Ten years ago we might have imagined that it was a conflict between capitalism and Communism. Not long after that we saw Communism breaking down in many parts of the world. Who could have imagined then that Communism would crumble in the Soviet Union? And yet it did, through a series of unexpected and amazing events!
Does that mean that the conflict was over in Russia and the former Soviet republics? Whatever we thought as the events unfolded, it is clear to us now that there are many continuing problems. The repression of Communism had held back both evil and good. Civil rights and freedoms would not guarantee the viability and integrity of the new regime.
Over twenty years ago I read an article written by a Romanian Baptist pastor and released to the Western media. Communism had promised, he said, that repressive measures would be needed in society for thirty years. After this, the "socialist man" would have been created - content and compliant - and the restrictions would be able to be lifted. He challenged the Romanian government, "Where is the socialist man you promised?"
For all the evils of Communism - particularly savage in Romania - the new freedom has not been the end of the struggle.
Down across the years, I have heard many theories about an underlying conspiracy in the world. For some it has been the Communist, for others the capitalist or the international Jew or the Catholic or the Protestant... - always, by the way, not the speaker's group!
Paul doesn't deny the involvement of particular people and groups in the struggle. But it is too simple and comfortable to say that the problem is "over there" with that group. Note that Paul is warning us about "the devil's schemes" (v. 11) - "the devil's evil tricks", as the Good News Bible puts it.
Do you know that the devil is a liar? Jesus called him the father of lies - he is the one who inspires them all! Do you ever tell lies? You thought you were being clever. You got what you wanted. Or you got yourself out of trouble. But you were tricked. The devil got you that time, didn't he? The struggle isn't only out there - it is "in here" too!
Part of the devil's trickery is that he has already been beaten when Jesus died on the cross! He doesn't want us to know that. He doesn't want us to believe that. Because he and his spiritual forces are destined for the eternal fire, he's determined to take as many with him as he can.
That's why we have this struggle "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (v. 12).
The devil is beaten, but he doesn't want us to believe in Jesus as our Saviour. He doesn't want us to live an effective Christian life. He doesn't want us to spread the good news of Jesus.
The belt tied tightly around the waist showed the soldier was ready for action. It gathered in the tunic and helped keep the breastplate in place. It carried the scabbard for the sword.
The breastplate covered the body from neck to thigh. It was the heart-protector - usually made of bronze.
According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the soldier's strong army boots were "thickly studded with sharp nails." Roman armies were noted for being able to take long marches over rough terrain at amazing speed.
The soldier needed a shield for protection. The Great Shield, as it was called, was body-length. It was made of two layers of wood glued together, covered with linen and hide and bound with iron. Soldiers could move forward together towards a fortified city under a wall of shields. They were safe from the enemy's incendiary darts tipped in pitch. The shield also served for carrying a wounded soldier from the battlefield.
To protect his head, he wore a helmet made of bronze with leather attachments.
His weapon was a sword - a short two-edged sword. He also carried a spear, though this doesn't figure in Paul's description.
That's it! Paul thought. We are involved in a struggle "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." We need the protection of God's full armour.
"Stand, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist" (v. 14a).
Already Paul has said that we are no longer to be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." Instead we are to "speak the truth in love" (4.14-15). Our new life as children of the light is to be "in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus" (v. 21). No more dishonesty, corruption, deception... Our lives are to be consistent with God's revealed purposes, flowing from his redemptive truth in Jesus Christ. Both the breastplate of righteousness and the sword of the Spirit depend on the truth.
We are to stand firm "with the breastplate of righteousness in place" (v. 14b). In our society, righteousness has rather a bad name. It makes us think of someone rather smug and superior. Righteousness is "rightness". That is the character of God. None of us can claim it about ourselves. In Romans Paul concludes that "there is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3.10). As he said earlier in the present letter, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2.8-9). We are made right (righteous) only by grace, only by what God has done for us in Christ. But the purpose of God's grace is to lead to transformation - "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (v. 10). So the breastplate of righteousness protects our life because it is our status before God in Christ our Saviour, but it also expresses the character of our heavenly Father before the world.
We are to stand firm "with our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace" (6.15). Christ himself "is our peace" (2.14). "He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near" (v. 18). Isaiah said, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' " (Is. 52.7). This gospel of peace is important preparation for the struggle - it is the only sure foothold for the campaign in which we are engaged. It also offers good news to all we meet.
"In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph. 6.16). "In addition to all this" could mean "to cover all the rest" (E.F. Scott) or "through thick and thin" (William Barclay). Faith is our active dependence on the truth of who God is and what he has done for us. The attacks of the evil one - whether through accusation, temptation, doubt, discouragement... - can have no effect when the shield of faith protects us.
"Take the helmet of salvation" (v. 17a). Our minds and our thinking are to be controlled by what God has done for us in Christ.
"...and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God"(v. 17b). When Jesus was tempted, he used the words of Scripture to counter the enticing suggestions of the tempter (Matt. 4.4-10). The Word of God - the Scripture - is God's revelation of his nature, his purposes, his redemptive love... It is a weapon used by the Spirit for both defence and attack.
Don't stop praying! Remember that we have to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. We need strength beyond our own, wisdom beyond our own -it is not a battle against flesh and blood.
Pray "in the Spirit." As Barclay says, "Let the Spirit be the atmosphere in which you pray." Build up your relationship with God. Be open to him! Listen to his word! Seek his will! So it's beyond you - bigger, harder than you thought? Then be strong in the Lord - committed to his will, yet knowing that, apart from him, you can't do it!
Paul, the "ambassador in chains", requests prayer for himself (vv. 19-20). He isn't requesting release from prison, but that he will declare the gospel "fearlessly".
The letter is being sent with Tychicus (vv. 21-22) who was also carrying the letter to Colossae (Col. 4.7-9) and a personal letter to Philemon.
"Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 6.23). There is a struggle on in this world. We are actively engaged in it, but we are called to "peace and love" - to receive them "with faith" from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, to live them out in Christian fellowship, to reach out with them to others.
"Peace", "love" and "faith" are three of the key words in the epistle, but then he adds a fourth - "Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus with an undying love" (v. 24). The letter began with praise to God "who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (1.3). It concludes with a benediction of God's grace - his unmerited favour, freely given to us in Christ.
Peace, love, faith and grace... There is a struggle, but Christ has won the victory! Look up and don't give up!