. It is to put on the armour of God and make an open stand against the devil. It is bound to produce a reaction, the special attention and wrath of the enemy.
3. The enemy
There is no need to try to prove that there is a devil. That would be like trying to prove that there is an enemy when, in time of war, there are enemy tanks on the horizon and Scud missiles in the air, bombs and torpedoes falling all around. The Bible does not try to prove the existence of Satan: but simply announces it. C. H. Spurgeon said characteristically: “Certain theologians nowadays do not believe in the existence of Satan. It is singular when children do not believe in the existence of their own father”. If you doubt the existence of Satan just try resisting him! We know well enough that there is an enemy. We must develop our intelligence of him along Biblical lines. It is quite clear from this passage that the apostle believed in a personal prince of evil. In verse 11 he calls him quite simply “the devil”. In other places he is called Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub, the god of this world, the prince of the power of the air and so on. In verse 12 Paul begins to explain in more detail the
holdings, forces, ranks and powers of the enemy. William Hendriksen, the Bible commentator, sums up what the Bible teaches about the devil in this way:
Â“Having been cast out of heaven he is filled with fury and envy. His malevolence is directed against God and His people. His purpose is therefore to dethrone his great enemy, and to cast all GodÂ’s people Â– in fact all people Â– into hell. He walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He has a powerful, well organised army and has established an outpost within the very hearts of those whom he aims to destroy.Â”
4. The wiles of the devil
Verse 11 confronts us pointedly with one aspect of the devilÂ’s attack Â– his crafty methods or wiles. He has no code of conduct: there is no equivalent to the Geneva Convention. The devil abides by no rules. He is likely to use the spiritual equivalent to chemical warfare. His methods are unjust, unpredictable, frightening. Later we are told especially of his power or aggression but here we are told that we must be ready for Â“dirty tricksÂ”. We will need the whole armour of God to hold our ground against his crafty, subtle, artful attacks. It is to the subtlety of the devil that our attention is first called in the Garden of Eden. He can quote or misquote the Bible, masquerade as an angel, come in disguises. Paul writes of Â“false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.Â” (2 Cor. 11:13,14). In another place he refers to the antichrist Â“whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wondersÂ”. (2 Thess. 2:9) He has the ability to mix error with just enough truth to appear plausible. As Jonathan Edwards puts it: Â“The devil was educated in the best divinity school in the universe Â– the heaven of heavensÂ”. The use of counterfeit is his most natural method of resisting GodÂ’s purposes. That is why we have to try the spirits to see whether they are of God. We have to exercise discernment because he infiltrates our ranks. Sometimes he appears in the most unlikely places and the most convincing disguises Â– Jesus spoke of Â“the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.Â” Satan has these devices and we must not be ignorant of them. What is his intent? Broadly, it is first to draw us into sin, promising that good can be attained through wrongdoing; and then to distress, accuse and torment us because of our sin.
The devils timing is crafty Â– a new believer, or a Christian in trouble, a person embarking on some work in the name of the Lord. The devil will choose his moment after a time of spiritual blessing,
or at a time of physical weakness or mental depression. His methods are crafty. Under the guise of Christian liberty he encourages careless living; or under the guise of scrupulosity he brings in legalism and a Pharisaic spirit. By emphasising experience he undermines scripture; by pointing out faults in a local church he draws people away into an isolationist position: under the guise of zeal he kindles anger. His targetting is crafty: he targets especially the people who have the most influence, or whose fall would cause the most damage. In the Church he will go especially for the pastor. He will use true Christians at times for the damage and hurt of others and set us fighting among each other. Let us all be on our guard lest we become the devil’s unwitting tools. .
5. Single combat
The picture of “wrestling” in verse 12 brings the focus down to single combat. Wrestling depicts a peculiarly intense personal struggle. Satan not only has a general malice against the army of the Church of Christ but a specific malice against you. Remember the Lord’s words to Simon Peter: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”. Remember, and read again, the terrible encounter of Christian with Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. At this point, you see, the fighting has come up close. It is not now a case of assessing or weighing up the opposition; but of fighting, wrestling, grappling, hand-to-hand, where the issue is life and death. We wrestle Â— how this should encourage sympathy, fellow-feeling with all who wrestle! We wrestle – it is the present tense. We wrestle every day of our lives against the world, the flesh and the devil. Only of those who have now finally gained the victory can it be said in the past
“They wrestled hard, as we do now,
With sins and doubts and fears”.
5. What we wrestle with
Verse 12 tells us what we are up against. First, we are told that the foe is not in essence “flesh and blood”, though he may sometimes appear in that way. The term “flesh and blood”, stands for men, people. Paul said, “I conferred not with flesh and blood”. Jesus told Peter that “flesh and blood” had not revealed to him the things he had perceived. The devil may use human beings to advance his opposition either by enticement or antagonism: but we must be clear that the battle is a spiritual battle. Flesh and blood is limited in power: human governments and organisations are frail; all flesh is grass: the strength and beauty of man is fading. Of course people can be daunting. The fear of man brings a snare. But it is as if the
apostle were saying, “If you only had flesh and blood to fear you would not need such armour as is mandatory for you. If you only had human craft, stubbornness and spite to contend with, it would be a much easier battle.” There is a clear corollary of this. We are not to put our trust in flesh and blood, not in princes, nor in the best of men; “In God I will praise his word, in God I have put my trust; I will not fear what flesh can do unto me” (Ps. 56:4). It is our comfort to remember that He knows our frame, remembers we are but dust: that the victory has been won for us in flesh and blood: through the Proper Man in whom we fight and prevail.
