We believe the Bible is true.
At least we say we do.
But if we’re honest, there are verses, concepts, and ideas throughout Scripture that we often don’t pay much attention to – not because we don’t think they’re true and not because we’re interested in being ignorant or naive, but rather because the content seems so foreign or unfamiliar or so massive that to live in light of them is almost incomprehensible. Ephesians 6:12 is one of those verses.
Hopefully, you read it this week – it was in Tuesday’s Woodlands in the Word reading. Did you pause, and sit in the massive profundity of the verse? Did it take your breath away? Did it entirely shift your perception of the entire world? Look at it again:
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.
This verse comes at the very end of the book, as Paul wraps up his comments on church ministry and church life. Verse 10 starts, “Finally…” It’s a concluding, summarizing comment: “As you’re going to live in this world, with the values of Christ’s Kingdom, then do this!” But let’s just pause for a minute and consider some of the broad implications from verse 12.
Breaking Down the Verse
Wrestle against: This acknowledges the struggle – the tension and uncomfortableness – we experience in the world today. The Greek word in this case, πάλη, is used only in this single verse in the whole New Testament and means to struggle or fight. There is a battle going on – you feel it and experience it on a regular basis. What are you processing with your spouse, what are you wrestling through at work or with your family? Where are your struggles and trials – what’s causing them? Broken people, broken situations, natural disasters, sickness, sin, trauma, misunderstanding?
In this life we struggle.
We DO NOT wrestle against flesh and blood: But Paul quickly flips the script. Those things we listed – those tensions we face – those struggles our wrestling is defined by? Paul says these are not the underlying causes or factors of our struggle. They are not the prevailing enemy of the world today. The cancer? The sin-filled coworker? The child filled with obstinence or disobedience? The budget issues? They are not the primary cause of the brokenness in this world – and they can’t be the primary thing we struggle against!
Spiritual forces of evil: No, instead Paul says that there are spiritual forces of evil at work throughout the world, actively opposing and challenging the work of God and God’s church. The word here for spiritual is πνευματικός, used by Paul to earlier refer to “spiritual blessings in the heavenly places” which we receive through Christ (Eph. 1:3), and in other places as, “Spiritual blessings” that Paul would like to share (Romans 15:27). These spiritual beings operate and exist in the same plane or space in which God works his goodness and mercies into our own life.
Various forms of spiritual forces of evil: And what’s more, Paul doesn’t just say we wrestle against, “the spiritual forces of evil,” but instead lists different types of spiritual forces – rulers, authorities, cosmic forces. We must be careful – Paul isn’t giving us any comprehensive list of spiritual forces or even a guidebook to understanding their differences. It’s far too easy to fall into unhelpful speculation (which we need to reject – 2 Timothy 2:23). But it is clear that there are types of spiritual forces, and as a result, there are structures and organizations in a world beyond our ability to see, actively scheming against God’s goodness and at work in the world today.
We DO wrestle against spiritual forces: And it’s these forces that Paul says we actively struggle against and wrestle with. These are our primary enemies – the primary sources of division, battle, oppression, temptation, and brokenness.
This present darkness: Far from the Frank Peretti novel, Paul refers to this world of spiritual battle as “this present darkness.” In that single phrase, he acknowledges the pain and brokenness, but also the hope and victory we have in Christ. Yes, we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Yes, we wage against spiritual forces we cannot see and struggle to fathom, but which cast shadows throughout the world. But yes, too – Christ is with us. And this present darkness is not an eternal darkness. It will come to an end and we shall live, not just as children of the light (Eph 5:7-8), but as children in the light.
A Worldview Changing Perspective
Is this all true? Of course it is! This passage in Ephesians is far from being the only place this is referenced, the spiritual realities in the world today are a foundational reality in Scripture. There are preconditions of reading Scripture – the Bible assumes these truths – and assumes that we’ll agree with these truths.
But if it is all true, do we live like it’s true?
Pause, and ponder. Does your life, and your time spent, and your priorities, and your solutions really, truly reflect a notion that, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers in the spiritual realms?” Can others recognize that in you? And what does it even look like?
Well, certainly Ephesians 6 continues with weapons of that battleground – salvation, truth, faith, God’s Word. But perhaps most profoundly, Paul dwells, in Ephesians 6:18-20, on prayer. And if spiritual battles require spiritual weapons, then prayer is certainly one to wield.
And so consider: does your life reflect the awareness that we fight spiritual battles throughout our life? When you face parenting tensions – do you pray as regularly and as fervently for God’s intervention and for the binding of spiritual opposition, as you also talk, process, study, and research? As you face workplace frustrations, do you pray? As you navigate interpersonal disagreements, and financial struggles, is prayer a primary weapon you wield, in confidence that it will help you win the battle?
Perhaps now is a good time to pray that God will help you do just that.
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How do you assess your spiritual readiness to fight? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts! And as always, we’d love for you to read along with us in Woodlands in the Word. Text BIBLE to 888-225-7675 for a link to each weekday’s Bible reading and prayer prompts.