(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
Please read Ephesians 6:10-20 in your Bible.
CONTEXT = The Apostle Paul used the word FINALLY (v. 10) in the same way some preachers do; not really meaning they are coming to an end. They give you hope it’s about to end, but when all is said and done, the word “finally” fell in the middle of their time. To satisfy my own curiosity, I looked it up and found that Paul used the word FINALLY seven times. In Philippians he used it twice! Three times, it appears in the middle of the letter, four times in the last chapter, but never in the last paragraph.
Here in Ephesians, the word FINALLY indicates Paul is getting to the last important subject. The actual end of the letter is personal greetings and a blessing.
Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.
- True strength and power is a gift from God. (10-13)
In verse ten it is written, BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. In the original language, the verb translated as BE STRONG is in what’s called “passive voice.” This means the word itself indicates the source of this strength is not from within us; it is received, not generated. Our part is to seek God and trust in His strength rather than rely on our own personal strength.
As Paul made clear in the next phrase – IN THE LORD – God gives us strength. In fact, Paul is so eager to reinforce this point he added IN HIS MIGHTY POWER. Aware of human nature to trust in ourselves, Paul tripled down on this emphasis. POWER and STRENGTH are the same words Paul used in Ephesians 1:19-20 to explain how God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
The word FULL (complete) used in reference to the ARMOR OF GOD in verses eleven and thirteen is important. The intent is to reassure us that when God promises to strengthen us for battle, we are FULLY prepared, not partially. His strength is all we need. It is a call to spiritual maturity using language akin to the FILLING of the Spirit.
Our STRUGGLE is properly understood as resistance against spiritual evil (verse twelve). The word STRUGGLE is borrowed from sports and pictures two wrestlers grappling with one another. Though people do evil and oppose God, mere FLESH AND BLOOD do not provide their own spiritual power.
Instead, people who do evil are powered by spiritual evil. RULERS and AUTHORITIES are two words Paul commonly used for beings of spiritual evil. He has already done so twice in this letter (see 1:21; 3:10). Paul referred to the POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD. The expression “world powers” was widely used in all cultures of Paul’s day to refer to spirits or demons. Paul added the word DARK to signify these are evil beings who influence people to do sinful things.
Bible writers saw two spiritual kingdoms at work in the world, unseen except for their interactions with people. There was the Kingdom of God on the one hand and the kingdom of Satan on the other. While these kingdoms are in conflict, they are not equal in power and the kingdom of Satan is doomed to destruction.
Paul also described them as SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS. The phrase SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL refers to all demonic and evil spirits of all types. It may surprise us to read they exist IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS, where we expect to find peace and tranquility.
There are two ways of looking at this seeming contradiction. One, HEAVENLY REALMS refers to the “spirit world,” the reality that exists alongside our physical reality. It is a more general term while “heaven” specifically refers to the place where God is enthroned. Two, in accord with John’s Revelation, we see the current version of heaven is not a place of idyllic peace and quiet, but is a place of conflict between spiritual beings of good and evil. The conflicted condition of earth reflects the conflicted condition of heaven. That version of heaven will be replaced by the NEW HEAVEN and NEW EARTH described in Revelation 21-22.
According to verses thirteen and fourteen, the goal of our STRUGGLE is simply to STAND. The word appears four times in this passage, according to our English Bibles.
Paul warned a DAY OF EVIL was coming. Though he refers to it as a single day, Paul doesn’t necessarily mean one DAY OF EVIL for all people, but whenever a time of STRUGGLE arises in a person’s life. We needn’t be too literal here.
In the face of what would otherwise be an overwhelming spiritual force, God makes us able to STAND our ground, resist temptations and enduring trials. AFTER YOU HAVE DONE EVERYTHING refers to the alertness commanded in verse eighteen. Prayer is the means by which we PUT ON THE FULL ARMOR OF GOD. This underscores our need to prepare for a DAY OF EVIL by maturing in our spiritual life.
Paul said it again: we are to STAND FIRM. God doesn’t expect us to win the war for Him, just to survive it with our faith intact. The word means “stand against” or “resist.”
- Symbols of the implements of spiritual warfare. (14-17)
#1 = THE BELT OF TRUTH BUCKLED AROUND YOUR WAIST.
This image appears first in Isaiah 11:5: “He shall be girded with righteousness around the waist and bound with truth along the sides.” The TRUTH includes but is not limited to biblical teaching, as all truth comes from God.
Being prepared to resist evil requires us to learn, accept, and use the truth about ourselves as well. Spiritually maturing people are humble and humility is an accurate self-understanding. Humble people are not self-centered; they do not think too highly or too lowly about themselves. More importantly, they know their giftedness, their role, and all the strengths God has provided them.
It’s possible that Paul listed the TRUTH first because that’s the first thing the Enemy will try to corrupt. As did the serpent in the garden, the devil will try to cloud our understanding of what God said and what His will is.
