An Undying Love
To this point, Paul has written about the wonders and provisions of grace that God has given his people (1:1-14). He has spoken of their regeneration (2:1-10), their reconciliation (2:11-22), and their reception of revelation (3:1-6). He has given the examples of how and what to pray (1:15-22; 3:14-21). He has shown them the gifts and graces of church life (4:11-16) and how it helps foster the new life in Christ (4:17-5:21). Paul has given instruction about godly order in distinct relationships (5:22-6:9). Now he gives instructions to all as to how they are to withstand the various assaults that are sure to come upon them as God’s children in an anti-God world.
I. Paul gives a Command to be strong (Verses 10, 11).
A. Note the sphere in which we are to find our strength (verse 10).
- We are to be strong in the Lord. We know that strength does not come from us, but God himself will supply it as needed. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God, we are in the Father’s hands and none can take us from him. We approach this sure conflict, therefore, with confidence that God works in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12, 13).
- The phrase “the strength of his might,” reminds us that God’s power as described in 1:19, 20 already has operated for our sake in raising us from death to life in Christ (1:5, 6). The combination of these two words means that there is an active strength already in exertion for us that finds it unceasing source supply from the omnipotence resident within the very nature of God. Paul prayed that we might know the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (1:19).
B. Paul introduces his readers to weapons and the character of the enemy (verse 11).
- The phrase “the full armor of God” should encourage us for God will not allow us to be ill-prepared for the battle of perseverance before us. It is a full, not a partial, armor. All that will be needed for defense on the one hand and carrying the battle into enemy territory on the other is ready to be ensembled.
- The enemy is wily and scheming. He also has about 6,000 years of experience in seeking to make the elect of God stumble. He will use all of his cunning energized by his hatred, his deceitfulness, and his purpose to steal, kill, and destroy. Jesus had battles with him during his time of testing on earth (e.g Matthew 4:1-11) and already has placed him under his feet (1:22). Jesus places before us the foe that sought to destroy him. We follow Christ, and, in his strength, we will show that Christ defeats this foe not only in his own work but in the persevering lives of his people.
II. Paul expands the field of conflict (Verses 12, 13). Having instructed that we need to be prepared for battle and having introduced us to the enemy, Paul now increases the detail about the battle before us.
A. “Not against flesh and blood” does not mean that there are never human enemies to the gospel against which we must struggle. Jesus told his disciples that “parents, and brothers and relatives and friends” would deliver them up (Luke 21:16). Real flesh and blood people who have held heretical doctrines have been enemies of the truth and have deceived many. Peter warned that “false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies” and John warned that “false prophets have gone out into the world” (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Even Paul, earlier in this letter (4:14) warned against the “trickery of men” who engage in “craftiness in deceitful scheming.” In the final outworking of all this, however, one may look to the “god of this age, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience” (2:1).
B. He identifies the ultimate enemy by four different phrases. These are not necessarily four different types of spiritual forces but represent an accumulation of spheres of operation.
- One position occupied by the oppositional forces is that of a ruler, or a prince. In this present fallen world, given all the intelligent forces at work, Satan and his angels rule over the manner in which they relate their work to God’s law and to the gospel. “The God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
- These alien forces are called “authorities” or powers for the kind of leverage that has been granted them by God’s own judicial authority. Presently, God restrains him (2 Thessalonians 2:7). John says that the “whole world lies in the evil one.” Those outside of Christ and his saving power do willingly the bidding of the evil one. As a matter of retributive justice God may release the rebellious to even greater rebelliousness and deceit (2 Thessalonians 2:11, 12).
- They are the “world forces of this darkness,” These cosmocrats are given leave to exert their schemes in the present order of darkness. Darkness is used frequently as a symbol of the pervasive presence and oppressive influence of the fallen angels. They themselves are assigned to “gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4), and their influence is maintained by obscuring the truth. If we “walk in darkness” we do “not practice the truth.” The gospel is likened to light: “God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Conversion is likened to light shining out of darkness (2 Corinthians 4:6).
- “Spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” identifies these forces as in harmony with the “prince of the power of the air” (2:2) They are spiritual beings and so may inhabit the air as well as go “to and fro” (Job 1) in the earth and “prowl around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). Two of the words used in this list of four spheres are also used in the phrase “the prince of the power of the air.” Those who may deny the reality of the demonic in the world simply must ignore, or disbelieve, the teaching of Scripture. Wickedness dwells in the human heart and is sufficient to make this world a seething cauldron of destruction. But prior to human evil, and more powerful in their ability to execute their strategy, are the powers that left heaven under the rebellion of Satan.
