Not Against Flesh and Blood

By Doctor Martin Luther

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Das Sechste Capitel der Epistel S. Pauli an die Epheser, Von der Christen harnisch und woffen, gepredigt durch D. Mart. Luther (The Sixth Chapter of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians, Concerning the Armor and Weapons of Christians, Preached by D. Martin Luther) on October 29, 1531, taken from D. Martin Luthers Werke, vol. 34, part 2 (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1908), pp. 385-388.

The translation was inspired by, but not copied from, the devotion titled “The Importance of Truth and Unity” found in the Luther devotional Day by Day We Magnify You (Marshall D. Johnson, ed. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Books, 2008], p. 379). The reader will find it to be, among other things, an excellent treatise on the biblical article of church fellowship. It was originally prepared as the opening devotion for a pastoral circuit meeting.

God graciously preserve the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s unity in the truth that we may afford an unrelenting assault on the devil and all his works and ways.

Ephesians 6:12a.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…

Now he goes on to paint our enemy, to whom we are subject here on earth. He makes the painting truly terrifying enough, so that we don’t disregard it so casually and blithely, but rather know what kind of a struggle we’re engaged in and what sort of danger we should expect. For whoever is going to struggle and fight and plans on emerging victorious must first know what kind of enemy he is up against – what he is plotting and how strong and mighty he is – and what kind of trouble and danger the struggle holds for him.

When he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” we must not understand the words “flesh and blood” to mean the evil lusts or enticing of the flesh, such as enticing to sexual immorality, anger, hatred, pride, greed, etc. – as though one need not struggle against those. No, St. Paul uses “flesh and blood,” as he customarily does, to refer to the state and condition of the world or of the people on earth who live in flesh and blood (although it is finely and commendably arranged and God wants it to be preserved). He calls it “flesh and blood” because it is not spirit or the Holy Spirit’s business and work. He speaks the same way in Galatians 1, where he says about the apostles, “When I went up to Jerusalem, I did not deliberate over it with flesh and blood…,” which is to say, “I didn’t care what kind of people they were, what great apostles they were, or what great disciples of the apostles they were.” So in this passage it does not mean anything bad in man, but something that separates and distinguishes between our army and warfare and the world’s.

In the world there is no struggle except that of flesh and blood against each other – one prince, city, or people against another. But none of that has anything to do with us, for it is not the Holy Spirit’s cause preached or revealed and given from heaven. No, the struggle of flesh and blood has its origins with the creation in Genesis 1, when we became flesh and blood and God gave man authority over every creature and confirmed it as an essential part of his existence. Man needed no Holy Spirit for that purpose. Instead, whatever is ordered according to reason and human ordaining is in place in order that everyone may have and protect his house, home, wife, child, and servants, which the heathen also have, and they know of no Spirit.

Thus he teaches us Christians not to take up at any time such a war as the world wages and engages in. Nor should we do as Muentzer, our prophet of the devil, would do together with his rabble-rousers. They take the government into their own hands and fight with the sword and root out the godless. But this type of warfare belongs to flesh and blood between the two, that is, to human authority, powers, and wisdom, to rule and government on earth. We should rather be armed against enemies different from earthly ones, enemies who battle with us for a different life, kingdom, country, and rule, where it means eternal life or death, the kingdom of heaven or the fires of hell. Something more than what flesh and blood is and is capable of is involved here. For flesh and blood only has to do with mere temporal and transitory goods and affairs. For us, however, eternal blessing or harm is at stake. Therefore we also do not have such an enemy whom we could slaughter and strangle, as is done in the world. For he is a spirit who does not have flesh and blood. So too we are not flesh and blood insofar as we are Christians, although we are flesh and blood on account of the body and this life.

Now you might ask, “But aren’t we supposed to fight against our factions, fanatics [Schwärmer], and heretics, and aren’t they flesh and blood?” Certainly, but we do not fight against them as against flesh and blood, but as against the abominable devil, who through them does not struggle against us and attack us in a fleshly or bodily way. No, he attacks our faith, the dear Word, baptism, the Sacrament, and all articles of faith, none of which are given or instituted by flesh and blood or belong to the government of this earth. These are shown from heaven and belong to eternal life. Therefore we do not fight against them that we may take body, possession, or anything else from them, or that we may keep what is ours safe from them. Rather, we fight to preserve our doctrine and faith, Christ and God, to repel them to the devil and prevail over them to that end, and to gain eternal life, of which the world knows nothing.

