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The Great Controversy in Paul’s Letters

TUESDAY September 12

The Great Controversy in Paul’s Letters

Read Romans 13:11–14, 1 Thessalonians 5:6–8, and 2 Corinthians 10:3–6. How do these verses compare with Ephesians 6:10–20? Why do you think Paul uses this kind of imagery?

In his letters, Paul frequently employs military language and imagery, inviting believers to mimic exemplary, soldierly behavior. While Ephesians 6:10–20 represents his longest and most concentrated use, military language exhibits one of his major ways of understanding the gospel story. Having conquered the “rulers and authorities” at the cross (Col. 2:15, ESV), the exalted Christ now works out the results of that victory from His position as exalted Lord over the powers (Phil. 2:9–11). Recruiting His followers as combatants in the cosmic war, Christ leads the armies of light toward a grand day of victory (1 Cor. 15:54–58, 2 Thess. 2:8, Rom. 16:20). Gathering up Paul’s uses of military symbolism, we see that he understands the conflict between good and evil to be “a long-running cosmic war: battles ebb and flow between two armies which face each other down through the ages until one wins the final confrontation.”—Peter W. Macky, St. Paul’s Cosmic War Myth: A Military Version of the Gospel (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1998), p. 1.

Paul’s frequent theme of cosmic war is also part of the fabric of Ephesians. In his call to arms (Eph. 6:10–20), Paul draws together elements of the cosmic conflict, that he has already used: God’s empowering of believers with immense “power” (Eph. 1:18–20; Eph. 3:16, 20); Christ’s victory and exaltation over the powers (Eph. 1:20–23); believers as a resurrected army of the once-dead but now empowered by their identity with the exalted Christ and able to fight against their former, dark master (Eph. 2:1–10); the church’s role in revealing to the powers their coming doom (Eph. 3:10); the use of Psalm 68:18 to portray Christ as the conquering, divine Warrior (Eph. 4:7–11); and the call for believers to “put on” gospel clothing (see Eph. 4:20–24). When called to put on God’s “full armor,” we are well prepared to understand the central role of cosmic conflict, but, also, we are to remain firm in the assurance that we have of participating in Christ’s ultimate victory.

What are some of the ways that you personally have experienced the reality not only of this cosmic conflict but of the victory we can claim for ourselves in Jesus? Why is understanding His victory for us so foundational to our hope and experience?

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