7.24 Ephesians -- Call to Battle
Significantly, the final section of Paul’s letter is a call to arms. The passage is full of militant terms: "be strong," "put on the full armor of God," "take your stand," "stand firm," "pray in the Spirit," "be alert." Is it not ironic that, for all Paul’s emphasis on peace in the churches and among believers, his ideal Christian believer is garbed metaphorically as a Roman soldier? This analogy is unique among his epistles, apart from an abbreviated variation in 1 Thess 5:8.
Paul’s intention is not to eliminate conflict, but to elevate it, to put it on its proper spiritual plane. The truth is that the small Christian congregations were in a desperate battle for survival, but they needed to recognize and combat their real enemies. They couldn’t afford to become divided over internal rivalries and bogged down by hurt feelings, while the devil was working to destroy them. Paul wanted them to realize the reality of the spiritual battle they were in and to make use of the spiritual weapons available to fight it. He knew that the devil would use human instruments to wage his warfare, and he didn’t want his members to be fooled and respond in carnal ways.
This is analogous to the Western church’s longstanding bamboozlement over racial issues. It is a human issue behind which loom great spiritual forces. But it is in itself a great distraction, a detour, a sham. The theological issues were settled long ago:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).
What could be plainer than this in prohibiting racial discrimination? But biased commentators have all too frequently subordinated the text to the culture in which they lived.
Just like the Ephesian church, the Western church has been tempted to fight the wrong battles, to mis-identify the enemy. Frequently, the Christian community has fractured along class and racial lines. When this has happened, believers have hastened to make common cause with enemies against fellow saints -- polarized around the mottos either of Social Order or Social Justice. Indeed, the spectacle of American history reveals Christians contending furiously with one another, rather than against the principalities.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a call to refocus. It is written to churches like those of today: situated in a cosmopolitan, urban culture and a diverse society; composed of people some of whom come from orderly religious backgrounds, while many still "live as the Gentiles do"; wracked with immorality, broken homes, class divisions; more passionate about rival political and social causes than the unifying Gospel. His message to Ephesus and us:
"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Eph 5:14-16).
And his remedy:
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is (Eph 5:17).
When race or class or political party overpowers the message of the Gospel, or worse, becomes synonymous with it, it is time to "wake up," and to renew our understanding of "what the will of the Lord is." It is not a time for pointing fingers – this is not Paul’s intent. It is not a time to rehash "we" vs "them." Rather, we must refocus on our real enemy, on "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." The preached message must again center on Jesus, who
Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. …For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit (Eph 2:14, Eph 2:18).
And the church fellowship must again become a place of welcome and peace to the "other" -- slave or free, Jew or Gentile – not a mirror of the conflicts prevalent in the fallen world outside.