A Team Battle
When I was in the military, my favorite exercises were the group obstacle courses. These courses were intentionally way too massive for an individual person to go through alone. One was a giant tower (think four telephone poles with multiple stories of platforms in between them). I would not have been able to jump and reach even the first platform by myself. Together we had to figure out how to get all of us up there and all of us down, using no equipment but each other.
When Paul writes about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6, he speaks as a captain to a platoon of soldiers—the church. Why? Because the fight of faith is meant to be overcome alongside God’s people.
When we come to Ephesians 6, the apostle Paul breaks into our life, grabs our shoulders, and says, “Someone is after you!” He writes, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” (Eph. 6:12, emphasis added).
That’s not how we tend to think. We see our struggles against political parties or a pagan culture. Or, maybe you’ve heard something like this: when your toaster isn’t working, it has a demon and you need to call the priest. Instead, Paul says, the target of spiritual warfare isn’t kitchen appliances; it’s your faith: “[T]he god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4, emphasis added).
Satan’s aim is to keep people from seeing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, and for those who have believed, to quench our faith—to weaken it, to discourage us, and, if possible, to pluck up the seeds of the gospel from our hearts before they take root.
Sometimes you may wonder why it’s hard to grow as a Christian. Why don’t you feel joy like you used to? Why don’t you have the same energy in your faith as before? Have you considered that someone is after you? There is someone who wants to draw you away from the very tools needed to engage in this spiritual battle: God’s word, prayer, and life in the church together with God’s people.
Sandals and Swords
To join in this team battle, we need to be armed with preparedness (like a Roman soldier strapping his sandals on tight) to bring the gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15), and with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph. 6:17).
This is not only for our benefit, but also for others. A properly equipped soldier not only defends himself; he also defends and protects others. We have friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers who are being spiritually barraged by the enemy. He is blinding them to believe a false gospel—to believe they can put on their own righteousness before God. We have fellow church members—brothers and sisters in Christ—who are being discouraged by lies from the enemy. We must prepare ourselves to bring them the gospel of peace. We must sharpen our swords to slash through the lies of the enemy, so that the word of God can do its work of setting us free. We must sit under the preached word every Sunday, receiving its nourishment and being equipped to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” so that we can teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Col. 3:16).
People and Prayer
In equipping us for battle, Paul also connects people and prayer: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me (Eph. 6:18–19).”
Paul doesn’t give prayer a figurative piece of armor, yet it fits right in with what’s required to stand against spiritual warfare. Scripture demonstrates a mysterious connection between spiritual warfare and prayer. For example, the angel who came to encourage Daniel said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel… I have come because of your prayers” (Dan. 10:12). Jesus said to Peter “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31–32, emphasis added). Paul also asks other people to pray for him that he would be faithful in his calling. When we pray for and with each other, we engage in spiritual warfare.
Ephesians teaches us that Jesus didn’t merely die to unite us (individually) to himself. Yes, that’s true, but in uniting us to himself, he united us to his body—the church (Eph. 2). We’re not meant to have a relationship with Jesus apart from a relationship with his body—other brothers and sisters in Christ—because the fight of faith is meant to be overcome together.