In his Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis says that there are two equal and opposite errors that people fall into regarding the dark powers. One mistake is to disbelieve in their existence, the other is to believe in them to excess.
In Ephesians 6:10-12, Paul the Apostle writes: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power… For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…
Paul takes the reality of conflict in the world to another level: ‘our struggle’, literally, ‘our wrestling’, is not so much against ‘flesh and blood’ but ‘principalities and powers’. In Ephesians 1:10 Paul speaks of the day when all things, ‘in heaven’ and ‘on earth’ will be brought under the rule of Jesus Christ. However, as we read in chapter 6, for the present there’s a war between the two spheres of darkness and light.
Spiritually speaking, God’s people live in enemy occupied territory. The epic that the Gospels reveal and Ephesians 2:4-7 picks up, is that the true king of the universe slipped into our world without fanfare to rescue people enslaved by the dark powers. As Jesus said to Pilate, he could have brought a great and powerful army (John 18:36) but, knowing that only he could defeat the prince of darkness, he came alone. At great personal cost his mission was accomplished. His resurrection authenticates this.
However, for the present the dark powers, although mortally wounded, continue to do their worst, attempting to destroy God’s sure plan to glorify his people.
Against this background we learn from Ephesians 6:10 that God’s people are caught up in a spiritual conflict as individuals and together. It is here that we are often naïve, thinking that people are the only obstacle to spiritual progress in the world. No, Paul warns. There are formidable supernatural forces at work – powers that will not respond to reason. We are in a spiritual conflict that involves dark powers and human choices.
Put on the whole armor of God, we read in verse 13, so that you may be able to stand your ground. There will be times when the dark forces press us morally – everybody’s doing it; sometimes they press us intellectually – you’re too clever for that; sometimes they press us psychologically – your faith is so intolerant; and sometimes we are physically persecuted. The aim is always the same: to silence God’s people.
Stand firm, Paul says. Be alert. Don’t give in. Put on the inner protection of a godly life-style. Our loins need to be girded with God’s truth; we need a breastplate of righteousness; our feet need to be shod with the commitment to spread the gospel of peace, and we need the headpiece of salvation. Our lives are most at risk when our inner defenses are broken through. We need the qualities of integrity, of righteousness, of gospel readiness, and the deep assurance of God’s ultimate victory.
The dark powers will do their worst to discredit our integrity, prevent gospel outreach through lethargy and infighting, and demoralize us by discouraging us.
And so we need protection – the shield of faith with which we can quench the flaming darts of darkness. We can’t cope on our own. We need to trust Christ, for when we do, the darts of darkness will fall useless. ‘The victory that overcomes the world,’ John tells us, ‘is our faith’ (1 John 5:4).
The sword of the spirit. While Paul hasn’t spelled out the meaning of his metaphors up to this point, he wants us to know that the sword is the Word of God. Unlike communism or any other -ism or ideology, there is no place in Christianity for a literal holy war. God’s new society is not brought in by act of Congress, still less at the end of gun.
The Word of God is not a message of the freedom fighters, but one that focusses on personal repentance and God’s forgiveness. The victory of God’s Word will have eternal outcomes.
Prayer. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints… (Ephesians 6:18).
In any battle, communication is vital. For God’s people prayer is our field telegraph. So Paul urges us to pray constantly, to persevere in prayer, and to be vigilant in prayer. We are to pray in the Spirit.
Romans 8:26f helps us understand this, for Paul tells us there that the Spirit works with us in our prayer. In the midst of suffering we’re often at a loss to know what we should say. In those times, Paul says, the Spirit comes to our aid, putting our inarticulate thoughts into meaningful prayer, speaking to God on our behalf.
God’s work is continuing to make inroads on the kingdom of darkness. When Jesus stood on the hills of ancient Israel with a handful of his followers, he said, ‘On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it’. His words were spoken to humble, un-influential men.
Christ is the legitimate ruler of this universe. Nothing in all creation will prevent the return of God’s King.
As we move towards a new season, let’s hold on to the shield of faith, wield the word of God with greater confidence, and most of all, pray – for one another and for others – that we will stand firm, not failing to live under God’s gospel, nor failing to take his gospel to those around us. Have you checked out: www.word121.com?
A prayer. Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.