The charismatic movement was sweeping through North Jersey when we planted a church there. Talk of demons erupted everywhere. Fascination with “casting them out” made me uncomfortable. I believed that “spiritual forces of evil” were real, but held no relevance in my life. Paul’s final remarks in Ephesians reprove me.
“Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”. . . (6:10).
Paul is reaching the end of his letter from imprisonment in Rome to the Ephesus church. “Finally”, he writes. Because his words about evil spirits come last they’re not unimportant. In fact they may signal our greatest danger.
Paul piles up power words–“be empowered. . . in the strength of his might“. Again and again, Scripture points us to God’s might for us . . .
- “He said: ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”” (2 Chronicles 20:15).
- “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (Psalm 18:1).
- “For who is God besides the LORD? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (Psalm 18:31,32).
- “But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God” (Psalm 59:16,17).
- “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know . . . his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Ephesians 1:18-22).
Elsewhere Paul refers to God as his enabler . . .
- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).
- “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service” (1 Timothy 1:12).
- “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth” (2 Tim 4:17).
Here he urges us to be “strong in the Lord”, Why? So we can “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes” (6:11b). As Christians, we’re caught up in a “struggle”. How can we be strong in the Lord? Pray devotedly. “Train” in the Scriptures daily. Participate in the life of the church. Engage in Holy Spirit-present worship. And . . .
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).
This we have to do. God doesn’t. We have to put on the armor. And so we are “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”.
Paul may have taken his armor-idea from his guards. I can see him eyeing the soldier’s armor. “Put on the full armor of God . . .” Paul urges us.
With ” . . . so that”, Paul introduces the purpose for putting on God’s armor The devil “schemes” against us! The Greek word is methodeia—“craftiness, cunning attacks, deception”. With multiple attacks, he tempts us, accuses us, fosters division in the church, stalks us to undermine our faith, and more.
We must ” . . . take [our] stand” against the devil’s schemes. Greek histayme–“hold one’s ground”. Andrew Lincoln, British New Testatment scholar, comments . . .
“The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand, that is, to preserve and maintain what has been won. It is because this victory has been won that believers are involved in the battle at all. They are in a decisively new situation in contrast to their previous condition described in 2:2,3, where there could be no battle or resistance because they were in total bondage to the enemy. So the call to the readers to stand against the powers is also a reminder of their liberation from the tyranny of these powers. The major victory has been achieved, but the eschatological tension with its indicative and imperative characteristic of Paul’s thought remains. Believers must appropriate what has already been gained for them and do so against continuing assaults, and this is not automatic. Indeed there may be minor defeats along the way; hence the urgency of the imperatives. [Paul’s] focus, however, is not on the possibility of such minor defeats but on the ability of his readers to make the assured outcome of the overall battle their own by standing and maintaining the ground that has been won”.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:12,13).
Paul explains why we must put on God’s full armor: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. ” . . . struggle” is the NIV’s translation of the Greek palay–literally, “wrestling”.
Wrestling was popular in the Ephesian athletic games. Like “flesh and blood” wrestling, we believers in Christ “wrestle” against spiritual powers.
This was certainly true in Ephesus. The city was famous for magical arts, especially the so-called “Ephesian Letters” (Ephesiagrammata). These six magical terms (askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus, and aisia) were said to possess power to ward off evil spirits.
One story told of an Ephesian wrestler who was unbeatable in the Olympic because he wore the “Ephesian Letters” on his ankle. Officials discovered and removed it. The wrestler then lost three consecutive matches.
Paul says our struggle “is not against flesh and blood”. He means behind human opponents work “rulers . . . authorities, powers of this dark world . . . spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”. Paul does two things here. First, he piles up terms to show us the overwhelming nature of these spiritual powers. Second, he implies that the present world order is organized in rebellion and under the dominion of these powers. Christ’s appearance on earth caused an outbreak of activity by them. But his coming, as they feared, sealed their doom. In fact, he triumphed over them, so they’re already beaten . . .
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).
By putting on God’s armor in faith,we can make his victory ours.
” . . . the evil day” is this present evil age which may contain certain “hot” days of evil. Paul explains our fight in the evil day is to “stand [our] ground.” Paul wants us unshaken and steadfast when the enemy attacks. As Lincoln explained above, “The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand . . . ”
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Looking for demons everywhere is extreme. But so is presuming they have no relevance in my life. If I doubt God’s promise that even in my old-age-illnesses he’s working for good, Satan lurks, urging me on in my self-pity and unbelief. I can sit up straight in my wheelchair, put on the full armor of God and resist his lies.
In this evil day I can stand.