One of the worst commercial campaigns in history was one done by the Army about 20 years ago. I was in the Army at the time, so I understood how bad it was. In order to get more young people to sign up for military duty, they appealed to them to become “An army of one.” In the ads, a lone soldier is pictured doing grueling things all by himself, such as running through the desert with military equipment.
I suppose focus groups indicated that young people liked the idea of being Rambo, a one-man killing machine. This would explain why these ads might draw new recruits into the army. But it is hard to overstate just how contrary to reality the picture these advertisements painted of the military was. The Army functions as a team. Individual Rambos who win battles all by themselves do not exist. The soldier needs the support of many teammates. He needs medical, armor, air, artillery, infantry, medical, supply, communication, transportation, and intelligence support, just to name a few. In other words, these ads were deceptive.
In the civilian world, perhaps a sports analogy would indicate how dumb this army of one campaign was. Imagine a high school student trying out for the football team. He approaches the coach and tells him he is there to be a team of one. He thinks he can run, pass, and kick a football in such a great way that he can compete all by himself. He doesn’t need an offensive line, running backs, ends, punters, or any defensive players. He tells the coach that the coach can send the rest of the team home. Anybody who heard a teenager say something like this would have a good laugh. The same is true for a young man thinking he was an army of one.
The glamour of such an ad campaign may appeal to the ignorance of a young mind. As dumb as it all sounds, I think that in a similar way students of the Bible can fall victim to that thinking. In Eph 6:10-12, Paul tells the readers of the book to sign up to fight in a war. It is a war against “principalities” and “powers” who occupy “heavenly places” during “this age.” This battle is against strong spiritual and evil forces. Therefore, the readers need to put on the full armor of God. They will need to be “strong” and rely on the “power” of God’s “might.”
When Christians read such words, they often want to sign up to fight this battle. It is certainly exciting. They want to know how they can put their armor on, grab their spiritual rifle, and slay the evil forces in front of them. Unfortunately, they usually see themselves as spiritual Rambos because they think Paul is talking about the individual Christian in these verses. They romanticize that they are a spiritual army of one.
If we were to put out an ad calling on Christians to do this, I am afraid it would be just as bad a campaign as the Army’s call for young folks to be an army of one. Paul is not talking about the individual believer in these verses. He is talking about a team. He is calling for this team to fight the battle. Victory in this warfare will require a team effort. Individual believers are not being called to fight alone. Specifically, he is calling the church to fight against these evil forces.
In referring to Eph 6:10-12 above, I put seven words in quotation marks (principalities, powers, heavenly places, age, strong, power, and might). Of course, these verses come towards the end of the Book of Ephesians. It is important to see, however, that these same seven words occur at the beginning of the book in Eph 1:19-21. To put it another way, these words frame the whole book.
In Eph 1:19-21, Paul is talking about what God has done for the church (see 1:22-23). The whole book of Ephesians focuses on the church. In fact, immediately before Paul tells the readers to sign up for spiritual battle, he speaks of the importance of members of the church to be subject to one another (5:21–6:9).
I will tell you what I think. Paul is telling the church as a body to fight against the forces of evil. These forces want to see a church that is divided, a church in which the members do not serve one another and grow as a body (4:12-16). Victory in this warfare cannot be achieved by an individual Christian. We need each other.
Other verses in the New Testament speak of our individual responsibilities to please the Lord. But in Eph 6:10-12, that is not what Paul is addressing. He doesn’t call us to be spiritual Rambos. He is calling us to realize that we are part of the Body of Christ. There is a battle that we are to engage in as a body of believers. We need each other. If we lose sight of that, we are like the 18-year-old who fell victim to false advertising and signed up to join the military 20 years ago thinking he was going to defeat the enemies of America all by himself.