C. Paul repeats the need for the “full armor of God.”
- The armor is needed for defensive work in a day of intense assault on one’s faith, “the evil day.” In a fallen world all the days are evil, but this statement refers to a time when it appears that evil is particularly unopposed in the experience of a person. This can cause panic, despair and bring about the descent of dark clouds of dread; but the one who sees and trusts the good providence of God for his people will look at the conflict with spiritual confidence.
- When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested in the garden, he said, “But this is your hour and power of darkness” (Luke 22:53).
- When the three Hebrews were thrown into a burning furnace (Daniel 3:19, 20), this was an apparent unopposed victory for the enemies of God.
- In both instances, we find an overarching providence and redemptive purpose that transformed the “evil day” into a manifestation of the power and gracious operation of God.
- Not only does the full armor protect against assault, it gives one the confidence not to retreat, but to “stand firm.” The phrase, “having done everything,” probably is anticipatory of the instructions that follow in verses 14-18. If the Christian takes advantage of all the equipment for battle provided in the sealing of the Spirit (1:13, 14), he will be fully panoplied for fight against the dark forces of this world until he is taken to glory.
III. Paul described the “whole armor of God” (Verses 14-18). Having affirmed in verse 13 that the person who does indeed take the full armor of God will be still standing at the close of the conflict of the evil day, Paul turns it into a command. “Stand firm.”
A. Loins girded with truth – In every conflict we should find that our purpose always is for the advancement of the truth. The girdle around the loins held the tunic in place and from it was suspended the scabbard for his weapon. We are motivated by truth and give coherence to our entire battle by personal love of truth and submission to divine revelation. A hymn prominent in churches decades ago had the line, “Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor into the battle for truth.” Truth sustains us and it is for truth that we endure the contest.
B. The breast protected by righteousness. The vital organs are protected by righteousness. This probably has a dual reference.
- In Isaiah 11:5 “Righteousness shall be the belt of his loins,” refers to the “rod from the stem of Jesse,” the Messiah. Paul looks upon that righteousness as ours. Justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ gives unwavering certainty of the hope of eternal life. Christ’s merits become ours. He already is in heaven at the right hand of the Father because he is the righteous one. We need not, therefore, fear death. Clothed in righteousness we can say in the midst of the conflict, because there is “therefore, now no condemnation,” “O death where is thy sting?”
- Also, having seen the beauty of righteousness and having loved it, we give ourselves to a righteous cause. In Christ, now discerning true righteousness, we pursue it and see our conflicts in terms of the cause of righteousness. We also await the day when we will receive “the crown of righteousness” that will be given by a “righteous judge” to all who “have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
C. The feet are in readiness to move forward with the gospel of peace. This is the work that often brings about the “evil day.” Seeking to advance the gospel of peace in a world at war with God is the very thing that brings opposition. Ironically, the message that brings peace, reconciliation with God, incites the evil opposition of the world. It is significant that Paul asked the church to use the means of prayer to strengthen Paul in this very task, “to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, . . . that I may speak boldly as I ought to speak” (6:19, 20).
D. The shield held in front as we go forward is faith. Faith includes two realities inextricably tied to each other.
- On our part it involves a conscious submission to divine truth and determined and abandoned trust in the person and work of Christ. Jonathan Edwards called faith “the act of unition on our part.” This arises from a spiritually wrought consciousness of our need and the sufficient provision made by God. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). When immovably fixed on God’s promise, faith will certainly endure; if it moves away from the integrated truths of the gospel as preached by Paul and the apostles, it was never a gospel faith. We will appear blameless and above reproach before him in the final day “if we continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians 1:23).
- Our personal faith is generated by the objective reality of the faithfulness of God. —who cannot lie—to be consistent with his eternal decrees “promised before the ages began”, his present promises (“He who called you is faithful; he will surely do it” 1 Thess 5:23), his gracious provisions in the gospel (“at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I [Paul] have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (Titus 1:1-3). This is the “faith of God’s elect.” Those who hold it certainly will be held by God’s faithfulness. Those who do not hold it and demonstrate it by a denial of his truth will be lost. “If we deny him, he will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
- The shield, therefore, of God’s immutable faithfulness which is the foundation and cause of our faith, generates also faithfulness on our part, a shield to quench the killing arrows of the evil one.
