Ephesians 6:10-20, Spiritual Warfare in God’s Strength:
- As we come close to the end of our letter, tonight’s verses continue to explain how we are to live our calling as referred to in Ephesians 4:1. But our reference here is on our true battle in this life and how it should be done in God’s strength.
- In our Christian life, there is no fighting war with fire, but there is fighting fire with the comfort and grace in the ready assurance of God’s strength!
· In light of all that God has done for you.
· In light of the glorious standing you have as a child of God.
· In light of His great plan of the ages that God has made you part of.
· In light of the plan for Christian maturity and growth He gives to you.
· In light of the conduct God calls every believer to live.
· In light of the filling of the Spirit and our walk in the Spirit.
· In light of all this, there is a battle to fight in the Christian life.
1. Our walk in the Spiritual warfare: (10-20)
- Now, “Finally” makes it clear that we are beginning a new section and getting to the end of the moral exhortation in Ephesians. The present-tense imperative “be strong” suggests an ongoing process, “keep on being strong.” Our strength comes from God.
- As “mighty power” emphasizes the supremacy of God’s power. It echoes what we read in 1:19, “his incomparably great power for us,” and in 3:20, God is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask of imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”
- Yet, in order to be strong in the Lord, Paul says we must “put on the full armor of God” (6:11). “Put on” is the same verb found in 4:24, “put on the new self.” It suggests that even if “be strong” means “be strengthened,” there are things we can do so that God’s power might strengthen us: we can put on God’s armor.
- “Full armor” also refers to “all armor.” Therefore, “Armor of God” could mean “the armor God supplies” or “God’s own armor.” And so we are fighting God’s battle with God’s weapons.
- So that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes (6:11). Because only when we are clothed in God’s armor will we be able to “take [our] stand against the devil’s schemes.” The term “devil,” diabolos in Greek, means “slanderer” and is regularly used in the Septuagint as a translation of the Hebrew satan, meaning “adversary,” from which we get the name “Satan.”
- Now back in 2:2 the devil is identified as “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” In 6:11 the devil has his “schemes” done by people outside of Christ. And yet, we can oppose the devil’s schemes effectively only if we are wearing God’s armor.
- Why is that? Paul says 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 (6:12). The word translated as “struggle” in secular Greek usually refers to a wrestling match.
- However, these enemies are not “flesh and blood.” They are not human. Though we might have conflicts with human beings and earthly institutions, behind them are myriad “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (6:12).
- Ephesians does not offer much detail on how this influence happens. But in 2:2 the ruler of the air is “at work in those who are disobedient.” In 4:26–27 anger can “give the devil a foothold.” According to 6:11 the devil has “schemes” to hurt us. In 6:16 the evil one shoots “flaming arrows” at us.
- And in his other writings, Paul gives hints about how Satan and his minions affect our lives. Satan can tempt us sexually (1 Cor 7:5). He can urge us to not forgive others (2 Cor 2:10–11). He can torment us through “a thorn in [the] flesh” (2 Cor 12:7).
- So we receive only tantalizing tidbits on how the devil works to oppose us. This lack of information about Satan is no accident. For Paul, an encyclopedic knowledge of the devil is not needed because Christ has defeated him and his powers (Eph 1:20–21; Col 2:8–15).
- Our struggles with evil forces matter, but we don’t need to worry about how the story will end. Christ has already secured victory, and we get to participate in it both in our current struggle and in our future celebration.
- And in this security, Paul says, 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 (6:13). The implication is that we must pick up God’s armor because of the nature of our opposition and so that we may be able to stand “when the day of evil comes.”
- Stand suggests “stand your ground.” It suggests standing firm in the face of an attack.
- Then Paul starts with by further describing our stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place (6:14). This armor imagery was inspired by the Old Testament, especially Isaiah 59:17 which reads: the Lord “put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head.” Both of these pieces of armor appear with the same sense in Ephesians 6:14–17, which shows clearly Paul’s dependence on Isaiah.
- The belt of truth refers to the truth communicated in the gospel (1:13) and embodied in Jesus (4:21). This is our first piece of armor.
- The “breastplate of righteousness” is mentioned explicitly in Isaiah 59:17 as something the Lord put on to bring judgment and justice to his people. Thus it’s not likely that the “breastplate of righteousness” in Ephesians refers to the righteousness of Christ applied to us. Rather, in this context righteousness is acting rightly according to God’s standards. It is being in right relationship with God and people. It is righteousness in individual relationships and justice in social structures.
- And with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (6:15). The “readiness” suggests intentional preparation for battle. A soldier would not want to go to war barefooted. And the phrase “gospel of peace” associated here with feet echoes 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!’ ”
- Peace plays a central role in Ephesians as that which Christ forges through his death. Verses 2:14–16 read, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.” Even as Christ preached peace to people far and near (2:17), so we are to be ready to do the same as we prepare for battle with cosmic powers (see also 3:7–11).
- Take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (6:16). The metaphor of flaming arrows appears in the Old Testament, though not with reference to Satan (see Ps 7:13; Prov 26:18). In Ephesians 6:16 “flaming arrows” represent whatever Satan and his minions are able to “shoot” at Christians to hurt them.
- The use of “extinguish” to describe the function of a shield might seem odd to us. We might imagine a shield blocking the flaming arrows but not quenching them. Roman soldiers used large shields covered in leather. Since their shields were vulnerable to flaming arrows, the soldiers would wet their shields before battle. Thus the shields would actually quench the flames of the arrows.
