Interlude: This Ordinary, Cosmic War

Rather than proceeding directly into Ephesians 4, as I originally had planned to do. I believe that a brief interlude would be helpful for us before launching into the second half of the book. As I have noted before, the plan is to study Ephesians in three sections: chapters 1-3 were called Kingdom Come since they describe how the kingdom has come to us, 4:1-6:9 will be called Kingdom Life since they reveal how we are to live as citizens of God’s kingdom, and 6:10-24 will be called Kingdom War since Paul explains how we are to fight against the domain of darkness.

But even though I see these as being three distinct sections of the letter, we must constantly remember that Paul’s epistle is marvelously unified. Next week, we will discuss a bit more on how the two halves of Ephesians are connected, so today I would like to chart the course for how the two remaining sections of our study fit together. How do Kingdom Life and Kingdom War go together?

Ephesians 4-5 is punctuated five times by the word walk. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17). “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). “Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise” (Ephesians 5:15).

In each of these cases, walk is used a metaphor for life. To walk in a manner worthy of our calling does not mean placing one foot in front of the other in a particular way; instead, it means to live a life worthy of the calling that we have received. The same is true with no longer walking as the Gentiles do, with walking in love, and with walking wisely and carefully. And the content of this section of Ephesians reflects this notion, since within it Paul discusses church unity, growing into maturity, killing our deceitful desires, speaking truth, fencing our anger, doing honest labor, destroying covetousness, singing and giving thanks, honoring and loving our spouse, obeying parents, disciplining children, and working for the Lord rather than for men.

In other words, Kingdom Life may be summarized into two verses from other writings of Paul:

1 Corinthians 10:31 | So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Colossians 3:17 | And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Kingdom War, on the other hand, can be pretty explicitly summarized by three verses:

Ephesians 6:10–12 |Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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.

Two large ideas are, therefore, present: 1) that we are to do everything, no matter how insignificant, to the glory of God and 2) that we are present and active participants in an ongoing spiritual and cosmic war. One is grand and epic in its scope, while the other addresses tasks as ordinary as our daily acts of eating, drinking, speaking, and working. How then do these two ideas meet one another?

Both have worship as their central element. This is why Ephesians 1-3, which began with worship, ended with worship, and in between gave us reasons for worship, cannot be left behind as we continue onward. The centrality of worship in doing all things for the glory of God and in the name of Jesus is hopefully quite obvious. To give God glory is to worship Him, to acknowledge Him as the Glorious One. Therefore, even our eating and drinking must be done in worship of the almighty Creator who gives us our daily bread.

The centrality of worship in spiritual warfare, however, might not be as immediately evident. Yet the first overt spiritual battle involving humanity was undeniably about worship. In Genesis 3, Satan as a serpent deceived Eve into doubting the goodness of God’s commands and even into attempting to usurp God’s throne. Although created a little lower in glory than the angels, God bestowed upon humanity the distinct privilege of being like Him, of bearing His image. And even with the supreme generosity of God being clearly seen through His delegating dominion over the earth to mankind, Satan still convinced Eve that God was selfishly hoarding power and authority for Himself. The Tower of Babel, likewise, provides graphic imagery and a replay of the original Fall. We tried to ascend to the heavens only to be brought lower, as a result, than we previously were. Adam and Eve, thinking themselves to be wise, became fools.

And the pattern continues still. Like our ancestors Adam and Eve, we continuously reject our privileged position as worshipful servants of God in order to attempt becoming gods ourselves. Indeed, modern Satanism understands the primary tactic of our enemy all too well. Although delighted to be worshiped himself, Satan is more than content with God not being worshiped. His goal in Eden was to dethrone God, not to explicitly (that’s a key word) exalt himself. He portrays himself as the liberator of humanity from God’s tyrannical rule. While God commands us to love Him with all our heart, soul, and might, Satan commands “do what thou wilt.” Whose command, therefore, is burdensome?

If you haven’t noticed, the slogans of our present day are essentially the same: you do you, just be you, live your true self, etc. We could call this, as Owen Strachan does, the resurgence of paganism, a kind of neopaganism, but essentially the idolatry of the past ages has taken off its poorly constructed mask to reveal what it was all along: a worship of self.

From this platform, it is not surprising that we are also witnessing the rise of Materialist Magicians. While rereading The Screwtape Letters, I was struck by Lewis’ prediction of “Materialist Magicians” through the sly and deceitful mouth of the demon Screwtape. A magician, as Lewis defined in the preface, belongs to the old guard of paganism, one with an unhealthy, perhaps even worshipful, interest in spirits or, as is more scientifically credible today, interdimensional beings. The materialist, however, rejects the spiritual realm altogether in favor of empirical data.[1] Screwtape views both the materialist and magician as being in his favor, yet he longs for the day when Materialist Magicians can be created, that is, someone rejects the existence of spiritual realities while at the same time worshiping “what he vaguely calls ‘Forces’” (31-32).

