Read Ephesians 6:10-20. What is Paul saying about the kind of warfare the church is engaged in? Is Paul primarily depicting just an individual believer’s spiritual battle against evil, or the church’s corporate war against evil?
Victory in Greek and Roman warfare was dependent on the cooperation of the soldiers in a military unit and especially in their support for each other in the heat of battle. Individualism in battle was regarded as a characteristic of barbarian warriors, dooming them to defeat.
There are important reasons to support the idea that Paul, in line with this usual military understanding, is primarily addressing the church’s shared battle against evil in Ephesians 6:10-20; 1. The passage is the climax of a letter that is all about the church. It would be strange for Paul to conclude his letter with a picture of a lone Christian warrior doing battle against the foes of darkness; 2. At the end of the passage, Paul highlights Christian camaraderie in his call to prayer “for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18-20, ESV); 3. Most significant of all, earlier in the letter when Paul discusses the powers of evil, he places them over against the church, not the individual believer: “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10, ESV).
Thus, Ephesians 6:10-20 does not portray a solitary, lone warrior confronting evil. Instead, Paul as a general addresses the church as an army. He calls us to take up our full armor and, as a unified army, vigorously and unitedly press the battle. Paul chooses to conclude his thoroughgoing emphasis on the church, which has included sustained descriptions of the church as the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23; Ephesians 4:1-16), the building/temple of God (Ephesians 2:19-22) and the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:21-33), with a final metaphor, the church as the army of the living God. Since we are approaching “the evil day” (Ephesians 6:13), the final stages of the long-running battle against evil, it is no time to be fuzzy about our commitment to God or our loyalty to one another as fellow soldiers of Christ.
In what ways can we, as a corporate body, work together in the great controversy, in order to help each other in our struggles against evil, in whatever form it comes?