In his letter to the saints in Ephesus, St. Paul paints the picture of the church as a body, a very unique and special body. In fact, the church is the body of Christ. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:13-16, emphasis mine).
Get the picture? It’s beautiful. Just as our bodies have different parts, a hand here, an eye there, a foot down there, so too does the Body of Christ, the Church. All of us are bound up into Christ, into one body, walking and working and rejoicing together.
But now, at the end of the epistle, Paul gets to something he’s been hinting at all along; this body is under attack. This body, in fact, is a soldier, and it’s at war.
This is a bit of a surprise. It could be that this body of Christ is a dancer, or a construction worker, or a king. Nope, not this body, not the Lord’s Church. You are a soldier. And we are under attack.
So Paul will answer a number of questions. We’ll consider five. Who is the enemy? Where is the battle? What is our role? What is our protection? And what weapons are we given for the battle?
First, who is our enemy? Who is your enemy? Who is trying to destroy your society, your family, your church?
The devil loves it when we think our enemy is flesh and blood, that our real enemy is in Washington, or our real enemy lives next door, or is in our family, or whatever. But Paul is emphatic: “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” (Ephesians 6:12).
This attack is not from people, no matter how wicked; the real attack is from the devil and the demons. The war is a spiritual one. The battle is unseen. Our enemy is the devil. He is the one who attacks the church. This has to do with the second question.
Where is the battle? Is it in the media? In Afghanistan? Is it down the street in the shady parts of town?
The devil comes raging against the Church. His attack is on the Lord’s Body. There are two theaters of this cosmic war: the Church and your conscience. And the two are related. Jesus came and still comes to save you, to forgive your sins and hand you over to a good conscience to stand before Him, in this life, and on the Day of Judgment, and forever. The devil comes to undo this work, to unravel the kingdom of God. He does it by attacking God’s order, the order in society, the order in our families, the good order of the church, and God’s ordering of your conscience in the forgiveness of your sins.
This also means that we don’t have to go looking for the fight, but that the fight will come to us. We are not given the command “Charge!” but the command, “Stand!”
“Stand,” says St. Paul to the Ephesians. Four times in four verses.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. … 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… (Ephesians 6:10-11, 12-14a)
This is the third question: What is our role?
Paul is giving the saints of Ephesus (and the saints in the church today: you) a new duty, dressing them like soldiers, and stationing them as sentries.
As the Roman Empire expanded, one of the most important jobs was that of the sentry, guarding the borders, staying at a post watching and listening for the enemy to attack. There were two offences for which a sentry could be immediately killed with no trial and no court, just a sword: abandoning his post (and this was either to retreat or to charge because he was not supposed to attack, but to call for reinforcements), or falling asleep.
We are to stay awake. This doesn’t mean that we don’t sleep at night; it doesn’t mean that you’re put to death if you fall asleep during the sermon. We are to be spiritually awake, which means we are watchful in our prayers. The sleeping Christian is the Christian who does not pray. We are on the front of the devil’s attacks, and we are stationed as sentries to watch and pray so that the devil would not find a way in.
This is dangerous work, so we ask, fourth, what is our protection? Paul gives an inventory of five things, five pieces of armor that give us the confidence to stand.
… 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… (Ephesians 6:14b-17a)
This is our protection. Not your strength. Not your power. Not your works or awesome goodness. You are clothed in Christ. Your armor is Him. His truth wrapped around your waist like a belt. A mind readied with His Gospel on your feet. His righteousness protecting your heart like a breastplate. His salvation protecting your head, your mind, as a helmet. And the shield of faith, doused by baptism, to extinguish all the fiery darts. This faith is not that you believe, but what you believe, the Creed, the mighty fortress of the Lord’s Name.
The Armor of God, it turns out, is God Himself! The blood and righteousness of Jesus are like a bullet-proof vest to the devil’s onslaught. His attack on your conscience is to condemn you, but Jesus has been condemned already. You are acquitted. So the devil brings you all your sins, and uses them to condemn you, but the accusations won’t stick.
“You did this!” The devil shoots an arrow. “Died for by Jesus,” we say, and it bounces off the helmet of salvation. “You thought that!” The devil shoots again. “Forgiven!” Ping, it bounces off the breastplate of righteousness. “You are wicked, miserable, godless.” The devil looses a whole quiver. “My Jesus suffered for me, was buried for me, rose for me,” and all the arrows are extinguished in the shield of faith. God be praised.
We could never endure this attack on our own, but there is one who fights for us, who holds the field. Ask ye who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabbaoth Lord, and there’s none other God. He holds the field forever.
And this brings us to the fifth and final question: What weapons are we given for the fight? There is only one.
Take up … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17b)
Our reading ended there, but the sentence doesn’t. Here it is:
… and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:17-20, emphasis mine)
This is a surprise. The Lord gives us this spiritual sword; in fact the Sword of the Holy Spirit Himself, which is the Lord’s Word, and how are we to yield it? Thrash away at the enemy? Stab the demons? Nope. Pray. We use the Lord’s Word to pray, to ask Jesus for help.
The Roman sentry, when he heard the enemy approaching, would sound the alarm and call in the troops. We sound the alarm and call for the Champion, for Jesus, to come and fight for us, to protect and keep us.
Jesus, after all, has won the battle.
The devil knocked Him down into the grave, but He stood up. In victory and grace He stands. And, dear saints, we stand with Him. He is our Hope. Jesus is our Victory.
 Many thanks to Dr. John Kleinig for this insight, as well as many of the insights in this article. His Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today is full of many helpful insights on the attacks of the demons and spiritual warfare.