As self-actualization becomes the ultimate goal, the heavenly ideal (or perhaps better described, the nirvanic state), the “worship” of those vague Forces is increasingly common. For instance, thanksgiving is not viewed within the context of the sovereign Creator who chosen to bless His creatures as Ephesians 5:20 shows us; rather, gratitude is a mystical force to tap into each day for a happier and better life. More and more are glad to describe themselves as being spiritual but not religious because being religious implies that one must submit to a system of belief instead constructing one’s own belief system.

It is impossible not to worship, even when the object of worship is self. And this daily worship is the battleground of spiritual warfare, the field on which we champion either the kingdom of God or the domain of darkness. Although we may understand that spiritual warfare today is not filled with exorcisms and rebuking strongholds, we nonetheless often limit this warfare to what we deem to be overtly spiritual activities. We fight the “spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places” each Sunday morning as we gather together to sing against the darkness and submit ourselves to the Word of the true and living God. Amen! We fight “against the schemes of the devil” by daily going before our Father in prayer and studying His Word, the sword of the Spirit. Amen! We push back “this present darkness” by declaring the good news so that more and more are called “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Amen and Amen!

We should, however, not deceive ourselves in believing that the battle is limited to such things, as essential as they may be; instead, we must understand that everything, even eating, drinking, marriage, and parenting, is an act of war. Every word spoken and deed accomplished is either for the glory of God or not. We either give the King of Glory the honor due His name, or we deny the splendor of His majesty. How so?

Take turning on a lightbulb as an example. In many ways, technology has usurped the role of magic in paganism since both are an attempt to bend the world to our will. Technology, however, is not inherently sinful, but it can easily be used for sinful means. Building a tower is not a sin, but the building of the Tower of Babel certainly was. In the same way, electricity has enabled marvelous advances in civilization, yet it can also be used for sin. Each time we flip a light switch, we are either obeying God or rebelling against Him. For instance, electric lighting is used in a myriad of ways as an exercise of human dominion over a sin-scarred world (the ability to light up emergency rooms being a particularly beneficial one). But just as easily we can buy into the subtle deception that because we can flip on a light, we can also make our own schedules and that we can bypass the creaturely limitations of sleep. In other words, turning on a light can either reflect that we are God’s stewards over the earth or the belief that we do not need Him.

We could, however, use literally any other of our actions or realms of life as an example. Of course, the media that we willingly choose to ingest is ripe for pondering. Thinly veiled beneath catchy pop tunes often lies the presently[2] foundational ideologies of our society. Or for all the (rightful) denouncing of pornography, many Christians find no qualms with a bit of nudity in their entertainment, even though that is the unclothing of a real woman (or man) before the indirect eyes of millions of people. Without thinking (which is part of the overall problem), we can easily find ourselves walking “in the counsel of the wicked”, standing “in the way of sinners”, and sitting “in the seat of scoffers” through the entertainment that we consume.

The primary point is that this grand cosmic war is being fought on shockingly ordinary fronts. We should, therefore, “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Every word and deed (or turning on of a light or song listened to or movie watched), no matter how ordinary matters eternally.

Of course, I do not by any of this mean that our salvation depends upon doing everything to the glory of God; rather, we are saved by Jesus’ perfect obedience to the Father and His undeserved death in our place. Our righteousness, therefore, is not grounded in our own merit but upon the merit of Jesus our Lord. Indeed, none of this makes sense without the wonders of salvation displayed in Ephesians 1-3. Yet Jesus’ obedience in place of our disobedience does not license us to continue in our rejection of God and His commands. Rather, having now been justified entirely by faith alone, we are liberated to walk freely in obedience to God and to repent and find forgiveness when we fail, even when we do so time and time again. The gospel does not invalidate our doing all things to the glory of God; it is, instead, the foundation for doing so.

We ought to do all things in the confidence that the same God who has (note the past tense) redeemed us will also “unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10), including us in our resurrected and glorified bodies. We stand confident that on the cross the decisive battle of the war has been won and that total victory is both imminent and inevitable. So each day, each hour, each moment, we submit ourselves to God “as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1), walking “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). We must, therefore, grasp the realities of Psalm 1: that life is a choice between submissive meditation and delight in God’s Word or the fleeting vanities found in the company of the wicked. We must understand that “be careful little eyes what you see” is actually a battle cry.

This is how we wage warfare against the enemy, by speaking the truth in love, bearing with one another in love, refusing to let our anger lead to sin, replacing crude joking and foolish talk with thanksgiving, singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts, loving our spouse and children, and working as though Jesus Himself is our employer. God’s kingdom is growing like a mustard seed and spreading like leaven throughout even the smallest moments of our days. Ephesians, therefore, teaches us how we must understand our place within this ordinary, cosmic war.

[1] I would argue that the recent rise of flat-earth theorists and the like are simply the materialist mindset taken to the Nth degree. Many flat-earthers, after all, essentially hold their ground on the notion that unless they could see the earth as round with their own eyes, they refuse to believe it. Thus, they have limited the reliability of empirical data to only what is immediately perceptible by their own senses.

[2] I say presently because the very nature of these ideologies is that shift here and there, to and fro.

This is an expanded and edited version of a previous sermon.


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