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"Relationships: A Matter of Spiritual Warfare Pt. 2"

In part one of this series we acknowledged the reality of spiritual warfare while observing that contemporary approaches to the subject tend to one extreme or another. However, the Scripture speaks of spiritual warfare in very practical terms. Paul treats the subject extensively in Ephesians, a letter addressing heavenly reality in terms of Hebrew cosmology. While hostile spiritual powers exist, Christ is far above these rulers of darkness. They are not independent powers competing equally with God for they derive their authority from Him.

Living According to Heavenly Reality

With this in mind, let us consider Paul’s purpose for framing this letter in terms of heavenly reality. The Apostle begins and ends this book with the expression “heavenly realms,” a phrase that serves as a set of topical bookends in Ephesians (cf. Eph 1:20, 6:12). From the very start, Paul beckons his readers to higher ground. He shifts the center of gravity from this world to the heavenly realms, the place of God’s kingdom. Throughout the first three chapters, we are continually summoned to the “heavenly regions” where we are introduced to ultimate reality. In the last three chapters, we discover that these heavenly realities form the very basis for the kind of lives we are called to live in this present world.

Our citizenship is now in the heavens. We are not of this world. We are of the age to come. Yet, this present evil age is the realm in which we now reside. Throughout Scripture, there is tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” We are already citizens of the kingdom of God, but we are not yet dwelling in the new heavens and the new earth. For that we must await the consummation of God’s kingdom. However, though we are strangers and pilgrims in this present realm, our identity is not of this world. Our manner of living is not to be formed by the spiritual powers that create the climate in which this world functions. Our identity and way of life is to be formed and fashioned in the third heaven! Our identity and our rule of life come to us from the realm of God’s presence.

Spiritual Warfare and the Precious Unity of God’s People

While Ephesians is set in the context of heavenly reality and cosmic conflict, one of the major recurring themes in this letter is Christian unity. In accordance with God’s electing love and eternal purpose, He is calling a people out of the world and unto Himself (cf. Eph 1). In Christ, God has destroyed the barrier that once separated Jew and Gentile. From these two peoples, God is making one new man, the body of Christ (cf. Eph 2). They are His family, sharers in His promise, a people unified for His glory (cf. Eph 3). Therefore, we are commanded to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. After all, we each stand in the same relationship to one body, one Spirit, one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father.

At this point the Apostle proceeds to instruct the Ephesians concerning their relationships with others, particularly those in the body of Christ. He addresses relationships in general, relationships in the worshipping community, and then, very specifically, familial relationships. It is immediately upon the heels of this instruction about relationships that Paul turns to our cosmic conflict. Spiritual warfare is set in the context of admonitions concerning these relationships. This is the particular battle that the Apostle has in mind. The world, under the destructive influence of wicked spiritual powers, governs its relationships through selfishness, false superiority, and pride. But Christians are not to march to the beat of this ungodly drum. Our marching orders come from a realm far above these rebellious principalities. Paul would not have the Ephesians ignorant of the fact that the enemy seeks to impose his wickedness upon the body of Christ as well. There is nothing he would like more than to disrupt the precious unity of God’s people. The rulers of darkness are waging war against these divinely designed relationships. Despite this unholy onslaught, we are called to stand but not in our own strength: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Eph 6:10).


The concerns of Scripture regarding our cosmic conflict are not eerie and mystical but very practical, focusing on our relationships. One can engage in “supposed” spiritual warfare while succumbing to the schemes of the enemy by yielding to temptations that damage God’s divinely designed relationships. The god of this world gains the upper hand if he can deceive Christians into thinking they are fighting spiritual battles when they are actually falling prey to his schemes. Spiritual warfare is real but only the Word of God can give us a proper understanding of what is entailed.

Next month, we will continue our examination of relationships and spiritual warfare in the book of Ephesians.

- Stan McGehee Jr