Church on Monday: Not the Enemy You Imagined

 
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When Paul wrote what we know as the letter to the Ephesians, he was rotting under house arrest. No longer a young man, Paul had traveled all over the Mediterranean as an itinerant missionary. He had seen so much of the Roman Empire and had been arrested, imprisoned, beaten, and released over and over again. If there was any sight that might cause his heart to leap into his throat must have been that of an armed Roman soldier coming toward him.

Still, Paul eventually had a Roman guard with him for the last two or three years of his life as he was under house arrest. These professional soldiers were always present, and always listening while Paul was allowed to receive visitors, dictate letters and otherwise interact with either fellow believers in Jesus, or with those who were skeptical but willing to listen.

While Paul doesn’t record any of his interactions with his guards in his letters, we can actually infer a great deal from what he doesn’t say: At no point does he protest against his treatment, express the desire for violent retribution against the secular Roman government generally or against his house arrest guard specifically. He doesn’t even curse Caesar, who at this time was worshiped as a god-emperor. How would our own expressions change if followed Paul’s example and stopped cursing the secular authorities who rule our own land?

I think Paul’s success in practicing this very atypical behavior is laid out in the first part of the passage we examined on Sunday, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world…” Paul understood that those who did not believe in the saving power of Jesus were not enemies; they were lost.

What more powerful way to illustrate this than to use the image of a Roman soldier’s armor as an illustration of the many and varied ways that the Holy Spirit provides us with spiritual protection and to remind us that our enemies aren’t flesh and blood? We are sent out to help rescue other people who stand against what we believe, not to fight them.

Marshall Webber

 
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