Ephesians 6 - Part I
In 4:1-6:9 the apostle provided us with a list of responsibilities for Christian living. The moral issues that he begins to address in 6:10 and following extend beyond simple questions of right and wrong and thrust us into the heart of a larger, indeed, cosmic battle in which our enemies are not primarily other human beings but spiritual beings of indescribable evil intent.
Much of what Paul will say, at least in terms of the imagery of a soldier fully arrayed in battle armor, is taken from Isaiah (11:4-5; 49:2; 52:7; 59:17) which describes the armor of God and His Messiah. “The Isaianic references depict the Lord of hosts as a warrior dressed for battle as he goes forth to vindicate his people. The ‘full armour of God’ which the readers are urged to put on as they engage in a deadly spiritual warfare (v. 11) is Yahweh’s own armour, which he and his Messiah have worn and which is now provided for his people as they engage in battle” (O’Brien, 457).
The various virtues and other items connected with these pieces of armor have already figured prominently in earlier portions of Ephesians: truth (1:13; 4:15,21,24,25; 5:9), righteousness (4:24; 5:9), peace (1:2; 2:14-18; 4:3), the gospel (1:13; 3:6), the word of God (1:13; 5:26), salvation (1:13; 2:5,8; 5:23), and faith (1:1,13,15,19; 2:8; 3:12,17; 4:5,13).
The best way to approach this crucial passage is phrase by phrase, verse by verse.
“Finally, after all I've said, after all the doctrine, the exhortations, the rebukes, the encouragement, here is one more thing. I've saved it for last, not because it's least important, but because it's the greatest threat. Something threatens to undermine and subvert everything we've talked about. So pay close attention!"
Some suggest that "finally" means "from now on" (cf. Gal. 6:17) or "for the remaining time," referring to the period between the first and second comings of Jesus. I.e., the idea is that from now on, at all times until Jesus comes, we are at war. Be alert. Be armed. There is never a truce or ceasefire. Satan takes no holidays. He observes no Sabbath rest. There may be times of greater and lesser intensity, but never a time to relax or let down your spiritual guard.
2. “Be strong in the Lord"
The verb is best taken as a passive: “be strengthened” or “be made strong” (with the implication, “by God”; cf. 3:16). The simple exhortation "Be strong!" is both dangerous and useless. Self-reliance in spiritual warfare is suicidal. Believers do not strengthen themselves. Our strength must come from an external source, namely, the Lord. The strength of an earthly general is in his troops. But in the Christian life, the strength of the troops is in their general! See Joshua 1:6-9 (esp. v. 9b). The exhortation to "be strong and courageous" is grounded in the reassuring promise that "the Lord your God is with you wherever you go" (v. 9b).
· “Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God" (l Sam. 30:6).
· "Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the Lord to you, 'Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's'" (2 Chron. 20:15).
· "I love Thee, O Lord, my strength" Ps. 18:1).
· "For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength, and makes my way blameless?" (Ps. 18:31-32).
· “For Thou hast girded me with strength for battle; Thou hast subdued under me those who rose up against me" (Ps. 18:39).
· "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and I am helped; therefore my heart exults, and with my song I shall thank Him. The Lord is their strength, and He is a saving defense to His anointed" (Ps. 28:7-8).
· "But as for me, I shall sing of Thy strength; yes, I shall joyfully sing of Thy lovingkindness in the morning, for Thou hast been my stronghold, and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my strength, I will sing praises to Thee; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness" (Ps. 59:16-17).
· “O God, Thou art awesome from Thy sanctuary. The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people. Blessed be God!" (Ps. 68:35).
· “Turn to me, and be gracious to me; oh grant strength to Thy servant, and save the son of Thy handmaid" (Ps. 86:16).
· “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation" (Ps. 118:14).
· “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers; my lovingkindness and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer; my shield and He in whom I take refuge; who subdues peoples under me" (Ps. 144:1-2).
The "strength" to which Paul refers is none other than the "strength" he described in Eph. 1:19ff. which raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him above all authority!
