For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
We have studied this passage before…. But I think it is a good time for us to review it again. Conflicts within human relationships are inevitable. Our innate human nature is to be focused on our own physical needs and emotional desires. And while it is not inherently wrong in to seek our own well-being; to exert a self-centered will on others can be a source of contention and disagreement between people. And conflict will have to be navigated or negotiated in order to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Cf. Ephesians 4:3)
What Paul shares with us here is some insight that the source of our interpersonal conflicts may not always be natural or physical (against flesh and blood). Rather, Paul asserts that when we have struggles against with one another, the issue is most likely a spiritual one … a spiritual battle, if you will. And so, the fight is not necessarily with the person in front of you; rather, it is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil that can exert themselves in our minds and through our bodies (actions). And this knowledge should cause us to pause and think before we react to what the person is saying or doing. For example:
Matthew 16:21-23 (NIV)
21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22 Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
While Peter may have been well-intentioned in his feelings and how he addressed Jesus in that moment of emotion; he was wrong. And Jesus told Peter that his concerns were distorted by spiritual forces of evil … Satan himself. Thus, a conflict ensued and Jesus used the occasion to teach the disciples a lesson in spiritual warfare:
Matthew 16:24-26 (NIV)
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
Paul went on to speak about the “armor of God” and its protection against the spiritual forces of evil. (Cf. Ephesians 6:14-16) He taught that our only offensive weapon against evil is the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) And Paul affirmed that prayer in the Spirit … on all occasion with all kinds of prayer and requests … was essential to inflict offensive maneuvers against the spiritual forces of evil. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Cf. Ephesians 6:18) Yes, when someone gets adversarial with you … pray for them! Seek counsel from the Word of God! And remember that disciples of Christ Jesus must deny themselves … take up their crosses … and follow Him. I believe this means you give up your right to be “right” … because Jesus taught us give and expect nothing in return; when offended to turn the other cheek; and to love and pray for our enemies.
Matthew 5:38-45 (NIV)
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Note Verse 45 – “that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” A child of God … born of the Spirit through the Word … will follow Jesus and put His teaching into practice. And this is what Peter instructed in his epistle as well – encouraging believers to understand that we, too, will suffer like Jesus as we follow in His footsteps:
1 Peter 3:8-18 (NIV)
8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. 9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. 11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and His ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (Cf. Psalm 34:12-16) 13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
It is clear that offenses will come. There will be differences and disagreements between people … even people of faith. But if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Cf. Romans 12:18) For Jesus taught us to pick up a cross of suffering for ourselves and to follow Him … “that we may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conform to His death,” as Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10. For even if you should suffer for what is right … you are blessed. So, stand your ground, and pray! Pray in the Spirit! Yes, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people! Love, bless, and pray for those who oppose you! For the battle is a spiritual one … and in the end, the battle belongs to the Lord. Amen.