#2 = THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Isaiah 59:17 depicts God as the Divine Warrior with this detail of His appearance: “He put on righteousness as his breastplate.” RIGHTEOUSNESS is moral integrity; conformity to the will of God.
The lack of righteousness puts sinners at a distance from God (see Isaiah 59:14) but nothing is closer to your heart than a BREASTPLATE. This is a symbol of close fellowship with God. To PUT ON this BREASTPLATE requires us to seek to live in moral purity and wholeheartedly commune with God.
#3 = FEET FITTED WITH THE READINESS THAT COMES FROM THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.
Paul may have thought about Isaiah 52:7, which says, “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!’” One’s footwear takes on obvious importance when the objective is to STAND. Paul does not specify any particular kind of footgear, so that’s not the point. The point is preparedness, as indicated in the word READINESS. In this case, it is READINESS to be a witness to the Good News of salvation in Christ, which is THE GOSPEL OF PEACE.
It’s ironic that Paul uses the word PEACE in this teaching about spiritual warfare. However, speaking the word of God, telling people the Good News of Jesus Christ, these things bring about peace. Peace is the heart of the Good News.
The best way a believer can oppose a lie is to tell the truth. Also, if people know the truth, they will be better equipped to resist a lie. In John 8:44, Jesus described Satan as “the Father of all lies.” When the truth is told, Satan is directly opposed.
Followers of Jesus PUT ON this piece of armor by learning the word of God. Concentrate more on the word itself, less on what people have said about it. By studying and memorizing the word of God, you will be prepared to speak the word of God at every opportunity.
#4 = THE SHIELD OF FAITH, WITH WHICH YOU CAN EXTINGUISH ALL THE FLAMING ARROWS OF THE EVIL ONE.
FAITH is trust in God, being convinced and assured that He keeps all His promises: we are in His hands. A physical shield is defensive equipment, held in one’s hands. A Roman shield was four feet high, two and a half feet wide and several inches thick. It provided complete protection from arrows if the soldier set the base on the ground and knelt behind it. If he stayed behind the shield he would be safe from slings and arrows. This image explains Paul’s comment about the devil’s arrows. Notice Paul’s assurance that the SHIELD will defend against ALL the devil’s arrows.
In the Bible, God is described as our shield (Genesis 15:1; Psalm 5:12), but there is no Old Testament passage that shows God employing a shield in His role as “divine warrior.” The image of FLAMING ARROWS is biblical: in Psalms 7:13 and 144:6, God is the one who shoots them. Among weapons of the time, a flaming arrow was the most feared because it delivered a fiery material that could not easily be put out; it was a devastating weapon against wood structures.
In our experience, trials and temptations involve human beings and/or material things, but Paul identifies the archer as THE EVIL ONE. This is a reminder of v. 12. This is essentially a spiritual war. Our chief opponent is a spiritual being whom we can resist, if we fight with God’s weapons and His strength.
A SHIELD is an apt symbol of FAITH because it is our knowledge of the truth and our trust in God that empowers us to withstand our enemy’s trials and temptations. Faith is trust in God as our protector; we are safe as we stand behind Him.
#5 = THE HELMET OF SALVATION.
While the SHIELD OF FAITH image was original to Paul, the HELMET OF SALVATION is part of the description of God as the Divine Warrior in Isaiah 59:17: “He will put…the helmet of salvation on his head.” God not only fights on behalf of His people but he also makes His divine armaments available to his people.
1 Thessalonians 5:8 was Paul’s first use of THE HELMET OF SALVATION. There it was a more forward-looking view of salvation as the congregation in Thessalonica was concerned about salvation connected with Jesus’ Second Coming. Here’s Paul’s pastoral concern is centered in the immediate moment, in how our SALVATION enables us to STAND amidst our present STRUGGLE.
A helmet offers much-needed protection of the head, but a trade-off is it often restricts the wearer’s peripheral vision. To PUT ON this piece of armor, the believer needs to focus his attention on Christ, ignoring distractions and non-essentials (see Hebrews 12:2).
#6 = THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD.
A SWORD is the only offensive or attacking part of this spiritual armory. The fact that is a symbol of the Scriptures means that believers are to use God’s word to resist every experience of spiritual evil. (Evangelism is an example of this use of the SWORD. It takes the fight to the devil because we are using the word to convert enemies into friends.)
On the other hand, a SWORD was also a defensive weapon, used to parry or block attacks by an enemy. The symbol is just as flexible, so we understand that the word of God can also be used to answer all attacks on our faith, in both the physical and spiritual worlds. (The study of how to rationally defend our faith is called “apologetics.” This is an example of a defensive use of the word.)
This symbolic SWORD is said to be OF THE SPIRIT because all Scripture has been revealed by the power and action of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
The use of the WORD OF GOD in Isaiah 11:4 employs a ROD instead of a SWORD, but it shows how the WORD is to be used in attack mode; “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”
Jesus’ followers take up the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT as they apply God’s word to their lives. Biblical literacy is an essential part of discipleship.
