What does it mean that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12)?
In Ephesians 6:12, the apostle Paul warns the Ephesian church of a spiritual war against the forces of evil: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." The word wrestle suggests an ongoing conflict with evil. To prevent the idea that we struggle against an evil power within ourselves or against evil and wicked people, Paul writes that "we do not wrestle against and flesh and blood."
In Ephesians 6:11, Paul identifies our real enemy as the Devil (cf. John 10:10 and 1 Peter 5:8). This identification is important for two reasons:
1. It reminds us that our struggles are not against acquaintances, friends, family members, coworkers, or other believers. When someone commits an evil act against us, it is easy to say, "That person is the source of my problems." However, the wrongdoer is at the mercy of powerful evil forces that deceive him in ways he does not realize (cf. Genesis 4:8 and Matthew 16:23).
2. It informs the strategy that we must employ to withstand the schemes of the Devil. Satan cannot be defeated by mere human strength. For this reason, Paul encourages believers to "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might" (Ephesians 6:10; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9) and equip themselves with the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:11, 13). Satan is no match for God.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul describes a hierarchy of evil beings who do the Devil’s bidding. He says that we wrestle "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." The plurality of these evil forces indicates how powerful and wicked they are. In fact, J. B. Phillips referred to them as "spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil" (Ephesians 6:12, PHILLIPS). These beings cleverly and diabolically oppose "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable" (Philippians 4:8).
The raging war between believers and Satan is not unique to the book of Ephesians. In 2 Corinthians 10:3–4, Paul writes, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds." In other words, believers are engaged in a perpetual spiritual battle that must be fought with spiritual weapons. Therefore, we should fasten ourselves with the "belt of truth" and "put on the breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14), walk with the "gospel of peace" (Ephesians 6:15), take up the "shield of faith," "helmet of salvation," and "sword of the spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:16–17).
The reality of spiritual warfare can be frightening, and the thought of battling against powerful and evil spiritual beings can be overwhelming. Yet it is important to remember that we are not alone in this battle. God is with us (Romans 8:31), and He supplies us with the tools that we need to overcome the forces of evil.
In John 16:33, Jesus declared, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." Through His death and resurrection, Jesus defeated the forces of evil. Therefore, as Christians, we can fight this spiritual battle knowing that God already won (Revelation 3:21). How does it feel to be on the winning side?
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