Spiritual Warfare 101

Ephesians 6

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2019

We have been studying the book of Ephesians for some time.  This is our final week in the book.  It is our twenty-third lesson in Ephesians.  We trusted that you have learned a lot from this book.  Paul gives a final word in Ephesians 6.  He says, “finally” (Ephesians 6:10).  Paul comes to the end of the book and has a benediction and final greeting (Ephesians 6:21-24).

He says that he is sending the book back with his trusted friend Tychicus (Ephesians 6:21).  He was with him in Rome and he delivered three of Paul’s epistles (Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon).  He was Paul’s mailman.

Before he gives the benediction, Paul gives one final exhortation.  He has one final message to the church.  It is a very important message.  This chapter is a wake-up call to the church.  It is one of the most famous passages in the book.  It deals with spiritual warfare.  It is essential for successful Christian living.  Spiritual warfare is a popular topic today.  Everyone talks about it.  There are all kinds of books on it.

No book emphasizes spiritual warfare like the Book of Ephesians.  This is the main passage on spiritual warfare in the NT and yet it is rather surprising what it NOT in this passage.  This passage does NOT mention casting out demons.  This passage does NOT mention binding and loosing demons.  This passage does NOT mention rebuking demons.  This passage does NOT describe how to break generational curses.

Some of these things are not necessarily wrong but the main passage on spiritual warfare focuses on something else.  Today, we are going to make this simple.  We are going to look at four truths about spiritual warfare from this passage.

Four Truths about Spiritual Warfare

1) Christians are in a war

Christianity is a battlefield, not a playground.  Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, we are in a war.  We live in enemy territory.  Enemy territory does not just lie on the mission field.   All you have to do is to watch the news for one day and you will see this.

The Bible says that “the whole world lies in the wicked one” I John 5:19 KJV).  It says that Satan is “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30 KJV).  He is “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2 KJV).  God is sovereign over Satan but Satan is ruling this world.  He controls it. We are in a war and every Christian is a soldier.

Paul told Timothy to “endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:3 NLT).  The Apostle Paul has given many pictures of the church in Ephesians.  The church is pictured as a BODY made up of Jew and Gentile.  It is pictured as a FAMILY.  It is pictured as a BUILDING (a temple).  It is described as a BRIDE.  Now, it is described as a SOLDIER in an army.

2) It is a spiritual war

We have seen that our war is real.  Now, we see that our war is spiritual.  This is a spiritual conflict against spirit beings using spiritual weapons.  Everything in this passage is spiritual.  The belt is spiritual (belt of truth).  The breastplate is spiritual (breastplate of righteousness).

The shoes are not literal shoes.  They are spiritual shoes.  The shield is spiritual (the shield of faith).  The helmet is spiritual (helmet of salvation).  The sword is spiritual (sword of the Spirit and not a steel sword).

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (II Corinthians 10:4 NIV)

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Paul makes two very important points in Ephesians 6:12.  He says who our enemies are and who they are not.

First, notice, who we do NOT fight?  Flesh and blood.

Paul was not a martial artist.  He wasn’t a WWF fighter.  He did not go in the ring against people.  Our conflict is not with people.  Now we have all kinds of problems with people and Paul is not denying that fact.  He had problems with the Jewish leaders and Roman officials in his day who persecuted him.  He faced angry mobs of people.  He faced false apostles, but they were not the main problem.

The same is true today.  We are not at war with Muslims.  We are not at war with homosexuals.  We are not at war with atheistic and skeptics.  We are not at war with secular humanists.  We are not at war with false teachers and even false religions.  We are not at war with liberal democrats.  We are not at war with the media.  We are not at war with other Christians.  The President is not the problem.  Congress is not the problem.  The Supreme Court is not the problem.

Your wife is not the problem.  Your husband is not the problem.  There is a much greater problem you have to face.  There is someone that wants to ruin your testimony, ruin your marriage, ruin your church, ruin your nation.  There someone who wants to divide the country racially. We need to go to the root of the problem.  That brings us to who we do actually fight.

Second, notice who we DO fight.  We are fighting not people.  We are fighting spiritual forces.