- One commentator observes that since the protection of a Roman army required all the shield bearers to march together in formation, verse 16 underscores something implicit throughout this passage, namely, that Christians must fight together, not alone.
- How does faith extinguish demonic attack? If the particular attack is doubt, then faith will effectively quench it. But more is intended here. The Greek phrase behind “shield of faith” could also be translated “shield of the faith.” It points to faith not just as trust in God but also as the core of Christian belief, as in 4:5 and 13. Thus the shield of the faith enables us to extinguish flaming arrows, not just of doubt but also of unbelief and false belief. It extinguishes “all” of the devil’s arrows.
- The helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6:17). This verse includes a new imperative, “take.” “The helmet of salvation” appears as part of God’s armor in Isaiah 59:17. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 mentions “the hope of salvation as a helmet” that encourages us in times of trial. In Ephesians the “helmet of salvation” refers mainly to our experience of salvation by grace through faith (2:8).
- When we remember that once we lived subject to satanic power (2:1–2) but God saved us because of his “great love” and “grace” (2:4–5), we can have confidence that we are protected from ongoing demonic attack.
- When we hear “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word [rhēma] of God,” we naturally think that it must symbolize the Bible. No doubt there is a close relationship between the sword/word of 6:17 and Scripture, but this is not what Paul means in 6:17. For one thing, the Bible as we know it didn’t exist in his day.
- The Old Testament canon of inspired writings may have been known through the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. But the New Testament was in the process of being written. Moreover, earlier in Ephesians Paul identifies the “message [logos] of truth” with “the gospel of your salvation” (1:13).
- So Paul was lifting up the core truth of God’s work in Christ, something closely related to the truth that is buckled around our waist and the gospel we wear as a helmet. The gospel, the word of God, may be the most powerful weapon in our spiritual arsenal.
- The “sword of the Spirit” is the only obviously offensive weapon in God’s armor. The Greek word translated as “sword” refers to a smaller of two blades carried by Roman soldiers. This has led some interpreters to claim that the “sword of the Spirit” is not actually an offensive weapon at all, but rather a defensive one.
- But in fact this blade functioned both defensively and offensively, especially in hand-to-hand combat. So the sword of the Spirit, the word of God and all that goes along with it, enables us to engage in spiritual warfare not just defensively but offensively too.
- Then we get to prayer (6:18). The Greek, however, features a participle dependent on the imperative from verse 17: “Take the helmet … praying.” In other words, verses 18–20 do not introduce prayer as a new subject. Rather, they complete the thought of verses 10–17. They help to answer the question of what we do once we’ve put on God’s armor. How do we engage in God’s battle? We pray.
- We don’t just pray a little bit, either. Verse 18 contains four different uses of the Greek word meaning “all”: “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 Lord’s people.”
- Three additional phrases in verse 18 explain how we are to pray. First, we are to pray “in the Spirit.” This could refer to praying in an unknown language (see 1 Cor 14:13–19) but should not be limited to praying in tongues. According to Romans 8:26–27, the Spirit helps us as we pray and even intercedes for us.
- Second, we are to “be alert.” This doesn’t simply mean that we shouldn’t fall asleep while praying. Rather, it urges us to be attentive to what needs prayer and how God wants us to pray. With the same verb as in Ephesians 6:18, Jesus urges his disciples to “be alert” to the eschatological signs of the times (Mark 13:33).
- Third, we are to “always keep on praying.” The original reads more literally “being alert in all perseverance and prayer.” Romans 12:12 urges us to be “constant in prayer” (ESV; emphasis added).
- Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel (6:19). The readers of Ephesians should pray for “all the Lord’s people,” including Paul.
- He used the general exhortation to pray as an occasion to seek prayer for himself. He desired prayer in support of his evangelistic mission, asking that a word (logos) be given him when he opened his mouth. The passive implies that this word would be given from God. Also Paul’s readers should pray that he “will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.”
- Paul uses the same verb “to be an ambassador” in 2 Corinthians 5:20 where he says, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors.” But in Ephesians, Paul’s ambassadorial role is ironic. He claims to be serving as an ambassador, a position worthy of honor in the Roman world.
- Yet in fact he was in chains and a socially dishonored prisoner because of his ambassadorial effort (see 3:1; 4:1). The final part of verse 20 reiterates in slightly different language what Paul had requested in verse 19, namely, that he declare the gospel fearlessly or boldly, adding “as I should.”
- To the Corinthians Paul wrote, “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). He was under compulsion not only to preach the gospel but also to do it boldly. Such boldness comes from God, which is why Paul asks his readers to pray for this specific need.
- So in 6:10–20 prayer is not identified with a piece of armor. Rather, it is portrayed as what we do once we have put on our armor. We fight not just defensively but also offensively through prayer. Yes, we also fight by wielding the sword of the Spirit, the good news of God’s work in Christ.
- But as Paul demonstrated by his own request for prayer, even this offensive effort depends on prayer because it requires God’s power. Prayer is arguably the most important activity in our battle with the powers of darkness.
- Prayer is central to spiritual warfare according to Ephesians 6:10–20. Once we have put on the armor of God, we are to fight by praying.
- When we have put on the armor, we don’t just stand there passively. We do something active. We pray. We pray with all kinds of prayer, all the time, for all people. Prayer is how we fight.”