Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist…
It happened about the time I was turning 40, about the time they started printing too small of labels on soup cans. It was then I knew I needed glasses for reading.
Today I need reading glasses of a spiritual sort for reading the news from around the world. John Calvin, the 16th century theologian, said that the Scriptures are eyeglasses for reading the world aright. He thought of the Bible as just the right lens for seeing the world more clearly. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I.VI.I)
I try to keep that in mind each day as I read the news of terrorism, persecution, and massacre. There is something going on here at a much deeper level than just what the news reports. I need to read the news through spiritual eyeglasses.
That is what the apostle Paul is writing about in today’s Scripture text, furnishing us the lens to see that this “struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh”. Rather, behind the scenes, behind the headlines a battle rages “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the forces of spiritual evil”. It is the height of craziness to try and take on the world’s evils without taking on these dark spiritual forces behind them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, pastor, martyr, and near-prophet, presciently saw the dangers facing his native Germany and the world. In the run up to World War II Bonhoeffer warned:
How can one close ones eyes at the fact that the demons themselves have taken over the rule of the world, that it is the powers of darkness who have made an awful conspiracy, and could break out at any moment? How could one think that these demons could be driven out, these powers annihilated with a bit of education in international understanding, with a bit of good will? (A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
John Stott, English theologian and churchman, unmasked the spiritual forces at loose in the world:
Is God’s plan to create a new society? Then they will do their utmost to destroy it. Has God through Jesus Christ broken down the walls dividing human beings of different races and cultures from each other? Then the devil through his emissaries will strive to rebuild them.
Does God intend his reconciled and redeemed people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of hell will scatter among them the seeds of discord and sin. (John Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians)
We fail to read the news with understanding, unless we read into it the spiritual World War that is raging. While the apostle Paul regards human government as bearing a responsibility to protect its citizens (see Romans 12:1-7), he also teaches the responsibility of Christians to take up and press this spiritual battle. In order to do that, Paul says we need to “take up the whole armour of God”.
Notably, the first piece of the armour that God supplies to us is “the belt of truth”. We must speak the truth about these spiritual forces and darkness and expose them to the light. Christians can no more fight against spiritual forces with physical weapons, than we can fight against cancer or polio with missiles and drones. This spiritual battle calls for you and me to take up the weaponry that God supplies us (Ephesians 6:14-17). The one offensive weapon God supplies us in battle is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
Further down in this passage Paul urges Christians to do that which we all can do, right where we are:
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)
Our responsibility is not to conquer evil; Jesus Christ has already accomplished that through His cross and resurrection (see Romans 8:38-39; Ephesians 1:20-21; Colossians 2:14-15). Our job, Paul says, is to “stand firm”. We will stand firm by reading today’s news through spiritual glasses, telling the truth about the battle we are facing, proclaiming God’s Word, and giving ourselves to prayer.
Grace and peace,
photo by Cindy Schultz