Bristol, Virginia

Spiritual Warfare – Part 3

Subtitle: Wrestling Against Principalities and Powers

We are continuing our series on spiritual warfare. So far we have learned how being strong in the Lord and the power of His might means receiving strength from above in order to fight. We also learned some very important keys in order to stand against the wiles of the devil.

Continuing in the text of Ephesians 6 we find Paul making a bold statement. It is surely one that would have caught the attention of his readers.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (v 12)

When the church at Ephesus heard the word “wrestle” they immediately thought of it as one of the ancient combat sports at the Olympics. If you mention wresting to a person in our time they will think of the civilized sport where blood is rarely shed. But to wrestle in the ancient Olympics was a far different, and even often deadly, sport to participate in. In order to get a fuller understanding of what Paul meant by wrestling against principalities, powers and rulers, we first need a clearer picture of how they viewed the sport.

In the Olympics there were three combat sports – wrestling, boxing and pancratium (a combination of boxing and wrestling that allowed such tactics as kicking and strangling). Wrestling entered the Olympic program in 708 B.C.E. The combat sports, including wrestling,  were designed to be as physically taxing and uncomfortable as possible. This meant no time limits, no rounds, no rest periods, no respite from the midsummer sun.

In wrestling there were also no weight classes. If your opponent was much bigger than you then you either took your chances or forfeited the match. There was no mercy shown by bigger opponents.

I think some believers are under the false – and dangerous – notion that the enemy plays fair. He is crafty, ruthless (without mercy), and plays dirty. Yes, the enemy is greatly limited by God. But let’s be on our spiritual guard, knowing the enemy is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And yes, if we will choose to wrestle, it will be dirty, hot and uncomfortable.

Out of all the combat sports wrestling was known for requiring great technical skill. Michael B. Poliakoff, writing from the Biblical Archeology Society, says this:

Unlike boxing and pancratium, a wrestling match typically did not end with submission or incapacitation, but rather with one competitor achieving technical mastery over his opponent. The ancients admired wrestling for the level of skill and science it required. Homer’s Odysseus is the archetypal clever wrestler who deflects and neutralizes the massive strength of a far larger man (Ajax) in Book 23 of the Iliad. A statue honoring one Aristodamus of Elis for his victory at Olympia in 388 B.C.E. is inscribed with text reading, “I did not win by virtue of the size of my body, but by my technique.”12 In the Laws, Plato praised wrestling as a form of exercise well suited for the training of Athens’s youth. Plutarch referred to the sport as “the most technical and the trickiest,” and a surviving section of a first- or second-century C.E. wrestling manual shows how well developed the drills for tactics and counter tactics were.13

This brings us back to why Paul said we are to put on the full armor of God.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (v.11)

Wiles are schemes, plots and methods the enemy uses against us. Take a look how the devil is first described by God:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.” (Genesis 3:1)

In Luke 16 we find a fascinating parable from Jesus. It has been coined the Parable of the Unjust steward. In the parable a rich man had a steward. It came to the rich man that the steward was wasting his good. The steward, fearing his future, settled the debts of the master buy cutting in half what they owed.

So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” (Luke 16:8)

Interesting. May we learn to be a bit more shrewd – not toward the world but in our wrestling the enemy. Who’s with me?

I feel it stronger than ever in my spirit that now is the time to be aware of those schemes. The full armor of God – truth, righteousness, preparation of the gospel of peace, and helmet of salvation, will be our defense. In future articles we will explore those pieces of armor. Don’t worry we will finish up with the sword of the Spirit – our offensive weapon. And oh yes prayer!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *