Summary: never take for granted the victory over sin that Christ has won for us. Never underestimate the devil. He’ll oppose us at every opportunity. Never give up in the fight against sin and evil. But always remember the power of God and the armour with which he
We come today to the end of our series of sermons on the book of Ephesians. One of the things I hope you’ve noticed as we’ve gone through this book is the breadth of Paul’s horizons. He began by pointing us back to before the beginning of time, when God established his plan to create a single new human race through the death and resurrection of Christ. He then pointed us forward to the culmination of that plan when all peoples and races will finally be united in peace and unity under Christ. He’s shown how that plan has begun to take shape with the inclusion of the Gentiles along with the Jews in the new people of God. He’s encouraged us as a church to work towards bringing that plan to fulfilment in the way we demonstrate unity in our relationships with one another and in the way we grow in holiness of life. He’s shown how God has gifted and equipped the Church to develop in unity as we grow to maturity in Christ. And he’s encouraged us to see that unity as a church involves not just unity of the group, but also unity in our personal relationships.
So the major characteristics of the church in Paul’s mind are things like unity in diversity, purity of life, and harmony. It’s an excellent ideal, a very desirable goal, and one that sounds achievable. But now Paul brings us back to earth. This isn’t an idealised church he’s talking about. It’s the real church, that’s called to live in the real world. That is, in a fallen world, a world that’s opposed to God. As we saw when we looked at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians in ch 3, Paul knows how difficult it will be to achieve this ideal. If all we had to do was to work on unity and holiness as a church, without any outside interference, it mightn’t be so difficult. But the reality is that we face opposition from the spiritual forces around us.
In fact there are dual truths at work here. The first is that we ourselves are weak. We find it hard to obey God, even when we’ve set our minds to do so. The second is that we have an enemy whose sole aim is to thwart our efforts at every point. Peter in his first letter says: "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." (1 Pet 5:8) Here Paul warns us of the wiles of the devil. He says "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." He doesn’t expand on who these evil forces are, but he does warn us of their evil intentions.
What are those intentions? They’re to thwart God’s plans. Is God’s plan to create a new society? They’ll do their best to break it down. Has God, through the death of Christ, broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, indeed between all people independent of gender, race, or culture? Then the devil and his agents will try to raise them up again. Does God intend his new people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of evil will sow the seeds of discord and sin in our midst. We must never underestimate the danger. Never take for granted the victory over sin. Never stop fighting temptation. Never give up in our efforts to overcome it. In fact the word that’s translated finally in our translation, could easily have been translated ’from now on’. That is, there’s a continuing aspect to this. Until Christ returns to take us to the Father we will always be fighting these spiritual battles. The Peace which Christ has bought by his blood, is still a promised peace. It’s a peace which we enjoy in the midst of a relentless struggle against evil. The war is won but the battles continue to rage.
So never underestimate the devil. Paul describes him and his followers as powerful, evil and cunning. They’re the rulers and authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness. That is, they have a certain power in this created world that hasn’t yet been taken away from them. Christ has won the victory but they continue to fight, and will continue to do so with more and more desperation, until the last day. And make no mistake, their intentions are evil. They’re the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Don’t be fooled by some Hollywood image of benevolent spirits helping us mortals to solve our difficulties. The reality is that we’re opposed by the spiritual forces of evil, of darkness, whose desire is to conquer us and to rule us, to lead us astray from following Christ.