E. Protecting the head is a helmet of salvation. The entirety of God’s saving work, including the reality of our citizenship in heaven, protects our thinking. Divine revelation about the comprehensive nature of how and for what purpose God saves sinners makes us forget what is behind, strain toward what is ahead and move relentlessly and faithfully forward to our eternal fellowship with the triune God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Having the mind fully occupied with the truths of salvation we “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
F. Paul lists two weapons of offense.
- We are armed with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” We have no other source of authority for the Christian life and for confronting the world with God’s eternal truth. While Paul still was speaking and writing that which would finally be gathered as Scripture, he was nevertheless aware that his writing would be the perpetuation of special revelation (review his argument in 3:2-5). Precisely, Scripture is the “sword of the Spirit” for “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that final product has come for “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10). Its power as a sword is emphasized also in Hebrews 4:12, 13. We need not argue about things that can be known and set forth only by divine revelation. We simply wield them as a sword, needing no evidence that it is a sword other than the gashes it makes upon proper application.
- We also are armed with prayer in the Spirit. As the Spirit inspires the word, so the Spirit infuses our prayers with the truth of the divine will (Romans 8:26, 27; 1 John 5:13-15). Paul depended on the prayers of God’s saints to join with the providential arrangements effected by the Spirit of God (Philippians 1:19; 2 Corinthians 1:10, 11). Never must we take lightly the commands to pray, the biblical examples of prayer, the promises attached to prayer, or the reality that prayer is one of the effectual means by which God works his will for the growth of his people and the progress of the gospel (James 1:16).
IV. Paul asked that the weapon of prayer be wielded on his account (Verses 19, 20).
A. He asked them to pray that “utterance” [word] would be given. Aware that his apostolic ministry partook of the character of divine revelation, even as the Old Testament prophets had the Spirit descend upon them for a “Thus saith the Lord,” even in this he asked that prayer would come to his aid in such revealed utterances. He returned to his theme of the opening of mystery (3:3, 4, 9) in his words to the churches and in his evangelistic involvement with unbelievers.
B. Also included, since he is an “ambassador in chains” (20), he wants such prayer for bold speaking without compromise in his personal defenses before authorities. Paul wanted prayer that he would be speaking truth, and that these defenses would result in an opportunity to preach the gospel. See Acts 26:2-23.
C. Even as Paul had prayed for assistance to proclaim the mystery of the gospel with boldness, the book of Acts ends with the words, “He lived there [Rome] two years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30).
D. He asked for their prayers for he knew that they cared for him. Accordingly, therefore he sent Tychicus to them to let them know of his circumstances. The words Paul used to describe Tychicus are sobering and inspiring for a servant of the Lord, “the beloved brother and servant of the Lord” (21). In giving his message about Paul’s welfare, Tychicus also would comfort their hearts. They would see that, even as Paul told the Philippians, “My circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). This news would comfort them, for they loved Paul and the gospel he was commissioned to preach.
E. Paul closed by reminding them of the necessary reciprocity of gospel grace toward us and our love for God.
- God gives to us peace, reconciliation with God. He does this by engendering a love for righteousness and consequent trust in the righteousness of Christ as our salvation. “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Though love and faith come from our soul toward God, it arises from the work of God in opening our eyes and hearts to the glorious beauty of the gospel and the person of Christ in whom the gospel consists. Paul wrote the Galatians, “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).
- He summarized his instructions to Timothy in this way: “The aim [end, or purpose] of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). The order in this statement of purpose is this:
- Regeneration cleanses the heart of its hatred and inveterate opposition to truth and godliness and thus produces love in place of hatred.
- This alteration of affections also cleanses the conscience changing our perception of God’s stance toward us from one of shrinking fear and dark distrust to grace-induced confidence in his presence because of the obedience of Jesus Christ.
- The confidence seen in the substitutionary death of Christ for us, at the same moment produces faith, trust, in Christ alone. We can see clearly that we are not saved by our works but only by faith in Christ.
- One of the most sure evidences, therefore, of faith in the saving work of Christ, is love for him. “Jesus the very thought of Thee with sweetness fills my breast. But sweeter far thy face to see, and in thy presence rest.”
- As the epistle begins with a statement of God’s eternal love of predestination (1:4, 5), it ends with the affirmation that those who have received such eternal and enduring love will themselves “love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” (24).