The Spiritual War-What The Word “Wrestle” Teaches Us About Spiritual Warfare

It is written:

“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. ”. (Ephesians 6:12)

The word “wrestle” that is used in this passage helps us to understand some of the tactics of the unseen spiritual forces that are attempting to destroy us.

“In the word ‘wrestle’ (pate), Paul uses a Greek athletic term. Thayer defines as follows: ‘a contest between two in which each endeavors to throw the other and hold down his prostrate antagonist, namely, hold him down with his hand upon his neck.’ When we consider that the loser in a Greek wrestling contest had his eyes gouged out with with resulting blindness for the rest of his days, we can for some conception of the Ephesian Greek’s reaction to Paul’s illustration. The Christian’s wrestling against the powers of darkness is no less desperate and fateful.” (Kenneth Wuest, Ephesians And Colossians In The Greek New Testament, 141; Grand Rapids, Michigan; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Another authority has also well-written:

“The word used to describe this struggle is a term found nowhere else in the Greek Bible, but which was commonly used for the sport of wrestling in the first century. One might have expected the mere regular words for a battle or struggle to appear. But the popularity of wrestling in the games of Western Asia Minor may account for the use of the word here, and particularly if it was intended to ‘heighten the closeness of the struggle with the powers of evil.’ In contrast to flesh-and-blood wrestling with which his readers would have been familiar, the apostle asserts that ‘the true struggle of believers in a spiritual power encounter which requires spiritual weaponry.’ This athletic term could be transferred to military contexts and stand for any battle or contest, and this seems to be its force here. In this close struggle, hand-to-hand combat is in view, not the firing of computer-guided missiles from a distance! Further, by speaking of the battle as our struggle, Paul identifies with his readers (and, by implication, all Christians) in this spiritual conflict.” (Peter O’Brien, The Letter To The Ephesians: The Pillar New Testament Commentary, 465 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

This passage teaches us some very important lessons about the spiritual war we are involved in.

First, the forces of the enemy are constantly surrounding us. The Bible teaches that demons are constantly around and near to us. We should not be surprised therefore that the Bible constantly warns us of increasing demonic activity in the Christian Dispensation.

Second, this passage reminds us about the organization and strategic work of these forces in their attacks against us. The words that Paul uses in describing the “wrestling” of our enemy points to the concept of an organized army, at work to assault the people of God in this world.

“Although Paul used many terms for the angelic powers known to Judaism, this does not mean that what he had to say about the powers of darkness would have been incomprehensible to the non-Jew. While ‘principalities’ (archai) and ‘authorities’ (exousiai) seem to be uniquely Jewish expressions for the unseen realm, many of the other words he used were also used by Gentiles to refer to the world of spirits and invisible powers. Words like ‘powers’ (dynameis), ‘dominions’ (kyriotetes), ‘thrones’ (thronoi), ‘angels’ (angeloi), ‘world rulers’ (kosmokratores), ‘demons’ (daimonia), ‘elemental spirits’ (stoicheia), and ‘rulers’ (archontes) were known and used by pagans, as evidenced in their magical and astrological texts.” (Clinton Arnold, Powers Of Darkness: Principalities & Powers In Paul’s Letters, 90-91 (Kindle Edition): Downers Grove, Illinois; InterVarsity Press).

As an example of how these words were used in the pre-Christian world, consider this example.

About two hundred years before the time of Christ, there was a book written known as The Testament Of Solomon. While the book is not inspired Scripture, it does contain some interesting insights into the spiritual realm. At one point in the text, we are told:

“I therefore, having heard this, glorified The Lord God, and again I questioned the demon, saying: ‘Tell me how you can ascend into heaven, being demons, and amidst the stars and holy angels intermingle.’ And he answered: ‘Just as things are fulfilled in heaven, so also on Earth (are fulfilled) the types of all of them. For there are principalities, authorities, world-rulers, and we demons fly about in the air; and we hear the voices of the heavenly beings, and survey all the powers…” (Translated by F.C. Conybeare; Revised English and partial translation by Jeremy Kapp, Testament Of Solomon, 367-373 (Kindle Edition).

Thus all of the phrases that Paul uses in Ephesians 6:12 were used for centuries before the time of Christ to refer to specific spiritual beings and powers, of different ranks and abilities. (Note that the the Apostle uses the phrase “spiritual hosts of wickedness” interchangeably with the Testament Of Solomon’s “demons,” implying that these phrases are synonymous). The enemy’s attacks upon us are therefore organized and part of a strategy, designed to bring us down and destroy us.

Third, this means that the attacks of the powers of darkness upon Christians are based upon direct observation. As the word “wrestle” implied the idea of observing an enemy carefully in order to find weaknesses to exploit and destroy, so also the powers of Hell carefully observe Christians and look for their weaknesses so that they may destroy us. They watch for weaknesses, for any possible way to strike, cripple, and defeat the church.

We must constantly be “on guard” for the attacks of the enemy.

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