- Prayer is where spiritual warfare is won or lost. (18-20)
(NOTE: Paul does not list prayer as a separate implement of war. Instead, prayer is the means by which the implements listed are PUT ON.)
Verse eighteen is a general call to prayer. In chapters one and three, Paul has modeled prayer for them. Here he develops the quality and quantity aspects of prayer. The command to PRAY IN THE SPIRIT calls us to a quality of prayer which is made possible only in connection with the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not a performance or a ritual. It is more than conversation, it is communion with God (see Romans 8:26-27). The phrase WITH ALL KINDS OF PRAYERS AND REQUESTS indicates that the form of prayer is not at all at issue. There is no room for legalism or judging other people’s prayers. This is also an important point for the Ephesians who needed to know the distinction between incantations and prayers. God knows every heart, what is actually in a person when they pray. so what we can see and hear is only the surface.
Paul also addresses quantity of prayer in the following phrases, each of which is quantified by the word ALL.
– ON ALL OCCASIONS means “at every opportunity.” One of the most appropriate questions we can ask is “May I pray for you?” It reflects 5:26, MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY, BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.
– ALWAYS KEEP PRAYING FOR ALL THE SAINTS includes a couple versions of the word “all.” When prayer is not bound by legalities, one is free to pray at any moment, in silent communion with God, even in the midst of a crowd.
– The object of our prayers is for one another: ALL THE SAINTS. Our prayers to PUT ON the armor are not just for ourselves, but for each other to be similarly clad and ready for battle.
WITH THIS IN MIND refers to Paul’s teaching on spiritual warfare as a motive to pray, being alert to the signs of the conflict all around us. In Mark 14:38 Jesus called His disciples to “watch and pray” to avoid falling into temptation.
To be ALERT or watch requires we believe something is going to happen. The more immanent the event seems, the more motivated we are to watch out for it.
Verses nineteen to twenty are Paul’s call to prayer for himself, to not be intimidated into silence by his imprisonment. Paul requested prayer specifically for his speaking: WHENEVER I OPEN MY MOUTH. In the phrase, WORDS MAY BE GIVEN ME Paul brings to mind Jesus’ promise to His followers that when they are persecuted and drug before the rulers of the land, He will give them powerful words (see Luke 21:14-15).
SO I WILL FEARLESSLY MAKE KNOWN THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL. PRAY THAT I MAY DECLARE IT FEARLESSLY AS I SHOULD anticipates Paul’s opportunity to appear before the Roman Emperor. Imagine the intimidation factor of standing before the man who ruled the empire that spanned the known world!
Remember Paul has used the word MYSTERY to refer to the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ. (This is the seventh time in Ephesians he’s used the word!) It is synonymous with “Gospel” and refers to the revealing of God’s plan of salvation.
Paul’s prayer concern was that he would fulfill His mission as an AMBASSADOR of the Gospel in spite of the limitations of his CHAINS. Paul endured imprisonment in Rome for two years and for a similar length of time prior to being brought to Rome.
As he indicated in Romans 1:16-17 and 2 Timothy 1:8, Paul was never ashamed of his imprisonments, because he knew he was God’s AMBASSADOR; the highest status available to a human being and more importantly, because his message was eternal life from God.
Our struggle is spiritual, not worldly.
Reflecting on the state of the Church in America and our church, I see two problems with this topic of spiritual warfare.
One, we act as if there were no war going on at all. The Church has been “unequally yoked” (see 2 Corinthians 6:4) with our culture. That worked OK in earlier generations when the influence was primarily in favor of the Church. However, in the last two generations, American culture has come to exert greater influence over the Church. The Church and the culture are virtually indistinguishable and are headed in the same self-destructive direction. As the Church takes very little pains to be counter-cultural, we are being drug down with them.
Thus, one step in this war with spiritual evil is to stop allying ourselves with worldly evil. The Church must throw off its yoke, end its association with a “post-Christian” culture that increasingly hates and blames us.
Two, we act as if we have no idea who the enemy is. Inside the walls of local churches, we too often treat one another as the enemy. In petty disputes over worldly things like letters and numbers, we divide and deride and attempt to dominate one another.
There are, no doubt, persons in every congregation, who have no good business being there. This is indicated when we treat one another as competitors or enemies, forgetting our struggle is against evil spiritual powers. Our brothers and sisters are supposed to be our allies.
In short, we are the Israelites all over again. We befriend the pagans and take on their ways instead of loving one another. We accept idols and reject the living God.
For all these reasons we must heed Paul’s call to preparedness for war. In part, living is struggling. We need to heed God’s word and know with whom we are to struggle and with whom we are to be allied. Whenever the Israelites followed God into battle, they were victorious. May the same be said of us.
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold