Weapons for spiritual warfare, Ephesians 6:10—18

At first glance, this oft quoted passage seems almost out of place with the lofty nature of this letter.  Up to this point, Paul has written about things magnificent in scope:  the nature of the Church, the position of believer’s in Christ, and other great spiritual truths.  He has also discussed things which remove strife and produce unity and peace in the Body of Christ.  Now, though, he turns to another subject:  warfare.

This passage is a “call to arms,” and is essentially an outward counterpart to his earlier emphasis on the inward growth of the Church.  If the Church of Jesus Christ is to continue invading this world of darkness, it must be united in purpose and built up so as to be prepared for the inevitable opposition of evil.

It is a mistake to think that the secular world—the world outside the Church—is the place where spiritual battles are exclusively fought.  The field of battle is more often than not within the Christian community.  Sometimes the most dangerous place for a true believer to be is in Church!  Satan does not concentrate his nefarious attacks in the dark places were sinners congregate; he already owns their souls.  Satan and his minions are far more interested in the believer; in ensnaring a soul destined for glory.  Nothing brings the denizens of Hell greater pleasure than bringing sin in any form into the Church.

How we confront evil and win spiritual battles is the subject of these verses.

1.  Preparing to do battle, verses 10—13

(a)  The source of strength, verse 10

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

When Paul wrote “finally,” he is not meaning “in conclusion.”  The Greek phrase tou loipou could be translated “in the future,” or “what remains for you to do.”  Believers are seen as being in Christ, they are united in Christ, they are built up in the Body of Christ, and even though victory is secure in the sense that eternal life has been won, there are battles that need to be fought and won in this life.  For the Christian to triumph over the evil massing around him, he must recognize that his strength is found in the Lord, not within himself.

What is true of the individual Christian is also true of the Church of Jesus Christ.  If the Church is to stem the tide of evil and liberalism within its own ranks, she must come depend on the power of the Holy Spirit, not on the earthly tools available at her disposal.

(b)  The need for God’s armor, verse 11

Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

Even though Christ is infinitely more powerful that Satan, and even though Christ indwells believers, the believer still has a responsibility to take Satan and spiritual warfare seriously.  The “armor” that protects the Christian comes from God Himself.  The Greek term from which “the full armor” comes from is panoplian, which signifies “completeness.”  Over the centuries, two views have evolved.

The first view is that God’s armor is complete.  In Isaiah 59:17, God is pictured as wearing armor and the Christian is encouraged to wear the same protection.

He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

The idea is that if God’s armor is good enough for Him, then it will be more than adequate for followers of God.  In other words, we need no other armor than the armor that God gives us.

The second view places the emphasis, not on the armor being God’s armor, but on making sure we use all of the armor, not just some of it.  Our enemy is so strong; we need every single piece of armor.  The Christian can’t afford to misplace one piece of armor.

Both interpretations have merit and both seem to apply.  Anything that comes from God is always the best for us, and since Paul goes on to list in some detail each part of the armor of God, it is likely he is teaching us that each piece is essential.

The reason for donning the armor:  so that the Christian may stand.  This is the essential thought of this passage, and it has the idea of “holding one’s position.”  Before any offense may be launched, an army must be able to hold its ground.  Holding one’s position before Satan is not an easy task.  Satan is the master schemer who knows our weaknesses.   He knows what makes individual Christians “tick,” what turns their head or fires up their imagination.  The Devil also knows what kind of monkey wrench to throw into the smooth operation of the Church, thereby causing schisms and disunity.

(c)  The enemy of the Christian, verses 12, 13

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

In “The Art of War,” a 6th century Chinese military treatise written by Sun Tzu, a piece og critical advice forms the basis of a military victory:  Know your enemy.  The same piece of advice works in the spiritual world; a Christian must know his enemy if he is to prevail.  Paul makes it very clear that that Christian warfare is not carried out against human enemies.  If this were the case, human strength and weapons would be adequate.  However, the  true enemy of the Church and of the believer is spiritual in origin.  Paul describes the enemy in a four-fold manner:

  • Rulers.  These are “cosmic powers,” as the NEB has translated the Greek archoi. These are demonic forces, though defeated by Christ at His death and resurrection, who have been allowed limited freedom to roam the earth before their ultimate destruction at the final judgment.
  • Authorities.  These have reference to other demonic forces who have limited authority over the parts of the earth in opposing the purposes of God.
  • Powers.  This word, kosmokrator, is a very common Greek word that refers to one who aspires to dominion of the world.
  • Spiritual forces of evil.  This is a kind of summary of every kind of evil spirit that may come into opposition of the Christian and the Body of Christ.

The phrase “heavenly realms” does not mean they come from heaven, but rather is another way of stressing that our true enemy is not the one we see with our eyes; he is not of this world.

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (verse 13)

Because of the nature of our struggle (the warfare),  Paul repeats the admonition to “put on” God’s armor.  This time, though, the word for “put on” is different than the one he used in verse 11.  There, endysathe means “be clothed in,” but here the word used means literally “take up” or “assume” (elabete).  The idea is that the armor is not only something to be worn, but also something to be used.  God’s armor is not defensive, but also offensive.

2.  The full armor of God, verses 14—17

Paul begins this section like this:  “Stand firm then.”  This is the fourth time Paul has given this exhortation.  Paul is laying it on the line here; he has assumed the role of “sergeant” as he speaks to his troops.

(a)  The belt of truth, verse 14

The imagery of “the belt of truth” hearkens back to the words of the prophet Isaiah—

Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.  (Isaiah 11:15)

The “truth” for the Christian is the Word of God, specifically; it is the knowledge and belief in the Word of God.  When a Christian puts on the belt of truth, he appropriates the Word for himself.  A true believer, then, not only has wisdom and understanding, but he is living the truth; it is the foundation for all he does just as a belt is used to hold up the rest of his clothing.

(b)  The breastplate of righteousness, verse 14

In Grecian armor, the breastplate (Greek thorax) covered the soldier from his neck to his thighs.  It was referred to as “the heart protector” (Polybius).  Barclay comments:

When a man is clothed in righteousness, he is impregnable.  Words are no defense against accusations, but a good life is.

The heart of the believer is surrounded by purity and holiness.  Dale wrote that:

A pure heart resents with disgust and scorn the first approaches of temptation to impurity.

(c)  Boots of the Gospel, verse 15

Once the breastplate has been fitted into place, the good soldier puts on his strong boots.  Jospehus described them as “shoes thickly studded with sharp nails.”  This verse is somewhat awkward and somewhat difficult to render into English.  Literally is looks like this:  “…and having shod yourselves as to the feet in readiness of the gospel of peace.”  What does “readiness” or “preparation” mean as it relates to the Gospel?  The idea of Hodge is helpful:

As the Gospel secures our peace with God, and gives assurance of His favor, it produces that joyful alacrity of mind which is essential in the spiritual conflict.

Perhaps Paul had in the back of his mind the picturesque words of Isaiah 52:7—

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace,  who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Part of destroying the works of the Devils delivering the Gospel to those who need to hear it.

(d)  The shield of faith, verse 16

“To cover all the rest” (literal translation) the Christian needs the “shield of faith.”  The shield to which Paul was referring was a large oblong or oval shield made of two thick layers of hardwood glued together, covered with linen and hide and bound with iron.  It was held in his hand and fended of the blows of the enemy during hand-to-hand combat.   This shield not only deflected blows, but could also be used to inflict harm on his enemy.  Writing about this kind of faith, Mackay observed,

A Christian’s trust must be in God.  He must cherish no doubt regarding the basis of his faith and the truth of his cause.  He must be a man of intense conviction who has about him that air of calm decision.  He knows who he is and to whom he belongs.

(e)  The helmet of salvation, verse 17

The last to items of the panoply are given in verse 17, the first of which is the “helmet of salvation.”  Remember that Yahweh, the Warrior God of Isaiah 59, also wears the “helmet of salvation; this is shared by the Christian.  “Take” is more accurately rendered “receive,” meaning that unlike the other parts of the armor which were laid out for the soldier, the helmet is handed to him, and he must grab hold of it.  This perfectly describes the nature of salvation:  something that must be given by God to be received in faith by the believer.

(f)  The sword of the Spirit, verse 17

This phrase has been interpreted two ways.  Some interpreters believe the “sword of the Spirit” to be the “voice of God.”  That is, words of the Spirit that come to the believer in times of critical need or as prayer in which the Holy Spirit speaks through the believer.  Others see the “sword of the Spirit” as the written Word of God, verses of Scripture that come to the believer’s mind when they are needed the most.

It seems that the second view is the most appropriate as far as the obvious interpretation of this phrase.  The very fact that our Lord rebuked Satan with the Scriptures seems to more than support this interpretation.

All the other pieces of armor are mainly (though not exclusively) defensive in nature, since their purpose is to enable the Christian to stand.  The “sword of the Spirit,” though, is for offensive battle.  Wesley writes,

We are to attack Satan, as well as secure ourselves; the shield in one hand, and the sword in the other.  Whoever fights with the powers of Hell will need both.

We are reminded of what the writer to the Hebrews wrote—

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)

3.  Don’t forget to pray, verse 18

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Wearing the full armor of God prepares the Christian soldier to do battle, but he can do nothing without prayer; specifically, the victorious Christian soldier must “pray in the Spirit.”  This does not mean dictating a “grocery list” to God.  To “pray in the Spirit” means to pray beyond our normal human capabilities.  Romans 8:26, 27 helps us understand what Paul means here:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Barclay, commenting on “praying in the Spirit” offers this:  “Let the Spirit be the atmosphere in which you pray.”

We are to pray “on all occasions,” meaning “always,” and we are to pray for many things.  At the same time, however, our minds should be razor sharp.  The good and effective soldier for Christ doesn’t get lazy nor is he so “heavenly minded” that he fails to notice what’s going on all around him.  His mind is alert even as he prays, interceding for “all the saints.”

Unity in the fight against Satan is absolutely essential.  Prayer must never be selfish, although we are certainly encouraged to pray for our own needs.  Erdman remarks,

One fights more valiantly and more gallantly when he remembers that he is not alone.

It is good to know that in the heat of battle, in the trenches, we are surrounded not only by God’s presence, but with other soldiers of Christ.

(c)  2010 Witzend


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