Satan and War on the Saints
By Charles H. Welch
We cannot devote the space necessary to deal with Satanic activity in every sphere, but feel that we shall be very remiss if we do not deal with the relation of Satan to the church of the Mystery.
In Ephesians 2:2 the apostle gives Satan a new title: ‘The prince of the authority of the air’. Why the air? And why is the title revealed just here? While it may be true of this world that ‘Princes have but their titles for their glories, an outward honour for an inward toil’, it is not so in Scripture. There, titles are used with doctrinal and dispensational accuracy. In the light of the context, this title of the Devil contains, in germ, the whole doctrine of his relationship with the church of the Mystery.
Ephesians 1:19 to 2:7 is a complete section of the epistle. It opens with the exalted position of Christ ‘in the heavenlies’, ‘far above’, with ‘all under His feet’, and it closes with the church raised and seated (potentially) in the same glory at the right hand of God. The section also contrasts two great spiritual forces that are at work today:
For the children of wrath is the inworking of him that had the power of death, that is the Devil. To meddle with this distinction, and suggest that Satan can energise those who by death, burial and risen life are united with Christ, is a denial of truth, and is calculated to help on the cause of the very one it is supposed to resist.
Satan’s limitation, expressed in the new title of Ephesians 2:2 is in direct contrast with the glorious position of the church, which, together with Christ, is said to be ‘far above every principality ... in this or the coming age’. ‘Principality’ is arche, and ‘prince’ is archon. It is quite clear that Satan is included in the spiritual authorities and dominions of Ephesians 1:21, and that the statement holds true now. While Christ is not yet manifestly ‘Head over all things’, He is so ‘to the church which is His body’, for God has ‘given Him’ so to be. Whatever Satan’s authority may have been before the overthrow of the world, or even while Christ was in the flesh (e.g. Matt. 4), it is clear that at the present time he has no authority in heavenly places where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, for his authority is expressly limited to ‘the air’.
In harmony with this teaching of Ephesians 1 and 2 is Colossians 1:13, which puts the matter beyond all possible doubt:
While those blessed words remain God’s truth for us, shall we deny them by admitting for one moment that Satan can have any authority over us? Never! Even John (who did not write for the church of the Mystery) taught differently:
Can anyone honestly believe Colossians 1:13 and yet endorse a statement such as the following?
Is it possible that the writer of such a statement can have the remotest idea of the ‘foundation’ and ‘strength’ of our position in and with Christ, or the real ‘conditions of our security’
It is a Satanic device of the first importance to attract attention from the Lord to himself. Does Satan ever whisper into the ear of any of his dupes the blessed words of Colossians 1:13? Does he ever torment a soul with the words ‘delivered’, ‘translated’, ‘presented’, and the like? Does he not make them believe that he still has power over them, that God often exposes them etc.?
What is it that drives so many children of God to the God-dishonouring conclusion that, as sure as any child of God steps out in faith, and something in the way of illness or trouble follows, the latter is ‘of the Devil’? Are we to believe that God definitely steps aside, and purposely allows Satan to attack those who seek to trust in Him? We will certainly believe this when we see it written ‘in the Book’ but we have no faith in the mere reasonings and ‘experiences’ of men, and especially of those who seek to introduce into this dispensation of the ascended Christ, features that belong to the days of His flesh.
In the last epistle written by Paul before his imprisonment he said:
He may have spoken of something beyond what he then knew, but however this may be, the subjection of Satan beneath the feet of the church of the Mystery is a fundamental truth of Ephesians 1. To turn from darkness to light, and from the authority of Satan unto God, is the inspired forecast of Paul’s prison ministry (Acts 26:18). To allow demon possession or Satanic authority into the realm of the church at the right hand of God, is to assist Satan and his lie, and not to resist him.
Peter could rightly say to the dispersion of Israel, to whom he ministered, that ‘your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom resist’ (1 Pet. 5:8,9), but he did not mix the dispensations. He knew the sphere of Satan’s patrol (Job 2:2), and his antagonism to the restoration of Israel. Even when we do read in the Scriptures of the rebuking of Satan, there is nothing comparable to the tone and language adopted by many today. The language and attitude of Michael the archangel (Jude 9) is meekness itself, and would probably be condemned as weak and powerless by many who are vehemently urging us to resist the Devil.
After Enoch was ‘translated’ he was not found (Heb. 11:5), and though Satan should seek to find and devour a member of the One Body the search would be in vain, for he, too, is ‘translated’, and further, his ‘life is hid with Christ in God’, where Satan can never come. There are several rallying cries sounding in the church today which superficially seem true and splendid, and the cries, ‘Back to Christ’ and ‘Back to Pentecost’, have caught men in their toils. To quote 1 Peter 5:8,9 to a member of the One Body may appear to proceed from a strong faith, but in reality it is a denial of the essential condition of security and position of the church, for it ignores the limited authority of the Devil revealed in Ephesians 2:2, and treats with Satan as though he were still an undefeated foe, and as though Christ had not led captivity captive, nor spoiled principality and power. The basic truth is that in the dispensation of the Mystery we have for the first time a concrete example and foreshadowing of that new creation where God shall be all in all, for the words are used of Christ and the church in Colossians 3:11.
