Endeavor to Persevere
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12)
I don't mind a fight, especially when I think I have a good chance of winning. In fact, even if I don't think I can win, I don't mind (too much) as long the fight leads to a conclusion. It's not that I actually like fighting so much, it's just that I hate conflict and often the only way to end conflict is to fight it out. Of course, it's best to avoid conflict when possible, or to resolve the conflict through something other than fighting, but if fighting is what it takes, then so be it. Get it over with one way or the other is fine by me.
What drives me absolutely crazy most of the time is not the fighting, but the never-ending struggle that doesn't come to a conclusion. It's like walking and walking only to realize you just went in a circle, didn't get anywhere, and may as well have not bothered walking at all. That really makes me irate.
So, if Paul had written that we "fight not against flesh and blood" I could handle that without too much of a problem. Unfortunately, as Paul says, we "wrestle" not "fight" and there is a difference. "Wrestle" is a translation of the Greek word "pale" (pah-lay) and its root meaning is to vibrate back and forth. That's what wrestling is like - back and forth and back and forth with each contestant attempting to throw the other to the ground and pin him there. However, if you relax your grip, your opponent can get right back up and come at you again. And again, and again, and again... That's what our spiritual struggle is like. It's a wrestling match that never ends as long as we are in this world. Like I said, I hate that. I want things to be over and done with not just go on and on.
Most of the time the hardship we endure is visible as something wrong in the world around us. In many cases, it will be something personal. There are days when it seems that everything around me is broken and can't get fixed no matter what I do. It would be easy to think of those visible things as the thing we struggle against. But Paul warns to be on the lookout for something else. When those physical things are going wrong, we can easily get distracted and forget where the real enemy is. That's the point when we are most susceptible to attack.
While we are distracted with the "flesh and blood" problems in the world, the real enemy is ready to sneak up, get a foothold or an arm-hold, and throw us to the ground spiritually. What we wrestle against is not the things in the physical world but rather the spiritual forces that constantly create the false ideas and misconceptions that result in the physical problems. By twisting and distorting man's understanding, always playing to his greed and self-interest, the spiritual rulers constantly create new problems. These spiritual forces are the ones to watch out for. When irritating little problems show up, the anger and frustration creates an opening for a spiritual attack. The devil says, "Why do you try so hard? It never gets fixed! So just give up and make it better for yourself!" Something like that, anyway. The physical problems can often be resolved with a little time, effort and money, but if we are not careful, we lose the spiritual battle in the process. We give up in the spirit to get the physical things resolved.
Because this struggle is against hidden spiritual forces, we have to use spiritual armor to protect us: truth, righteousness, gospel, salvation, faith. Most of all we need this:
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;" (Eph 6:18 )
The word translated "perseverance" only occurs in this one place in the New Testament. A related word, endure, is used fairly often. The two are similar but not really the same. To endure something implies that you come under the effect of the thing. Perseverance has the connation of persistence under stress. Both of these are important parts of the life of faith. We have to "endure" - put up with trials and tribulations in this life - and we must "persevere" - persist until the end. We certainly have trials and tribulations, but that is true of everyone, not just those who follow Jesus. We endure hardship as a test, but that hardship can cause you to fail. So, you can't just say, "Well I had some hardship, so I must be OK even though I eventually crumbled under the strain." It's not just hardship that marks the saints. It is perseverance under hardship that demonstrates the power of the Spirit in us. This is what Jesus warns of in the parable of the sower:
"And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended." (Mar 4:16-17 )
As Jesus makes clear, it isn't just enduring hardship that we must do. Many will endure hardship but fall away because of the difficulty. We must endure until the end. We may get knocked down from time to time, but we just get up and go at it again. That's what the devil will do to you. If you beat him down, he just backs up and looks for another opportunity. We must be ready at all times to do the same. We must endeavor to persevere against our continuing back-and-forth struggle.
"But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." (Mat 24:13 )