So he shows us here with these words what our situation is and what we’re facing, namely that we must stand in battle here and that a Christian who wants to believe should arm himself. A Christian must fight and contend, if not outwardly with factions and deceiving tongues, then inwardly in his heart against unbelief and deceiving thoughts and influences. He must expect the attacks at every hour, both from others and within himself, when the devil strikes his heart with terror, sorrow, and despair. It cannot be otherwise, for this spirit cannot rest. He is enemy to God and to eternal life. Therefore he also plans how to rout you from it and wants to have everyone dead who seeks after it. He does not seek our money or other transitory goods, but how he can get us to lose eternal life. When he has taken that, he has taken everything and it is all his very own. And he has taken away eternal life when he takes away the Word, which brings it.

Now this is certainly a dangerous affair, and it sounds so dreadful that a person might very well become anxious and fearful. After all, he has to expect this spiritual struggle continually, and his mangy little neck is not at stake, but the one treasure that is impossible to retrieve once it is lost. This struggle means eternal life or death.

The reward is so great that no human heart can comprehend it, and for this reason it calls for an even greater, harder struggle. Yet it has been contested so lightly wherever people do not cling to the dear Word with all their powers, so that they lose it eternally. Indeed this struggle must not be regarded so trivially, as the world does. With regard to the Sacrament or some other error, some imprudent spirits who are deceived by the devil assert, “People should not contest so fiercely and get bent out of shape over one article of faith and tear apart Christian love over it. Nor should they hand each other over to the devil over it. Instead, even if someone errs in a minor point, if he otherwise agrees in the others, it should not be a big deal to yield somewhat and let the matter go and still maintain brotherly and Christian unity or fellowship just as well.”

No, my dear man, I want no part in a peace and unity that people get by losing God’s word, for in so doing eternal life and everything else would already be lost. Here yielding or conceding anything to oblige yourself or any person is not permitted. Instead, everything must yield to the Word, be it friend or foe. For God has given his word not for the sake of an external or earthly unity and peace, but for the sake of eternal life. The Word and its doctrine must establish Christian unity or fellowship. Where doctrine is one and the same, there Christian unity will follow as a matter of course. If it is not the same, then no unity will ever remain. Therefore don’t even speak to me of any love or friendship where people want to break up the Word or the faith. For it says that the Word, not love, brings eternal life, God’s grace, and all heavenly treasures.

We will gladly maintain outward peace with them, as we must do with everyone while we are in the world, even with our worst enemies. Let that go its own way in this life and in worldly affairs. We have nothing to contend for there. But when it comes to doctrine and Christian fellowship, we want nothing to do with them nor want to regard them as brothers, but as enemies, because they deliberately persist in their error. We want to fight against them through our spiritual struggle. Therefore it is only a devilish and deceptive, cunning attack which asserts such a thing and demands that we should yield something and make allowance for an error for the sake of unity. With this attack the devil seeks to lead us away from the Word so cunningly. For when we accept this and agree on this point, then he has already won a place. And soon he will have taken an entire yard if you give him just an inch, and – just like that – he’s torn up everything.

It certainly does not seem that this struggle contains such great danger and power, but St. Paul makes it truly great because it is not a matter of money or possessions, human love or affection, worldly peace or ease, or what flesh and blood is and is capable of or what the world can give and take. In this struggle we stand to lose God and eternal life. Therefore let all that stay or go where it stays or goes, for the devil still hasn’t won anything thereby. But if you make the mistake of letting him take from you this article, namely the Word, then you have lost everything and there is no more help or counsel for you. For the Word is paramount, and without it no possession, life, or anything you are capable of avails or endures before God. And does the devil ever wish and seek to deprive you of it with such fine pretense and appearance! For he has in mind to take everything from you. Therefore it does no good to joke or be carefree about it.

If you had to fight for your house and home, wife and child, and finally for your own body and life, you would certainly not be lazy, but would seek out your enemy and let him have no peace. You would not accept anything from him or yield anything to him, but would take care to anticipate him and have the mastery over him. But now you have other enemies, who have quite different plans for you and have sworn your eternal death, enemies who will not cease until they have overpowered you, and yet who attack you with such cunning (as already mentioned), as if they were pursuing love and friendship for you. See, that is why St. Paul earlier so earnestly exhorts us to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength, that is, not to let ourselves be moved to retreat a hair’s breadth from the Word, but to be confident against such cunning attacks of the devil.  ✠

About redbrickparsonage
Red Brick Parsonage is operated by a confessional Lutheran pastor serving in the Midwest.

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