Can anyone imagine that Paul (not to speak of the Holy Spirit Who inspired him) would omit from the great word of warning given in Colossians 2:4-23 the admonition to resist the Devil, if such were to be the crying need of today? Can a mountain of the most extraordinary experience outweigh an ounce of inspired truth? Shall we confess that God omitted to warn the church of the One Body, in the epistles written to that church, of its most deadly peril? The references in the prison epistles to Satan, the Devil and the Wicked One can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and even this limited number of references include those that speak of his defeat as well as of his opposition.
When we read books that contain pages and pages of the most minute analysis of the ways of the Devil, when we hear prayers in which the Devil is spoken of as many times as the Lord (in spite of the fact that there is not a prayer recorded for our example that even mentions the Devil), we can only conclude that such writers and pleaders have missed their way, that they are acting as if they were in that dispensation in which it was Scriptural to pray ‘Deliver us from evil’, and where forgiveness of sins was withheld from those who did not forgive others (Matt. 6). Such will be ashamed of their work in that day, for they will have overthrown the faith of some, not realizing the sure foundation of God standeth (2 Tim. 2:15-19).
Returning to Ephesians 1:19-23 and its parallel, Colossians 1:13, we assert that the whole battery of Satan can be met without moving a finger, and that with all reverence we may emulate Him Who sitteth in the heavens: ‘He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh’. We have no need to conquer a beaten foe. All the passages that are quoted to support the teaching that the devil still has authority over the mind and body of the saint, are taken from Scriptures that deal with dispensations other than that of the Mystery. Ephesians 6 which is appealed to in defence of warfare in connection with the saints, and to justify the strange anomaly ‘prayer-warfare’, teaches no such thing. There is not one word in that passage that means warfare, conquest or fighting. What is enjoined is standing, withstanding and wrestling.
There is but one weapon provided; not prayer (for prayer is entirely between the believer and the Lord), but the Word of God. We shall more effectually resist the devil and all his works if we use the sword of the Spirit, and ‘preach the Word in season and out of season’, than if we spend whole days and nights in unscriptural prayer. There is only one weapon that terrifies the devil, viz., the Sword of the Spirit. There is only one effective guard against all the fiery darts of the Wicked One, and that is the Shield of faith. There is only one ground of conquest of the devil, and that is the finished Work of Christ.
It is a denial of our assured position in Christ to adopt all manner of psychic attitudes in our relation to these foes. In that realm he is easily master, and it is no wonder that so many physical and mental wrecks abound. The complete armour of God is held together by the girdle of truth: ‘the truth shall make you free’. But to be ‘truth’ for us, it must be dispensational, and without ‘right division’ the armour is ineffective. Hence the number who are defeated in the fight. We do not base our teaching upon our experiences, but as these are used by others we will for once use such here. We have found that every one with whom we have spoken on this subject has been either clear or befogged in proportion as they were clear or befogged regarding the unique character of this present dispensation. Every one who has either been in bondage to Satan, or who has slipped back into this welter of confusion, has never really acknowledged in its fulness the unalloyed doctrine of the Prison Epistles. There has always been something belonging to a past dispensation that has spoiled the witness.
Again, Ephesians 6 does not teach that our warfare is in the
heavenlies. Can there be warfare where Christ now sitteth at the right hand
of God? Who is there with whom we can fight? Satan is beneath our feet in
Christ; principalities and powers also. Christ has led captivity captive.
He has spoiled principality and power. Warfare is impossible at the right
hand of God. If we compare Ephesians 2:2 with Colossians 1:13 we shall see
that the authority of darkness and the authority of the air are in some measure parallel and find their link in the world of Ephesians 6:12: ‘the
world rulers of this darkness’. It is true that a superficial reading of
Ephesians 6:12 gives the impression that our wrestling is in heavenly places,
but Dr. Bullinger pointed out years ago that this is not so. First of all we
are told with whom we do not wrestle, viz., ‘with flesh and blood’. Then at
the end of the verse we find, at the close of a parenthesis (in Paul’s
customary way), that we do not wrestle in heavenly places. The parenthesis
then supplies the positive side. We do wrestle with spiritual wickednesses,
and we wrestle here in ‘this world’.
This has to do with the Christian soldier, and demon possession or of being led captive by the devil, and can by no means be brought into the question. If anyone is led captive by the devil, it is folly to exhort him to ‘put on the armour of God’, for he is not in the right position to take it up, and Satan would not allow him to do so if he desired. What is to be done? Shall we listen to the unscriptural ‘experiences’ of men as fallible as ourselves? Or shall we believe the diagnosis and remedy definitely written in the Scriptures? To ‘the law and the testimony’.
How may the devil get a foothold? How did he once energize us? The answer of Ephesians 2:2,3 is, ‘through the flesh’. It is the same in Ephesians 4. Instead of being exhorted to ‘resist the devil’, the member of the One Body is told to:
This teaching is not palatable to the carnal mind. The family doctor knows that many a patient would resent the truth that his sickness was attributable to abuse at the dinner table. His vanity must be respected, and another name and cause suggested. So, many a spiritual disease is simply the result of the ‘deceitful lusts of the old man’, but this is highly offensive, and the spiritual sufferer is told that he or she has been specially singled out by the Wicked One. Deliverance is sought in vain, and the bondage grows worse. We are not told to exhort such to ‘claim ‘ anything, or to ‘resist the devil’ or to do any of the many things that form the mode of deliverance advocated by the teaching we here reject, but we are told that:
Here is a series of statements which should be weighed with those we often hear. The remedy is provided in ‘teaching’, not resisting or exorcising the devil. Patient endurance of evil is foreign to those who are out to ‘resist’ the devil, for they say that a believer has no right to submit to evil at all, all such being of the devil. We, however, prefer Paul as our monitor. The phrase, ‘If God peradventure’, and, ‘repentance’, do not harmonize with the system that practically dictates to God what He must do. It is the acknowledging of ‘the truth’ that sets the captive free, not exorcising demons, or muttering over this or that experience the unscriptural imprecation, ‘The curse of God’, as we have known some to do.
The snare of the devil is associated with the ‘novice’ who too quickly jumps into so-called service, and with evil living (1 Tim. 3:6,7), and this we see all around. What a tragedy it would have been for Paul (and also ourselves) had he listened to the advice to ‘resist the devil’ in the matter of his thorn in the flesh -- the messenger of Satan sent to buffet him! How many have missed their blessing by assuming all illness, all trouble, all apparent disaster is ‘of the devil’. Far more likely is success to be of his engineering at the present time.
Into the question of demon possession and Satanic control we do not enter. These things belong to other dispensations. We leave them where Scripture places them. We are concerned with the truth of the Mystery. It is laid upon us to make it known, and subversive doctrine must be withstood. Anything less than this would be unfaithfulness to our stewardship. We shall maintain, as long as God grants us grace to be faithful, that positionally, dispensationally and doctrinally, the church which is His Body is ‘delivered’ and ‘translated’ from the authority of darkness, and that only in the realm of the flesh and the old man can Satan find any ground for attack. The armour of God is not for captives but for soldiers, and has nothing to do with those who are already bound. We still believe that the truth makes free, and that we best demonstrate our victory over the devil by believing and teaching that we are ‘delivered’ and ‘translated’ ‘far above all’.
There is a series of questions which we feel demand an answer from Scripture. For instance, is it not too readily assumed that all believers are ‘soldiers’ of Christ? This assumption we seriously question as being at the root of many failures in Christian practice, and we hope to show that no babe in Christ or novice in doctrine is in view in Ephesians 6. There is not the slightest indication therein that the apostle refers either to the enslaved dupe of Satan, or to the believer frantically struggling to throw off his yoke. We do not find there one paralysed with fear, devil-dogged at every turn, crying out for ‘victory’ that does not come, nor do we find any instructions to practice a species of auto-hypnotism by ‘repeating aloud’ any phrase, even though it be a quotation of Scripture. We once more ask this question, and seek an answer to it from the Word: Who are the fighters in view in Ephesians 6?
The first answer that Scripture yields is a correction of our phraseology, for the word ‘fight’ is not used. To use it begs the whole question, for it assumes what is to be proved, viz., that fighting and warfare are actually in view. But one may legitimately interpose, ‘Armour and weapons indicate warfare’. They do, but we will consider that in its place. Before we go so far, we must determine, if we can, who are the contestants, and then the nature of their contest.
An unskilful handler of the sword of the Spirit would be hopelessly outclassed in the conflict of Ephesians 6.
‘Every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war’ (Num. 1:20 etc.).
Every believer is not necessarily ready to don the armour and take up the sword, any more than he is necessarily fit to preach or to teach simply because he is a believer. Instead of this indiscriminate use of the title ‘soldier’, it will be found that the apostle Paul uses it with great reserve. So also must we if we would be true and well-pleasing to the Lord. Archippus and Epaphroditus are honoured with the title ‘fellow soldier’ (Philemon 2 and Phil. 2:25), and from the description given of Epaphroditus we can gather somewhat of the spiritual maturity that attaches to the title. Yet is it not common to meet enthusiastic men and women using the most advanced military phraseology, and speaking about warfare, victory, etc., who are the veriest babes in Christian doctrine?
In 2 Timothy 2:4 the apostle speaks of some essential characteristics of the soldier of Christ:
The word translated ‘life’ in this verse is bios, and means ‘livelihood’ rather than ‘life’.
Here is a prime qualification for the good soldier of Jesus Christ. Not a word about fighting can be found in the context, except it be the prohibition in 2 Timothy 2:24, ‘The servant of the Lord must not strive’.
