Unless we’re hermits, we see and communicate with other people nearly every day of our lives. Some of our relationships are strong and healthy, while others are filled with frequent unhealthy interactions. But every human connection, even our best ones, carries the potential for conflict. While most of us would prefer to avoid unpleasant confrontations, we can manage conflicts in a healthy way with the Armor of God.
Overview of Ephesians
Although we often focus on how united the early Christian Church was (Acts 4:32), we may forget they were also a diverse group of individuals from various cultural, religious, and economic backgrounds. Most of Paul’s letters to the churches include passages where he urged the believers to remember their unity and oneness in Christ. Ephesians, the letter in which we find the Armor of God passage, is no different.
Paul addressed his letter to “the saints who are at Ephesus who are faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). In other words, he was writing to fellow believers in Christ. He then:
—1:3-2:10: Described what God/Christ has done for us.
—2:11-3:30 Emphasized how God brought the Gentiles into His covenant and united Jews and Gentiles into one body of faith.
—4:1-5:5: Urged the diverse group of believers to be united in Christ by:
- Putting away any thoughts and behaviors that are harmful to others and aren’t of God.
- Renewing the spirit of their minds and putting on the new self God gave them when they believed.
- Thinking and behaving in a righteous and loving way toward one another.
—5:6-18: Cautioned them to be wise and not deceived by anyone who might try to lead them away from God.
—5:19-6:9: Implored them to treat one another with love and respect, giving specific examples of some of these relationships (husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters).
In his conclusion, Paul used the analogy of armor as a way to demonstrate how people can stand firm against the devil and anything that might seek to derail them from their walk with God.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11, NASB).
One of the greatest things that can cause us to falter in our walk with God is conflict with other people.
Who is Your Opponent?
The first thing we need to remember when disputes arise is that our true fight isn’t against other people. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB).
Humans may be a convenient tool Satan uses to accomplish his ends, but he is always the true enemy. Remembering this enables us to love the one we’re at odds with and forces us to look beyond the surface to discover and deal with the actual source of the dispute. Are we dealing with a sin issue in one or both of our lives? Is it a case of misunderstanding or miscommunication? Of fear or insecurity?
Satan loves division, especially among believers. The worst-case scenario for him is for us to be united with God against him. His most successful tactic is division.
Purpose of the Armor
The armor of God isn’t given to us to slay our human opponents or to win arguments. Instead, we are to put on this armor “so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11) and “so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13).
In terms of conflict management, we need to stand firm in our unity with God and one another and against Satan’s attempts to divide us. This doesn’t mean we must always agree, but that, to the best of our ability, we need to learn how to handle disputes in a way that honors God and each other.
Belt of Truth
Verse 14: “having girded your loins with truth”
The belt in a soldier’s armor held his tunic and other pieces of armor together and carried his weapons. Without this belt, his protective suit would fall apart, and he’d be without the means to either attack or defend himself.
Truth is essential when we’re faced with conflict. The tricky part is that we don’t always know the full truth of the situation we’re dealing with.
—What issue is really causing the dispute?
—What do we truly think and feel about the issue and the other person? Where do these thoughts and feelings stem from?
—What is the other person thinking and feeling about us and the issue? Where are their thoughts and feelings stemming from?
—What Truths from God’s Word can help us discern and work through the problems before us?
It’s easy to make inaccurate assumptions and believe Satan’s lies about other people’s thoughts and motivations. We need God’s help to enable us to discern the truth about our hearts and to search out the full nature of the situation we’re faced with. If we’re armed with God’s truth and can discover the foundation of the human conflict, we’re on stable ground to begin working through it.
Breastplate of Righteousness
Verse 14: “and having put on the breastplate of righteousness”
The breastplate protected the heart and other vital organs. Righteousness, the act of doing what is right in the eyes of God, begins in the heart and is evidenced through our actions. Because of what Christ did – because of His righteousness and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives – we are able to desire to do what is good and actually follow through.
