Occupying the Heavens
Ephesians 6 troubles me. Deeply. Paul has spent 4 chapters making a giant case for the risen, ascended Christ being in the seat of highest authority above every other invisible seat of authority. That the creation, both Heaven and Earth, is made of, among many other things, invisible positions of authority that, when occupied, give power to the occupier to exert influence over the created order. He has shown how these seats of authority in the Heavens are occupied by demon powers, some translations use the term 'principalities' - dark spirit personalities and the systems of bondage they build. But that Christ has, in his ascent, smashed through every layer of authority, and sits on top of the lot - far above infact.
And then Christ, from this far above place, empowers His church, His body, to occupy these seats of authority. Then we come to Ephesians 6. Which, if you follow the flow of Paul and the case he has made, you'd expect to read a little differently. Rather than, Eph 6:11 "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." I would have expected we were to put on the full armour of God for a different reason. (By the way, it is the armour not "from" God, but "of" God - in other words, we are to put on not an armour from Him, but of Him. At the very least that means we are to wear the same armour God wears when He goes out to battle - the armour of God, at the very most that means we wear God as our armour). That we wear it not to stand firm against the devil's attacks, but rather, that the warfare armour we wear is so that the devil would crumble under our attack. I would expect, after all the foundation Paul has laid of Christ's overcoming in the Heavens and His giving that authority to the church, for Ephesians 6 to be offensive, not defensive. To be attacking, not standing our ground against the attacks of the devil.
The image Ephesians 6 conjures up in my head is the principalities and powers occupying the Heavenlies over us, and they are big and strong and attacking us and the best we can do is survive or withstand. Not attack and dislodge them from their seats and occupy positions of authority to serve Kingdom influence into society. I think many people in the church see the principalities and powers this way - unable to be dislodged, powerful spirits, high above the church, reaching down to attack her and the best we can do is, if we're lucky, survive that attack. You hear it in the language of many believers, "I am under attack" they say. "No you're not under attack", I say, "You may be being attacked, but you are not under it unless you choose to be with your wrong mindset and wrong words of empowerment towards the devil, you are above attack, you are on the high ground, with the greater authority, the devil is just attacking by biting at your heels from below". I'm not saying you don't get spiritually attacked, I'm just saying you are not under it, you are over it.
Yet I can blame some of the imagery in people's heads on Ephesians 6 and what that picture of scripture is envisioning into believers.
One of the most crucial interpretive keys to understanding scripture is the principle of reading the bible as if you were the original audience. We must understand the original meaning of scripture to the original audience, and then and only then should we extrapolate it out to discover what it means for us. You skip that crucial step, you can make all sorts of interpretive blunders and can really make the scriptures say whatever your theology wants it to say.
The dream of God that Paul has laid out in Ephesians is not for a powerfully defensive church to be able to hold it's ground against principalities and powers in the Heavens. Principalities are not supposed to be in the Heavens. Jesus' church is. This is why we fight. But the problem with Ephesians 6 when we read it as timeless truth, is we miss the bigger picture. (To clarify to avoid controversy here, by 'timeless truth' I mean that the truth of Ephesians 6 should not be applied as if it applied to every generation ever to exist - it certainly is truth! Just not an applicable truth for every generation. 1 Timothy 4:13 says, "When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments." This is truth, it's in the bible, its just not timeless in the arena of applicability, not every generation needs apply this truth!). Ephesians 6 was written after Ephesians 4. In Ephesians 4 Paul gives us one of the how-to's of the church occupying the invisible seats of authority in creation - the equipping 5-fold ministry gifts operating in full swing. That the grace of Christ in His ascended state of being is released into 5 sections of empowerment - Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Teacher, and Pastor. That when we have these 5 gifts in full swing, we have Christ's ascension grace in full swing in the church. Then we can move from defensive to offensive. Then we can move from surviving attack towards us, to winning attacks against the devil and occupying seats of authority. Ephesians 6 in a defensive mode was an encouragement to a church that had not yet stepped in to full functioning 5-fold. Had the Ephesian church been operating fully in the way Paul was describing in Ephesians 4, then Ephesians 6 would have been written, I believe, far more offensively.
I look forward to the day when the church realizes she is an offensive weapon in the hand of God and not a fortress of defense. While she sorts herself out she remains defensive and that is okay, people can find sanctuary and safety in the arms of the church from raging evil powers. But I dream of the day the tipping point takes place, and she shifts in to offensive and begins to change the world and occupy authority to serve the nations with Kingdom ways. The hunted becomes the hunter. Bring on an acceleration of the restoration of the 5-fold ministry I say!