It will be found that the apostle is only applying to the soldier of Christ the principles which regulated the conduct of the soldier in Israel. In Deuteronomy 20 are defined the rules which were to be observed by Israel in time of battle. The officers were to exempt from combatant service the man who had not yet dedicated a newly-built house; or had not yet eaten of a newly-planted vineyard, or had not yet taken to himself a betrothed wife. The second ground of exemption is to be understood in the light of Leviticus 19:23,24, where the fruit tree was considered ‘uncircumcised’ until three years had passed.
The foregoing three grounds of exemption have their spiritual counterpart today. The ‘soldier’ aspect of the teaching of Ephesians 6 is reserved for the ‘Finally’ of verse 10, even as the soldier of Israel must have attained to twenty years of age. No man who has not ‘dedicated’ his house as Ephesians 5:22-29; 6:9 indicates, can hope to overcome in the contest of the faith.
No man whose fruit is not definitely the product of the resurrection (‘three years shall it be as uncircumcised’) can stand in the conflict. So in Ephesians, before the exhortation to ‘put on the armour of God’ (6:11), is found the essential requisite of 4:24: ‘Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness’, ‘For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (5:9). The ‘officers’ of the Lord’s army today should make these things clear lest any attempting to engage in this conflict without the presence and blessing of the Lord find themselves in captivity to the devil.
We obtain most helpful light upon the nature of the conflict that is before the church if we carefully note the things said in this connection in 2 Timothy:
All this is prefaced by the words, ‘Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus’ (2:1). We have followed the same course in our teaching on this subject.
First must come the absolute position of ‘grace in Christ’, where all is viewed as complete. Before the believer is called to put on the armour he is assured that he is accepted in the Beloved, delivered out of the authority of darkness, translated into the kingdom of the Son, quickened, raised and seated far above all. In this sphere he can win nothing, nor can he forfeit anything; all is in grace and all in Christ. The next step is to ‘be strong’ in that self-same grace: ‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might’ (6:10). This is the uppermost idea in the closing verses of Ephesians 1: ‘The exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe’ (1:19).
The essence of the relation between Ephesians 1 and 6 may be seen in the two expressions, to ‘work in’ and to ‘work out’. Unfortunately the A.V. does not show this clearly. In Ephesians 1, ‘working’ (verse 19) and ‘wrought in’ (verse 20) are translations of the Greek word energeo, ‘to work in’. The expression ‘having done all’, of 6:13, is a very free translation of katergazomai, ‘to work out’. The conflict of Ephesians 6 is largely the working out of the blessed position and truth of the Mystery revealed in chapter 1.
Let us now turn to Philippians 2:12,13, so that (1) every reader may be assured that we have not given a ‘private interpretation’ of the two Greek words in Ephesians 1 and 6, and (2) that further light upon the nature of the conflict may be obtained. First the translation: ‘Work out (katergazomai) your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh (energeo) in you both to will and to work (energeo)’. Secondly, the light from the context. Let the reader pass in review every case that he may have known of demon possession, attack, control, satanic dominion over body, mind or estate, and answer as before the Lord this question: ‘Have you known one solitary case where such a person was in the full light of the Mystery?’ Many may have used the terms used in Ephesians.
They may have spoken of heavenly places, of membership of the Body, and allied subjects; but have not these high glories been mixed in their teaching with the previous dispensation of the Acts? Has not the Pentecostal baptism been much dwelt upon? And have not the sign gifts (such as tongues and healing) come?prominently into view? We await the answer with confidence. The only power that can enable anyone to fight the good fight of Ephesians 6 is the power of Ephesians 1:19,20. If that has not been worked in, it cannot be worked out, and so poor souls go into battle at their own charges and without the complete armour, attempting to gain victory instead of standing in a victory already theirs. No wonder there are shipwrecks of faith, broken hearts, crushed spirits, and ruined homes.
We have drawn attention in other articles to the peculiar nature of the epistle to the Philippians as compared with that to Ephesians. The latter may be summed up in the words of Ephesians 3:12, ‘In Whom we have boldness and access with confidence’, whereas the stand-point of the former is expressed in the words of Philippians 2:12, ‘Work out ... with fear and trembling’. In the one case we have position, in the other, responsibility. In the first case there can be no element of reward or loss, for all is a gift in absolute grace; in the second case the salvation already possessed is to be ‘worked out’, and in that realm there is room for ‘gain’ and ‘loss’ and for a ‘prize’. In Philippians 2, Christ is not put forward as Saviour, but as Example. His humiliation and subsequent exaltation are applied to the believer as an exhortation, ‘Wherefore ... work out’, and we have the completion in chapter 3 in the apostle’s example, where he is seen running for the Prize, avoiding the entanglements of this life, and forgetting the things that are behind. This last expression may be linked with Numbers 11:5. ‘We remember ... Egypt’. These were the words of those who, redeemed out of bondage, fell in the wilderness principally through the evil influence of the ‘mixed multitude’ who went with them.
