The powers of darkness have a habit of hitting us where it hurts the most.
We typically apply principles of spiritual warfare to our personal lives, or to the church at large. No doubt we should. But the warfare in Ephesians chapter 6 follows directly on the heels of words to the family– husbands, wives, and children. Paul writes,
Eph. 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 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.
These verses reveal the presence of dark forces who are smarter than you, and who know more about you than you think. They have strategies. Typically a good strategy does the opposite of what the other side expects.
This is how it works. The book of Ephesians actually deals with several different settings–individuals, families, churches, and the overall universal church all collapsed into one, like nesting dolls.
The dolls are all distinct, yet still one. Thus, when Ephesians speaks to one, it speaks to all.
You’d think that the forces of darkness would go to war upon this overall universal church, But such an assault would be futile, and would fail immediately. Jesus said the Gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Instead, the devil starts with the individual, and families, and he has shown considerable expertise in pulling them apart. By attacking the individual, families are affected, and by damaging families, the church locally is affected, turning such things as Sunday morning gatherings into a mere show. By eviscerating the church locally, this keeps the universal church of all true believers a theological concept suspended in the air.
What are we to do about this without becoming paranoid? Without resorting to strange, superstitious practices, of amulets, and holy men, and other physical items and rites we think will chase the devil off as if they were garlic to a vampire?
Only the application of the gospel will protect you, your family, and ultimately, the church from the schemes of the devil.
To fight, we need items that Christ has secured for us through his work of Redemption.
6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth,
This extended metaphor of a Roman soldier preparing for combat, starts with the belt. It is not merely to hold your pants up; this belt is like a utility belt, an attachment point for everything else, including a sword. Note that this is the belt of truth. The devil deals in lies, and the world that is under his control pumps out one falsehood after the other like a factory, which the people of the world gladly consume. We are expected to consume it as well.
Instead, we counter this attack with “the word of truth” (1:13), fastening the word on ourselves, because everything else subsequently important to the Christian life is going to hang on it. In our homes, we should hold a high view of Scripture–namely, that it is inerrant, the actual word of God through human writers. We believe the Holy Spirit powerfully prepared human authors through a rigorous work of discipline, transformation, and revelatory knowledge. When they wrote, God considered it His own word, free of embedded mistakes, ignorance, exaggerations, myths, or falsehoods. Jesus Himself argued for the infallibility of the Bible saying, “Scripture cannot be broken,” that is, proven erroneous (John 10:35).
I once knew a church member who betrayed his family in the worst and most shameful way. One of the elders of the church tried to reason with him, showing him verses in the Bible that refuted his error. The man responded, saying, “I know what the Bible says, but times have changed.” In other words, he considered the Bible outdated, even incorrect in certain respects. This man harbored a low view of Scripture. For a while it hadn’t hurt anything, but one day when the devil came calling, he was caught without a belt on. He found himself with no attachment point for a compelling sexual ethic, and thus no way to respond. It blew his family out of the water.
Following this, Paul says to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” In ancient warfare, a breastplate covered the largest region of the body, the torso. Metaphorically, since this area corresponds to righteousness, we can expect the devil to attack it with accusations of unrighteousness. His strategy is especially effective, because a certain percentage of what he says about us is true. You aren’t perfect, and the Bible does call your righteousness dirty rags. The plan therefore, is to get you to think of your righteousness as something apart from Christ, and your failures as being things that have no remedy.
Suppose eleven-year-old Johnny’s friends show him some pornography at school. Meanwhile, the junior high in-crowd coaches Margie on how to get a hot boyfriend, telling her that she has to stop being so innocent. Neither kid knows what to do with the sudden, unanticipated sense of defilement, (and nine times out of ten, telling parents is out of the question), so they decide to just live with it in silence. Then there’s a voice, an influence from within that says, It’s hopeless, you’ve spoiled your good record. May as well go all the way, now.
Satan tries to get us to think of ourselves as moral actors outside of Christ, and protecting our consciences with nothing more than sterling performances. Our protection though–our plate–is the blood of Christ shed for us in Ephesians 1:7. We must promote and model in our homes the gospel reality of repentance, redemption, and confession of sins to God. Why don’t we just “go all the way” since we’ve already messed up? Because we don’t have to. The blood of Christ resets us to perfection in our fellowship with God.
Paul continues the necessary items of warfare, by calling for “shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace” (v. 15). If you’re going to fight, you need shoes for standing. How many times have you been at odds with your spouse, and felt destabilized? You were sitting in a church meeting, or even trying to focus on projects at work, and you couldn’t. Thoughts kept straying back to why she is so horribly opinionated, or why he is so incredibly angry all the time, and that if they would just change, things would at last be peaceful at home. Instead, the tension continues, making you think you’re going to go crazy. Guaranteed, the devil loves to ratchet up the drama.
