For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
How seriously do you take this verse? It can not be easily passed over. It carries great implications for the follower of Jesus Christ in Paul's day. I believe it also carries great implications for followers even in our modern times. Is our struggle against flesh and blood? There are a few other places were Paul makes it clear how we must treat others, even our enemies, with love. Today the larger population of believers, who are citizens of God's kingdom, would say that we are struggling with enemies of flesh and blood, every day. They would be correct, at least in the false reality that is the narrative of our worldly system. We are continually at war with one nation or the other without going into facts and figures which can easily be found. We know that we are. We struggle on every level of human existence in every conceivable way either physically, verbally, or otherwise. Such struggles seem to be at the very core of humanity. It seems inconceivable that we would ever just rest in peace apart from death.
As "new creatures in Christ", are we right in our struggles? Are we justified? The answers seem so complex but perhaps they are too much so. I can not answer for you or anyone else and many, if not most, would think I am incorrect and for various theological reasons would disagree with me. I take the words, "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh" to mean that I have no struggle, whatsoever, against any human being anywhere on this planet. This has not always been my thought but it is now and I take it more seriously with each passing day.
It is hard to see this when much of Christianity is wrapped up in the politics of the worlds system more than they are in Jesus. Violence is an accepted means of resolving issues on every level of our society from abortion to the mass destruction of other nation's peoples. We always find reasons to justify our actions on each violent level. We are very good at this, it comes with cold, hard, efficiency. Not that we do not have second, third, or even fourth thoughts and various types of planning, but when it comes down to it, we act with singular purpose. Perhaps we really are not ready for true discipleship at any cost. Many that have come before us were prepared, at any cost, and many paid it for the sake of the light.
What about the verses that follow? Paul describes the weapons of war against cosmic powers as weapons that were used in his time. The mention of these weapons is not in some way condoning their use, but are to offer some idea of the seriousness of the battle being waged. Paul had no thought of the reader picking up a sword and fighting a corresponding earthly enemy that mirrored a celestial beast. No, Paul had in mind that they dropped their weaponry, of any kind, right then and there and pick up weapons of light to fight the real battle. For me, it is absolutely certain that this is the case today as well.
Faith, the gospel of peace, salvation, truth, and righteousness, these are weapons of light. They are weapons of offense and defense as are a sword and shield. Light overcomes darkness. How does this happen? Darkness was found in Genesis 1 and God overcame it with a word, "let there be light", and it was defeated. A picture of this is given in creation, the spinning of our world to bring day and night. The Psalmists reflects that the night is sorrowful but joy is coming with the rising sun. Throughout the bible we find the play between light and darkness. I believe this battle was at it's peak in Jesus and Paul's day; about to come to a dramatic conclusion.
Romans 12:20-21 The Passion Translation
And: If your enemy is hungry, buy him lunch! Win him over with kindness. For your surprising generosity will awaken his conscience, and God will reward you with favor. (21) Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.
When you fight evil with evil, sword against sword, then evil wins, always. I know this translation might sound simplistic, but isn't that the idea? The road to conflict has early beginnings, opportunities that must not be squandered. It would be mistaken to expect, as a human being, that evil will never be used to fight evil in the world. It is our duty as followers of Jesus Christ to be different than the world, it is our duty to fight evil with good. The duty is serious, it is hard, and it is expected.
Paul relies on the Shema in the next chapter of Romans, 13:10. 'Love my neighbor as myself'.
Romans 13:10-12 The Passion Translation
Love makes it impossible to harm another, so love fulfills all that the law requires. (11) To live like this is all the more urgent, for time is running out and you know it is a strategic hour in human history. It is time for us to wake up! For our full salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (12) Night’s darkness is dissolving away as a new day of destiny dawns. So we must once and for all strip away what is done in the shadows of darkness, removing it like filthy clothes. And once and for all we clothe ourselves with the radiance of light as our weapon.
What urgency! The time running out! Wake up and shed the darkness, stand against it clothed in light. In the NRSV and others Paul tells them to take up weapons of light. Walk in the light. Shine as lights in the world. The old ways are quickly coming to an end, embrace the new ways. Only light could defeat the failing darkness, not swords and shields. If we are still in such times, as most of Christianity believes, then why are we still using weapons of death and destruction? Have we lost our nerve? If the times Paul described in Romans 13:10-12 are past, then why are we yet again taking up with weapons of darkness? Why are we, as believers, still using evil to defeat evil? Of course the unbeliever will use darkness, they have not come to the truth of Jesus Christ. But we have and therefore we should stand out of the darkness. God forbid that we would even dare to use scripture to justify such actions.
The cost of true discipleship can be very high. Jesus showed us how high it could be. Jesus walked the path before us and many others after him followed in obedience. We must cut the ties that bind us to the ways of the world in darkness, on every level. May the cross always be before us, not in the way the world might use it but always in the way that Jesus did making the ultimate sacrifice, in love for every other human being he laid down his life. The very character of God on display for all the world to witness. The very character that is ours to make known.
I believe that God created us, as I mentioned before, to have a fighting spirit in our very core. But not a fight with words or weapons of death and darkness. God gave us a desire to fight injustice, hunger, sickness and disease, unrighteousness, sorrow and sadness, and every other form of darkness. We must fight though, as Jesus did, with light.