Standing Against the Schemes of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Passage: Ephesians 6:10–6:20
I. What is ‘Spiritual Warfare’?
In his book “Power Encounters”, author and counselor David Powlison relates the following about Cynthia, a woman he once counseled:
“…[Cynthia] and her husband Andrew had a remarkable—and remarkably destructive—way of arguing with each other. For the first five minutes they warmed up with normal person-to-person bickering. But at a certain point, when the fighting turned nasty, they shifted gears and wheeled in heavier artillery. They would bind, rebuke, and attempt to cast out demons of anger, pride, and self-righteousness from each other. In Cynthia’s words:
‘I saw the demon looking out of his eyes, glittering and murderous. So I said, “Demon of anger, I bind your power in Jesus’ name!” Then I claimed the power of Jesus’ blood as my cover from all demonic assault coming through my husband.’”
Now, maybe that incident sounds strange to you. Or maybe you’re familiar with the kind of terminology and perspective that Cynthia was using with her husband. Maybe you see, even if not to the same extent, some validity in what Cynthia was saying.
Familiarity with such ideas would not be surprising in light of the popularity, in the last 30 years, the popularity of what is typically called “spiritual warfare”. An entire movement of so-called ‘deliverance ministries’ has risen up around this concept of spiritual warfare. There are countless websites and seminars and books, which claim to provide biblical instruction in how to engage in spiritual warfare.
Spiritual warfare advocates range from the basic to the bizarre. Some talk about demonic strongholds over towns and families. Some describe how generational demons can be inherited from family members. Some espouse a very distinct method and terminology for confronting and naming and disarming demonic forces. And all of these believe that Christians can be, not ‘possessed’, but ‘demonized’, that is, that demons of lust or anger or control or depression or pride can dwell in our hearts and enslave us to these kinds of sins.
But is this what the Bible teaches in regard to what is called ‘spiritual warfare’? This morning we continue and conclude our two-part study on The Enemy. Last week we saw what God’s word tells us about the Devil, also called Satan, and his strategy of deception as he seeks to destroy the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This morning, in light of what we learned last week about the Devil, we want to focus on what Scripture calls “resisting the Devil”. Turn with me to Ephesians 6, verses 10 through 20.
II. The Passage: "That You May Be Able to Stand" (6:10-20)
This passage is one of the most frequently cited passages in the Bible when it comes to what is often called ‘spiritual warfare’. What I believe we need to do this morning, if we are to understand this passage clearly, is to understand two important truths about these verses.
First, we need to know that, in these verses, Paul is concluding this letter by using military imagery to reemphasize everything he’s already said in the first five chapters.
Second, we need to see that Paul main exhortation or appeal to his readers here is that they need to “stand against the schemes of the devil”, as he puts it in verse 11. He also talks about “standing firm” in verse 13, and calls them to “stand therefore” in verse 14. When Paul call them “to stand”, he’s calling them to remain fully committed to God, God’s Son, and God’s word. He gave a great picture of this in chapter 4:
“To stand” means to have “mature manhood” in “the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (4:13, 14) Are you standing? Are you standing firm this morning?
Let’s do this: let’s break this passage down and look at how the rest of the book helps us understand these verses and why we need to stand and how we can stand.
A. Strengthened to Stand (6:10)
First, look at verse 10 of chapter 6: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Literally, Paul writes “be strengthened” in the Lord. Now, if we were reading Ephesians from cover to cover, we might notice that the phrase “in the strength of his might” was already used by Paul in chapter 1.
In chapter 1, Paul prayed for the Ephesian disciples in this way: […that you may know]…the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead…
The phrase “of his great might” is almost exactly the same in the original language as the phrase in chapter 6, “in the strength of his might”. So at the beginning and end of this letter, Paul is making it clear that he wants them to know and live in light of the incredible power that is theirs because of Jesus.
The strength we need to stand, no matter what comes against us, has been given to us because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We need to be strengthened each day by the strength of his might that is ours!
B. Persuaded to Stand (6:11, 12)
But look at verses 11 and 12 of chapter 6. Paul has just called them to stand by God’s strength in verse 10. Here he tries to persuade them as to why they need God’s strength to stand firm. Paul says…
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
So here in verse 11, Paul begins to use military images to make his point. Since Paul called himself an “ambassador in chains: in verse 20, and a “prisoner” in 3:1 and 4:1, it is safe to assume that Paul is writing this letter from jail or from house arrest. Either way, he would have been chained to and/or surrounded by Roman soldiers all day long. Maybe Paul was reminded by these soldiers of the spiritual conflict taking place in “this present darkness”.
As followers of Christ all over the Roman world were beginning to experience opposition and rejection from their families, neighbors, and civic leaders, it would have been very easy to label such people as “the problem”. Even within the church, the tensions that arose between fellow Christians and the tension created by so-called teachers with new ideas, even this was enough to get everyone focused on the people and circumstances that seemed to be the root problem.