The same trio of Greek terms is used in both passages: dunamis, kratos, and ischus. Cf. Eph. 3:16; Col. 1:11,29. So, how strong is God? Is he weaker now than He was in the first century? Have His spiritual muscles atrophied? Is God out of shape?
How might we obtain this "strength", this "power"?
· through prayer;
· by fasting;
· by making certain that biblical truth is forever flowing in our spiritual veins;
· through the fellowship and encouragement of other Christians;
· through praise and worship;
· by partaking of the Lord's Supper;
· through the anointing and filling of the HS; and,
· by adorning ourselves with the armor of God (Eph. 6).
3. "Put on the full armor of God"
We aren't born (or born again) with the armor on! We must put it on. Also, once put on, the armor should never be taken off, even if we think hostilities have subsided. Walk in it, work in it, sleep in it, eat in it! It is never safe to disrobe. Talking about the armor, describing the armor, declaring the importance of the armor, is never enough.
“Satan's advantage is great when he catches our graces napping!" (William Gurnall, p. 77). Cf. Luke 4:13.
Most believe the imagery of "armor" came to Paul from his observation of the Roman soldier to whom he was chained (6:20). Also in his mind, no doubt, were two OT texts: Isaiah 11:4-5; 59:15b-19. God is himself a warrior fighting to deliver and vindicate His people. The supernatural armor which God himself wears has been graciously made available to us. In other words, it is the armor of God not simply because He gives it, but because He wears it! It may also be that the imagery of “putting on” the armor of God is “the functional equivalent of putting on the new humanity (cf. 4:24)” (Lincoln, 442).
4. “that you may be able to stand firm”
This goal for which we arm ourselves is repeated four times in this paragraph (vv. 11, 13 [twice], and 14). Clearly Paul wants us to be immovable and steadfast and unshaken by the attacks of the enemy. Cf. Eph. 4:14. He means that we are to hold our position, to resist, to refuse to surrender ground to the enemy, to preserve and maintain what has already been won. Lincoln’s comments are worth pondering:
“The decisive victory has already been won by God in Christ, and the task of believers is not to win but to stand, that is, to preserve and maintain what has been won. It is because this victory has been won that believers are involved in the battle at all. They are in a decisively new situation in contrast to their previous condition described in 2:2,3, where there could be no battle or resistance because they were in total bondage to the enemy. So the call to the readers to stand against the powers is also a reminder of their liberation from the tyranny of these powers. The major victory has been achieved, but the eschatological tension with its indicative and imperative characteristic of Paul’s thought remains. Believers must appropriate what has already been gained for them and do so against continuing assaults, and this is not automatic. Indeed there may be minor defeats along the way; hence the urgency of the imperatives. The writer’s focus, however, is not on the possibility of such minor defeats but on the ability of his readers to make the assured outcome of the overall battle their own by standing and maintaining the ground that has been won” (442-43).
5. “The schemes of the devil"
The word translated "schemes" = lit., methodeias ("methods"), i.e., wiles, tactics, stratagems, secret agendas. The plural of this word “suggests attacks that are constantly repeated or of incalculable variety” (O’Brien, 463).
What are they? Temptation, accusation, intimidation, division and other such assaults against individual believers and the church corporately. But are all Satan's "methods/tactics" explicitly revealed in Scripture?
Q: "If YOU were the devil, what tactics would you employ?"
6. "Our struggle”
The Greek term translated "struggle" = pale, used only here in the NT and never in the LXX. It means "wrestling" (cf. verbal cognate palaio in Gen. 32:24).
Q: Why did Paul use a sporting term in a context pertaining to armor and military preparedness? Why didn't Paul use the term strateia = warfare (2 Cor. 10:4; l Tim. 1:18) or mache (2 Cor. 7:5; 2 Tim. 2:23; Titus 3:9) or even agon (Phil. 1:30; Col. 2:1)?
