Ephesians 6:11-12 – Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
If you’re a student of the Bible, those words should be familiar to you. They introduce an important teaching for Christ-followers, the armor of God. Have you ever wondered why Paul included it in his letter to the believers in Ephesus? What was it about that place that warranted such a direct and clear teaching addressing spiritual warfare? What in the world was going on in their city?
Acts 19 gives us some idea. Paul is on his third missionary journey. He has left Apollos to take the leadership of discipling the believers in Corinth and continued on his way to revisit the church he had established earlier at Ephesus. He finds some disciples of John there who had repented and been baptized but had not been taught the full gospel, that John was pointing to Jesus. Paul explains this, and they are baptized in the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes upon them, affirming their salvation; this begins a mighty work of God in this city.
Paul stays for more than two years teaching and discipling, with great impact. He is so filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit that people are healed from physical illnesses just from being touched by handkerchiefs and aprons that he has used.
Something happens when God’s Spirit begins to work in a certain area. The spiritual forces, evil spirits, are disturbed, and they are going to rise up against God’s work. Ephesus was a dark place. It was the center of religious faith for the worship of Artemis, a Greek goddess. She was thought to have “fallen from heaven” and was the protector of fertility, virginity, and childbearing. Like the worship of all false gods, someone profits. A lucrative business had grown up around this worship, particularly the silversmiths who made images of Artemis to sell to the tourists.
There was also a stronghold of spiritual forces present, evidenced by the practice of the Jewish exorcists, and a city-wide book burning of magical books as people turned to faith in Jesus. The more Paul preached, the more people stopped believing in Artemis and stopped practicing magic. The battle was on.
Paul ends up (again) in the middle of a great disturbance. A mob turns out shouting praise to Artemis, but half the crowd doesn’t even know why they are there (more evidence of the influence of spiritual forces). In the end, a city clerk has the common sense to disperse the crowd, and Paul takes his leave of the city, leaving behind a changed population. Many have come to faith, and those who have rejected his message have made their allegiance to the dark side known.
The gospel is powerful, and our enemy knows it. It makes him angry when we reveal the truth that Jesus took away all his power on the cross. His only recourse is to stir up trouble and continue to try to deceive. This is why Paul wrote to the believers of Ephesus specifically teaching them to put on their armor and prepare for spiritual warfare.
How about us? As we commit to living boldly for Christ, are we ready for the war that will inevitably come? Spiritual warfare is real; if we believe in the angelic forces of heaven, we must concede there are opposing forces of hell. We don’t panic and hide. We stand firm in our faith even as the evil grows greater. Our world is growing more and more wicked; Satan is not even trying to be subtle anymore because he is so welcomed by our culture, and he knows his time is coming to an end.
What will we do when the mob comes? When we’re falsely accused? When those in political and religious power point to us as the enemy? We do what Paul did…we keep teaching and preaching the gospel because we know it is more powerful than the darkness. Let us stand firm, and trust God for the outcome.