Summary: Just what is the spiritual battle that we wage?
The new commander had cause to be nervous. His predecessor was now dead. That commander had led the nation through a hostile wilderness; he now must lead them into the very stronghold of the enemy. He must wage battle against rulers and authorities, against the powerful forces that were at their command. But he was strengthened by the exhortation of the Great Commander – be strong and courageous – an exhortation backed up by the promises of victory.
Another commander now exhorts his troops. He has already presented to them what their God has accomplished for them in chapters 1-3. He has then instructed them as to how they are to live in response to such blessing (4:1-6:9). Now he prepares them for how they can live such a life (6:10-20).
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
This charge is reminiscent of the one given to Joshua by God – be strong and courageous. But here Paul’s emphasis is not so much on motivating his readers to be strong as it is to instruct them in the way to be strong – “in the Lord,” “in the strength of his might.” They are to “put on the whole armor of God” (v 11).
Verses 14-20 will explain what that armor consists of, but the very depiction of armor will show that not only is the armor that which God gives but that which God himself uses. And so, to be strong in the Lord entails bearing the very armor that belongs to the Lord. But that is not all what being “strong in the Lord” encompasses. Paul is also harking back to what we are to know in chapters 1-3. He prays that his readers will know,
what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (1:19-21).
It is this power that has won our redemption, provided forgiveness, assures us of our inheritance. By this power we who were dead were raised to new life. This power has even strengthened us so as to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. And so we bless God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (3:20). Therefore, we are to be strong in that power of God and in our Lord which works for us and within us.
For what reason are we to “stand firm”? Why is it necessary to put on full armor? Verse 12 and 13 explain: that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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.
Now we get to it – spiritual warfare! The battle is not against flesh and blood but against evil spiritual beings. A list of names or titles is given. There is the devil, the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. It is tempting to speculate about the identification of each term, but we will keep to the point of the passage. In order to live the life called of them, they must know the enemy who schemes against them to live out that calling.
Since chapter 4, Paul has been exhorting his readers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling as the children of light. They are to be united in one body. They are to put off their old dress of sin and put on the new clothes after the likeness of God. This means that they have to reject what use to entice them and to put away the old vices. They must no longer associate with the world in its darkness. This new life of light is to be exhibited in their marriages, their families, households and workplaces.
But in order to walk the walk they must understand just who or what it is that makes such a life so difficult. There is the flesh, to be sure. That is why we are to consciously and daily remove the old rags and to wear the new dress of Christ. There is the world, which in its darkness presents an enticing alternative and lures us back to our old lives. But we need to come to grips that the real battle lies not in self-control or resisting the world; rather, there is a spiritual dimension, a wicked spiritual force of demonic beings under the rule of Satan the devil fighting against us. The weak flesh and the luring world, as terrible as they may be in leading us into sin are but means by which Satan, our great enemy, uses to attack us.