“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17-18).
The blessings of the Christian life are indescribable. Ephesians chapters 1–3 have made that more than clear. (Pause and let that thought sink in. I cannot write all those details in this article. Read Eph. chapters 1-3). But every day and hour bring us new hardships and difficulties. This is a fact of which we are only too well aware. Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke openly of the cost of discipleship to those who were thinking of following him. But such Christian living is not easy. In fact, it is a real battle. Paul would not have anyone believe otherwise. So it is that he closes his letter with his well-known teaching on the Christian’s armor. As he dictated this paragraph, under house arrest at Rome, the apostle probably had a Roman soldier in the same room. He may even have been chained to him. The first person to hear the epistle to the Ephesians, other than Paul’s secretary, was this living visual aid! What did he think as Paul described each piece of his armor and showed what was its spiritual equivalent? Did he also notice that Paul’s style as he signed off his letter was rather like that of a general briefing his troops before battle? How different is the life of a soldier at war! He is under arms both day and night. His every waking thought is concerned with the conflict in which he is engaged. There may be an encounter with the enemy at any moment. All his work is directly connected with the war effort. His eating, sleeping and relaxing serve only one purpose—to strengthen him for warfare. There is no time when he ceases to be a soldier and there is no limit to what he may be required to do. His life is one of sacrifice, difficulty, danger, pain, tears, frustration and, perhaps, death.
This is the picture which Paul uses to speak of the Christian life! Being a Christian is not a hobby. It is not something in which we can get involved for only part of the week. It demands all that we are, all of the time. It is our life. We are soldiers at war. Everything is difficult and dangerous. It is a battle. All that we do is worth it, as we have so constantly seen in Paul’s letter. But this does not lessen the reality of the war. ‘We do not wrestle against flesh and blood,’ insists Paul (6:12). We are not at war with Roman Catholics, liberals, Jehovah’s Witnesses or evolutionary scientists. We do not fight adulterers, gays, pop stars or the managers of abortion clinics. We are not in conflict with any man or woman. So who, then, are our enemies? We are ‘against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places’ (6:12). Why do people believe ideas which are not true? Why do they persist in behaving in a way which God condemns? It is because their minds are controlled by other personalities. Who, precisely, are these personalities? The Epistle to the Ephesians has already spoken of the existence of the devil (2:2, 4:27). He is a personal, invisible and powerful spirit who controls the minds of the unconverted (2:2). He does this by means of his countless agents mentioned in verse 12. They, like him, are evil spirits. They are organized into various ranks, some of the names of which are given here. The devil himself is over them all. The darkness of this age is to be attributed to these awful beings. The invisible dimension is infested with them.
In addition to the armor which perfectly protects us, God has given us two weapons to attack with. It is not enough to remain on the defensive. Just image a Roman soldier with the full armor and without his Sword. How long can he defend himself when the enemy is coming at him. He will be like a sitting duck. It is not sufficient to hold our ground. We must invade and capture the enemy’s territory. We must go forward. Our first attacking weapon is the sword—‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (6:17). The hands which hold it are ours, but strong invisible hands are placed over them. We wield the sword as best we can, but it is the invisible hands which give it force, direction and cutting power. God uses us to do His work. It is none the less God’s Spirit who does God’s work.
The Spirit’s sword is the Word of God. How are the devil and his agents brought to release their grip on the minds they have captured? How are error and ungodliness put to flight? How are people brought to submit to Christ? How are victories won in the spiritual dimension? How are we to advance? When Jesus himself was tempted three times, He used the Word of God. He quoted the scriptures all the three times by saying, “It is written… It is written… It is written…” If we do not fill our hearts with the Word of God, Satan will fill our hearts with the garbage of this world.
Signs and wonders will not do it. Nor will clever arguments. All God’s work is done by God’s Word; and what is not done by God’s Word is not God’s work. The devil cannot stand against the Holy Spirit working through the Scriptures. It is by the proclamation of God’s Word that minds are enlightened, lives are changed, and conversions take place. Spiritual work is done by spiritual weaponry. This is obvious, but we need to be reminded of it. The declaration of the Bible’s message must always be our great priority. There is no true spiritual advance where the Bible does not lead the way. The Holy Spirit has no other sword apart from the book which he has inspired. Those who believe this will give themselves to spreading the biblical message. What happens on the battlefield will not disappoint them.
But God has also given us a second attacking weapon (6:18-20). As Paul talks about it his Roman soldier fades from view, for this spiritual weapon has no earthly equivalent. We have a secret weapon which has no human parallel and so it is not portrayed in the armor. It is prayer. Jesus also exhibited a strong prayer life. How much more we need to fill our hearts with the Word of God and spend time on our knees in prayer.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.