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"Relationships: A Matter of Spiritual Warfare Pt.1"

Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

I once saw a reproduction of an ancient maritime map. On one edge there was a crudely drawn coastline, littered with identifying marks and labels for key areas. On the other side, the sea ran to the edge of the map. Along that edge, the mapmaker attempted to identify the open sea (which was beyond the knowledge of his experience) with the same confidence with which he had labeled the coastline. He had scripted this warning: “Here be beasties and demons.” Human beings have always had a sense that there is some realm of reality that transcends their present experience. And, many people are enamored with the prospect of exploring and defining that realm. According to Scripture, such a realm does exist. However, it is not a dimension readily given to human observation. Nor is it a realm immediately accessible through our common, day-to-day experiences. Despite this fact, many people, Christian and non-Christian alike, insist on clumsily tramping where angels fear to tread. Like that ancient mapmaker, they are determined to identify and label some realm of “beasties and demons.”

IAccording to Scripture, believers are engaged in a spiritual conflict. However, among Christians today, there is far too much speculation about this “cosmic warfare.” One of the most extensive treatments of this subject in the New Testament is found in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Yet, he offers precious little information of the sort that would satiate the appetites of those obsessed with this subject. To compensate for this scarcity of biblical data, Christians often resort to wild imagination and eccentric speculation in their efforts to define the nature of this “spiritual warfare.” At the local Christian gift mart, one will find books, novels, and even technical manuals on the subject. Regrettably, most of this material is far more concerned with the eerie and mysterious metaphysical aspects of spiritual warfare than with the actual intent of the biblical writers. The end result is that many Christians, oblivious to the real battle, waste their time and energy playing “war games” with the enemy. They busy themselves, fighting supposed battles for health and wealth, while eternal issues are surrendered without so much as a struggle. In Ephesians, there is a cosmic conflict, but it is waged in the realm of relationships.

The Cosmology of Ephesians

The book of Ephesians has a definite cosmic scope. The entire letter is set in the context of heavenly reality as Paul employs the language of Hebrew cosmology. Whether the Apostle believed that this cosmology was an accurate way of viewing the tangible structure of the universe is another question entirely. Nonetheless, Paul speaks to his audience in terms they could understand (the Apostle was writing an epistle to the church, not a textbook consistent with post-enlightenment scientific biases). In this framework, the earth is seen as the realm inhabited by human beings; it is the physical sphere in which their lives are lived. This is the realm of terrestrial creaturely existence. Above the earth is the first heaven, which contains the sun, the moon, and the stars. The second heaven is the region of evil and wicked powers. These principalities exercise great influence in the earth. They control the spirit of the age. These celestial powers rally fallen humanity in rebellion against God. In other words, this is the realm where the attitudes and inclinations of the present evil age are determined (cf. Eph 2:2). Finally, the third heaven denotes the very presence of God (cf. 2 Cor 12).

eople often have difficulty with passages that deal with this kind of subject matter because they are either committed to a naturalistic worldview or, at the opposite extreme, to a worldview that is inordinately mystical. In a naturalistic worldview, such beings as angels, demons, principalities, and powers simply cannot exist. Nothing exists except that which is physical and material. On the other hand, those who hold to an excessively mystical worldview spend all of their time attempting to perceive a world of supernatural “beasties and demons.” Neither worldview is consistent with Scripture. Paul does not waste his energy speculating about these spiritual realms. While he was “caught up” into the third heaven, he did not dwell on such things in his writings. He never wasted ink elaborating on these kinds of experiences. It seems as though the Apostle wanted us to be aware of the existence of these realms without becoming obsessed with them. The important question is what God intended for us to learn from these references.

What can we discover from the Ephesian references to these spiritual realms? First of all, there is a hierarchical order of power and influence. Above the earth and the first heaven is the second heaven, the sphere of the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2). This is the dwelling place of hostile powers that oppose God and exert influence within the material world of creation. Then there is the third heaven where Christ is enthroned, a realm “far above” these hostile powers (Eph 1:21). This is the Apostle’s point. These wicked powers, these enemies of God and His church, are not independent forces competing with God on an equal level. They are but creations of God that derive their very authority from Him. And Christ our Lord, who is the head of His body (cf. Eph 1:10, 22; 4:15), is the Sovereign whose dominion and authority is far above such principalities and powers. In Ephesians, the most important truth about “spiritual warfare” is the fact that Christ is incomparably superior to every foe. This is why John can say with all assurance, “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (cf. 1 John 4:4). As Jesus encouraged His disciples, we should be confident and live at peace because our Savior has already “overcome the world” (cf. John 16:33).


The notion of spiritual warfare has been exaggerated and sensationalized. Far too many Christians are taken with the speculative aspects of spiritual warfare. Questions about how demons transport themselves, whether they sit on people’s shoulders, what they look like, or if one can speak with them are of little consequence. As Christians, we simply need to know that God is not only superior to the powers of darkness, they are under His sovereign authority. The subject should not promote fear in the hearts of God’s people nor should it distract them from their ultimate purpose. There may be “beasties and demons” but they have already been defeated by Christ.

Next month we will continue our consideration of this subject by examining Paul’s purpose in framing his letter to the Ephesians in such cosmic terms as we ultimately seek to discover God’s purpose for instructing us in the matter of spiritual warfare.

- Stan McGehee Jr