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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Rulers, Authorities, and Powers

Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Eph. 6:10-20

“Acts of war.” That’s how President Bush described the awful, devastating attacks on the World Trade Buildings and the Pentagon. Acts of war, but a different kind of war. As the news commentators have said time and again, with the attack on Pearl Harbor, we declared war on a known, visible enemy – a nation with a definite program of expansion and rule.

But now we’ve declared war on an invisible enemy, one who strikes and then runs and hides. And no one seems to know how to really defeat this enemy. Kill Osama Bin Laden? That might help, but it wouldn’t defeat the fanatic movement. For it seems that this enemy is everywhere and we don’t know when, where, or how it will strike. But, is this something new? Not really!

Why do I say it isn’t something new? Because beneath the surface struggles in which we’re all involved, an unseen spiritual battle is raging! So Paul now speaks of the Devil, and of certain “rulers, authorities, and powers” at the Devil’s command. He’s warning us of their hostility and wants to tell us how to overcome them.

Is God’s plan to create a new society? Then these evil forces will do their utmost to destroy it. Has God, through Jesus Christ, broken down the walls dividing human beings of different races and cultures from each other? Then the Devil through his henchmen will work to rebuild them. Does God intend for His redeemed and reconciled people to live together in harmony? Then the powers of Hell will scatter among them the seeds of discord and sin.

These are the powers we’re told to struggle with – or wrestle with – or wage war on!

Paul wants to emphasize the reality of our struggle with the forces of evil – and the grim reality of hand-to-hand combat! We’d all like to spend our lives in undisturbed tranquility with our loved ones at home, and in the fellowship of God’s people. But it doesn’t work that way, does it?

Christians have to face the prospect of conflict with God’s enemy and ours. We need to accept the implications of Paul’s call to battle. We’re being told to stand up and be men and women – GI Joes and GI Janes! There will be no halting of hostilities, no temporary truces or cease-fires, until the end of life or the end of history.

The peace of God, which was made through Christ on the cross, is to be experienced only in the midst of a struggle against evil. And for this struggle we need God’s strength and God’s armor.

The forces marshalled against us are powerful. Whether rulers, authorities, and powers refer to different ranks of evil spirits in the hierarchy of Hell. We don’t know, but they’re all powerful terms. And they’re wicked. Paul calls them “spiritual forces of evil.” And they’re cunning. Paul writes of “the Devil’s schemes.” The Devil seldom attacks openly. He prefers sneak attacks. Paul wrote to the Corinthians that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” So “it’s not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Cor. 11:14-15) Satan’s false prophets “come to us in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) Peter tells us that our “enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 peter 5:8) But even when he’s roaring he’s sneaky like old lions who roar to scare their prey away – into the jaws of waiting young lions! But most of the time, he’s as subtle as a serpent.

So don’t think that open persecution and open temptation are his most common weapons. He prefers to seduce us into compromise, and deceive us into error. And the Devil is probably most cunning when he succeeds in persuading people that he doesn’t even exist! But if you read the Gospels, you quickly see that Jesus knew of both demons – or evil spirits, or fallen angels – and good angels. And if Jesus knew of them, and spoke of them, then I guess we shouldn’t be too embarrassed to do so too.

Most of our failures and defeats are due to our foolish self-confidence, when we either disbelieve or forget how formidable our spiritual enemies are.

Only the power of God can defend and deliver us from the might, the evil, and the craft of the Devil! And so Paul tells us, “Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” and, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the Devil’s schemes.” (6:10-11)

Now here’s an amazing thing: When Paul tells us to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power,” he uses the same trio of words which he used in chapter one when he speaks of God the Father’s “great power… the working of His mighty strength which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand.” (Eph. 1:19-20) The power, might, and strength of the Lord Jesus that we’re to draw on, is the same power that God the Father used to raise Jesus from the dead and seat Him at His right in Heaven! The Greek word is “dynamis” from which we get “dynamite”! We’re to be strong with God’s dynamite!!

And then we’re to “put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the Devil’s schemes.” “Stand,” he says. Four times in four verses Paul says we’re to “stand.” Wobbly Christians who don’t have a firm foothold in Christ are easy prey for the Devil. Paul wants to see Christians strong and firm so they stand up against the Devil’s schemes. And for that stability, we need the armor of God.

In the Old Testament it’s God Himself who is pictured as a warrior fighting to vindicate His people. Isaiah wrote, the Lord “put on righteousness as His breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head.” (Isaiah 59:17) Today the armor and weapons are still His, but now He shares them with us. We have to put on the armor, take up the weapons, and go to war against the powers of evil!

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman prison, and he uses the armor of a Roman soldier for the picture of the armor of God, with six pieces making up God’s full armor: the belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; the Gospel sandals; the shield of faith; the helmet of salvation; and the sword of the Spirit.

Of all the six pieces listed, the sword is the only one that’s used for attack as well as defense. And the sword of the Spirit is defined as the Word of God. Still today God’s Word is His sword. He still uses it to cut through people’s defenses, to prick their consciences, and to stab them spiritually awake.

But He also puts His sword into our hands so that we can use it in resisting temptation – as Jesus did, quoting Scripture against the Devil in the wilderness – and as a weapon in evangelism! For “the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

We must never be ashamed to use it, or to let it be known that the Bible is the Word of God, and the sword of the Spirit!

And then, the Apostle Paul adds prayer, which is our necessary provision for all spiritual warfare. So Scripture and prayer belong together as the two chief weapons which the Holy Spirit puts into our hands.

And finally Paul tells us to “be alert.” “Be on guard,” Jesus said, “Be alert.” (Mark 13:33) “Watch and pray,” Jesus urged. It was their failure to do that, that led the disciples to be disloyal and cowardly.

I like the way the Puritan minister, William Gurnall, put it in 1655: “In Heaven we shall appear not in armor but in robes of glory; but here the armor is to be worn night and day. We must walk, work and sleep in it, or else we’re not true soldiers of Christ.” In this armor we’re to stand and watch, and never relax our vigilance, for “the saints sleeping time is Satan’s tempting time; every fly dares venture on a sleeping lion.”

May the Lord help our nation and the free people of the world to truly wage a war against evil and terrorism, to the best of their ability. But we know that true peace can only come from the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Creator, Savior, and Lord, when He comes again in glory.

In the meantime, may the Lord help us – and all Christians – to stay alert to the enemy of our souls at all times. And may we be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power, putting on the full armor of God – especially the Sword of the Spirt, the Word of God – living always as faithful Christian soldiers.


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