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Summary: 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...

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The words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6, and how right he is.

If only this were not so. If only our enemies could be more easily identified. Target the enemy, assassinate them if you have to, and the problems will end! Of course It doesn’t work.

Coincidentally perhaps, Israel have been doing ‘targeted assassinations’ for some time now, believing presumably that this will help solve their problems.

I was in Israel in April 2004 when the then leader of Hamas, wheelchair-bound, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, was taken out with 3 missiles fired from a helicopter gunship. Those who ordered the killing hoped, no doubt, that this would bring an end to Hamas as a recognisable force. A year later they won the Palestinian elections!

The real force we struggle with is never that tangible, never that easy to expunge from our midst. “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.”

Get rid of the bad boyfriend! That will solve my daughter’s problems. It rarely works! That’s not to say that some boyfriends shouldn’t be moved on, but it’s rarely a complete answer to the problem, any more than assassinating your political opponents puts an end to your opposition.

The tangible problems are relatively easy to deal with. Dealing with the intangible - dealing with jealousy, greed, patriotism that has degenerated into uncritical nationalism, community pride that has become twisted into bigotry and prejudice, fear that has become all-controlling both of individuals and of communities - the unseen forces that lead us towards death. These things are far harder to deal with.

And yet the Lord does not leave us defenceless. On the contrary, He has given us an entire armoury with which we can defend ourselves. We just have to take it up!

“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. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17)

It is ironic, perhaps, that Paul uses the metaphor of the Roman soldier. Paul writes from prison, and quite possibly was chained to a Roman soldier even as he wrote!

Of course Roman soldiers had always been familiar, if not welcome, figures in his Paul’s life. His nation that had been conquered by Roman soldiers, and in his youth, prior to his conversion, Paul (then Saul) was a committed member of that group of nationalistic Jews who were sworn enemies of the occupying forces.

Paul indeed may have fought against Roman soldiers earlier in his life – if not directly, at least through being a part of a larger guerrilla organisation. Why would Paul then, here and elsewhere, hit upon the image of the Roman soldier as a fitting image of Christian discipleship?

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