Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This is a most serious passage. The Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s 1655 commentary on these verses ran 3 volumes, 261 chapters, and about 1500 pages. Martin Lloyd-Jones’ 20th century commentary on these verses runs 736 pages. This short lesson will be only a few paragraphs and clearly only scratch the surface.
Paul has to this point in Ephesians provided a grand, sweeping view of the eternal purposes of God in redemption of fallen humanity, has described a single church/family of God made up of redeemed Jews and redeemed gentiles, laid out the harmony that is to be in that family through mutual submission and concern, painting a most wonderful and attractive picture. And now as he readies to close, he brings us back to the daily fight and the reality that we are not yet home.
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
Finally/henceforward/for the remaining time … What Paul has described is true and real. But it is also the case that until the 2nd coming of Jesus, you and I are in a war zone. The old nature doesn’t want to hear that, preferring instead to think of Christianity as a comfortable religion, quite at home in this world, additionally the solution to all our personal difficulties. But the apostle is going to tell us otherwise. So, for the remaining time, be strong in the Lord, or more literally, “be strengthened” in the Lord. In fact according to the Greek tense, it is “be constantly strengthened” in the Lord. We don’t strengthen ourselves, it is God’s strength. The words used here to describe God’s power provided to His servants are exactly the same Greek words as Paul used in 1:9 in reference to the power that raised Jesus from the dead! We, in and of ourselves, are not up to the task. We must rely upon the kind of power that raised Christ. But then we DO have a part to play. We are to
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
Put on the whole armor of God. This is NOT “let go and let God”! This is NOT “now that you are part of the Christian club, let’s go have a nice warm premium drink at a comfortable café.” This is a command given to a soldier of the cross to prepare for a real battle. This is “prepare for combat, you’re in a war zone, and you face real enemies of your King that would defy Him and ruin you!” All that has gone before in Ephesians is wonderful and grand. But as sure as God is at work for good to bring these wonderful things to completion, there is a real devil that hates God and His servants, and is at work to oppose God. It’s surely not fashionable to speak in these terms these, even in supposedly conservative Christian circles, but this is what Scripture is telling us.
It is in two senses the armor “of God” that is to be put on. It is this armor that God provides to his servants. And it is the armor the Old Testament pictures God Himself as wearing.
Isaiah 59:14 Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
God’s armor is to be put on that His servants may “stand.” The picture here is not of a march or attack. It is one of holding the fort of the soul and of the church. There is genuine danger here, and the enemy would slay us. Commentators point out that in this conflict there is no Geneva Convention, no army field manual. There is an insidious, hateful, real foe that will use any and every means to destroy a servant of the King. He won’t play fair and he won’t relent. The believer’s protection is in the armor of God.
The rendering “schemes” is probably too light and devious-but-non-lethal sounding. Involved are cunning stratagems devised to destroy. An older and perhaps more appropriate rendering would be “wiles.”
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The enemy is fundamentally a spiritual enemy. Sure enough, that enemy makes use of his own human servants, and Christian people must resist them in various ways. Some Christian people will be persecuted and even killed by fellow humans in this fight. But at the center of things is a non-human enemy of our King, and his demonic cohorts.
And this is no abstract thing. The brief change of image in verse 12 to that of wrestling makes this very up close and personal. You and I, whether we recognize it or not, are personally up against the hosts of hell. And except that our King provides for us, we’re no match for the enemy of our souls. Luther knew it
A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.
And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.
That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.
This is not home. Paul speaks of this situation in which we live as “this present darkness” and says plainly that believers struggle in this life with real evil that has behind it beings that are “spiritual forces” in “heavenly places.” This does not sound like a safe, easy stroll through the park.
There is a famous sermon of JC Ryle (the text is easily found online) titled “True Christianity is a Fight” Here are a couple of quotes from it: “The true Christian is called to be a soldier and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence and security. He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and doze along the way to heaven, like one traveling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world, he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must ‘fight.’ … It is a fight of perpetual necessity. It admits of no breathing time, no armistice, no truce. On weekdays as well as on Sundays, in private as well as in public, at home by the family fireside as well as abroad, in little things, like management of tongue and temper, as well as in great ones, like the government of kingdoms, the Christian’s warfare must unceasingly go on. The foe we have to do with keeps no holidays, never slumbers and never sleeps. So long as we have breath in our bodies, we must keep on our armor and remember we are on an enemy’s ground. ‘Even on the brink of Jordan,’ said a dying saint, ‘I find Satan nibbling at my heels.’ We must fight until we die. … ”
13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
This being the case, the way things are, you and I would be well-advised to not show up for duty in our flip-flops and pink boxer shorts. Rather, we had best come dressed for combat. We had best come dressed in the whole armor of God, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm.
