Armor for a Close Battle (Ephesians 6:12-13)
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. 13 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 6:12-13
I’ve heard my share of sermons and teachings on these verses and it’s likely you have as well. Speakers point out that other people are not our biggest problem, that the real enemy is not the kid in your class who keeps assigning his failures to your efforts, not the driver in the other car who repeatedly pulls across the center line on the narrow road refusing to allow you to pass even though the way is clear and you’re in a greater hurry than they seem to be. The real enemy isn’t even the social liberal who seems bent on forcing your participation in an event that counters your own religious convictions, going so far as to actually arrange some penalty for your resistance.
No, we are reminded, the real enemy is not the lost and broken, the fallen and sinful human beings who surround us, with whom we ran in the same circles just a lifetime ago. The real enemies are cosmic, spiritual, invisible evil. And we are reminded, both in the remainder of Ephesians 6 and in 2 Corinthians 10:4, that God has provided His people with tools/weapons appropriate for our specific wrestling match: “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds.”
But this time, who we are wrestling with and the tools we are using are not what capture my imagination. Instead, I see the picture of two wrestlers face to face, toe to toe, fighting for their lives, and it is the ring that intrigues me. College wrestlers wrestle on a mat in a gym. Sumo wrestlers wrestle within a circle of a prescribed size. And of course, two siblings can wrestle and tussle on the bunk beds or the living room floor. All takes place somewhere. Where is the wrestling mat for the spiritual bout we fight in?
Some might picture a far away vista darkly desolate, an ethereal landscape shrouded in ominous clouds of spiritual foreboding where armies gather under flashing lightning and deep rumbles of thunder that are almost drowned out by the sound of their own marching feet, a cosmic battlefield from the mind of Tolkien or Bradbury. But I think the wrestling ring, the mat, the battlefield is closer to home and far more familiar than that distant scene. Where does our spiritual wrestling match take place? Where do we wrestle, not with flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places? Where does this take place?
The heart is the ring where the wrestling match of faith against evil takes place. Our own minds, our spirits, our hearts are the battlefield and our attitudes, worldview, personalities, our very selves are the prize for which we fight. This morning I am wrestling with devastating attitudes of discouragement and despair. I just learned last night a well integrated family in my church has been transferred and is leaving the area, perhaps permanently, in just a month or so. Ours is a small church. Two of the family members are my pianists. One of the young men runs our AV ministry. There is no one to replace them. And more than that, I really love these people. This feels like death to me!
So, this morning, I am wrestling, not with them, but with feelings of betrayal for having learned of their future via Facebook, with discouragement because we never seem to pass the boundary of critical mass for the growth we pray and work for, with grief because I will miss them, and with faithlessness because I am tempted to see only my reaction and not the glory of God’s providence and provision. I am not wrestling on some far off, cosmic seashore, but in my own heart with my own thoughts and insecurities. The battle is not over there somewhere, it is right here, in me. And that, my friends, is a good thing, for “greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Paul reminds us to take up and put on the whole armor of God. Guess what? You don’t dress up a battlefield, you dress up a warrior. The armor is not “for the battle,” the armor is for you, for your heart, for your spirit, for God’s glory. The armor of God is for your victory over the myriad influences of evil that would lead you away from faith and obedience into despair and anger and fear. The armor is not designed to win some nebulous battle on some imaginary battlefield, but to win your heart and thinking to the glory of Christ.
So put on the armor today and wrestle in your heart knowing that when you have done all, you have only to stand firm, clothed in all you need in the Spirit, to win your heart for Christ!