A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:10-12. 1). The enemy we face (continued).
Thirdly, they are cunning. Paul writes here of *the wiles of the devil* (verse 11), having declared in a previous letter ‘we are not ignorant of his designs’ or (NIV) ‘schemes’ (2 Cor.2:11). G.B.Caird finds the English word *wiles* ‘slightly disparaging’, as if Paul ‘did not take the devil seriously’, and ‘hardly in keeping with the sustained military metaphor’. Instead, he suggests that ‘”stratagems” would give the required combination of tactical shrewdness and ingenious deception’. It is because the devil seldom attacks openly, preferring darkness to light, that when he transforms himself into ‘an angel of light’ (2 Cor. 11:14) we are caught unsuspecting. He is a dangerous wolf, but enters Christ’s flock in the disguise of a sheep. Sometimes he roars like a lion, but more often is as subtle as a serpent (1 Pet.5:8; Gn, 3:1). We must not imagine, therefore, that open persecution and open temptation to sin are his only or even his commonest weapons; he prefers to seduce us into compromise and deceive us into error. Significantly this same word ‘wiles’ is used in 4:14 of false teachers and their crafty tricks. As in Bunyan’s *Holy War*, writes E.K.Simpson, the devil develops ‘a twofold infernal policy’. That is, ‘the tactics of intimidation and insinuation alternate in Satan’s plan of campaign. He plays both the bully and the beguiler. Force and fraud form his chief offensive against the camp of the saints, practised by turns.’
The ‘wiles of the devil’ take many forms, but he is at his wiliest when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist. To deny his reality is to expose ourselves the more to his subtlety. Dr Lloyd-Jones expresses his conviction on this matter in the following terms: ‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his “fiery darts”.’
In Paul’s characterization of them, then, the powers of darkness are powerful, wicked and cunning. How can we expect to stand against the assaults of such enemies? It is impossible. We are far too weak and too ingenuous. Yet many – if not most – of our failures and defeats are due to our foolish self-confidence when we either disbelieve or forget how formidable our spiritual enemies are.
Only the power of God can defend and deliver us from the might, the evil and the craft of the devil. True, the principalities and powers are strong, but the power of God is stronger. It is his power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead and enthroned him in heavenly places, and which has raised us from the death of sin and enthroned us with Christ. True, it is in those same heavenly places, in that same unseen world, that the principalities and powers are working (verse 12). But they were defeated at the cross and are now under Christ’s feet and ours. So the invisible world in which they attack us and we defend ourselves is the very world in which Christ reigns over them and we reign with him. When Paul urges us to draw upon the power, might and strength of the Lord Jesus (verse 10), he uses exactly the same trio of words which he used in 1:19 (*dynamis, kratos and ischus*) in relation to God’s work of raising Jesus from the dead.
Two exhortations stand side by side. The first is general: *Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might* (verse 10). The second is more specific: *Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil* (verse 11). Both commands are conspicuous examples of the balanced teaching of Scripture. Some Christians are so self-confident that they think they can manage by themselves without the Lord’s strength and armour. Others are so self-distrustful that they imagine they have nothing to contribute to their victory in spiritual warfare. Both are mistaken. Paul expresses the proper combination of divine enabling and human co-operation. The power is indeed the Lord’s, and without *the strength of his might* we shall falter and fall, but still we need to *be strong* in him and in it, or more accurately to ‘be strengthened’. For the verb is a passive present which could almost be rendered “Strengthen yourselves in the Lord’ or (NEB) ‘Find your strength in the Lord’. It is the same construction as in 2 Timothy 2:1 where Paul exhorts Timothy to ‘take strength from the grace of God which is ours in Christ Jesus’ (NEB). Similarly, the armour is God’s and without it we shall be fatally unprotected and exposed, but still we need to take it up and put it on. Indeed we should do so piece by piece, as the apostle goes on to explain in verses 13 to 17.