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.
What is spiritual warfare? It is a complex question. Paul assumes we share his worldview. First, we need to remember Paul understands reality as comprised of both the heavens and the earth, the seen and the unseen. The church of Jesus Christ has an opponent. It is never other people, rather, it is against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Because our enemy is not flesh and blood; it would be foolhardy to do battle against it as mere flesh and blood. Paul tells us the way to fight in this kind of battle.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
What does this mean? How on earth does one “put on the full armor of God?” What is the armor of God? And what on earth are the “devil’s schemes”? The entire passage testifies to an unseen reality and assumes we already know something about it. Here’s the problem I see. We know what armor is and we have some sense of the devil and we believe in God, so we mistakenly assume we know what we need to know here. We don’t.
Doing battle in the power of the Spirit requires deep understanding and intensive training. Be wary of those who claim to be experts. I’m not saying don’t listen and learn from them, just be discerning. Why? This arena of discipleship can be highly subjective, which creates the possibility for so-called experts to build a base of power on claims of knowledge and understanding that cannot be verified. Beware anytime people attempt to build status based on spiritual power. Why? Because it flies in the face of Jesus and the way of the cross.
It brings us back around to verse 10: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. If we are to understand the nature of spiritual warfare, we must keep coming back to this introductory verse. Might being strong in the Lord mean being weak in oneself?
In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he recounted a word given him by the Lord: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christs power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9 NIV).
Our human tendency is to try to compensate for our weaknesses by focusing on our strengths. What if being strong in the Lord means learning to glory in our weakness? Earlier in the same letter Paul said it like this: “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2 Cor. 11:30 niv).
All of this reminds me of the story of David and Goliath, particularly the point where Saul urges the boy, David, to put on the king’s armor. Saul dressed him in his coat of armor and put a bronze helmet on his head. David could hardly move under the weight of it all. David instead went out with his shepherd’s staff, five rocks, and a slingshot. He had no armor and yet the Spirit mysteriously fitted him with the full armor of God.
What if that’s the way—walking onto the battlefield of the Spirit bearing nothing more or nothing less than the image of God? Stripped of worldly strength on one hand and religious pretense on the other, could we be frail and weak in our human frame yet boldly strong in the Lord? It strikes me as patently true.
That’s my big question for this reading. Again, it has never occurred to me before this very minute to ask it. What if the image of God is the armor of God? It would make sense, wouldn’t it? Especially when we consider the perfect image-bearer of God, the exact representation of his being, Jesus.
Abba Father, we thank you for your Son, Jesus, who is the image of God, who shows us the way of God in emptying himself of all but love, who allowed himself to be lifted up in his weakness on the cross, and who in that moment demonstrated the ultimate way of being strong in the Lord. Teach us this way. In Jesus’ name, amen.
How have you thought about the armor of God in the past? How does today’s reflection challenge your past thinking?
How do you tend to deal with your human weakness? Do you try to cover it up, overcome it, divert to your strengths, or are you learning to boast in weakness?
What keeps you from glorying in your weakness? What makes you want to hide your weakness? Could your way of dealing with your weakness be keeping you from the real strength of the Lord?
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