A: Wrestling was an extremely popular event in the athletic games held in Asia Minor, particularly in Ephesus. Thus "in contrast to the flesh-and-blood wrestling, with which the readers of Ephesians would have been quite familiar, the true struggle of believers is a spiritual power encounter which requires spiritual weaponry" (Arnold, Powers of Darkness, p. 117).
Ephesus was famous for the magical arts, principal among which were the "Ephesian Letters" (Ephesiagrammata). These six magical terms/names (askion, kataskion, lix, tetrax, damnameneus, and aisia) were alleged to possess power that would ward off evil spirits. People used them as either spoken charms or written amulets to obtain power and to protect them from harm.
According to one popular story of the day, an Ephesian wrestler was unbeatable in the ancient Olympics because he wore the "Ephesian Letters" around his ankle. When this was discovered by the officials it was removed, after which he proceeded to lose three consecutive matches! Paul may have been alluding to this story with his use of pale. Arnold (117) explains:
"The allusion could have proved an effective way of communicating to the converts that they should no longer 'put on' the Ephesia Grammata as an amulet (i.e., turn to magic), but should now 'put on' the armor of God (i.e., the power of God). Furthermore, they would also understand in a fresh way that the struggle in which they have been enlisted as Christians is against supernatural 'powers' -- in fact, the very supernatural 'powers' who were summoned to their aid by the Ephesia Grammata are now the attacking opponents which they need to resist!"
7. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood”
By “flesh and blood" Paul means humanity (Mt. 16:17; Gal. 1:16; Heb. 2:14). Behind and beneath the daily, earthly struggles with people and institutions and ideologies is an unseen spiritual battle. However, this is not to suggest that Paul intends an absolute negation (cf. Luke 10; esp. Eph. 4:14). The point is not to deny that we have earthly and human antagonists. The point is that even when we do fight them, Satan lurks behind their efforts (see Mt. 16:23).
8. "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”
· principalities/rulers (arche) - a ruler must have someone or something over which to exercise dominion (Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16; 2:10; Rom. 8:38).
· authorities (exousia) - again, authority, by definition, demands a subordinate (Eph. 1:21; 3:10; Col. 1:16).
· world rulers (kosmokratoras) - used only in Eph. 6:12. Their realm as well as their character is referred to as “this darkness,” something from which believers have been delivered (see Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13).
· spirituals (or, spiritual forces, spiritual hosts) of wickedness in the heavenly places – it may well be that this is not a separate class of cosmic powers but rather a general term for all the preceding spirits and an indication of their locality.
If all angels and demons are of the same type or rank or carry the same authority, why are they described by such a variety of terms? It would also seem that with difference in rank comes difference in power, task, etc., although we must be careful of unhealthy speculation. Remember this: our struggle is against subjected powers! See Eph. 1:19ff.
We should take brief note of a trend since WW II of identifying these “powers” not with personal spiritual beings, i.e., demons, but with structures of society and thought: tradition, custom, laws, authority, religious systems, economic philosophies, political parties, governmental organizations, etc. This view has been popularized by the writings of Walter Wink (three books in particular: Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers). This view cannot be supported by the evidence in Paul’s writings. However, as O’Brien points out, “to reject the identification of the powers with human traditions and sociopolitical structures . . . is not to deny that these supernatural intelligences work through such agencies” (469).
9. “In the evil day"
This phrase appears nowhere else in Paul in precisely this form, although “the present evil age” is found in Gal. 1:4 and in Eph. 5:16 Paul said “the days are evil.” Commentators usually point to one of three possibilities or a combination of them:
· It is synonymous with “the evil days” of 5:16 and refers to the whole of this present age between the two comings of Jesus.
· It refers to a single day of unique tribulation just before the coming of Christ.
· It points to critical times in a believer’s life when demonic activity is especially intense and focused.
O’Brien is probably correct when he says that “the apostle is not only speaking of this present time between the two comings of Jesus, but is also alerting believers to the dangers of the devil’s schemes on critical occasions in this present evil age. There may appear to be times of reprieve for Christians, but they must not be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking that the battle is over or that it is not especially difficult. They must always be prepared and put on the full armour of God, for the devil will attack when least expected” (471-72).