Encountering evil

The New Testament contains over 2500 allusions and quotations from the Old Testament. The bottomline is the New Testament writers seem to expect us to know the Old Testament well.

Such an understanding is repeatedly rewarded. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is no exception. In this letter the apostle describes God’s foray into overcoming evil and how we are to be at work serving our Lord in a dark world. Before we consider what Paul wrote, let’s take a look at part of this letter’s background

Isaiah 59 invites us to gaze at a spiritual landscape where evil has so impacted people that:

we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom” (Isaiah 59:9).

Justice is nowhere to be found. No one is capable of bringing transformation and rescue.

So God took matters into his own hands. “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isaiah 59:17). Into such darkness God would stride equipped to bring salvation.

Fast-forward hundreds of years to the quill of Paul’s amanuensis scribbling out Ephesians. What Paul dictated to his assistant would not only echo Isaiah 59, it would also build to a conclusion based upon its ideas.

The opening three chapters of Ephesians outline God’s plan and work through Christ for us. God is the constant subject. The verbs reveal God’s actions to defeat evil and reorder people according to his will.

In these early chapters we learn God had a plan as well as the power to address our spiritual landscape. It would not stretch the context to say this is a picture of God suited up for action. We were dead in sin.  We served the evil ruler of the air. However, through Christ, God’s power could raise us up with Christ empowering us with new life. Furthermore, God’s plan involved gathering us together into a unified body of humanity called the church.

Having laid this foundation of what God is accomplishing in our world, the last three chapters shift the focus to who we are to be in view of God’s activity toward us. We are to maintain God’s work using the gifts Christ has provided. We should not grieve the Spirit by undermining God’s achievements. How could we undermine God’s work? Engage in divisive evil behavior.

Having provided general principles for all Christians, Paul then drilled down into some details. Different social roles call for specific godly attitudes and behaviors.

Following these tailored messages for different social groupings, Paul’s message builds to a summary crescendo for all of God’s people.

“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. 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” (Ephesians 6:12).

God is the one who has overcome evil. God is the one who makes us alive with Christ. And now as God’s people, we need to be aware we live in a spiritual landscape of conflict. And just as God suited up for action in Isaiah 59, so too we are to prepare ourselves for the conflict.

The message is clear. We need to reflect God’s preparation in order that we might stand firm.

For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.

God has established his beachhead of light in a world of darkness. We are to maintain and stand firm in what God has provided. We should not retreat nor grant the enemy any foothold.

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