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Focusing on the Real Enemy

Lesson 34 –

Ephesians 6:10-20 NRSV

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

We continue in the book of Ephesians this week. This particular chapter is difficult because it begins with a call for children to obey their parents, for parents to avoid provoking their children, and even more, for slaves to obey their masters. Many argue that this mention of slavery isn’t the same as the slavery we might know in the United States as descendants of African enslaved people. But as you read the passage, you might be frustrated or offended at the thought of enslaved people being told to “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling.” And then, in the very next sentence, Paul gives a passionate speech about the whole armor of God. It’s a passage we reference often. In your own devotional period, read this chapter in its entirety. What would you add or revise about this letter?

Today’s lesson will focus on the importance of focusing on the real enemy.

Read the scripture out loud together.

Paul tells the people to be strong in the Lord. People are encouraged to put on the Whole Armor. After all, the fight is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces, rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers. Paul uses metaphors to describe this armor.
a. Belt of truth
b. Breastplate of righteousness
c. Shoes that help proclaim the gospel
d. Shield of faith
e. Helmet of salvation
f. Sword of the spirit
People are encouraged to pray at all times. Paul also asked the people to pray for him so that “a message may be given” to him to “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.” He describes himself as “an ambassador in chains.”

What’s with the war imagery?
Paul calls himself an “ambassador in chains” because he was repeatedly imprisoned for the cause of Christ. He was often in danger. As such, his circumstances shaped his language. Paul didn’t get an all-expenses paid writer’s retreat at a waterfront resort to produce his epistles. He was stressed, scared, exhausted and likely experienced great mental distress. The reason his words come out with such a strong focus on war-imagery is because Paul is very much engaged in a battle. The same state forces who harassed, persecuted, and killed Jesus are looking to squash any sympathizing energy.

But we live in the United States in 2021. As Christians, we have a level of privileges that Paul did not. We are not being persecuted. So, are there other ways to describe tools that aren’t based in war and conflict?

If you were a baker, maybe you’d use the apron of righteousness. A mechanic? The wrench of peace.

What is spiritual wickedness in high places?
It’s bigger than one person at a time. The best example is our 45th president. Though he is no longer president, we still must exorcise the demons of oppression from our society. It’s bigger than just “flesh and blood” alone, and instead, also about the rulers and authorities that wreak havoc on people. There are “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places!”

That doesn’t mean that we don’t hold individuals accountable. But Paul is calling us to look beyond individual encounters. We can blame people for not budgeting correctly and needing the food pantry, or we can look to the lines at food pantries as a signal about a more systemic issue. We can blame people for being late to work, or we can look at the city infrastructure and notice that trains, buses, and ride share programs are woefully unreliable. We can notice the things that

happen at the individual level and notice the patterns of “spiritual forces of evil.” After all, it’s really difficult to fight against spiritual forces alone.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?


Sadly, this week, the youngest orca whale at SeaWorld died. Amaya was a 6-year-old orca. She appeared to be unwell, and at that point, veterinarians began to observe her and treat her. Within one day, she suddenly passed away. Amaya was the child of Kalia and Ulises at SeaWorld.

In 2016, SeaWorld announced that it was ending its whale breeding program, making Amaya one of the last baby orcas to be born in captivity there. This decision was largely due to public pressure catalyzed by the documentary “Blackfish.” In this documentary, filmmakers detailed the inhumane treatment of whales in captivity. When a trainer was killed during an interaction with an orca, SeaWorld argued that this tragedy did not outweigh the “literally millions” of safe interactions that had happened over the many decades. Pressured by the fear of losing money through tourism, SeaWorld chose not to change much about their programs. Zoologists argue that living in such a tiny and enclosed space has psychological and physical impacts on the whales.

In this instance, the fight for humane treatment of animals is an example of a fight against powers and principalities. It became harder for SeaWorld to make the right decision because money and profit clouded their judgement. And now, they must reconcile with the fact that one of their most beloved castmates is gone.

Journal: Think about yourself and your personality. What is a more tailored metaphor for the armor of God? The apron of righteousness? The pencil of peace?

CLOSING: Listen to “We Must Praise,” Sung by J Moss.

If I were a drummer, I would use my cymbal
If I were a writer, I would use a pencil
I would use my voice, if I were a singer
No matter who or what we are, we must praise

If I was a doctor, I would use my research
A prolific dissertation, if I was a speaker
I would use my hands, if I were a potter
No matter who or what we are, we must praise

Let the people of God bless Him
Let it ring with love and truth
With our gifts we exalt Thee
Merciful, wonderful God
We must praise
If I were an eagle, I would use my wings
Since I’m a believer, I use everything
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord
All ye people
No matter who or what we are, we must praise

Dear God,
Magnificent Friend, Advocate, Parent, Guide, Teacher, Healer. You fulfill so many roles for us. You are bigger than we can comprehend, and deeper than we can imagine.
We need new ways to imagine ourselves and you. We are fighting against so many layers of destruction and evil. We call upon all these faces of you, and more, to withstand the blows coming our way.
Help us to see the spiritual forces for what they are. Help us to test the spirits we encounter so we know they are from you. Give us the clarity to see good spiritual forces and stay away from evil.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.