Week of October 1, 2017
The Point: God equips us for the spiritual battles we face.
The Whole Armor of God: Ephesians 6:10-20.
 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  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.  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.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  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,  and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel,  for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. [ESV[
“Paul has been stressing so far in Ephesians the major characteristics of the new life and the new society in Christ: unity, diversity, purity and harmony. But now Paul brings us down to earth, and to realities harsher than dreams. He reminds us of the opposition. Beneath surface appearances an unseen spiritual battle is raging. He introduces us to the devil (already mentioned in 2:2 and 4:7) and to certain principalities and powers at his command. He supplies us with no biography of the devil, and no account of the origin of the forces of darkness. He assumes their existence as common ground between himself and his readers. In any case, his purpose is not to satisfy our curiosity, but to warn us of their hostility and teach us how to overcome them. Is God’s plan to create a new society? Then they will do their utmost to destroy it. Has God through Jesus Christ broken down the walls dividing human beings of different races and cultures from each other? Then the devil through his emissaries will strive to rebuild them. Does God intend His reconciled and redeemed people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of hell will scatter among them the seeds of discord and sin. It is with these powers that we are told to wage war, or to wrestle . Paul wants to emphasize the reality of our engagement with the powers of evil, and the grim necessity of hand-to-hand combat.
The enemy we face [10-12]. A thorough knowledge of the enemy and a healthy respect for his prowess are a necessary preliminary to victory in war. Similarly, if we underestimate our spiritual enemy, we shall see no need for God’s armor, we shall go out to the battle unarmed, with no weapons but our own puny strength, and we shall be quickly and ignominiously defeated. So in between his summons to seek the Lord’s strength and put on God’s armor on the one hand [10-11] and his itemizing of our weapons on the other [13-20] Paul gives us a full and frightening description of the forces arrayed against us . Our struggle is not with human beings but with cosmic intelligences; our enemies are not human but demonic. The forces arrayed against us have three main characteristics. First, they are powerful. Authorities and cosmic powers draw attention to the power and authority these forces wield. They are also called rulers … over this present darkness … spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. This does not deny our Lord’s decisive conquest of the principalities and powers, but indicate that as usurpers they have not conceded defeat or been destroyed. So they continue to exercise considerable power. Secondly, they are wicked. Power itself is neutral; it can be well used or misused. But our spiritual enemies use their power destructively rather than constructively, for evil not for good. They are the worldwide rulers over this present darkness. They hate the light, and shrink from it. Darkness is their natural habitat, the darkness of falsehood and sin. They are also described as the spiritual forces of evil, which operate in heavenly places, that is, in the sphere of invisible reality. Darkness and wickedness characterize their actions. If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs. Thirdly, they are cunning. Paul writes here of the schemes of the devil . He transforms himself into an angel of light [2 Cor. 11:14]. He is a dangerous wolf, but enters Christ’s flock in the disguise of a sheep. Sometimes he roars like a lion, but more often is as subtle as a serpent [1 Peter 5:8; Gen. 3:1]. We must not imagine, therefore, that open persecution and open temptation to sin are his only or even his commonest weapons; he prefers to seduce us into compromise and deceive us into error. The schemes of the devil take many forms, but he is at his wiliest when he succeeds in persuading people that he does not exist. To deny his reality is to expose ourselves the more to his subtlety. In Paul’s characterization of them, then, the powers of darkness are powerful, wicked and cunning. How can we expect to stand against the assaults of such enemies? It is impossible. We are far too weak and too ingenuous. Yet many – if not most – of our failures and defeats are due to our foolish self-confidence when we either disbelieve or forget how formidable our spiritual enemies are. Only the power of God can defend and deliver us from the might, the evil and the craft of the devil. True, the principalities and powers are strong, but the power of God is stronger. It is His power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead and enthroned Him in the heavenly places, and which has raised us from the death of sin and enthroned us with Christ. These evil forces were defeated at the cross and are now under Christ’s feet and ours. So the invisible world in which they attack us and we defend ourselves is the very world in which Christ reigns over them and we reign with Him. Two exhortations stand side by side. The first is general: be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might . The second is more specific: put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil . Both commands are conspicuous examples of the balanced teaching of Scripture. Some Christians are so self-confident that they think they can manage by themselves without the Lord’s strength and armor. Others are so self-distrustful that they imagine they have nothing to contribute to their victory in spiritual warfare. Both are mistaken. Paul expresses the proper combination of divine enabling and human cooperation. The power is indeed the Lord’s, and without the strength of his might we shall falter and fall, but still we need to be strong in Him. Similarly, the armor is God’s, and without it we shall be fatally unprotected and exposed, but still we need to take it up and put it on. Indeed we should do so piece by piece, as the apostle goes on to explain in verses 13 to 17.