But Paul makes it clear to his readers, our conflict, our struggle is not “against flesh and blood”. The opposition we face and the pressures we feel and the temptations we encounter, no matter the level or corner of society from which they come, all of it is ultimately being driven forward by “rulers” and “authorities” and “powers” and “forces of evil” that are not of this world. As Paul says in verse 12, these powerful enemies are “spiritual”; they are operating in “heavenly places”.
But again, Paul has already talked about these cosmic powers earlier in the book. In fact, Paul tells these disciples that they have an intimate knowledge of such “powers”. He told them in the opening verses of chapter 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air [same word translated “authorities” in 6:12…”of the air” here almost certainly means the same has “heavenly places” in 6:12…you were “following the prince of the power of the air”], the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience… (2:1, 2)
At one time, Paul’s readers were living under and following these “rulers” and “authorities”, these “powers” that have the Devil as their prince. But as chapter goes on to reveal…
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…
Now that’s amazing, not only because of the amazing grace of God, but also because of what chapter 1 already established about “the heavenly places” to which we have been raised and in which we have been seated. If we finished the quote from chapter one we saw earlier we’d read this…
[…that you may know]…the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked 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 above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (1:19, 20)
The exaltation of Jesus is the exaltation of his church. That’s why Paul can proclaim in chapter 3: …so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:10)
The “rulers” and “authorities”, the “spiritual forces of evil” with which we struggle are the same cosmic, demonic powers over which Jesus Christ triumphed through his death and resurrection. And now, since we are in Him, his victory is being trumpeted through us.
That’s why Paul is saying, “Walk in that victory! Be strengthened with His strength that is yours in Jesus. Put on the whole armor of God.”
C. Equipped to Stand (6:13-17)
Now, it is this image of armor that Paul describes more fully in verses 13 through 17. Listen to how Paul describes this armor.
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…
You may remember that Ephesians 6 is not the only place where Paul uses the imagery of armor to describe something about the Christian life. In I Thessalonians 5, Paul talks about putting on “the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” In Romans 13, Paul talked about putting on “the armor of light” as we cast off “the works of darkness”.
Ultimately, Paul’s inspiration here is probably from the Old Testament book of Isaiah where it says of God, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head” (Isaiah 52:17) It is said of the Messiah in Isaiah 11 that Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness (or in the Greek OT, “truth”) the belt of his loins. (11:5).
But notice the elements present in Ephesians 6: truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the word of God.
Now remember what we talked about at beginning: Paul is concluding this letter by using military imagery to reemphasize everything he’s already said in the first five chapters.
Listen to how Paul has already talked about these same ideas in earlier chapters:
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (1:13, 14)
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (3:11, 12)
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (4:20-24)
Putting on the armor of God in chapter 6 is the same as putting on the new self in chapter 4. Paul uses that same language in Romans, Galatians, and Colossians. Paul is not telling them to go get some spiritual equipment they lack. He is telling them to use the resources they already have. They have been, we have been, fully equipped by God to stand firm.
To be readied by the truth, to be wrapped in righteouessness, to be grounded in the gospel, to be shielded by faith, to be protected through salvation, and to defend ourselves with the word of God…that is how we fight the good fight; that is how we stand.
D. Supported to Stand (6:18-20)
Although Paul is done using military imagery when we move into verse 18, he does continue his appeal to them about standing firm. He wants them to be equipped with the armor and to be…
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Simply put, even thought the strength to stand is theirs in Jesus Christ, even through they have been equipped to stand in this spiritual struggle, they nevertheless, Paul nevertheless, all of them need to be supported to stand, to be daily depending on God through prayer.
As Paul encouraged the Romans believers, the follower of Jesus “will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4) Paul encouraged the Colossians by telling them about Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God. (Colossians 4:12)
Prayer may not be listed here as a piece of the spiritual armor, but it is absolutely critical in our struggle against these spiritual forces of evil.
III. True Spiritual Warfare
Now, remember the two truths we started with this morning: 1) Paul is concluding this letter by using military imagery to reemphasize everything he’s already said in the first five chapters, and 2) the main exhortation or instruction here is that these believers would stand against the schemes of the devil.
The reason both of those points are important is because when we see the passage in that context, we realize that spiritual warfare as many think about it today is simply a human invention based on superstition and not Scripture.
The fundamental problem with this so-called spiritual warfare thinking is that it wrongly builds on the uniqueness of Jesus’ encounters with demons in the Gospels and the uniqueness of the Apostle’s encounters with demons in Acts, and then fails to understand what the Spirit of Jesus communicated through those Apostles to the churches in the letters of the New Testament.
Nowhere in Scripture are we instructed to bind, or silence, or cast out demons. Those kinds of spiritual confrontations were done by Jesus and the Apostles, along with many other miraculous signs and wonders, in order to testify to the new thing God was doing through Jesus. Acts 14:3 tells us that the Apostles were …speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
Beyond this foundational work of Jesus and the Apostles, followers of Christ were not called to rebuke or bind or cast out demonic powers. So what were they called to do?
