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From Ephesians 6:10-17 (NIV):

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I'm particularly interested in what verse 12 is referring to. Which struggle did Paul have in mind - our spiritual growth as individuals, the collective struggle of the church, or something else entirely?

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  • Sin or satan attacks individuals not church. It is all individualistic.
    – Michael16
    Apr 3, 2023 at 16:05
  • @Michael16 Not sure I follow... how does Satan not attack the church as a whole? Apr 3, 2023 at 16:06
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    It will be the same thing, if most individuals of a church fall into sin. The church is made up of persons. We cannot be responsible for the falling of others in the church but only for our own self.
    – Michael16
    Apr 3, 2023 at 16:10
  • The struggle is individualistic and collective at the same time. Paul used here an image of the Roman soldier. Each soldier had to be well-equipped. But as we know, the Roman legion fought not as a group of individual warriors, but as an organized unit. The famous testudo formation is the best example of their tactics. Apr 4, 2023 at 20:32
  • @ארקדיוס Excellent point. That could probably be an answer, actually. Apr 4, 2023 at 20:51

3 Answers 3

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The time Paul wrote these words he was a Roman prisoner, and asked for prayer that he would be able to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which he was an ambassador for. His struggle was against fear and retaliating in the flesh.

Instead he learned about the full armor of God, and being able to stand against the schemes of the slander.

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:19-20

He knew his real struggle was not against people i.e. flesh and blood, but was really against sovereignties, authorities, world, mights of this darkness, with a spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

People had put him in prison unjustly, yet he did not fight them. With all the accusations and slanders against him from people, putting him in chains, he learned about all that armor in those following verses, and particularly remembering to wear the shoes of peace wherever he was.

This is not our natural response when somebody does harm to us, especially unjustly. It seems that Christ is living his life through Paul in these persecutions.

Op asks; "Which struggle did Paul have in mind - our spiritual growth as individuals, the collective struggle of the church, or something else entirely?

The members of the body of Christ, all go through various struggles, and sufferings. There are various answers given throughout Paul's epistles on how to deal with specific ones. This particular battle seems to take place when he is speaking boldly while in prisoned as noted in Philippians, 1:12-14

I want you to know, brothers,that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Today, with all the evil in the world that seems to be progressing everywhere it is important to remember that our fight is not against flesh and blood. Otherwise, anger, and bitterness can rob one of their peace in God and our focus is distracted from things above where our true citizenship is.

I'm sure every believer can relate to this struggle. It is definitely something for each individual in the body of Christ to understand. Ephesians 6:10-17 is very important.

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Is not the answer to the OP's question contained explicitly in the passage quoted. Specifically, our struggle is against:

  • the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world
  • the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms
  • the flaming arrows of the evil one [ie, Satan]

Now, it must be readily admitted that such human struggles against invisible spiritual forces come in a wide variety of forms because Satan uses our numerous human weaknesses to attack us via at least three types of temptations:

1 John 2:15-17 - 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world

  • the desires of the flesh,
  • the desires of the eyes,
  • and the pride of life

—is not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world is passing away, along with its desires; but whoever does the will of God remains forever.

All temptation in this world is ultimately a personal struggle; even the collective struggle of the church is based on a collection of individual struggles about how the church should be governed, its mission and who should lead, etc, etc.

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We may note that the Ephesians 6:10-17 is a theme of warfare. When enemy attacked, the front line defensive soldiers must stand still to hold fast the line of battle. The source of struggle is seen in verse 12, represents the attacking enemy. However, Paul is concerning the believers of Jesus, as the defensive soldiers, are they capable to stand their ground? He repeated the word 'stand' four times in the passage.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The real struggle of Christian is the question 'Are we capable to stand our ground against Satan's attack?' As Paul knew, 'not everyone has faith' (2 Thessalonians 3:2). Therefore we need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10), because 'the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.' (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

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