Why did Paul begin his discussion of God’s weaponry with a clear statement of whom we do not wrestle with? Could we discover in this statement, “We wrestle not with flesh and blood,” a first step to victorious warfare? Or, do we find here a statement that draw strong contrast with the methods, machinery, manpower, and meaning of spiritual warfare?
Isn’t Paul clarifying that believers don’t expect to win the spiritual battle with natural warfare? Doesn’t he make it clear that all the historic efforts to politicize the kingdom have missed the authentic kingdom warfare? Paul isn’t saying all natural warfare is wrong; don’t get me wrong – Paul isn’t an anti-war hippie, nor is Jesus. Nations have governments, and governments are given the sword by God to be a terror to them that do evil. So, war is a part of the struggle of nations on the natural level. Thank God the right nations won World War 2, for example, but also recognize that every war isn’t legitimate fulfillment of Romans 13 authorization: some nations are the source of terror and should be defeated by violent force when they use violent force, and they should be attacked, dismantled, defeated, and disarmed when their warfare is wicked, according to Romans 13.
However, our warfare isn’t natural. We aren’t hoping to amass bigger weapons to take over governments and conquer nations with bullets, tanks, missiles, and drones. We carry on a very different warfare with even greater historic potential for kingdom expansion!
Warfare in the Spirit
Paul uses the word, “pale,” to metaphorically describe warfare that he says requires God’s armor and produces more than a defensive position, rather an advancing and overcoming conquering of new territory. The word has the deeper meaning of “shake or vibrate,” and the meaning applies to “struggle, wrestle, conflict, and opposition.” The word is used by Plato to speak of getting your opponent by the neck by gaining a superior position.
Here’s the point: victory comes from gaining position. “The translation of the word as “wrestling” may be a distraction for the point Paul makes, and we instantly start thinking of hand holds, throws, and leverage where we should be thinking about gaining a superior position from which to subdue the opposing force. We also err by assuming the application of “wrestling” is individual where it should be understood corporate.
God’s armor is Body armor, fitted to the entirely assembled Ecclesia, more than individualized armor fitted to each warrior. Paul describes what we do corporately in Ephesians 6.
The verb, “palo” is actually another form of the common word, “ballo,” which means “to throw, cast, rush, drop, or place.” We can see that the words denote activity, and in this sense, aggressive activity of the sort that can be associated with fighting, warfare, contention, contest, struggle, and battle.
Oppose the Actual Enemy
Paul clarifies that we must battle with the principalities, not with flesh and blood, in this battle. Notice that I said, “In this battle.” Paul didn’t say, “You never have opposition from people.” Neither did Paul say, “You never enter into struggle or conflict with people.” And, Paul never says, “People are never your enemies.” We know, for certain, that we do have battles with people that people oppose us, and that people can be enemies.
The discussion Paul has in Ephesians 6, however, specifically details our conflict with spiritual conditions produced by the real enemies the produce those spiritual conditions: rulers, authorities, cosmic dominators of this darkness, who are the spiritual evil in the heavenlies.
Paul begins with this prophetic declaration and impartation: “Be empowered by the Lord and with His dominating spiritual power that overcomes all natural and spiritual conditions.” [This includes “dunamis, kratos, and ischuous.”] Standing thus in this condition of spirit, put on all of God’s armor so that you will have the capacity and power to stand against the devil’s methods.
Then, Paul describes who operates, from where, with these methods, to withstand, distract, deflate, defeat, wound, oppose, and even destroy us. So, we know that the devil designs and designates ways for his rulers to rule, his authorities to authorize, and his cosmic dominators of this darkness to maintain enslaving spiritual conditions. And, Paul says, “We are the ones who must win this battle.”
The “we” represents what is shared by those assigned by Jesus as the called together into assembly Ecclesia, to a place, at a time, where these evil representatives of hell oppose God’s representatives. We receive authorization to overcome in God’s power, through overcoming spiritual power to dominate the spiritual arena where these representatives of hell use the devil’s methods to maintain their dominion. We are in this thing together!
While a great deal has been made of the fact that armor is mostly defensive and the Sword of the Spirit is the offensive weapon, this ignores the fact that we need defensive armor because we are on the offense, pushing, pressing, charging, expanding, displacing, challenging, and overcoming the enemy! The idea that we are never offensive and wear armor to defend ourselves only when attacked completely ignores the message Paul is releasing, the lifestyle and ministry of Paul, and the mandate and mission of the Ecclesia!
We Fight on Offense, Not Defense
Nearly all my ministry life I’ve heard the same rhetoric about God’s armor being predominately defensive in application with the Sword being the only offensive weapon carried by the believer. Two things bother me about that repeated mantra: 1) God’s armor fits the Body of Christ and the picture given here has more to do with corporate armor than personal; 2) the only reason the believer wears God’s armor, to represent God in this battle, is because the believers are pressing, pushing, charging, combating, expanding, and displacing; the Ecclesia is on offense, not defense!
I’ve heard discussions of warfare that make me want to stand on the table and scream: “Do you have a Bible?” Mush mouthing and murmuring about “we aren’t supposed to oppose the devil or anything like that ’cause we are so wimpy and weak before the devil that we need to hide behind Daddy’s armor while He does all the fighting for us.” Intellectual honesty suffers from these devotionals on dereliction of duty.
We need armor because we are going to push the enemy off God’s land, push him back from where he has usurped, take territory and occupy it, and overthrow the rulers, authorities, and cosmic dominators who enslave the people in particular spiritual arenas applying the devil’s methods. We need armor because we intend to resist, pursue, overtake, overcome, and set up kingdom where hell has been in charge!
We aren’t called to passivity, weakness, and excuses to stay home and knit John 3:16 into our sweaters while hell takes our nation!
We need to get some blood on our hands swinging God’s Sword of authority and power at demonic opponents. We face the enemy because we are sent to pursue God’s purpose and run right into the usurping hellish hordes. We don’t back down and say, “Oh excuse me, I didn’t mean to get in your way.” Our spiritual violence is not just OK, it is demanded!
Jesus defeated the devil and destroyed his works. Now, we represent Him in enforcing His victory, challenging every entrenched opponent of His redemption, and taking back what hell has stolen. We establish kingdom “in the midst of His enemies,” so He can rule in the earth.
Finally, let me say, that we should avoid “needless casualties of war” but never assume there will be no casualties. To insist that no believers get hurt or die, that no martyrs reach heaven for their faithfulness in the face of war is to blaspheme! I say, “To not go to war is to blaspheme the Power of the Cross, Resurrection Life, Ascension Authority, and Eternal Intercession of Jesus Christ!”