For our struggle is not against flesh and blood . . . (Eph. 6:12)
Spiritual warfare. If we’re honest we might admit that there’s something about the phrase that we don’t like.
Maybe it’s the word ‘warfare.’ These days anything that blends religion with war talk offends our sensibilities. That’s no surprise. We’re living in a day when the ravages of militant religion are regularly displayed on social media and cable news channels. People who mix faith and fighting are dangerous people. We want nothing to do it.
For generations they hymn Onward Christian Soldiers was sung with gusto in American churches. In recent years that hymn has fallen from favor, the militarism prompting its removal from a number of hymnals. The hymn was written in 1864 specifically for use as a processional for a children’s Sunday school program in Yorkshire, England. But marching children conjured pictures of Hitler Youth. We have little interest now in teaching children to march. Farewell beloved hymn.
Know Your Enemy
We’ll have plenty of opportunity to talk about ‘warfare’ in the days ahead. For today, instead of jumping straight to the noun ‘warfare,’ we’re going to linger with the adjective ‘spiritual.’ We are thinking these days about a particular kind of conflict. If we don’t understand this, if we fail to grasp the nature of the fight, then there won’t be a fight at all. We’ve lost right from the start.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul is very clear as to the nature of what we’re up against.
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 (Eph. 6:12).
We don’t have time here to sort out all the language of that verse, but don’t miss the opening phrase. We are not fighting flesh and blood. The most formidable enemy of your faith is not a human enemy – neither your boss nor your ex, neither Hollywood nor the media, neither Republicans nor Democrats.
John Calvin commented on the text by saying “Let us remember this when the injurious treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our exertions against the men themselves; but . . . the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of Satan.”
One of the most insidious things about spiritual warfare is that the fight often comes to us in familiar and plain wrapping. We fail to identify the enemy. We live blind to the spiritual nature of the conflicts that eat us alive. We live our days angry about politics, worried about our children or about money, guilt-ridden with past failures.
Having failed to see the enemy, we lose the fight. We don’t know joy. We forfeit our peace. We carry shame. Game over.
C. S. Lewis said that one of the devil’s most effective strategies is simply getting us not to believe that he exists at all. American Christians are particularly vulnerable to this strategy. So early on, get honest about this: Do you know the nature of the fight you’re in as you seek to live a life of faith? There are unseen realities around you, what Paul called “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Do you believe this?
As you look at this day, what are you up against? What do you see – and what might be unseen in the struggles you’re facing?
Prayer:Gracious God, help us to see beyond the obvious in the things that confront us and threaten us today. Keep us from living fearful and angry lives and make us equal to the struggle that threatens our walk with you and out witness in the world, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.