We are fighting demons and different kinds of demons.  Four different groups of demons are listed here: principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places and not just any demons.  Some of them are high ranking demons (high ranking demons).  We are fighting a whole army of fallen angels, multitudes of demon spirits headed up by Satan.

That is very significant.  It tells us a lot of things and raises some questions.

  • Our enemy is NOT physical but spiritual. How do you defeat a spiritual enemy?  You cannot use physical weapons.
  • Our enemy is NOT natural but supernatural. How do you defeat a supernatural enemy?  How do you defeat an enemy that is stronger and smarter than you are?  Demons are supernatural beings.  They are not divine beings but they are supernatural beings.  We are fighting an enemy not from this world.
  • Our enemy is NOT visible but invisible. How do you defeat an enemy that you can’t even see?  The enemy has the advantage here.  We can’t see the enemy, but he can see us. We live in a physical word, the word of the five senses.  It is the world of the scientific method.  This world is real but there is another world, an invisible world that is just as real as the visible world.  That should not surprise us too much.  Even in the physical world there are things that are real that we cannot see with our eyes.

Ephesians 6:11 says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (ESV).  The KJV says that you may stand against “the wiles of the devil.”  The Greek word is μεθοδεία. We get our word “method” from it.  It means schemes or tricks.

It does not mean that the devil is a Methodist, but it does mean that he has a plan or strategy to trick and trap people.  II Corinthians 2:11 says, “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (NIV).  We could spend a long time thinking about all of the schemes of the devil that he uses against people.

3) We are called to fight in this war

Ephesians 6 is a call to action.  Every Christian is called to FIGHT.  We are to fight the good fight of the faith (I Timothy 6:12 ESV).  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV).  The NIV reads “struggle” in Ephesians 6:12 but it is the Greek word for wrestle (πάλη), which existed in the Greco-Roman world.  It was a popular sport in Paul’s day.  It is the word for hand-to-hand combat.  We are all to be wrestlers and we are all to be soldiers.  Both show that we are called to fight as Christians.

We have a responsibility in this battle.  We are not to sit back and be passive.  We can’t expect God to fight for us, while we do nothing.  It is our responsibility.  The Christian life is not a spectator sport.  Some think that because Jesus already won the battle (Ephesians 1:19-23), we do not have to fight.  If that is the case, then why are we told to “BE STRONG in the Lord and in the strength of his might?”

Too many Christians are weak.  Many are physically strong, like Samson.  They can pump iron.  They work out and go to the gym, but they are spiritually weak.  It doesn’t take much for something to come along (e.g., a simple temptation) and they are blown away.

If we do not have any responsibility in this battle, why are we told to “PUT ON the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil?”  It would be pointless for a soldier going into battle without any weapons or armor or a police officer trying to do his work without any weapons.

It would also not do you any good if you have the armor in the closet but don’t wear them or use them.  Some Christians do not put the armor on or they only put part of it on.  Paul says to “PUT ON the whole armor of God” (τὴν πανοπλίαν τοῦ θεοῦ).

If we do not have any responsibility in this battle, why are we told to TAKE UP some things (the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit).  Why are we told to pray in the Spirit?

If we do not have any responsibility in this battle, why are we told THREE TIMES in this passage to “STAND” (Ephesians 6:11, 13, 14).  Someone said the Book of Ephesians can be broken down into three words: sit, walk and stand.  In the early chapters of the book, we are told that we SIT with Christ in the heavenlies.  Then, we are exhorted to WALK in love and holiness and now we are exhorted to STAND.

Many do not stand.  Many Christians fall into sin.  They fall to temptation.  Some walk away from the faith.  Some compromise their faith and water it down.  This Christian goes down.  That Christian goes down. Some pastors have scandals and they go down and are out of the ministry. We are exhorted to stand.

 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:13 ESV).

Here is our responsibility.  We are to DO ALL to stand firm and we are to do it IN THE EVIL DAY.  We all face evil days.  It is easy to be a Christian when things are going great and God is prospering you.  What about when things are not great.  Tragedy strikes.  Your spouse leaves you.  You lose a member of the family or your health breaks.  Will you still be standing for Christ?

