Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. 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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, 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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Perhaps you’ve seen this E-trade commercial? The camera bounces back and forth between a stoic, thoughtful person silently watching an admirable, wealthy person who is captivating a large group, while a smooth, baritone voice reveals the inner envious dialogue. The voice reveals how successful this second person is and how, in fact, the stoic first person even, despite his envy, begrudgingly likes him. Then the commercial finishes, “but you’d like him a whole lot more if you made more money than him. Don’t get mad. Get e-Trade.”
Unfortunately, that’s not how envy gets cured. If you like her more if you are better than her, you’ve never truly liked her. The problem isn’t a readjustment of circumstances. The problem is an envious heart.
But the commercial is fascinating to me because it eloquently describes the war, but it goes to fight the wrong battle. And that’s Ephesians 6. Paul tells us that our struggle is not actually against flesh and blood, but against demonic systems set up by the forces of darkness, the powers of evil, and our enemies in the spiritual realm. For us enlightened, western, individual materialists, that’s not the battle we are accustomed to fighting. Spiritual warfare seems like something from the forgotten realm of superstition, vampires, and blaming Zeus for impregnating my cow with a demi-god. But Paul tells us the real battle between good and evil, isn’t against other human beings, but against, as we say at baptisms, the world, the flesh, and the devil. The real battle happens first at the spiritual level.
Paul is not implying some gnostic nonsense like only the spiritual matters. Rather, Paul is illuminating this point: Christ wasn’t battling the Roman Empire on the cross. He was shaking down the powers of the spiritual world. He was crushing the very head of Satan. In His death and resurrection, He was forming a new eternal Kingdom of heaven and of earth. He waged war not against flesh and blood, but against the devil himself. He won. And as a matter of fact, in time, the Roman Empire shook and disappeared and God’s people and God’s Kingdom picked up the pieces and marched on.
That is the battle we still wage on His behest and through His power. The flesh and blood that we so want to dismiss, defeat, or better are not our enemies, but our potential allies in God’s Kingdom. The circumstances are second to the spiritual forces that tell us money will make us happy, power will make us secure, and sex will satisfy. The real battle is fought on the spiritual plane everyday. Which is why Paul tells us to have already put on God’s armor, but to always be praying. Prayer is the putting on. Prayer is aligning our hearts for the real battle. Prayer is asking the crowned King for strength and His will. So be praying, at all times, in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.