Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians (Part 2 of 3)

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavens.”

Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

This post is part two of three posts on Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians. Click here for Part one.

Ephesians 6:10-20 is the most comprehensive teaching on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. Let us look at six keys to spiritual warfare from this text. Three of these keys are in this post and three will be in the next post. 

Keep first things first. Focus on proclaiming the gospel and making disciples just as Paul did when he went to Ephesus. Be ready to deal with spiritual warfare as it comes. In the armor of God of Ephesians, there is only one weapon, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17). Paul’s purpose was to make the gospel known everywhere for everyone. The first step in spiritual warfare is to simply “Go and make disciples.” In this way, I have heard of spiritual warfare being likened to mosquitos. We do not go out looking to fight with mosquitos; instead, we deal with them as they come. In the same way, we do not go hunting for spiritual forces. Instead, we focus on our commission from the Lord and deal with spiritual forces if they seek to impede our mission.

Paul models an emphasis on proclamation well in this passage. From jail in Rome, his prayer request was not for release from imprisonment nor provision nor comfort. Instead, he wrote, “pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (6:19-20). Paul kept the first things first, despite his circumstances. He focused on making the gospel known to those who had not heard. Let us also follow his example.

Stand. In this passage, the command “Stand” is given three times (6:11, 13, 14). This passage’s primary picture is of a phalanx of soldiers standing in formation together against their enemy. In battle, the goal is to be the last group standing. Boxing provides a good picture of us. The boxer who falls down for ten seconds loses. However, if they continue to get up and stand, the fight continues. In the same way, goal #1 of spiritual warfare is to continue to stand in Christ.

Again, Paul provides a beautiful model for us. Indeed, the spiritual forces of darkness were seeking to trouble Paul. He had faced beatings, shipwrecks, and every possible danger. When he wrote this letter, he had been in jail for years. Yet he stood in Christ. The enemy could not knock him down. Despite his external circumstances, Paul stood firm in his faith. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul noted that his imprisonment led to the gospel spreading faster (Phil 1:12-14)!

Please permit me to share an analogy from the Rocky movies. In those movies, Rocky continued to get up no matter what happened. By the end of each film, he had been severely beaten. His opponents were likewise beaten down. Rocky was simply the one who outlasted his opponent. When we consider the apostle Paul, he was like Rocky. He was knocked down continuously through various attacks and troubles. However, he continued to stand up. In spiritual warfare, follow Paul’s example. Stand firm!

Stand together. One of the most common misperceptions about Ephesians 6:10-17 is that it is an individual’s activity. However, the text clarifies that standing in spiritual warfare is best done as the body of Christ stands together. One reason for this misperception is that English only has one word for “you,” while Greek has two. In Greek, there is a different form for a singular “you” and a plural “you.” In this passage, Paul often uses something we call a collective singular. Let me give you an example. “Put on the full armor of God” sounds in English like something an individual should do. However, an interpretive translation to bring out the collective singular would be like this, “You all put on the single full armor of God.” In the text, “full armor of God” is singular, meaning there is one armor. “You all” are told to put it on. In fact, every command in this passage is best read as a group undertaking this activity together. You all put on the breastplate of righteousness. You all shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. You all take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.

We make a mistake when we believe that we need to stand alone in spiritual warfare. God has made us all together as the body of Christ. Again, the picture of this passage is of a group of soldiers standing together against their enemy. A single solder, by themselves, standing against an advancing force is vulnerable. It is difficult for them to stand. Therefore, soldiers are trained to fight together. In the same way, the body of Christ is called to stand and fight together. From jail in Rome, Paul called the Ephesian believers to join in his spiritual fight by prayer (6:18-20). Likewise, Paul labored in prayer for the Ephesians (1:15-23; 3:14-19).

Click here to go to part three and read three keys to spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6:10-20.

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Spiritual Warfare in Ephesians (Part 1 of 3)

Picture of Babajan Dargah in Pune, India. Babajan was a female Sufi mystic who came from Afghanistan.
Photography By AshishCHACKO. Used by permission from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Babajan_Dargah_Camp.jpg.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavens.”

Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

I remember my first visit to Kaliyar Sharif dargah in Uttarkhand, India. The Muslim saint, Alauddin Ali Ahmed Sabir Kalyari (d. 1291 AD), buried there is reputed to have power over demons. When Muslims in that area believe that a family member is demon-possessed, they often bring that family member to this saint’s tomb. Often, they even bind them with shackles, just like the man that Jesus freed from the legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20).

The Kaliyar Sharif dargah, like most dargahs, is a cluster of tombs of deceased Sufis. A colony has now emerged in the country around these tombs with hotels, restaurants, and shops. Every day, thousands of people come to these tombs, seeking blessings and miracles from the saints, who are still believed to be active from their graves. Inside the colony is the dargah itself. Everyone removes their shoes before entering. Shops line this inner area, selling topis, shawls, images, and other items that people buy to use in the tomb. A common activity is to buy something at a shop and bring it into the dargah. They believe it will absorb some of the place’s spiritual power (Urdu barkat) so that they can bring some of the tomb’s power home with them.

As you go past those shops, you reach a crowded courtyard. At the center of this courtyard is the actual tomb, usually inside of a small building. Muslim spiritual leaders, called pirs, take donations, pray for visitor’s needs, and make protective amulets, like tawiz, for those who come.

The first time I stepped into the courtyard, I was immediately almost knocked down by a woman rolling on the ground. I jumped out of the way before realizing that two women were writhing on the floor. Their hands were bound with shackles. A pir stood over them, authoritatively yelling in tongues.[1] Shocked, I began to pray, wondering what kind of spiritual darkness I had wandered into. 

Islam can be understood as a spiritual shackle that holds Muslims in bondage. As Paul shared in Ephesians 6:12, our fight is not with Muslims (i.e., “not with flesh and blood) but against the spiritual forces of darkness that hold Muslims in bondage. Much like the women shackled in that tomb, many Muslims are held as spiritual slaves to Islam. It is our calling to emancipate them from this darkness. 

The book of Ephesians is an excellent place to look for biblical counsel on what to do when we encounter spiritual darkness. Ephesus was home to the great temple of Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:23-41). When Paul began his ministry in Ephesus, he started by sharing the gospel and making disciples (Acts 19:1-10). He did not start with a strategy of spiritual warfare. He was spiritually ready to stand in Christ when spiritual attacks came (Acts 19:11-20). The result was that “the word of the Lord was growing mighty and prevailing.” 

A few years after pioneering the gospel in Ephesus and planting churches there, Paul wrote a letter from prison to these believers. Paul showed them that God was building a temple in which he would dwell (Eph 2:19-22). This temple would be grander than the temple of Artemis of the Ephesians since Christ was seated at God’s right hand as the one who fills everything in every way (Eph 1:20-23). Throughout Ephesians, there are references to spiritual forces at work in the world (1:21; 2:2; 3:10; 6:12). Paul told the Ephesians, “you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). He then admonished them not to “participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness” (5:11). The Ephesians had previously been in bondage to these spiritual forces of darkness (Eph 6:12) but now had been saved by God’s grace (Eph 2:1-9).

This post is the first of three posts on spiritual warfare in Ephesians. Click here for part two. Click here for part three.

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[1] By tongues here, I mean that he was speaking in an unknown language similar to some interpretations of the biblical gift of tongues. It is possible that he was speaking in a language that I do not know. He was not speaking the languages of that area of India. 

“Casteism” in South Asian Islam

Today, I am reading Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s short book, Muslims in India. Nadwi (1914-1999), often known as Ali Miyan, was a renowned Islamic scholar from Lucknow who wrote over fifty books. He was considered a key leader in the Deobandi and Tablighi Jamaat movements. As I read, I am amazed at some of the blinders that he has in this book that prevented him from seeing his own prejudice.

Nadwi wrote that Indian Muslims have a “natural awareness of human dignity and equality” (61). He then elaborated that “Things like social exclusiveness or untouchability are completely foreign to Muslim society.” In brief, Nadwi argued in this book that Muslims stood for complete equality of all and had not fallen into the casteism of Hindus.

However, a few pages later, Nadwi noted two issues in South Asian Islam that are, in essence, caste-related. First, Nadwi noted that marriage among South Asian Muslims occurs only with others of “an equal genealogical status” (68). In anthropology, this is called endogamy, which is a group’s trait to only marry within their own group. The caste system in Hinduism is likewise propagated partly by ensuring that caste members do not marry outside of their caste. One particularly poignant example are the Sayyid, who are something like the Brahman of South Asian Islam.  