But peace won’t come from attempted personality overhauls. We need an application of the gospel of peace from Ephesians 2, where it says Christ “Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14). If the power of His cross abolished the considerable racial and cultural differences of Jew and Gentile, then the application of it can certainly relieve annoyances between the differing personalities of spouses.
16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.
The darts mentioned here don’t simply inflict injury by puncturing your skin. They’re supposed to stick in you and set your clothes on fire, engulfing you in flame. Seventeen-year-old Chuck has lately been watching YouTube videos that attempt to mock and discredit the Christian faith, with the effect that doubt has spread in his heart. Originally he was acting on a challenge to be intellectually open, but he interpreted that to mean he should set aside all of his own convictions, and expose himself to a barrage of hostile factoids coming from sources that are themselves not intellectually open. He has blindly assumed that anti-faith agendas are unbiased, and most certainly does not see them as being Satanic in origin. Now Chuck has begun to suspect his parents are a bit deluded by Jewish superstitions. His biggest need was and is for a buffer—the shield of faith—between himself and the views coming in his direction.
Ephesians 4:5 speaks of faith as being the contents of the gospel— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. But we have to pick them up. Our faith must be active; it shouldn’t be something inert, left laying around, as if to say, “Yeah, I already believed in that. A long time ago.” We are going to interact with questions and objections toward our faith. That’s part of intelligent dialogue with this world. But for every negative assertion, we bear down into the gospel, and probe it for corresponding replies. We need something durable between ourselves and the words of faithless people. No believer should become a dart board.
17 and take the helmet of salvation,
Your head needs protection, because a fight always ends when someone scores a headshot. Your mind corresponds to your head. If Satan can go there, that is exactly what he’ll do. For instance, Mom’s mind swarms with anxious thoughts. As a result, she’s controlling, and frustrated with everyone in the house. In turn, everyone is bothered with her. When family members complain about it, she feels attacked, unloved. It’s not really a clinical problem, just a bad thought pattern she’s slipped into over time which assumes that unless she gets her way, everyone else is unreasonable.
A large part of salvation is the renewing of the mind in Ephesians 4:23, that is, bringing you out of old thought patterns that inflict pain and disappointment. The devil has plenty of suspicions, hypotheticals, insecurities, petty observations, and criticisms to plant in the old mindset. But renewal means a sustained interaction with the Holy Spirit and the Word of God that refuses these things. In the wake of this salvation, the drama damaging your family will diminish.
Finally, Paul says to take, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 18). The sword is the only item of God’s armor that is offensive, rather than defensive. And there’s a definite need for such. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Let’s say that Dad has spiritually flattened out. He’s not in any moral trouble per se, just stale in his relationship with Christ. He may look around at the same old house that needs fixing, then at the kids fighting in the next room, and the grass that always needs mowing, and begin to wonder, This is my life?
Actually, that is a more dangerous condition than you think, because when a man craves a little adventure, sudden opportunities seem to spring up all around him. They didn’t happen by coincidence, though. They were put there by someone, something watching his life. Dad was right to feel he needs to go forward, higher, deeper, but the way of doing this is not by getting involved in some new time-consuming hobby, let alone an ill-advised flirtation. Dad needs to take up the word of God. Now however, it must be more than a belt, or a shield for protection. With the word as a sword, he fights forward, taking new territory. He gains fresh spiritual sight, and undergoes new dealings with God. With it he gains momentum, taking his inspired family with him.
This is the application of the Gospel in home life. All the examples I’ve chosen and used here are typical things that happen to families. They’re not unusual.
When I was growing up, I watched a television show called The Waltons, about a family that lived during the Great Depression. The program followed a standard format of introducing a problem at the beginning of the episode, but solving it inside the thirty minute viewing time. It closed with a famous shot outside the house at night, as the kids reaffirm their family bond by saying goodnight to one another. One time after the show was over, my mother got inspired and said to us kids, “I wish you all would love each other like that.” As a smart-alec nine-year-old, I shot back, “Yeah, but they’re getting paid.”
Perfection only happens in the make-believe world. Guaranteed, when problems crop up in your family, they won’t get worked out in thirty minutes. In fact, the issue is not whether a problem breaks out, but when it does, how do we stop it from gaining traction. Yes, we often vent and react, but these aren’t long term solutions to anything. Nor will passivity work, as if ignoring serious troubles will make them lose steam, and go away. Instead, we ask the Lord how His gospel applies to our family in each event and situation. The gospel works, but not by magic. It gets into our minds and hearts, and does its work constitutionally, making sure the work is trustworthy.
At any rate, please remember that your family is not supposed to be an isolated unit, as though it were a church unto itself. The church is an enlarged family, composed of families that gather in solidarity around the faith—a nesting doll.
If something becomes too big and intense for one family, then the others should rally to its aid with love and support.
We’ll bring the gospel, too.