In 2 Corinthians 4:17 the term ‘work out’ is found in a similar context. ‘For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’. Here we return to the teaching of 2 Timothy 2, ‘If we endure, we shall reign’.
Reverting for a moment to the fact that no Israelite was permitted to bear arms and to go to war before the age of twenty years, we shall find that this further illustrates the distinctive character of the soldier which we have noticed in 2 Timothy and Philippians, namely, a close association with crown and prize:
Here we have responsibility, forfeiture and loss, and this is true of the soldier in Paul’s epistles as in the law of Moses. A further full comment on the true qualities of the soldier can be gathered from the witness of Scripture to the stand of Caleb and Joshua, which our readers are urged to read in conjunction with Hebrews 3 and 4. This relation of the soldier with the overcomer is further set out in the matter of those worthies who were given such a high place in the kingdom of David. Jashobeam the Hachmonite, Eleazar the Ahohite, Joab, Benaiah and the rest were all warriors, men who had done valiant deeds in battle (1 Chron. 11:11-47). It is this feature that is carried over into the present time: ‘Endure hardness ... if we endure we shall reign ... I have fought a good fight ... henceforth a crown’.
Before concluding this aspect of our subject let us look at the armour. We have already observed the evident connection in Ephesians 6 and 4 between the exhortation to ‘put on’ the armour, and the statement of fact that we have ‘put on’ the new man. ‘The truth that is in Jesus’ is -- ‘your having put off ... and your having put on’ (Eph. 4:21-24). Apothesthai and endusasthai are in the middle voice, whereas analabete, ‘take unto you’, and analabontes, ‘taking’ of Ephesians 6:13 and 16 are in the active. The taking up of the armour is the experimental and active entry into all that Christ has been made unto us by God. This ‘truth in Jesus’ is the girdle of our loins, Christ Himself (without the slightest admixture of the principles of law or merits) is our breast-plate of righteousness, and so throughout the list.
In Romans 13:12-14 the apostle makes mention of armour, and it will help us to see what is said:
Here, in view of approaching morning, the sleeper is called upon to awake, put off his night attire, and don the armour of light -- the only fitting attire for the saint passing through this world. Once again may we insist that the apostle does not say one single word about fighting, but instead he speaks about walking, and just as in Ephesians 4 he speaks of the deceitful lusts of the old man, so here he makes no mention of Satan, but immediately indicates the foe by enumerating six ‘lusts of the flesh’. Then more fully to clinch what we have previously seen in Ephesians 6, instead of returning to the subject of the armour and referring to its several items, he proceeds at once to the true meaning and says: ‘Put on the armour of light ... put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof’.
Where Ephesians 6 enumerates the parts of the armour, Romans 13 points to the appropriation of all that Christ is to the believer; and where Ephesians 6 particularizes the spiritual foes, Romans 13 points out their only vantage ground with the believer, ‘the making provision for the lusts of the flesh’. This, as we have already seen, is in entire harmony with what we may learn from a comparison with Ephesians 4 and 6.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 we have another reference to armour, another reference to night and day, another placing of drunkenness over against armour:
Surely no one who believes that the Scriptures are inspired and sufficient, can further deny the obvious fact that the only ‘warfare’ that these passages will allow is waged between what we are ‘in Christ’, and what the old man and the lusts of the flesh (acted upon by unseen spiritual foes) would make us if they could.
We shall have to return to some of these passages again, for we have not yet discovered exactly what the object of these evil powers may be. We must therefore content ourselves with the aspect before us, and so would turn to yet another reference to armour in the writings of the apostle, remembering that the word hoplon, which can be seen in the English ‘panoply’, is translated ‘armour’, ‘weapon’ and ‘instrument’.
A reference to chapter 11 will show that the Corinthians were in danger of having their minds corrupted by Satan and his agents. The methods adopted by the enemy were the preaching of another ‘Jesus’, another ‘spirit’, and another ‘gospel’, while the means of defeating this attack are not expressed in terms of war or resistance, but more simply by bringing all to the touchstone of the faith once given. Appended to the satanic counterfeit, ‘another Jesus,’ are the words, ‘whom we did not preach’; to the travesty of the ‘other spirit’, the words, ‘which ye have not received’; and to the ‘false gospel’, the words, ‘which ye have not accepted’. A return to the written word is the apostle’s one great protection and offensive. He needed no frenzied meetings or agonizing for victory. The truth makes free, and the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God; all other methods which are not found in Scripture we must repudiate as carnal weapons that will be of no avail.
Will the reader note two expressions in the foregoing quotation from 2 Corinthians 10? One is the ‘height’ and the other ‘leading captive’. Among those things that are enumerated in Romans 8:38,39 as possible foes over which the believer is ‘more than conqueror’ will be found ‘height’, and 2 Corinthians 10 shows that this spiritual enemy is closely associated with ‘reasonings that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God’. The other expression, ‘leading captive’, is found in Ephesians 4 in direct proximity to the giving of apostles, etc., for the purpose of leading the Church on to the ‘measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ’, and so to rise above the cunning craftiness and ‘wiles’ of Satan’s agents. A glance at Colossians 2:14-17 will show a close connection between certain principalities, and the imposition of undispensational teaching; shadows instead of substance; which substance (or reality) is the blessed prerogative of every member of the Body of Christ.
