January 9, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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.
By entitling this Life for Leaders devotion “One Life-Changing Implication of Ephesians 6:12,” I don’t mean to imply that there is only one life-changing implication here. There are many, as we’ll see in future devotions on this passage. But, today, I want to focus on one particular implication that could be easily overlooked and that, in my opinion, deserves our close attention.
I’m thinking about the implications of the phrase “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (6:12). This phrase does not mean that we’ll never have issues with human beings, that they won’t oppose us or hurt us. It’s not denying the reality of personal evil or systemic evil. When Paul was persecuted by Roman authorities, he faced both kinds of evil. But he understood that beneath and behind these opponents was a far greater and more pervasive opposition. The spiritual forces of evil were, in their nefarious and elusive way, acting through human agents and systems.
One implication of this truth is that it allows us to see our opponents differently, even with a measure of charity. If someone is attacking you in your workplace, for example, this person is not your true and ultimate enemy, no matter how much it feels that way to you. Behind this person you have, in the words of Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress,” an “ancient foe” who seeks “to work us woe.” Thus, when faced with human opposition, we should not demonize our opponents, regarding them as if they are ultimate evil. They may well be cooperating with evil, but they are not the enemy we hate.
I’m reminded of how Jesus prayed from the cross. As he surveyed those who had literally crucified him, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). They did not realize that they were acting out a plan that had been hatched by “the rulers of this age” (1 Corinthians 2:8). Jesus did not demonize them or curse them. Rather, he forgave them because, in a sense, they were acting in ignorance.
Now, let me be clear that this way of thinking does not absolve all human guilt. It does not mean that those who do wrong should incur no consequences. People should still be held accountable when they do what is unethical or immoral. But the true nature of our struggle does mean that we mustn’t allow our hearts to be filled with hatred for human opponents. Rather, we seek to imitate the gracious forgiveness of Jesus, even as we stand for his justice, truth, and love.
Something to Think About:
How do you respond to today’s devotion? Do you agree? Disagree?
Are you tempted to demonize those who oppose you—to see them as the source of evil?
What helps you to forgive those who have wronged you?
Something to Do:
Talk about today’s passage and devotion with your small group or a Christian friend.
Gracious God, I confess that it feels natural to regard those who oppose me as my real enemy. I can get caught up in the spirit of our age, in which demonizing opponents is so common, whether in business or politics, or even in churches and families. Forgive me when I regard other people as if they were fully evil.
Help me, I pray, to be like Jesus, to forgive those who wrong me. Help me to see beyond what is obvious, and to fight, not with earthly weapons, but with the spiritual weapons you provide. Amen.
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The Passion of Jesus (Luke 22:47-24:53)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.