Clearly, then, this verse teaches us that our enemies are spiritual, unseen. We are given four different aspects of the devil’s power and control :-
We wrestle against principalities or kingdoms. Notice the plural:
our fighting is against an innumerable host of supermundane evil spirits, organised into principalities. We read of the angels which kept not their first estate and of the devil and his angels. Let us never underestimate the devil and the agencies under his control. The devil is not omnipresent, but by means of principalities and hosts he exercises immense influence. Remember Legion. Remember how Christ referred to the devil as the ruler or prince or god of this world. The book of the Revelation refers to Pergamos as being Satan’s seat or throne. This rule of the world by the principalities of Satan is undoubtedly God’s righteous judgment of this world. We have wrought it on ourselves. We have rejected the sweet and righteous government of our Lord. Satan is the choice of king for corrupt human nature.
Thankfully this word “principality” points us to another kingdom, power, and a blessed Person who is stronger than Satan. Jesus is far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named: all things are put under His feet: He has spoiled principalities and powers and made an open show of them. He conquers by His grace and causes us to conquer in Him.
It is not only that Satan governs evil agencies but also that they wield phenomenal power. When circumstances are threatening in the lives of believers, when people are hostile and persecuting, when temptations overthrow us and our lusts get the better of us, when the Church battles against error, division, persecution, more is involved than the intermediate causes of this opposition and temptation. More is involved than flesh and blood. The powers and
counsels of “the gates of hell” are at work. Satan is powerful in name: he is the prince of the power of the air, a roaring lion. He is powerful in nature, powerful in organisation and cohesion. He has great numerical strength. Is all this depressing and defeatist? No:
although Satan is mighty. God is almighty. The promise of God is that through Christ the Christian will trample Satan underfoot. Satan cannot do exactly what he wants.
C. The rulers of the darkness of this world
Darkness in the Bible points to sin and especially ignorance – a spiritual darkness. Darkness restricts our movements, frightens us, spoils our appreciation and vision. The devil and his agents inhabit and control this spiritual darkness. They work under cover of darkness. They take advantage of the fact that “men have loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.” This spiritual darkness depends on ignorance and falsehood. Satan is the father of lies. All who are under Satan’s rule are in darkness; “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble” (Prov. 4:18,19). There is guilt and fear in this darkness. But this phrase does indicate, thankfully, the limitation of the powers of darkness: their sphere of operation is limited to the “darkness of this world”. Into this arena of darkness came the glorious Light of the world. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. The word of the Psalmist is fulfilled: “Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, for his wonderful works to the children of men” (Ps. 107:13-15). How much we need the exhortation: “Ye were sometimes darkness but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light”. To the devil and all his powers and all under this domain is “reserved the blackness of darkness for ever”.
D. Spiritual wickedness in high places
This phrase points us to the power-base of the devil. The Bible teaches clearly that Satan and his hosts dominate our globe and its atmosphere. He has power in high or heavenly places. The devil is the prince of the power of the air. His power-base is above the earth but below the highest heavens. The devil’s domain is spiritual, immaterial; not hindered by flesh and bones: yet each spirit is a real spiritual substance, separate and entire. Consider the advantages of these spiritual beings. They have intelligence, intellectual ability beyond our experience. They have the advantage of being invisible:
what is not seen is little feared. They have the advantage of ease and speed of movement. Their activity is unwearied, they are not limited by hindrances. They need no sleep.
This phrase also points up the sheer wickedness of these spiritual intelligences. They are the inventors of sin and want to lead us into wickedness. Especially they tempt to spiritual wickedness. They are skilled in such things as idolatry, error, envy, spiritual pride, unbelief. Every sin of the flesh has a corresponding sin of the spirit. For example, drunkenness, a well known and damaging sin of the flesh, has as its spiritual counterpart intoxication with dangerous ideas. Sexual uncleanness and unfaithfulness in the Scriptures is often an analogy for spiritual idolatry. Pride of wealth or family or education is carnal and spiritually damaging: but how much more
damage in the Church is caused by spiritual pride – pride of gifts or
experience or office.
In conclusion, how much we need the whole armour of God, the truth of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the solid footwear of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit! How much we need to be strong in the Lord and the power of His might! How much we need to be “praying always”! children in the playground call one another names: but if Christians are to stand against Satan they must get beyond calling him names. We must not be ignorant of his devices: we must be prepared to wrestle and fight and pray. We have every encouragement in the Word of God to do so. Satan is still on the losing side. We are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. As Thomas Brooks put it: “If God were not my friend Satan would not be so much my enemy.”