IF SOMEONE WERE to compile a list of the New Testament epistle passages most often preached on, chances are Ephesians 6 would rank pretty high. Paul’s instructions on how to “stand against the schemes of the devil” are foundational for the Christian life.
But it’s not just the content we would do well to take to heart; it’s also the context. Paul is known to go off on tangents in some of his writings, but his teaching on spiritual warfare at the end of his letter to the church at Ephesus is surely no accident.
In part, his words here are an affirmation of God’s supreme power over all other authorities to believers who live in a city famous for its fascination with the occult and foreign deities. However, they are also a specific call to action in regard to what comes before.
Paul has spent much of the previous four chapters talking about the importance of unity and love in the church, and how that works out in practice. Things like speaking truthfully, being angry without sinning, or letting go of bitterness. He addresses couples, parents, slaves, and masters. And then he wraps it up with talks of being alert to the enemy.
Of course! How much of the light of God’s kingdom that is supposed to shine from us into the world is dimmed by broken relationships? Fallings-out have surely sunk the witness of countless churches, ministries, associations, endeavors, marriages, and families just as much as scandals have.
Jesus gave His disciples power and authority to go and perform miracles as a sign of the coming kingdom. But He also told them that people would know they were His people by the way they loved each other (John 13:35), not their acts.
That’s why we need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to keep us alert to the enemy’s efforts to pick us off. Remember, he prowls around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), which will try to separate its prey from the rest of the pick so it’s easier to pounce. That’s been Satan’s MO from the start: Did God really say?, he asked Eve, looking to drive a wedge between her and God.
He’s been at it ever since, whispering doubts to us about other people’s actions and motives. I don’t think the devil is as clever as some people make him out to be, but he sure is crafty. While he may not be a brilliant strategist, he is a consummate opportunist. So while he may not be the initiator of every fractured relationship, but he sure wants to get in there and make the most of it when miscommunication, misunderstanding, or plain old selfishness and sinfulness arise.
The importance of unity was at the heart of Paul’s Roman soldier imagery: in a formation known as a “testudo,” legionnaires would move close and raise their shields together to form a sort of giant turtle-like shell over and around them. Close, they were safer. By reducing the space between them, they lessened the threat of injury.
Paul’s Ephesians 6 caution echoes in the London Underground every time a tube opens its doors for passengers. As they step between the platform and the train, they hear this warning from the loud speaker: “Mind the gap!”
Photo by Jonathan Harford on Foter.com/CC BY-NC