In South Asia, the Sayyid function something like the priestly class of Islam. Most believe that Sufi mystics (i.e., pirs) must be Sayyid. Sufi mystics serve as spiritual leaders in South Asian Islam who are mediators between man and God. Therefore, most South Asian Muslims think that only a particular caste of Muslims should be set apart for this vital role. Sayyid are understood to be descendants of the Qureshi Arab tribe, which is the same tribe that Muhammad was from. Therefore, within South Asian Islam, those descended from Muhammad are understood to be a superior caste with special privileges. In fact, Nadwi was Sayyid, meaning that it may have been difficult for him, being from a privileged caste, to see the casteism in his own belief system. Other Sayyids, such as Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan (d. 1898), were famous for their disdain of local converts to Islam, seeing them as second class Muslims.

The second issue that Nadwi noted is seen in this quote,

“The disgraceful treatment meted out to servants by their masters, which is sometimes so outrageous as to reduce the servants to the level of untouchables, is again, a product of the social impulses received from India together with being a mark of the general degeneration that had set in among the Muslims during the declining years of their power (68).”

This quote indicates that many Muslims in South Asia have adopted the South Asian attitude of casteism. Some individuals are privileged above others. In this mindset, the master is of more value than the servant. This mindset has continued in South Asia through the perpetuation of low castes within Islam. For example, Hindu haircutters in South Asia have traditionally been called Nai. When Nai converted to Islam in large numbers, they took the Arabic name Hazzam, while continuing to marry within their own community. If a young man is born into a Hazzam family,  he will also learn the family trade of haircutting. In South Asia, more and more individuals are breaking through the ceiling of their castes through education. However, the basic caste concept persists, even in Islam. In South Asia, many similar groups marry only within their own castes, which are defined by a particular trade. 

What does this mean for Christians who are ministering among the Muslims of South Asia? 

  1. We must not allow the sin of casteism to come into our hearts! We must treat every person with dignity and respect, despite how the society around them considers them. Every Muslim in South Asia, no matter their lineage or status, is created in God’s image. Since they bear God’s image, we are obligated to treat them as our neighbor and equal. We should show all Muslims the love that Jesus displayed when He died on the cross for our sins.
  2. Perhaps the most concrete action we can take to make sure that we do not fall into casteism is to really see the people around us. We should make a practice of looking past people’s jobs and status. We should see their faces and pray for them. As we see them, we will each struggle with questions of how to respond in the face of such great poverty and need. Often, we cannot provide solutions for every need that we see. However, we need to be willing to see the pain and the brokenness around us and bring it to Christ in prayer.
  3. The sin of casteism is alive and well among South Asian Muslims. As Muslims begin to follow Jesus, we must help them to set aside their casteism. 
  4. In Hinduism, those of low caste and untouchables have readily abandoned Hinduism. Some have followed Jesus, while others have become Muslims, Buddhists, or Sikhs historically. In contrast, few Brahman have chosen to follow Jesus. Similarly, it is likely that Muslims of “lower castes,” especially those who have been mistreated by other Muslims because of their status, will be most receptive to the gospel.

A Missionary’s Reflection on Paul’s Letter to the Colossians

A Muslim woman shops at the bazaar outside the Jama Masjid of Delhi, India.

Paul’s driving purpose was to proclaim the gospel where Christ was not known. Paul understood himself as a servant who had a commission from God (Col 1:25a), therefore he operated with the authority and responsibility from God to fulfill his commission. In Colossians 1:25, that commission was “to fill up the word of God.” The context clarifies that Paul’s purpose of filling up the word of God among people groups who did not know the gospel. Paul described the word of God as a mystery that had been hidden but is now manifest to God’s people (1:26). The purpose of revealing this mystery is so that God’s people can make this mystery known among all the nations (1:27). Therefore, filling up the word of God meant bringing the word to peoples and places that did not know. 

Modern missionaries do well to emulate Paul’s missionary burden to proclaim Christ among peoples and in places where Christ has not been named. This is the singular purpose that drove Paul’s missionary journeys and propelled him to plant churches in pioneer areas. Since this is Paul’s missionary model, it is shocking that the vast majority of missionaries work in areas where the gospel is established rather than in pioneer areas among unreached peoples.

