Chapter 6:10-20 The Christian’s Warfare and Armor.
It would be remiss of the writer not to include a discussion of “a believer’s use of God’s resources, to help him stand against evil powers.” (Hoehner, 642) In an epistle that, more than any other, dwells upon the Christian’s role in the Church, a section such as this (6:10-20) would only be expected.
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (v. 10). The believer’s strength is in Christ, He it is who vanquished Satan. The devil has defeated everyone who he has come up against, apart from the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not to be underestimated by us. Too many of the Lord’s people are unwilling servants of the devil. By that we mean, they are often found doing his will instead of the Lord’s will (e.g. Matt. 16:23). We must be strong in the Lord (cf. Prov. 18:10, Psa. 91:2, 2 Cor. 7:16). The Lord’s might (cf. 1:19) is greater by far than that of Satan (cf. 1 Jn. 4:4; Heb. 1:2-3). By speaking of the power of His might, Paul is not forgetting his grammar; he deliberately uses what seems to be a redundant superlative in order to better explicate the enormity of Christ’s power (cf. Matt. 28:18).
The believer is to be armed both in heart and mind (cf. 1 Pet. 4:1). The apostle turns to military terminology in order to illustrate what has been properly called “the Christian warfare.” Spiritual battles are encountered by “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:12). No true saint can function in the Body without encountering some resistance from the forces of evil. Therefore, we must all put on the whole armour of God (v. 11), which provides the Divine protection and endurance so that no Christian need break ranks and suffer the work of God to be impaired.
Of course, one is not to forget that this is figurative language. The important points in this section are the spiritual realities, which the figures represent, and not the figures themselves. “We must not…inquire very minutely into the meaning of each word; for an allusion to military customs was all that was intended. Nothing can be more idle than the extraordinary pains which some have taken to discover the reason why righteousness is made a breastplate, instead of a girdle.” (Calvin, 338)
The armour Paul refers to will be delineated in verses 14-18. Its purpose is that [we] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Satan uses deceit and craft to get his way. He is “the tempter” (Matt. 4:3) and he appeals to our old wicked natures in order to bring about our fall. Our objective in spiritual combat is to stand (vv. 11, 13, 14). At the end of the day, when the trial of our faith is passed, we should still be standing for our Lord and His Gospel. This is not to say that there is no exertion on our part; we wrestle (v. 12) we contend (Jude 3) we strive (Phil. 1:17, 27) against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (v. 12). Wrestling involves hand-to-hand combat. The figure is chosen because the Christian warfare is not like an artillery bombardment, with both sides launching volleys of hardware from a distance. It is a fight at close quarters. The enemy marches against us, and our duty is to hold our ground. If we are standing faithfully in the power of Christ’s might, then the powers of darkness will not get through. But if we try to stand in our own strength, there can be only one outcome. The description that Paul gives of these powers is one of authority and great strength. It is clear that he is saying that their capacity is far too great for the unprepared Christian to handle. If he strives without his Master, he will fail!
Therefore take to you the whole armour of God (v. 13). When we stand in the spiritual armor, there is no way through for the devil (Jam. 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:9). We are always on duty and should be ready at all times. Sadly, so many saints neglect the spiritual armor until it is too late. The evil day arrives and the lackluster saint is left searching for spiritual strength and guidance in the midst of confusion.4
What is the Christian armor? Using the imagery of the Roman soldier, the apostle lists six pieces (seven if one includes prayer). The metaphors aside, the armor comprises of truth, righteousness, the Gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. The fact that each of these is described by a particular piece of a Roman soldier’s attire is really unimportant. What is important is that we each have these six traits in our lives.
The first two pieces mentioned are truth and righteousness (v. 14) and are basic ethical requirements for any Christian. One might say that they should be at the core of Christian character. A Christian who is unrighteous in his dealings ought to be a contradiction in terms. Likewise, a Christian who does not assess the world from a biblical standpoint does not assess it truthfully. But more than this is implied here. Truth equals integrity, sincerity. This is why John so pointedly associates truth with our practice of daily living in his second and third epistles. Christians who have short attention spans when righteousness is being discussed ought to give themselves a thorough spiritual examination (2 Cor. 13:5), because righteousness (or a love of it) is the chief characteristic of the man or woman of God.
The next thing, in verse 15, is what the writer calls the preparation of the Gospel of peace, the upshot of which is that every believer in the Gospel should know the Gospel. He should know why the Gospel is necessary to fallen man and what its relation to the rest of Scripture is, and why it is the most important message in human history. Every believer should be able to explain the Gospel with confidence and enthusiasm (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). Not only does the Gospel make peace between God and man, and between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2), it also gives peace to the one who obeys it (cf. Jn. 14:27). Any obedient saint may stand against evil spiritual powers in full assurance that they cannot prevail against him.
The most vital piece of spiritual protection is faith (v. 16). Without it, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) or, in fact, to do anything in the spiritual realm. When one considers what the apostle says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, a lack of faith is a serious setback in the evil day. When the storm clouds gather, and persecution or sickness or unemployment or financial hardship, or, dare I say it, church splits happen. When all is confusion and nothing makes sense and God seems so distant, it is faith that brings perspective into the situation. It is faith that will trust God even though it feels as though God is displeased or is not watching.
What are the fiery darts of the wicked? We believe that they can take the form of temptations, flatteries, slanders, discouragements, etc. The darts may be hurled by either spiritual or human opponents. They are the only offensive weapons of the enemy which Paul mentions, and they can cause great harm to the unprotected who do not trust God in the dark times. We agree with the view that they include, “all those violent temptations that inflame men’s lusts.” (Matthew Poole, Commentary, III, 679). Faith quenches these fiery darts and renders them harmless. One more thing, the fact that they are hurled from often hidden positions shows us that Christians must be prepared at all times, whether they feel the enemy to be close or not.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (v. 17). By salvation Paul means our experience of the new birth and our new life in the Spirit. A saved man must always remind himself that he is not what he was (2 Cor. 5:17), but that he stands with Christ and Christ will have him in the ranks. He has been saved for a purpose (cf. Tit. 2:14).
Although it is fashionable for preachers to point to a Bible and call it the sword of the Spirit, the apostle is here referring to the Word of God in the heart and on the tongue. Simply waving a Bible in the devil’s face does nothing; we must know it, and be able to use it (cf. Lk. 4:3-13). The fact is that many saints try to strike the devil a blow by reciting their experience of salvation rather with their knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. The Christian Faith is founded upon the Scriptures, not on any subjective experiences we have had as a result of believing them. This is not to negate the importance of proper spiritual experience. We believe that it is to be included in the Apostle’s meaning when he speaks of salvation in this verse. Notwithstanding, it is the Word of God which is our only offensive weapon.5 In a day when Bible literacy is in a tailspin, it behooves pastors and Christian educators to inculcate “Bible knowledge” as a vital part of discipleship.
Taking another look at the pieces of the Christian’s armor, we find that what we are discussing is no less than the spiritual makeup of the man or woman of God. In view of this, if any man thinks that he may do without one of these traits, he may as well declare his intention to quench the Spirit!
Now, prayer is finally mentioned (v. 18). Some include it as part of the Christian armor, but we think that the apostle is likening it to watchfulness. A man can be watchful, whether he is armed or not. Prayer keeps us spiritually alert. By continual communion with God, and by making requests of Him (i.e. supplication) we can maintain an awareness of the needs of both ourselves and of others. We are to look out prayerfully for all saints. Paul even includes himself in this number.
On this matter of prayer, we cannot pass over the exhortation of one greater than ourselves. “Let us stir up ourselves to keep this watch that we may see, and walk in the strengh of our prayers…If we should devise anything by way of petition [e.g. to a magistrate] should we not wait [to see] how it is received? what is said to it? Would we give our petition, and carelessly depart, never thinking on it? How much more should we wait and see what will become of our requests to God?” (Paul Bayne, 670)
In his situation, in a prison in Rome, Paul covets the prayers of the Ephesian church. He asks them to pray that when he comes before Caesar, he may speak boldly as an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20) though in bonds (v. 20). In a way not explained in Scripture, God has allowed Himself to be moved by our prayers. Some Christians tells us that prayer doesn’t change things it simply aligns us with the will of God. But that hardly fits the petition that Paul is making here. Surely, a great incentive to pray is that prayer can change things. How? The same way obedience works. God knows we will produce fruit before we obey, but the fruit produced is contingent upon that obedience. Likewise, if we don’t pray, we cannot expect the answer that God would have decreed on the basis of it.
Chapter 6:21-24 Closing Remarks and Benediction.
Having taught the Ephesians of God’s riches in Christ, and of the marvel that is the Church, and having given practical instructions about how God wants us to live as members of Christ’s Body, Paul can now close his great epistle. The letter contains no information about Paul’s circumstances,6 but Tychicus, the bearer of the epistle, would bring them up to date (v. 21). It appears that Tychicus was not just sent to deliver letters. Paul also says that his function was ministerial. He was sent to bring news about Paul and that he might comfort [their] hearts (v. 22).
Paul closes very much in the way he began. This benediction is not the usual one with which Paul ends his letters. He wishes them to know that God’s peace (v. 23) and grace (v. 24) were toward them. The mention of love with faith reminds one of the writer’s words in Galatians 5:6, “For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing; nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love.” Faith and love belong together. Love without faith is only human affectation, and faith without love is barren trust.
Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity (v. 24). And if anyone can read this epistle to the Ephesians and not love the Lord Jesus sincerely, he hardly understands the special grace of God.7
4 The sage wisdom of William Gurnall applies here. “Grace in a decay is like a man pulled off his legs by sickness.” And again, “A declining Christian must needs be a doubting Christian…And doth it stand with thy wisdom, Christian, to put a staff into the devil’s hand, and an argument into his mouth, to dispute thy salvation with?” (W. Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, I, 233-234.)
5 “When we use it in our battle we are to use it only as ‘God’s utterance.’” (R. C. H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians, 674.) What Lenski is saying is that our faith in the Bible as God’s empowered word is what gives it its cutting edge in our lives. We strike on God’s behalf.
6 Braune observes, “What is wanting in no other Pauline Epistle will be missed most of all in the Epistle to the Ephesians, viz., historical references. Only two facts are noticed: the imprisonment (3:1, 4:1, 6:20) and the sending of Tychicus with oral intelligence (6:21, 22).” (K. Braune, The Epistle to the Ephesians, 4, in Lange’s Commentary.)
7 We cannot do better than to close with Bishop Moule’s final words from his excellent book on Ephesians: “What more do we want? Nothing, O blessed Lord. For this means the possession of Thyself.” (H. C. G. Moule, Ephesian Studies, 340.)