One further reference must suffice, viz., Romans 6:12,13:
Here is a use of the word ‘weapon’ which is perfectly intelligible when used in the way that we have seen in Romans 13, 1 Thessalonians 5 and 2 Corinthians 10, but utterly impossible of direct interpretation if unscriptural ideas of ‘warfare’ are used.
Who are the contestants? The necessary qualification for the soldier in Paul’s teaching, in line with the typical teaching of the law, precludes from the ranks all who are ‘babes’, ‘novices’, and such as are not, for any reason, spiritually mature. The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, and must be either taught or preached when it is used. There is noother way of actually ‘fighting’ with the Scriptures, and consequently all those passages of Scripture that indicate that a babe is ‘unskilful’ in the Word, or that maturity in the faith is connected with being ready to teach others, apply equally to the soldier.
We saw, moreover, that the putting on of the armour was explained as the putting on of Christ, and was balanced by the putting on of the new man. With the exception of the passage in Ephesians 6, the armour is always used in the conflict with the flesh and its lusts. He who puts on the armour is one who begins to ‘work out’ what has been ‘worked in’. The close of Ephesians is really an anticipation of Philippians, the epistle of the soldier, the overcomer and the Prize. Reverting to the fact that the soldier in Israel had to be twenty years old before bearing arms, and that this age limit is mentioned in the case of those who fell in the wilderness, we find in Psalm 91 a suggestion of the security of the believer viewed as simply ‘in Christ’, as contrasted with the responsibility of one who, ‘twenty years old and upward’, steps out into the arena of conflict, where gain and loss are permissible terms:
This expresses in Old Testament terms much the same sense of absolute security and positive exaltation above the prince and the authority of the air that we find in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1. The Psalm approaches to the ‘positional’ element, which we have sought to show, when it reveals the basis of this perfect security in the words: ‘He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty’.
We must now consider other equally important questions, and the first shall be an examination of the terms used to describe the conflict. Ephesians 6 contains no word that can be translated ‘fight’, ‘war’, ‘battle’, ‘campaign’, ‘conquest’, or any other military term so familiar to those who engage in ‘prayer warfare’, and who use this Scripture as their warrant. Should it not cause the believer to halt and consider, that if a system of teaching is obliged to go outside the Scriptures for its terms, then that system bears the marks indicating the preaching of ‘another Jesus’, ‘another Spirit’, and ‘another gospel’ of which the apostle warned the Corinthians, and which he characterized as the teaching of Satan transformed into an angel of light.
The words used in Ephesians 6 to define the nature of the conflict are, ‘stand against’, ‘withstand’, ‘stand’, and ‘wrestle’. The original uses the Greek word histemi, with pros and anti. Anthistemi is used by both Peter and Paul. It is the word translated ‘resist’ in 1 Peter 5:9. Both Peter and Paul have given to their respective charges clear instructions as to their attitude towards the devil and his agents, and both in perfect accord with their respective callings. Trouble is caused by the persistent attempt of some to rule the members of the Body of Christ by the rules that belong to the ‘royal Priesthood and holy Nation’. The latter pass through a ‘fiery trial’ and wait for the salvation of their souls ‘in the last time’, a?salvation of which Old Testament prophets spake, but on which the epistles of the church of the Mystery are silent.
The word translated ‘wrestle’ is pale, and does not occur elsewhere in Scripture. Fortunately the word is too well-known to students of the history of Greece to admit of argument. S.T. Bloomfield gives the following examples of its figurative use in classical Greek:
This is a fairly comprehensive summary of the way in which the idea of wrestling can be applied, and if we substitute the man of God for Socrates and the others, and put ‘principalities and powers’, for the snares, machinations etc., in the above quotation, we shall approach a fairly true understanding of the apostle’s meaning. It is, moreover, common knowledge that the Greeks wrestled quite naked, a fact that is still evident to any art student of the ‘antique’, and still with us in the word ‘gymnasium’, which is derived from gymnos, ‘naked’ (Matt. 25:36,38,43), ‘bare’ (1 Cor. 15:37), and ‘exercise’ (Heb. 5:14). It must be perfectly obvious that if we at this distance can perceive some incongruity in the thought of anyone ‘wrestling’ in complete ‘armour’, the apostle was fully alive to it also.
One commentator cuts the Gordian knot by asserting simply that the word ‘wrestling’ must mean in this one instance ‘fighting’. Such a method cannot, however, be allowed. Truth will not be served by twisting the meaning of words to suit our conception of what is right and fitting, but by humbly bowing to the Divine choice of word and type, and patiently seeking a Scriptural reason for the apparent difficulty. We therefore leave Ephesians 6 for the moment to gather information elsewhere in the epistles of Paul.