4) We cannot do this in our own strength

Paul says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  Do not try to be strong in your own power and do spiritual warfare.  Be strong in Greek is a perfect passive participle, which indicates that this is something done to Christians, not something that they do to themselves.[1]  You can’t be strong on your own.  Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do NOTHING” (John 15:5)

Paul said, “I can do all things THROUGH HIM WHO STRENGTHENS ME” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).  He could not do all things on his own or in his own power.  On our own, we are too weak to fight this enemy.  We can’t face an army of demons in our own strength. We are no match for them. We can only win in His strength and clothed in His armor.

Satan is greater than us.  He is smarter than us.  He is more powerful than us, but the Bible says, “greater is He that is in us that he that is in the world.”  If we have his armor on, Satan can’t get to you.  This armor covered every part of your part.  It protected you from head to toe.  The attacks of the enemy could not penetrate it.

This armor is impenetrable.  If you have it on, you will be able to quench ALL the fiery darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).  Why are Satan’s temptations and attacks called fiery darts?  In the ancient world, arrows were often dipped in pitch or some flammable material and set on fire before being fired.  They are called fire arrows but if you have the armor on, they can’t hurt you.

Seven Weapons of Spiritual Warfare

What is the armor? Paul mentions six pieces of armor: a belt, breastplate, shoes, a shield, a helmet and a sword.  Then, he also mentions prayer in connection with spiritual warfare.  It is a total of seven weapons of battle.

What are the seven weapons?  There is debate about what some of these weapons mean but they are truth, righteousness, faith, peace, salvation, the Word of God, prayer.  Some of these weapons are DEFENSIVE weapons and some of them are OFFENSIVE weapons.

Soldiers in ancient times fought with a shield in one hand and a sword in the other. A shield is a defensive weapon, whereas a sword is an offensive weapon.  You don’t use a shield to attack anyone.  Roman shields covered the whole body and protected you from incoming arrows or spears.  Let’s look at these seven weapons.

The first weapon is TRUTH (Ephesians 6:14).  We should all have the belt of truth on.  We need to wear the truth belt.  Truth should be strapped around our waist.  God’s Word is truth but the Word of God is the sixth weapon.  This is a different one.  It is a picture of personal integrity.  We should be people of honesty.  Dishonesty leaves an opening for the enemy to attack.

The second weapon is RIGHTEOUSNESS (Ephesians 6:14).  The breastplate covers the chest and all of the vital organs.  If you are shot in the arm or leg, you can survive.  You may lose an arm or leg but you can still live.  The second weapon against the enemy is righteousness, godly character.  The word “righteousness is used only one other time in Ephesians and it is listed right next to holiness (Ephesians 4:24)

The third weapon is PEACE.  The gospel produces peace.  The shoes worn by Roman soldiers had spikes in them.  How does peace help you in spiritual warfare?  It produces stability.  It takes away all of the anxiety.  God is with us.  We have peace with God and peace with people, because of the gospel.

The fourth weapon is FAITH.  Faith is described here as a shield (the shield of faith).  This is not just faith for salvation but faith for spiritual warfare.  We trust God and we trust His Word, no matter what Satan throws against us and he will throw dangerous things at us (fiery dart, arrows with fire on them).

The fifth weapon is SALVATION.  It is called a helmet.  The helmet protects the head, the most important part of the body.  Our helmet is our salvation.  Being saved and knowing that we are saved is a weapon that we can use against Satan.

The sixth weapon is the WORD OF GOD.  This sword is the Greek word for a short sword (μάχαιρα).  It was designed for close hand-to-hand combat.  It was an offensive weapon.  It is the ONLY offensive weapon listed in the biblical armor.  What does that tell us? God’s Word is a weapon.  It is a weapon that can be used in spiritual warfare.  God’s Word keeps us from sinning.

Jesus used it in spiritual warfare.  When He was tempted by Satan three times, he said “It is written.”  He did not bind the devil or rebuke the devil.  He just quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy.  He did not use reason or logic.  He did not use experience.  He did not use tradition or psychology.  He used God’s word as a sword.

The Bible is not just one sword but many. Every verse in the Bible is a powerful sword. The more verses you know, the more weapons you have at your disposal.  It’s not enough to have a Bible. You may have a whole stack of Bibles at home. That’s like having a nice sword on your wall at home for decoration.  It does no good unless you know what it says and can use it when your thoughts and minds are under attack from the enemy.