Paul’s missionary methods were not based only on his own efforts but also the efforts of his disciples.  Paul’s letter to Colossae demonstrates that Paul not only planted churches himself but trained and equipped others to plant churches. Before writing this letter, Paul had never visited Colossae. The believers in Colossae had never met Paul (Col 2:1). Instead, the Colossians heard the gospel from Epaphras, Paul’s dearly loved fellow servant (1:7). It is most likely that Epaphras was trained by Paul in Ephesus and sent out as a pioneer missionary. Paul sent out Epaphras and others like him to plant churches across Asia Minor (modern southwest Turkey). Acts 19:9-10 says,

“But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”

The seven churches of Revelation (Rev 2-3) and others were likely planted by Paul’s coworkers during these two years. Paul won men to Christ, trained them, and sent them as pioneer missionaries. While Colossians is the most complete picture of a Pauline coworker planting a church, Paul sent other coworkers who also planted churches all across Asia Minor. In this way, “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”

Colossians 1:3-8 describes Epaphras’ work. Epaphras shared the gospel (1:7). The gospel caused the Colossians to hope in heaven (1:5). This hope in heaven produced faith and love in the Colossians (1:4). Paul emphasized that the proclamation of the gospel led to a heavenly focus, which produced outward change in new believers. In Epaphras’’ ministry, pioneer evangelism that led into discipleship was the foundation for planting new churches.

Paul’s commission from God was to proclaim the gospel broadly to peoples who had never heard and to train others to do the same. Because of his expansive team of coworkers proclaiming the gospel in many places, Paul was able to say that the gospel “is bearing fruit and growing all over the world” (Col 1:6). And, “This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col 1:23).

In this short letter, Paul mentioned nine coworkers by name.[1] These men acted under Paul’s missionary leadership as part of his team. Modern missionaries do well to head Paul’s example of developing missionaries. By emulating Paul’s model of developing leaders, modern missionaries can evangelize broad geographic areas, like Asia Minor. As Paul modelled, modern missionaries develop leaders best in the trenches, leading by example.

In Colossians, Paul also provided a model of how to transcend present difficulties and remain focused on gospel advance. Paul was in jail when he wrote this letter (Col 4:3) and his disciple, Epaphras, was in jail with him (Philem 23). Although he was imprisoned for the gospel, Paul’s heart was free. No human bond or imprisonment could bar him from Jesus. A hymn about Jesus takes a central place in this epistle, reminding us of how Paul worshipped in jail at Phillip (Col 1:15-20; Acts 16:25). When reading this letter, one can almost hear Paul singing that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. I imagine that Paul’s evangelistic boldness while in jail presented a challenge for his jailers. They were at a loss about how to silence his witness for Christ.

Paul’s only prayer request in Colossians was that God would open a door for him to proclaim the gospel (Col 4:3-4). For Paul, imprisonment was merely one more opportunity to be a witness for Christ. No doubt, Paul was following Jesus’ directions in how to engage in missionary outreach. Our Lord Jesus said,

“They will hand you over to local courts and flog you in their synagogues. You will even be brought before governors and kings because of me, to bear witness to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, don’t worry about how or what you are to speak. For you will be given what to say at that hour” (Matt 10:17-19).

The irony is that the authorities arrested Paul and Epaphras to stop the advance of the gospel. These men used it as an opportunity for evangelism. Despite their imprisonment, the gospel was bearing fruit and increasing all over the world. The authorities could do nothing to stop the advance of the gospel. Christ was seated on His throne, and Paul was seated with him (Col 3:1).

The imprisonment of Paul and Epaphras became an opportunity for developing more leaders. One purpose of Paul’s letter was to establish Archippus as the leader at Colossae. Paul spoke to him, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it” (Col 4:17). Also, Onesimus became a follower of Christ through Paul during this time. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus to appeal for Onesimus to be released from slavery to become one of Paul’s missionary coworkers. Thus, the influence and reach of Paul’s team for the advancement of the gospel grew, despite his circumstances.

In summary, Paul’s driving purpose was to fill up the gospel among unreached peoples and places. In order to accomplish this purpose, Paul developed and sent leaders. He grew a team of coworkers who could fight with him for the advance of the gospel. In the same way, modern missionaries must take up their commission to make Christ known among unreached peoples and places and develop others to do the same. 