Ephesians 6:13 affirms that our goal is to be able to “withstand”, or to resist, “in the evil day”, that is, the day or any day of trial and temptation. It is that word, “withstand” or “resist”, it is that same word that we find in the two other key verses about the Devil in the New Testament: James 4 and I Peter 5:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith
You see, when the devil attacks with his temptations, when he tries to use painful circumstances to drive us toward doubt and despair, when he brings false teaching into our lives, whatever “flaming darts” he chooses to use, our response is resist him by standing firm in our faith. The armor is defensive, not offensive equipment. Even the sword here is probably thought of in more of a defensive sense, a tool to counter the blows of the Enemy, just as we saw Jesus doing when he was tempted in the wilderness.
The key to our offense is the right defense. And that defense is simply a call to live for the truth, to walk in righteousness, to cling to the gospel, to grow in faith, to rejoice in salvation, to know God’s word, and to bathe all of those things in prayer on a daily basis, even an hourly basis. Even in rare cases where we may encounter a real instance of demonic possession, prayer in light of the victory of the Cross remains are primary tool.
Do you want to frustrate and foil the demonic forces of Satan? Then love God and follow Christ in every way, by faith, through grace. That’s wearing God’s armor. That’s being ready for the conflict.
Spiritual warfare is not something distinct from the Christian life, something added on. No, spiritual warfare is just another way to describe the Christian life that we are called to live in every part of God’s word.
As believers, the reality of the Devil and his spiritual forces of evil should put is into a defensive posture; that reality should cause us to “keep alert with all perseverance” as Paul puts it in verse 18.
In some sense, we don’t have to go on the offensive as Christians, because Jesus has already won the war. But in another sense, we are called to proclaim that victory and apply that victory as we declare and demonstrate the Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul also used warfare language when he talked about confronting false gospels and false teaching:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (II Corinthians 10:3-5)
That is the battle for truth in which the Gospel, in which the word of God, is our main weapon.
Brothers and sisters, friends, God is calling us this morning to take up His armor, not our own. When we believe that our real conflict is against flesh and blood, that human beings and human circumstances are the real issue, then we are always tempted to take up our own armor.
We are tempted to fasten on the belt of the world’s lies. We are tempted to put on the breastplate of human pleasure. We are tempted to cover our feet with self-confidence. We are tempted to take up the shield of defensiveness and self-justification. We are tempted to put on the helmet of distraction and wield the sword of human wisdom.
And if the Enemy, if the spiritual forces of evil can get us fighting in that battle, then they will be winning. They will continue to blind others to the light of the gospel as they continue to undermine our faith in its power.
But we have been called to take up “the whole armor of God”; not just one piece; not just some of it, but all of it. When we neglect even pieces, we are vulnerable, that is, when we are spiritually neglectful in some area, we give the Devil a foothold, an opportunity (4:27).
So this week, when our Enemy wants to trip us up through a compromised conscience, let us fasten on the belt of truth, preparing ourselves through a life of integrity.
This week, when our Enemy wants to lure us onto a path of disobedience in thought, word, or deed, let us put on the breastplate of righteousness, wrapping ourselves in a life that is pleasing to God (5:10)
This week, when our Enemy wants to shake us with accusations and remind us of our past shame, let us prepare our feet with the gospel of peace, being grounded in the forgiveness of the cross.
This week, when our Enemy wants to plant and cultivate seeds of doubt in God’s goodness and faithfulness, let us take up the shield of faith, shielding ourselves from his lies.
This week, when our Enemy wants to inspire despair in us, seeking to make us hopeless in light of difficult, painful circumstances, let us wear the helmet of salvation, fully protected by the promise of eternal life with God.
This week, when our Enemy wants to pierce us with false beliefs, even using, or we should say, twisting Scripture to deceive us, let us use the sword of the Spirit, defending ourselves with the pure and perfect word of God…praying at all times, for God’s people and God’s work, according to the Spirit of God, and not according to our own wisdom.
How will your life be different this week in light of the cosmic conflict, the spiritual battle, in which you are a target if you are a follower of Jesus? We need to have a ‘war zone mentality’, don’t we? It is not time do what is easy and comfortable. It is not to time to let down your guard.
Listen to how one member of the 82nd Airborne Division, expressed this mentality a couple months ago as he and his troop were moved from the heart of Baghdad to one of the outlying rural areas.
"Out here in the suburbs, it is a completely different environment. It's a huge transition from an urban area to the rural area," said 1st Lt. Kyle Turner, of Jacksonville, Fla., a platoon leader assigned to Troop A. "Even though we are no longer in the city, we still stay alert and prepare for the worst on each mission. Just because we haven't seen any combat action in a while doesn't mean that we should ever be any less prepared, after all we are still in a war zone."
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
More in The Enemy
October 4, 2009Who is Called the Devil and Satan (Revelation 12:7-12)