A few years ago, God revealed this particular application to me and I am glad to share it with you at this time, because everyone deals with attacks, criticism, and spiritual warfare.
First things first, let’s acknowledge the admonition in verses 10 and 11 to be strong in the Lord and put on God’s armor, so that we can withstand the schemes of the Devil. Christians need to be prepared for spiritual attack, and we do that by wearing the armor of God each day. We never know when the attack will come, but we do know that the enemy is scheming…plotting for an attack position and strategy. When he thinks the time is right…when we are vulnerable, the enemy will attack. We must be ready for this! Verse 18 reminds us to pray, and to watch out for attacks…to be alert!
Next, Paul teaches us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of darkness (V.12). Many scholars believe that Paul details some rank and file of demonic order in verse 13, while others believe that this verse speaks of both human forces and demonic forces. Whatever interpretation you choose, Paul’s point is clear that our battle is a spiritual one and is not against flesh and blood. I believe that Paul reminded Timothy, the young pastor of the Ephesian church, that our battle was not against flesh and blood because so often spiritual attack manifests itself through a flesh and blood source. As I think back over my life and reflect upon moments of spiritual attack, almost every attack has come through flesh and blood. I believe that Paul is helping us to see that even when an attack comes through a person, that believers need to see the spiritual source underneath the physical attack, and not be deceived by the smoke screen of the flesh and blood delivery agent of a demonic attack.
What follows this admonition is a set of principles couched in a battle dress illustration that helps us to stand firm against spiritual attack. Too often, we get distracted by the illustration when we should be understanding the principles. First, Paul extolls us to “gird our loins with truth (V.14). When an attack comes, we should ask the question…is this attack, criticism, scathing rebuke, etc…true or false? If we determine that the rebuke is true, then we should hug our brother’s neck and be thankful that God has used him to increase our walk in truth. However, if we consider the criticisms and determine that they are simply not true, then we should consider ourselves to be under spiritual attack.
Next Paul prescribes the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is simply living in a right position before God and man. If we listen to our critics and do what they want us to do, would that action put us in a more righteous position before God or our fellow man, or lead us into unrighteousness? If I took my critic’s advice, would it cause me to sin? Any exhortation from a critic or otherwise that would encourage your deluge into unrighteousness should be interpreted as spiritual attack.
Verse 15 encourages us to have “feet shod with the gospel of peace.” Ask this of your critical scathing rebuker…would listening to this rebuke or yielding to this criticism more greatly advance or retard the spread of the gospel message on the earth? If your critic’s admonition would lead to a reduction in gospel propagation, then you are certainly under spiritual attack.
The shield of faith in verse 16 refers to our strength in the Lord, His calling upon our lives, and our resolve to keep at the tasks of God set before us. Sometimes criticisms and rebukes discourage us so that we second guess our callings, think about quitting from the accompanying hurts, or become so discouraged that we think about leaving our ministries altogether. If the words of our critics cause us to doubt God’s call upon us or consider wavering in any way from the works of faith that God has set before us, then we are under spiritual attack. Paul noted that the shield of faith extinguishes the fiery arrows of the enemy. It is our faith in God, our belonging to Him, and His call upon us that keeps us going in times of attack.
Verse 17 instructs us to wear the helmet of salvation. Sometimes criticism and rebukes cause us to question and doubt even our own salvation…”if I were really saved I would have known these things…” People can belittle us to the point that feel an inch tall at best. In these moments, the enemy often causes us to question the basic principle of salvation. I am convinced that the enemy has some believers stuck on this issue…constantly doubting their salvation. When Satan gets a believer stuck at salvation, decades can go by without Christian growth and maturity since all the attention dwells on the uncertainty of salvation. Satan would desire each of you to doubt your salvation consistently.
Finally, Paul mentions the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. If you listen to the advice of critics or respond with change to your rebukers, would it make you more or less obedient to the teachings of the Bible? Any attack that attempts to persuade you away from Biblical truth is a spiritual attack.
Taking all of this together, let’s look at God’s plan for believers as revealed to us by Paul. God desires that you be a person of truth, who lives righteously before God, working towards the global advancement of the gospel, firmly rooted in our faith and actively working the works of faith, assured and confident of your salvation, and obedient to the Word of God. Conversely, Satan’s desire for you is that you live in falsehood and error, become a person of unrighteousness and disobedience to God, withdraw from participation in gospel propagation, doubt your faith so that you lack confidence to work in faith, consistently question your salvific relationship with God, and discount or disbelieve the Bible leading to its devaluation in your life.
As you can see, spiritual attack has your complete spiritual destruction as its goal, is engineered by Satan and demons, and most frequently comes through other people. Fortunately, because of the manifest grace of God in us, we are not without victory…so long as we are dressed in the armor of God and wise enough to recognize attack when it comes.