Let us look again at 2 Timothy 2. The apostle passes easily from the figure of the ‘soldier’ to the ‘athlete’. The word translated ‘strive for masteries’ (verse 5) is athleo, and is found only in this chapter. The great ‘fight of afflictions’ of Hebrews 10:32 is athlesis, and the context is entirely devoted to the alternatives of ‘going on unto perfection’ or of ‘drawing back unto waste’ (for this translation see Matthew 26:8). Sunathleo is found only in Philippians 1:27 and 4:3 where it is translated ‘striving together for the faith of the gospel’ and, ‘laboured with me in the gospel’. Now 2 Timothy is the epistle of the ‘Crown’, Philippians the epistle of the ‘Prize’, and Hebrews the epistle concerning those who, like Caleb and Joshua, being over twenty years of age, nevertheless ‘ran with patience the race set before them’.
The only features which the apostle brings forward in 2 Timothy as characteristic of the ‘good soldier’ equally characterize the ‘athlete’, the ‘wrestler’, and the ‘runner’. With this fact evident before us, are we not compelled to admit that this self-same limitation is intended in Ephesians 6, and that we must there, as elsewhere, see the contender in the games, the wrestler, and the overcomer?
Perhaps the word that sums up the idea more clearly than any other is ‘endure’. It comes in two forms in 2 Timothy 2. ‘Endure hardness’ and ‘suffer trouble’ of verses 3 and 9 are translations of kakopatheo, which recurs in 4:5 ‘endure afflictions’, and links the ministry of the evangelistwith the service of the soldier and the endurance of the athlete. In chapter 4 is a very definite wielding of the sword of the Spirit which required all the courage of the soldier and the endurance of the athlete.
The other word for endure in chapter 2 is found in verses 10 and 12: ‘I endure’ and, ‘If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him’. This Greek word is hupomeno, literally ‘to remain under’; the noun hupomone is translated ‘patience’. Patiently enduring evil is apparently one of the last thoughts of those militant wagers of prayer warfare, whose demands and assertions in ‘prayer’ have to be heard to be believed possible. Note the contrast between the fervid and well-nigh frenzied language used at one of these meetings (when the air is being cleansed of satanic powers, or the deliverance of a dupe of the devil is afoot) with the ‘bearing up under evil’ and the ‘gentleness’ and ‘meekness’ which is the Scriptural requirement of 2 Timothy 2:24-26.
In 2 Timothy 4:7 the apostle says: ‘I have fought a good fight’. The word ‘fight’ is agon, and ‘to fight’ is agonizomai. The same is true of 1 Timothy 6:12: ‘Fight the good fight of faith’, where agonand agonizomai are used. Hebrews 12:1 uses the same word agon, where it is translated ‘race’: ‘Let us run with patience the race that is set before us’. The next verse, speaking of Christ as the ‘Finisher’ of faith, finds an exact parallel in the words of 2 Timothy 4:7: ‘I have finished my course’. Here the word ‘course’ is dromos, which still survives in the word ‘hippodrome’, originally a ‘race-course for horses’.
Every added piece of information is leading to one conclusion, viz., that the word ‘wrestle’ in Ephesians 6 is in harmony with the dominant idea, and that the imagery of the armour must be adjusted to the thought of the athlete, and not over-weighed with military conceptions. This entirely harmonizes not only with the references to the ‘fight’ which we have just seen, but to the usage of ‘armour’ which we observed previously.
We must now ask the reader to turn to passages in 1 Timothy, for their contexts are illuminating. In chapter 3:7 the apostle speaks of the ‘snare of the devil’, which was connected with the manifest practice of the faith. In 6:9 he refers to the ‘snare and temptation’ again, this time speaking of those who would be rich. Urging Timothy to flee these things, he continues: ‘Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life’ (12). What are we to understand the apostle to mean here? Has he departed from his own teaching that eternal life is a gift? That cannot be.
Moreover, the same teaching reappears in verses 17 to 19. There, ‘uncertain riches’ are set aside, and the riches of ‘good works’ are urged in their stead, that by these a good foundation against the time to come may be laid up, and ‘that they may lay hold on eternal life’. Here we are evidently in the realm of Philippians. Here is one who is ‘working out’ the salvation already received. This exhortation is followed by another: ‘O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust’ (1 Tim. 6:20). This is exactly parallel with the closing words of 2 Timothy 4:7: ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith’; and we have already seen a close connection between Christ as the ‘Finisher of the faith’ and Paul as the ‘finisher of the course’.
The more we pursue this theme the more the evidence accumulates that the ‘fight’ of Ephesians 6 is the faithful maintaining against all odds of the glorious ‘deposit’ of truth revealed in Ephesians 1:3-14. We have shown in earlier pages that the structure of Ephesians places ‘all spiritual blessings’ (1:3-14) over against ‘the panoply of God’ and ‘spiritual wickednesses’ (6), and that the ‘worked in’ power of Ephesians 1:19 is the ‘worked out’ power of Ephesians 6:13. We must now leave this evidence with the reader, and pass on to the consideration of the attack that is in view in the conflict of Ephesians 6.
