For thousands of years soldiers have known that to defeat your enemy you must know your enemy. If you go into a battle blind, with no knowledge of the army against you, you can expect to be defeated. But the better you know your enemy—the way he moves, the way he attacks, the kinds of weaponry he uses—the more you can be prepared to defeat him.
In Ephesians 6, as Paul draws to the close of this letter, he begins to speak about spiritual warfare and portrays the Christian life as a battleground. When he does that, he introduces the enemy of the Christian and tells us five things about him.
The enemy leader is Satan
The enemy is led by Satan. Paul tells us that we need to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” The first thing he does is name the enemy general or the enemy king. This army is led by Satan. Ever since he fell into sin, Satan has been the enemy of God and God’s people. He is not the only enemy, but the arch-enemy, the leader of all the others.
Satan is unlike God in that he is not omnipresent—he is not present everywhere. He is a created being who can be in only one place at one time, but like any general, he has many captains and soldiers to do his work for him. So we battle against Satan the way Allied soldiers in the Second World War battled against Hitler: Not directly, but by battling against his foot soldiers. But all the while, we know that it is really Satan who is behind the enemy forces and that he is the ultimate enemy.
The enemy is spiritual
The enemy is spiritual. Paul says “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil.” This tells us that our enemy is a spiritual enemy. If we are to battle a spiritual enemy, it stands to reason that we need spiritual armour. Paul goes on to say, of course, that the Lord provides us exactly the armour we need. This also means that our battle is not against other people—not first and foremost—but against spiritual forces. Your unbelieving neighbor is not your enemy; he is a person created in God’s image who has been taken captive by the enemy and is in dire need of rescue. But your battle is not with him; your battle is a spiritual one against spiritual forces.
The enemy has many allies
The enemy has many allies. Again, Paul says that our battle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” There are some Christians who look at this list and try to suggest what each of them mean—like rulers are demons who rule over one area of the country and cosmic powers rule a smaller area, and so on. But that’s not what Paul is getting at here. What he is saying is that Satan is not alone, but that he has a vast army with him. These beings, whatever they are, vary in their rank and their power and their authority and their capability. We just need to know that the enemy is there, he is spiritual, he is many, and he is out to get us. Satan fights his battle through a myriad of captains and foot soldiers.
The enemy uses many tactics
The enemy uses many tactics. Paul says that we need to stand against the schemes of the devil. Do you know someone who is a schemer? This is a person who wrings his hands and who plots and plans. He is a cunning person who loves to plan how to find another person’s weakness and exploit it.
Satan is a schemer. He will use any tactic, any strategy. He has spies who study you and look for your weaknesses and he will exploit any weakness he finds. He will try everything he’s got to see what works well and what doesn’t. He may use temptation like he did with Jesus. He may use false doctrine, trying to get you to deny what is true or trying to get you to believe and teach error. He may use division, doing what he can do come between you and other Christians, giving you reasons to turn your back on other Christians. Whatever it is, he will do all he can and he is always plotting against you.
The enemy is out to destroy you
The enemy is out to destroy you. Satan schemes against you and enlists his allies against you in order to destroy you. Paul uses this word “wrestling” to describe the kind of battle we’re engaged in here. This is hand-to-hand combat. We are face-to-face with the enemy and grappling with him. The enemy is out to destroy you. We know that in Christ we are secure, we also know that this enemy is aiming at the uttermost, doing all he can to utterly destroy us.
That is the enemy we are battling against here. It is good to know your enemy so you can know his tactics and be prepared to defeat his tactics. But let me offer one warning. While you do need to know who your enemy is and while you do want to know how he operates, you need to be careful not to become obsessed with him. There are too many Christians who spend far too much time thinking about Satan and studying the ways he acts. When you do that, you put yourself on dangerous territory. This enemy is so evil that if we study him too closely, we may become like him. We are told to think about what is good and true and pure and holy and lovely. Know your enemy, but know your Saviour far better. For every one look at Satan, take ten looks at Christ!
So that is the enemy—your enemy. Satan is the ultimate enemy; he is a spiritual enemy and he has enlisted all kinds of spiritual allies. All of these beings are out to destroy you and they have many ways and means of doing just this. You and I are in the middle of this great, cosmic battle. And the battles are often simple things, like not provoking your child to anger even when he is disobedient or choosing whether or not you will show love to your wife by making the bed. It is simple things like deciding whether or not you will read your Bible today or show up to church on Sunday. Each of these is a small conflict in a much bigger war.