Is the Sword of the Spirit the Spoken Word?

One of the biggest myths in the Word of Faith Movement is that the sword of the Spirit only refers to spoken words, not written words of Scripture.  They base it on the fact that the Greek term for “word” in Ephesians 6:17 is ῥῆμα, not λόγος.  They argue that the Greek word ῥῆμα only refers to spoken words.  It refers to the specific word of Scripture that God gives you to speak in a specific situation.

Are they correct?  If this is true, it would mean that the sword of the Spirit is NOT the whole Bible but only parts of the Bible, the parts that you speak.  There is just one problem.  If you do a word study of ῥῆμα and λόγος, you will find that they are synonyms in the NT.

Hebrews 11:3 says that the world was created by the “word” (ῥῆμα) of God.  II Peter 3:5 says that the world was created by the “word” (λόγος) of God.

John 12:48 says, “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words (ῥήματά, a form of ῥῆμα) has a judge; the word (λόγος) that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (ESV).

The sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6:17 is called the “word” (ῥῆμα) of God but the “word” (λόγος) of God is also called a sword.  It is a sharp sword (Hebrews 4:12).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

The author of Hebrews not only calls it a sword, he calls it a sharp sword, sharper than any two-edged sword and he is talking about the written word there.  He uses the word λόγος there, not ῥῆμα.  He says ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ is a sharp sword.  Greek scholars recognize that these two words are used interchangeably in the NT. [3]

What is the important lesson here?  All Scripture is a sharp sword.  It does NOT become a sword when it is spoken.  The written Word of God is a sword.  The spoken Word of God is a sword.  People can be convicted just by reading the Word.  It does not have to be spoken out loud to become a sharp sword.

The sixth weapon is the PRAYER.

Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:18-20 ESV)

Paul has a big emphasis on prayer.  MacArthur says, “Ephesians begins by lifting us up to the heavenlies, and ends by pulling us down to our knees.”[2]  Most of us do not pray enough.  Prayer is part of spiritual warfare.  It is contacting headquarters during the battle.  It is the power behind the armor.  It is a prayer for air support in the battle.

Notice that when Paul talks about prayer, he uses the word ALL four times in one verse (at ALL times in the Spirit, with ALL prayer and supplication, for ALL saints, with ALL perseverance).  Most of us do not pray at all times or for all saints.  We are to pray for Christians in every country.  We are to pray for famous Christians like Paul and for ordinary Christians.

Most of us do not pray with perseverance.  We pray for a while and quit praying, when our prayers are not answered immediately.  We are to pray at all times and we are to pray in the Spirit.  What does that mean?

Is Praying in the Spirit Praying in Tongues?

In Pentecostal churches, praying in the Spirit means praying in tongues.  Praying in tongues is biblical.  Paul mentions it in I Corinthians 14:2 but when we read this in Ephesians 6:18, we should NOT immediately think of praying in tongues.  Why?

Paul does not mention tongues anywhere in Ephesians, not even in the spiritual gift sections of Ephesians.  In fact, in I Corinthians 12, Paul says that all Christians do not have the gift to speak in tongues but this command in Ephesians 6 is for all Christians.

What is the bottom line?  You can pray in tongues and pray in the Spirit, but you can also pray in the Spirit and NOT pray in tongues.  Jesus never prayed in tongues, but He prayed in the Spirit.  It is clear from Ephesians 6:18 that there is not just one way to do it.  He mentions all kinds of different prayers and requests but they can all be done in the Spirit.

Praying in the Spirit is biblically-based, Spirit-led, Spirit-prompted, Spirit-controlled and Spirit-empowered, and faith-filled prayers.  It is when the Holy Spirit leads you and you feel prompted to pray for someone.  It is prayer in the power of the Spirit.  That may or may not be in tongues.

[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians (NIV Application Commentary), p. 238.

[2] John MacArthur, Ephesians, p. 378.

[3]  Benjamin L. Merkle, Ephesians (Exegetical Guide to the Greek New Testament), p. 281, citing  Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 33.98.

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