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Description: The Principalities of Darkness
The Principalities of Darkness
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Ephesians 6:12 “For we are not contending against flesh and blood but against the principalities,
against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts
of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Part of the difficulty for any of us who are trying to
expound it is, the commentaries are not great on these big words that we are all are aware of,
“against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness,
against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”. We’re all of course, dwarfed by
the massiveness of these terms. Really, the commentaries are similarly bewildered.
I prayed and read them and then thought about it and tried to listen to God. I’m going to have a
little shot about the principalities — I think I know where to go with “the powers and the world
rulers” — first of all, today, with “the principalities”. What I thought was important were the
last four words in the verse, “in the heavenly places.” All of those things are “in the heavenly
places”. You may not know it, but actually the word, “places” is not in the Greek. It’s just “in
the heavenly things”, or “in the heavenlies”, actually is the best translation. So, it’s “against
the principalities in the heavenlies”.
I’d just remind you what God has in mind for the four of us, and of course all the others here in
this present life. He’s “created us IN Christ Jesus for good works that he has prepared beforehand
that we should walk in them”. [Ephesians 2:10] I think we touched on the two issues that we’re
involved in there: In the “good works that God has prepared that we should walk in them.” First of
all, we’ve to walk in works that actually do fulfil his commission to mankind, “to fill the earth
and subdue it”. [Genesis 1:28] First of all we’re called to walk in works in Christ that fill the
world and subdue it. In that sense, we allow Christ to live in us and to fill the world through us
and to subdue it. But, at the same time, there is another side to it connected with the conformity
to the image of his Son. [Romans 8:29] At the same time as we allow Christ to live in each one of
us, so he of course, is beginning to make us more like himself in the very actions that we do.
There are two experiences, it seems to me, that we human beings face here on earth. One is cleaning
the toilets, “filling the earth and subduing the earth”, doing the things that God has planned for
his Son to do through us to bring his world under his will. Secondly, he has arranged that through
the things we face in this present life, through the things that we face in this world that is
separate from him that is actually working against him, through those experiences, be it a flat
tire, or somebody criticizing us, we are experiencing things that drive us more and more into Jesus’
heart, and will bring us more and more into conformity with him.
Those two things are going on, it seems to me, in all those things that we experience in this life.
One, we hardly say, flexing OUR muscles. We’re flexing Jesus’ muscles. We’re allowing Christ to
grow in us and increase in us and we, therefore are being used by him to bring the world under God’s
Secondly, we are experiencing HIM as we see our own weaknesses and our own uglinesses exposed by the
things we go through. It’s a two-fold experience that God has for us. It seems to me this is the
one connected particularly with our conformity with Jesus: that there ARE principalities in the
I was saying to Irene, I was just surprised again at [Karl] Barth. It’s back in Genesis 11. He’s
always surprising you, just enlightening you, bringing out things that you didn’t see yourself.
It’s that famous one, the origin of the languages.
Genesis 11:1-9 Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the
east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another,
“Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for
mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the
heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the
whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built.
And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only
the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for
them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one
another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and
they left off building the city. Therefore its name was called Ba’bel, because there the Lord
confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face
of all the earth.”
Barth says, “Verse 1! The whole earth had one language and few words. God had given them one
language. There was no talk of foreign languages. There was no talk of dividing them up so that
they wouldn’t understand one another. God gave them one language. They didn’t need to search for
it. They HAD one language and few words. They could all converse with one another. That was not
the problem. It was not the one language. It was what THEY began to think what they could do
themselves by using their one language and by using their powers. They could build a tower up to
heaven and they could begin to control things themselves.”
I never made that distinction at all. I always thought, “The big thing was the ‘one language’.
They needed one language and wouldn’t it be great to have one language again?” Of course, Barth
points out, they had one language. They had all they needed. But there entered in to them – and
that’s where I think the principalities come. God has allowed forces that want other than his will.
He, in a way, is in control of those forces, but he has allowed such forces to exist. He has
allowed an attitude that is not his to exist.
We’ve often said this in the past. We’ve said, “God DOES give us free will and he allows a world
here to exist that is NOT as he wants it so that we will see clearly the difference between life
WITHOUT him and life WITH him.” What we tend not to carry on seeing, is that of course, those
attitudes are those forces, those powers, those actions that all come from spirits and attitudes and
principalities that God has allowed to exist in the heavenlies.
When we come up against misunderstandings with each other, we are not contending with flesh and
blood. We are contending with principalities that God has allowed to exist in the heavenlies. We
might use the term, “hegemony”. We use the term hegemony because that’s the attitude, say, of the
Republicans, the “Republican hegemony” – it’s a whole set of ideas that they accept. We would
similarly say, “the West has a hegemony – there are a whole set of ways to act and ways to think
that are accepted and it becomes a hegemony, a whole bulk of ways of thinking, ways of acting, ways
of feeling. So, there ARE such principalities.