When we’re in the midst of conflict, we need to ask God to protect us by ensuring that, to the best of our knowledge and ability, our heart is set on doing His will and that our speech and behavior align accordingly.
Shoes of Peace
Verse 15: “and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”
Our feet hold up the rest of our bodies. They establish our speed and direction. The shoes of peace protect them. Suppose you translate this passage according to the literal Greek meanings. In that case, it reads, “and (kai) to put footwear on (upodasamenoi) the foot (podas) with (en) the state of being ready for action (etoimasia) the good news (euayyelion) of peace (eirana).”
When facing conflict, we need to make sure our walk with God is firmly established in His peace and that we’re willing to work to establish His peace with the other person.
Shield of Faith
Verse 16: “in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
Satan wants nothing more than to destroy our relationship with God. He tries to persuade us to doubt God’s Word, the Bible, seeks to convince us to mistreat and misjudge each other, and does everything he can to create division between believers who are strengthening one another. One of the best ways to stand firm against Satan’s tactics is to trust and hold onto our belief in God—to hold up the shield of faith.
Conflict, especially when it’s with someone we care about, has the potential to cause us to question everything. While it’s good to seek answers, we need to stand firm in what we know is true: God loves us, is with us, and is fighting for us. Although not every conflict, even the best-managed ones, will result in godly reconciliation, we can take comfort in knowing that regardless of how it turns out, God’s love and presence remain constant. A wounded relationship with a person doesn’t necessarily equate to a wounded relationship with God. Our faith should always be in God, not in the human relationship.
Helmet of Salvation
Verse 17: “And take the helmet of salvation”
The helmet protects the command center of our body: the place where we think, process, and make decisions. When God saved us, He gave us a new, renewed mind and spirit. His salvation enables us to think according to His ways with His wisdom rather than the world’s wisdom. Our renewed mind allows us, as Romans 12:2 says, to “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Managing conflict in a godly way requires us to follow God’s wisdom. This includes, as Paul stated earlier in the letter, putting away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander (Ephesians 4:31). God’s salvation protects and enables us to do this.
Sword of the Spirit
Verse 17: “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (NASB).
When faced with conflict, we must ensure we don’t misuse and misinterpret scripture so that it attacks our human opponent. Rather, when utilized rightly, God’s Word pierces through Satan’s attacks with poignant truth. This sword also brings clarity to our thoughts and motivations and doesn’t always feel great when it does. It’s painful to see our sins and failings and can be equally so to have the thoughts and intentions of our hearts rightly judged. But as unpleasant as this is, we can’t correct a fault we don’t know exists.
In this way, the sword of the Spirit is death to darkness but life to those of us who follow God and trust Him with our healing. If our hearts are willing, rightly seeking and speaking God’s Word amid conflict can bring both parties closer to God and each other.
Pray Pray Pray
And finally, when we’re faced with conflict, we need to be constantly praying for ourselves and for the one with whom we’re at odds.
Verse 18: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”
As long as there are people, there will be conflict. While some disagreements can be worked out, so the relationship is strengthened through the trial, not every attempt to address relational problems results in resolution and reconciliation. But rather than avoid confrontation at all costs, as some of us may wish to do, we can rest in the assurance that with God’s help, with His armor, we can face it without fear, knowing He’s in control, that He loves us, and is with us through it all, no matter the outcome.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/SerhiiBobyk
Jenny Fulton is a wife, mother, writer, and member of Wholly Loved Ministries who enjoys studying God’s Word and sharing what she has learned with others. She is the author of Princess Lillian and Grandpa’s Goodbye, A Princess’ Guide to the Alphabet, and Striving for Unity: a Study on 1 Corinthians (upcoming release). An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Jenny developed a keen interest in language and cultures. In 2007, she graduated from Grace University with a B.S. in Bible, a B.S. in elementary education, and an endorsement in K-12 ESL. For the next seven years, Jenny worked as a teacher in a variety of cultural and educational settings, both abroad and in the United States. Her days are now spent raising her three young daughters and writing as much as time and opportunity allows.