[1] Timothy (1:1), Epaphras (1:7; 4:12-13), Tychicus (4:7-8), Onesimus (4:9; Philem 10-18), Aristarchus (4:10; Philem 24), Mark (4:10; Philem 24), Justus (4:11), Luke (4:14; Philem 24), and Demas (4:14; Philem 24).

South Asia has the Greatest Concentration of Muslim Lostness on the Planet

A group of Muslims praying in Bangladesh.

In 2020, there are approximately 586.9 million Muslims in South Asia. This means that there are far more Muslims in South Asia than the Middle East. South Asia are the seven countries of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Bhutan.

Most missionaries, missionary agencies, and churches put more emphasis on Arab Muslims than South Asian Muslims. Consider this, there are about 47 million Muslims in an Indian state called Uttar Pradesh. This means that there are more Muslims in Uttar Pradesh than in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, or Iraq. When you think of large Muslim populations, do you think about Uttar Pradesh?

Let me give one more example. Punjab Province in Pakistan has about 114 million Muslims. If Punjab province were its own country, it would have the fifth largest Muslim population on the planet. In fact, the five largest Muslim populations would be like this:

  1. Indonesia – 229 milion Muslims
  2. Pakistan – 212.8 million Muslims
  3. India – 210.1 milllion Muslims
  4. Bangladesh – 159.5 million Muslims
  5. Punjab Province in Pakistan – 114 million Muslims

Luke 10:2 tells us what we need to do when we see these numbers.

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”

Our first response is to pray. We need to pray that God will send laborers into these fields to bring His gospel to the greatest concentration of Muslim lostness in the world. As we pray, we should follow the disciple’s example in Luke 10 and GO! There is no better way to spend your life than in pursuit of God’s glory in the nations.

Here is a brief analysis of the number of Muslims in South Asia along with references to how those numbers were calculated. These numbers are extrapolated from the relevant census data from each country.

  • Pakistan
    • 2017 Census, 207.8 million people in Pakistan; 96.0% Muslim. 199.5 million Muslims in 2017.
    • 1998 Census, 132.4 million people in Pakistan; 96.4% Muslim. 127.6 million Muslims in 1998.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 2.18% per year based on 1998 and 2017 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 212.8 million Muslims in Pakistan in 2020.
  • India
    • 2011 Census, 1,210.9 million people in India; 14.23% Muslim. 172.3 million Muslims in 2011. 
    • 2001 Census, 1,028.7 million people in India; 13.43% Muslim. 138.2 million Muslims in 2001.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 2.23% per year based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 210.1 million Muslims in India in 2020.
  • Bangladesh
    • 2011 Census, 152.5 million people in Bangladesh; 90.39% Muslim. 137.8 million Muslims in 2011.
    • 2001 Census, 130.5 million people in Bangladesh; 89.7% Muslim. 117.1 million Muslims in 2001.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 1.64% per year based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 159.5 million Muslims in Bangladesh in 2020.
  • Sri Lanka
    • 2012 Census, 20.4 million people in Sri Lanka; 9.66% Muslim. 1.97 million Muslims in 20120.78
    • 1981 Census, 10.3 million people in Sri Lanka; 7.56% Muslim. 0.78 million Muslims in 1981.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is 3.04% based on 1998 and 2012 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 2.51 million Muslims in 2020.
  • Nepal
    • 2011 Census, 26.5 million people in Nepal; 4.39% Muslim. 1.16 million Muslims in 2011.
    • 2001 Census, 23.2 million people in Nepal; 4.20% Muslim. 0.97 million Muslims in 2001.
    • Growth rate of Muslims 1.82% based on 2001 and 2011 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 1.37 million Muslims in 2020.
  • Maldives
    • 2014 Census, 437,535 people in Maldives; the Maldives officially considers their population to be 100% Muslim.
    • 2006 Census, 298.968 people in Maldives.
    • Growth rate of Muslims is about 4.8% based on 2006 and 2014 Census data.
    • Therefore, there are approximately 0.58 million Muslims in the Maldives in 2020.
  • Bhutan – while there is a Muslim population in Bhutan, the numbers are so small that they are negligible for the purposes of calculating the number of Muslims in South Asia. Therefore, they are not considered here.