The whole armour of God is provided so that the believer shall be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, and in particular the shield of faith is given wherewith to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. What are these wiles? If the reader has consulted the writings of a certain school of teaching, he will know that the human mind and spirit are put upon the dissecting table, and the possibilities of demon control over every avenue is so insisted upon, that we can well believe that some timid readers would immediately develop half the mental diseases described. Our process is simpler, for we seek to know what God has written, and would stop where He has stopped.
Now the word ‘wiles’ is the translation of the Greek word methodeia, and as this word occurs only here and in Ephesians 4:14, we cannot expect to understand Paul’s second reference if we ignore the first. While the first reference is in a context sad beyond words, there is nothing of the demonism so often associated with the wiles of the devil in Ephesians 6, except as will be explained presently. Let us read 4:14:
We have translated methodeia ‘systematized’. There is some warrant for the freer rendering, ‘lie in wait to deceive’, for Aquila so uses methodeus when translating Exodus 21:13. There is certainly a ‘tossing’ and a ‘whirling’ mentioned, but not in the sense of a person possessed or demented. The meaning of the ‘tossing’ and the ‘whirling’ is explained as the result of that itching ear which cannot endure sound doctrine, but is carried away by any new ‘ism’ engineered by seducing spirits with their doctrines of demons. This is where to look for the ‘wiles’ of the devil and the attack of demons. Instead sometimes of spending several hours agonizing in prayer that the meeting place may be cleansed from all power of the enemy, it might be more effective if, say, the hymn books with their erroneous doctrine had been quietly destroyed. It is in the realm of false doctrine that the wiles of the devil are to be discovered. In chapter 4 these ‘wiles’ are not overcome by fighting, but by attaining to the measure of the perfect man, by being no longer children, by growing up into Christ in all things, by putting off the old man, by putting on the new, by putting off the lie and by speaking the truth, and by so walking in the power of that new life that no place shall be given to the devil.
We are now once more at the starting point. The soldier is the full-grown man. The conflict is around the truth entrusted to us; the object of the attack is to rob the believer of his Crown. Satan has no power over that life which is hid with Christ in God, and the believer is as secure as those who were hidden in the secret place of the Most High. The sphere of possible gain or loss is in the experimental outworking of the truth. There, one may be exhorted to ‘Lay hold on eternal life’; there, one may heed the warning, ‘Hold fast ... that no man take thy crown’, or as Paul has written to us: ‘Beware lest any man make a prey of you ... Let no man deprive you of your prize’ (Col. 2:8,18). The only way to meet this attack is the Scriptural one, and any that cannot stand the test of ‘chapter and verse’ should be rejected absolutely. What is the repeated safeguard of Colossians 2?
Here it will be seen that in opposition to these spoiled agents of the wicked one the believer stands in all the fulness of Christ. Moreover, these spoiled principalities are engaged in fastening upon the One Body the shadows of the past -- fasts, feasts, Sabbaths, or prohibitions such as ‘Touch not, taste not, handle not’, which, by engendering a spurious sanctity, only minister to the satisfying of the flesh. The whole armour of God can be summed up in the words of Colossians 3:11, ‘Christ is All’.
The ‘evil day’ of Ephesians 6:13 may be but one of the ‘evil days’ of Ephesians 5:16. As, however, there is a future day of redemption (4:30), so there may be a future evil day for which the present is a period of training, but of this we have no knowledge, and therefore we prefer to wait for light. We do know that upon the entry of Israel into their possessions one decisive victory took place, viz., the overthrow of Jericho, and that by faith and not by fighting. The analogy may hold good. There is yet to be war in the heavens between Michael and the dragon, but where Scripture is silent we cannot speak.
There is no thought in Ephesians 6 of the soldier fighting to obtain victory. That kind of doctrine suits the devil well, for it disguises the fact that he is already conquered, and that the believer, in Christ, is already ‘more than conqueror’. Praying and wrestling for victory are similar to the Old Testament instance of Hagar and Ishmael dying with thirst, with a well of water hard by. The Resurrection and Ascension of Christ spoiled ‘principalities and powers’, ‘led captivity captive’, placed all things under the feet of Christ, and seated the Church in the heavenlies.
The soldier of Christ ‘stands’ for all the truth of God against the lie, and in season and out of season he wields the sword of the Spirit by ‘preaching the Word’. We shall not serve the truth by going into more detail, but will leave these facts of Scripture with the reader, praying that both reader and writer may be led into all the truth, and that all that is ours in Christ we may ‘put on’. Then, by grace, ‘having worked out all’, may we stand.
Such is the position of the believer in the dispensation of the Mystery, and in this, as in many other ways, the dispensation of the Mystery is the most complete foreshadowing of the eternal state in the glorious exaltation far above all spiritual powers, including Satan himself. For other references to Satan viewed from a dispensational standpoint, the Parables of Matthew 13 should be studied, and for his final overthrow the Book of the Revelation must be read.