14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth. This is the basic item or foundation that holds one’s fatigues on and provides a hanger for one’s sword. This is where we start dressing for combat. There are two possible meanings for “truth.” Paul may have in mind the Gospel truth, or he may have in mind truthfulness. Either is possible and appropriate, but it seems most probable that since there is no definite article (it’s “truth” not “the truth”) and because Paul has already spoken at length about the Gospel, that it is “truthfulness” or integrity that is primarily intended here. And indeed, integrity/truthfulness is basic. God is truthful, always representing things as they really are, and His servants are therefore to be truthful if they are going to survive in His service in this cosmic conflict. We are to have integrity.
And we are to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Again, there are a couple of possibilities. The intention might be Christ’s righteousness positionally imputed to sinners, or it might be holy living. Again, either is possible and appropriate. But as something beyond what has been already discussed in the letter, it seems probable that it is primarily holy living that is intended. If Christian people are going to stand firm in the battle that is life in this world as servants of the King, they must be truthful people and they must live right.
15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
As shoes for your feet there is readiness given by the gospel. Apparently this verse is a bit obscure and it is hard to make out exactly what is under discussion. But a decent guess is that the picture is meant to be that of the sandals of a Roman soldier that have hobnailed soles that provide sure footing and the ability to join the battle on any kind of ground. It’s an interesting paradox that in this description of battle, there is reference to the fact that the Gospel is one of peace. The ultimate peace that believers have in knowing that God is the sovereign and blessed Controller of all things gives them a basis for courage and the ability to face anything in His service. It was said of Cromwell’s armies that they were completely fearless (and were never defeated) because they knew that all was in God’s hands.
16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
In ALL circumstances/to cover all the rest, take up the shield of faith. The word here is not the one for the small round shield that you think of being used in one-on-one hand-to-hand combat (as in gladiator movies). Instead it is the huge bowed rectangular-shaped thing that effectively locked together with others as Roman soldiers advanced side by side in the famous phalanx formation, each protecting his neighbor and all protected head to foot. To cover all the rest Paul points at a constant and consistent reliance upon God, a casting oneself on the mercy of the Almighty. The person who relies upon, trusts in, casts himself or herself wholly on Christ, can withstand ALL that the legions of darkness throw at him or her. But note that the emphasis is that the soldier is wholly covered in this reliance upon Christ.
17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
Recall that Isaiah sees God Himself wearing the helmet of salvation. The salvation that He gives believers allows His servants to hold their heads up, knowing that they are protected and able to fight and see things for what they are.
Psalm 140:7 O LORD, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, you have covered my head in the day of battle.
And finally, there is the word of God. This is not the “logos” “Word” of John 1:1. Rather it is the smaller “rhema” word of God. This refers not to the grand scale revelation of the Father in Jesus, but rather to more specific individual Scriptures. That is, specific Scriptures relevant to circumstances in which the servants of the King find themselves, are weapons of the King’s soldiers as they fight the good fight. One is reminded of the temptation of Christ and His answers to Satan in the words of Scripture.
Having listed these weapons of Christian warfare, Paul now emphasizes the centrality of prayer in this life in the battle zone.
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
Praying at ALL times, with ALL prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with ALL perseverance, making supplication for ALL the saints. As Ryle put it, this is a fight of perpetual necessity. It is constant, and our prayer must be constant. In all things the King’s servant ought to pray. They ought to pray for each other and Paul asks that the Ephesians pray for him.
19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
What matters to Paul and matters to all true soldiers of the King is the King’s cause, not the temporal safety of the servant. Paul’s concern is not that he be spared persecution, but that he not fail the Master. He asks that the Ephesians pray that he faithfully executes his duty as the King’s soldier.