The topic of spiritual battle can intimidate us, sometimes so much that it clouds our understanding of the Bible’s teaching on the subject. Let us use a classic spy scene to help us understand and enjoy Ephesians 6:10-18, that we may enter spiritual battle with clear confidence in the Lord and humility regarding our role.
Every spy movie has one scene that’s my favorite: the moment the hero’s support team equips him for the climactic conflict. You probably recognize it. In a private room, whether it be in a cave accessed only by an elevator that drops 10 stories underground, or a luxury penthouse suite in Dubai, the team of technological geniuses briefs our hero about all the gadgets and weapons they have custom built for him, something sounding like this:
“Your pen – click the top to shoot tear gas. Wear this belt – press the buckle to fire tranquilizing darts. Your glasses are equipped with night vision lenses, enabling you to see in pitch-blackness. Tug this button and your suit jacket will release a parachute….“
The brevity of instructions reflects the pressure of the moment. There is no time to waste. The long-awaited battle approaches imminently. Our nerves, as audience members, are offset by our assurance that the genius team has wisely anticipated and creatively addressed every threat imaginable. The tone is serious, sobering, and empowering. As we witness the display of gadgets, this scene serves a specific purpose: it gives us confidence that our hero can overcome anything put in his path.
My favorite spy scene serves as a rough parallel to a well-known passage on the whole armor of God, Ephesians 6:10-18. This passage serves a similar purpose for its original audience and for us, namely, to give confidence that God has thoroughly equipped us for any spiritual battle we may face. The passage comes in a similar part of the letter as my favorite spy scene comes in the movie, just before the end. In the letter to the Ephesians, doctrinal truths in chapters 1-3 provide the basis for a series of commands in chapters 4-6. The commands reach their crescendo in the latter half of chapter 6 when Paul calls the Ephesian believers to put on the whole armor of God. Listen to the rhythm and progression of this pre-battle pep talk and its parallels to the spy scene:
First Paul cases the situation: they face a cosmic battle requiring complete spiritual armor so that they can stand firm.
“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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-13).
Having established the grand scope of the scene, Paul then details, almost in bullet point style, the specific spiritual weapons the Ephesians have to use. Paul does not allow theological tangents at this point in the letter. The tone is comparatively curt conveying the urgency of the matter:
“Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
Lastly, Paul calls them to keep in mind the rest of the “team,” coordinating how they are to support each other from their different positions:
“To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph. 6:18b-20).
Paul makes it clear that no one fights alone. Each person’s battle is part of a coordinated effort.
In these three sections — the setting of the scene, the detailing of the armor, and the call to persevere and pray for each other — this well-known passage on spiritual warfare is precursor to the classic spy scene in tone and impact. As we explore the parallel between this passage and the spy scene, our familiarity with the spy scene can help us better understand this passage and through that, the spiritual warfare we face.