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.
When this verse was written, a favorite past time of Roman soldiers was Greco-Roman wrestling. It is the oldest known sport, with cave drawings dating back to 3000 BCE. This sport was recreational, but also aided in the soldiers’ training for battle. The Greek word palē is translated as ‘struggle’ in our Bible verse, which is apt, but a better translation is ‘wrestle’.
Our Bible verse describes our struggle, a divine wrestling match against our foe. And just who is our foe? Paul makes it clear that our foe is not flesh and blood; it is not another person. Regardless of what is said to us or done to us, our foe is not our neighbor. We are wrestling with rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
There are many of the 46,800 Christian denominations who take that to mean actual entities, dark angels, and demons. While that could be true, other denominations do not interpret these words in that manner. I fall into that category. It just seems a little easy to put power into the hands of such entities. Perhaps it is more complex than that, and perhaps even more sinister.
Paul uses the word ‘against’ in this verse. We are facing an evil that is against us, and we must stand against it. More than that, we must struggle against this evil. We must stand our ground, rise when we are thrown down, and not be pushed around by these evil forces.
These forces are spiritual forces, not human beings. They are the powers behind human beings; powers that motivate, control, captivate, and enslave humanity. As we wrestle with these powers, our goal is not to defeat the physical being, but to free them, liberate them from being ensnared by these powers.
These forces are the collective unconscious and the lowest common denominator of humanity. They are insidious and able to penetrate the most prepared heart and mind. They are the darkness that creeps into our hearts causing us to do things that we know are against Christ’s teachings. But we do not give in. If we are thrown to the ground, we arise and stand firm.
This is critical for today. With the chaos and division in the world, we must not look upon each other as foes. We are one family, sharing a physical journey together. Our enemies are not other religions, countries, cultures, races, tribes, political parties, the police, terrorists, or gangs. Our enemies are not people.
No matter what we believe or do, no matter how much we sue each other, disagree with each other, or even fight and kill each other on and off the battlefield, people are not our enemies. They may even bring violence against us and hurt us; they may say awful things to us and about us. But they only do this because they are deceived and enchanted by the true enemy. And when we treat them like our enemy, we demonstrate that we too are under the control of our foe. But stay alert, because although we do not struggle against humans, our foe is even more fearsome.
We fight against “…principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
In Ephesians 6:11 we are told, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” The word devil is the Greek word diablos. The Hebrew equivalent is satan. These words mean accuser, adversary, slanderer, or ‘one who stands against others.’ The Devil or Satan is the egoistic attitude of accusation in this world. It is condemnation and the universal nature to judge between right and wrong when such judgments belong to God alone.
Our Bible verse lists four channels through which this dark power, the devil, works. The first on the list is ‘principalities’, the rulers, or principal leaders. This word points to the authority figures of human associations, which we know as earthly rulers, presidents, kings, monarchs, governors, magistrates, and such.
Yet we have been told that our foe is not a person, or flesh and blood. So, what does this verse address? It is about the powers, systems, traditions, structures, laws, and permissions that lie behind these rulers. Those are our foes. They are the written and unwritten rules, spoken and unspoken cultural norms and standards by which we allow people, groups, and institutions to tell us how to live and what to believe. The human leader is just a figurehead for these powers, as enslaved to them as we are. As we struggle against their dark purpose, we also fight to free the rulers as well as the ruled from the oppression.
Think of how some despots, governments, and rulers subjugate their citizens, misuse and abuse them for their own benefit. This is the power of principalities at work. North Korea comes to mind. Wherever people are being subjugated and exploited, our foe is active. Our task as a Christian is to struggle against such power structures, seeking to free people so that all can become who God wants them to be.
Second on Paul’s list is powers, which can be translated as authorities. It is a close synonym to principalities but leans more toward decision making and law making. Principles and powers work together to form organizational power-centers such as political parties, religions, and economic structures. The term refers to the power behind the rulers of these organizations and the power they use to make the laws and govern their people.
The third channel used by our foe is “the rulers of the darkness of this age.” The Greek word for rulers is kosmokratoros. It is comprised of two words, kosmos, meaning “world,” and krateō, meaning “to control, seize, or rule.” So, the kosmokratoros are the world rulers, or global forces that influence this world.
But it is not the power-hungry emperors and autocrats themselves who are our focus, but the evil influencing these people. This describes any political rule, economic policy, or educational system that supports a stance of violence and war against the people of this world.
Religious institutions are included. Any church that calls for violence, warfare, or hatred toward other religious groups or communities of people has fallen prey to this evil power. Only when we learn how to live in this world and love each other will war end and violence cease. Like Jesus, we must struggle against all kosmokratoros that lead us away from love and toward hatred and violence.
Last on this list of avenues through which our dark foe controls us is through the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Although the verse refers to ‘heavenly realms, the phrase does not mean in the heavens. The phrase ‘heavenly place’ is used twice earlier in Ephesians and in each case, it refers to the spiritual reality as it exists here on this earth, during our lives now.
While we are in these physical bodies it is easy to follow the pointing finger of Christ to everlasting life in heaven and neglect the work that still faces us on earth. Someone once said, “Some people are so heavenly minded, they are of no earthly good.” When we do not stand against the spiritual foe today, we allow the host of wickedness to shackle the earth.
What is our best strategy for our divine wrestling match? We stand; we stand our ground. We don’t retreat; we don’t give up; we don’t charge forward. We put on the armor of God and stand. Why? Because we have already won. Christ has already defeated our enemies, so we just stand on the ground that Christ has claimed.
In truth, there is only one power and one presence in our lives and in the universe, God the Good. All other seeming ‘power’ is merely influence. Evil exists and can impact us, but God is the only power, and we must choose that power.
Somewhere along these verses we move from a wrestling match to full blown battle. Things can get messy, and we need to be ready. The armor of God is part of that readiness, part of God’s power for us, and is our choice to put on or not. Everything we need to fight the devil and those low instincts is available to us. We simply choose to stand firm with the belt buckle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet fitted with peace, and protected by the shield of faith. We must choose to wear the helmet of salvation and wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. I envision the word of Spirit as being love, a sword of love; an offensive weapon that we strike into the heart of our foes, severing the darkness of ignorance from God’s light. This sword of love brings life, not death – hope, not despair.
After being fully prepared, fully protected, and standing our ground then Ephesians 6:18 tells us to, “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.”
We do battle in the spiritual world to help people in the physical world. The struggle may be purely spiritual in nature, but it is physical in how it manifests. The spiritual forces of darkness seek to destroy people’s lives and inhibit love from dwelling in the hearts of God’s children. But God has the power, all the power, is the Power to defeat all enemies.
So, it is my prayer that we hold to God’s armor – the truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and love and stand – stand firmly in Christ. Stand in love and peace in all situations and pray a prayer of gratitude for the strength to hold our ground.