The Real Enemy
I’ve got some good news and I’ve got bad news – and then I have more good news, so stick with me.
Let’s start with some good news. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. That means it’s not against people. So let’s see if we can make a list of who we are not battling against:
• People who disagree with us politically (yep, even about that issue).
• People who disagree with us about COVID restrictions.
• People who are rude to us in the Target checkout line.
• Our friends who let us down.
• Our spouses.
• Our children—even that one that is really pushing our buttons.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. We are at war, but it’s not against each other. Honestly, sometimes I come to this verse to remind myself of that very fact. I am not at war with the person who sent me a mean Facebook message or my teenager who is struggling. (Side note: When one of my kids is pushing my buttons, I’ve started repeating to myself, “They’re not giving me a hard time, they’re having a hard time.” It really helps to reframe how I see the situation.)
This is good news. It gives us freedom to see other people as, well, people. They are broken, just like we are. And when we can see that, we can remember that they, too, were made in God’s image and were indeed included in those for whom Christ died. Then we can see that we are engaged in this spiritual warfare for them, not against them.
But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, because Paul tells us who we are fighting in this battle, and I kinda think I’d rather be fighting other people. He describes the enemy with phrases like “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “spiritual forces of evil.”
Suddenly this verse that made me feel so much better is leaving me feeling… small. Ill-equipped. Not quite up to the task. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel quite confident in my ability to take on the spiritual forces of evil.
Friend, our enemy is real, and he is powerful. We need to take him seriously. We need to prepare ourselves for battle, because he is not going to sit idly by while we just go on with our lives. He is at work, whether we feel like fighting him or not. Peter warns us, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8). Devour. He is not a cute little guy with horns and a tail, sitting on our shoulder, hoping to convince us to make stupid decisions because he enjoys a good hijinks. He wants to devour us.
That was the bad news part. But remember, I’m not going to leave you there. There’s more good news. In fact, there’s way more good news than bad.
Let’s start with the phrase “in the heavenly places” that Paul uses in verse 12. He refers to the enemy being there, which tells us that the battles are being fought in those heavenly places. This is actually the fifth time Paul has used this phrase in his letter to the Ephesians. Take a minute to look up the other four references: Ephesians 1:3, 1:20, 2:6, and 3:10. Yes, the heavenly places are the site of our spiritual battles, but they are also where God is blessing us and giving us wisdom. But most importantly, re-read 2:6. In fact, let’s look at 2:4-6…
We have been seated with Christ in the heavenly places. This is huge, because it’s about so much more than just being there. Christ is seated, and we are seated with him. Why does that matter?
• Priests in the temple stood because their work was never finished. They had to be continually offering sacrifices for the people. But Christ’s sacrifice was once for all—he is seated because the work of our salvation is accomplished. It is done. Read Hebrews 10:11-14. (Really, read Hebrews 4-10, because it is so rich. But start with these verses.)
• Kings sat down to declare victory. “In ancient times, being ‘seated’ was the symbolic posture of a king whose army had already been victorious in battle. Instead of standing, pacing, worrying himself to death, he would park himself on his throne as a visible statement of his complete and utter triumph” (Priscilla Shirer, The Armor of God).
The war is won, my friend. The work is accomplished. Yes, we will still fight battles—I daresay we will even lose some. But the ultimate victory is ours. “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are coming not just from a position of strength, but of victory.
So this week, ask God to open your eyes. First, ask him to help you see the real battles being fought. Because the enemy loves to keep us focused on the things that aren’t the real battles—the annoying coworkers, the mouthy teenagers, the credit card debt, the job loss. If he can keep our eyes there, he can run amok in our lives and tear us to pieces.
But second—and more importantly—ask God to show you where he is at work. Because yes, the enemy is real and he is powerful. But the devil is not God’s counterpart or equal. Only God is omnipresent and all-powerful. He is the King of kings, and he has already defeated the enemy. Now he invites us to participate in the work he is doing, and he gives us his armor to accomplish it.
But we’ll talk more about that next week.
Until then, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10, emphasis added). And if you know someone who could use a little encouragement in the battles they are facing, please pass this along! Let’s take down the enemy together!
PS – Did you miss me last week? I have to tell you, 2021 has far outstripped 2020 as the most intense year of my life, and it is only March…! My whole family is currently recovering from COVID! We are all OK, and I am thankful to say no one required any medical intervention. But we spent several days doing nothing but laying on the couch, so I appreciate your patience as I missed last week and am a bit behind on answering my messages. I promise I read every single one!
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