Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
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.
I have often gone to this passage in my personal life as a believer, and also on this blog. And I believe what I’ve said carries some weight and truth. What I have failed to factor in is I think a more balanced view tied to both second temple Judaism and passages in Isaiah which help us understand the context and understanding of the original writing. Here’s some good work from scholarship by Kurt Willems to give us a much needed balance on the spiritual warfare passage in Ephesians 6. Not only personal, but systemic. Not only defensive in resisting, but offensive in readiness for the victory of Christ. Not individualistic, but necessarily the entire church involved.
We’ve got to be awakened to the work of the demonic powers, yes in our personal lives and the lives of others, but also in systems, in structures, wherever these forces of evil intrude, yes even through earthly rulers, to oppress people, what empire necessarily does to be empire. But not relegated to that, but including everywhere where such tyranny is practiced, not only in governments, but in any institutions. What is referred to here is not only individual evil, but also systemic evil. Both surely work hand in hand. For example there was a Hitler. But there was also a system in place through the narrative of the Third Reich and the fascist governing of Nazism.
The necessary resistance will be to the structures and powers which are antithetical to God, to God’s reign in Christ, to the shalom which God intends and brings through God’s kingdom in Christ. And this resistance is from the church as a whole. Not only this letter, Ephesians, but this passage is addressed not just to individuals, but to people, to the church. The church should be aware of not only the nature of the battle it’s in, but also its scope. While at the same time holding to the gospel of Christ as the church’s God-given remedy to the ills afflicting individuals, people, society. And seeing victory manifest to change both individuals and systems.
This battle is ongoing. There will be no completion of it before Christ returns. The evil powers are restless. So we too, together must be alert and ready, realizing the battle we’re in. Ready to resist and see the victory of God in Christ make inroads to change individuals and influence societies for good. In and through Jesus.