I think that there is reason for saying that the principalities that are referred to here, as
opposed to the powers – the principalities are those that are concerned with ownership. Baal was
the great God of ownership, owning. They talked about worshiping Baal. You may remember the famous
preacher’s sermon who did a very good outline of Baal and Ashtoreth, and Molech, the three heathen
gods and how they represent the ownership, the ruling, and the lust. The “ownership” is Baal. This
was the ownership coming out: “We’ll be able to build a tower to heaven! We’ll be able to run this
thing ourselves. We’ll be able to do whatever we want ourselves.” It seems that that’s often what
I know, certainly for me recently, often you find the mistake you’re making, or the sin that you are
committing or the thing you are doing wrong is connected with you wanting to control the thing –
wanting to control something that is in the Father’s hands and is safe in his hands.
There are principalities that work and operate. That’s why I think the verse says what it says.
It’s strange. It’s a really strange verse, Ephesians 6:12, once you get into the Greek a little and
the meaning of it. You see how it’s put: “For we are not contending” actually, the word contending
is “wrestling”. The better translation is, “For this is not a wrestling against flesh and blood.”
It’s talked about that way. It’s almost like a noun: “For this is not a wrestling we’re talking
about here — for this is not a wrestling against flesh and blood.”
It is interesting, the term, “wrestling”. It’s dealing with thoughts of the principalities that
seem almost inserted into your mind. It’s not even that they are inserted into your mind – you’re
moving among them! It’s all around us! There are these views all around us which is why at times,
we all feel very uncomfortable when we sense, “The computers are running away from us! The world is
getting too fast! Everything is going too fast!” It’s almost as if we sense at that time, the
power of the principalities, the power of the spirit, the power of the heavenlies, the unseen
atmospheres and attitudes that are governing life.
Often, it’s just the little innocence of the little Mid-westerner ending up in Vegas. Often, many
of us that are brought up more conservatively — we get to a place like Las Vegas, and it’s almost
if you can feel it in the atmosphere. You can sense the whole attitude that seems out of kilter.
It seems to me that’s part of what God is trying to bring to our minds here. This is not a
contending or a wrestling against flesh and blood. When you find yourself wrestling with each other
over something, or disagreeing strongly with each other, take your eyes off of each other, the
battle is not flesh and blood. The battle is against the attitudes in the heavenlies. The battle
is against the principalities, the unseen invisible atmospheres and influences that tug at you.
I think we sense it at times even in the Presidential race. I think you sense it at times – that’s
why at times I’m unhappy about the media and the power of the media and how it can catch hold of the
atmosphere. It seems that this is a body of thought and of attitude and belief that almost assumes
a corporal kind of presence. It seems to me, that’s what this verse is talking about: “For this is
not a wrestling against flesh and blood” that you are dealing with here. This is wrestling against
the principalities in the heavenlies.
THERE I think you can begin to deal with it. There you cease then to be deceived and to be almost
like Punch and Judy [puppets] beating each other over the head. You turn your eyes away from what
is not the problem. Most importantly, you are free then to continue to love each other as brothers
and sisters, as your fellow human beings, and then to concentrate on your MIND getting ‘round the
thing and understanding, “Now, WHY am I thinking that? Why am I tending to sense that that is the
right way to go? Why is this attitude catching hold of me?”
That’s what I tend to do. I think, “Why am I wanting to control this? DO I want to control it? Do
I feel this in MINE and I ought to make sure it goes the right way.” Often that is what happens.
Often, if you think about the thing, the Holy Spirit comes along side of you and says, “Well, you
think that you alone can get this going the right way. You forget that it’s MINE, it’s mine. It’s
MY task to do that. Or, you forget that the other person can see something that you can’t see.”
As you begin to deal with the principalities – especially to look to the Holy Spirit and say, “Holy
Spirit, what is wrong here?” Begin to wrestle with the thing. Wrestle with it, back and forward.
Sometimes IT will be on top of you, and sometimes you will be on top of IT! If you will wrestle
with it, God’s Spirit will come along side you and will enable you to see it.
I think that’s often what we’re facing with the stitchers in the stitching class – or with the
groups that we get into and people that we deal with that don’t come from the same background as
ourselves. I think often you’re not dealing with the wee souls, themselves. It’s with whole
attitudes that they are spending all their days in. If you were in it yourself, you’d think,
“There’s no way I would think differently.” It seems to me, it enables us to see what’s happening,
to draw back from the human flesh and blood thing, then to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as
we use our minds, connect up with Scripture, and God begins to enable us to wrestle through to the
right way up.
Those are some things to thing about – some where I may be right or I may be wrong, but it seems to
me to be the heart of the matter: that our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against
principalities in the heavenly places. We’ll try to deal next day with the other few [“powers,
world rulers, spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”]