The armor of God [13-20]. The purpose of investing ourselves with the divine armor is that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil , that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm . Stand therefore . This fourfold emphasis on the need to stand or withstand shows that the apostle’s concern is for Christian stability. Wobbly Christians who have no firm foothold in Christ are an easy prey for the devil. And Christians who shake like reeds and rushes cannot resist the wind when the principalities and powers begin to blow. Paul wants to see Christians so strong and stable that they remain firm even against the devil’s schemes and even in the evil day, that is, in a time of special pressure. For such stability, both of character and in crisis, the armor of God is essential. In the Old Testament it is God Himself, the Lord of Hosts, who is depicted as a warrior fighting to vindicate His people [Is. 59:17]. Still today the armor and weapons are His, but now He shares them with us. We have to put on the armor, take up the weapons and go to war with the powers of evil. Paul details the six main pieces of a soldier’s equipment – the belt, the breastplate, the boots, the shield, the helmet and the sword, and uses them as pictures of the truth, righteousness, good news of peace, faith, salvation and word of God which equip us in our fight against the powers. The first piece of equipment which Paul mentions is the belt of truth. Usually made of leather, the soldier’s belt belonged rather to his underwear than his armor. Yet it was essential. It gathered his tunic together and also held his sword. It ensured that he was unimpeded when marching. The Christian soldier’s belt is truth, which can refer to two things. It can be understood as the truth in the sense of the revelation of God in Christ and in Scripture. For certainly it is only the truth which can dispel the devil’s lies and set us free. Or it can refer to truth in the sense of ‘sincerity’ or ‘integrity’. For certainly God requires truth in the inward being, and the Christian must at all costs be honest and truthful. To be deceitful, to lapse into hypocrisy, to resort to intrigue and scheming, this is to play the devil’s game, and we shall not be able to beat him at his own game. What he abominates is transparent truth. For spiritual health honesty about oneself is indispensable. The second item of the Christian’s equipment is the breastplate of righteousness. The soldier’s breastplate was his major piece of armor protecting all his most vital organs. Righteousness can also have two different meanings. Normally righteousness in Paul’s letters means justification, that is, God’s gracious initiative in putting sinners right with Himself through Christ. Certainly no spiritual protection is greater than a righteous relationship with God. To have been justified by His grace through simple faith in Christ crucified, to be clothed with a righteousness which is not one’s own but Christ’s, to stand before God not condemned but accepted – that is an essential defense against an accusing conscience and against the slanderous attacks of the evil one. On the other hand, righteousness can refer to moral righteousness of character and conduct. For just as to cultivate truth is the way to overthrow the devil’s deceits, so to cultivate righteousness is the way to resist his temptations. The gospel boots come next in the list. Now the Christian soldier’s boots are the readiness given by the gospel of peace. This may refer to the steadfastness which the gospel gives to those who believe it, like the firmness which strong boots give to those who wear them. Or it can refer to the Christian’s readiness to announce the Good News of peace. In either case the devil fears and hates the gospel, because it is God’s power to rescue people from his tyranny, both us who have received it and those with whom we share it. So we need to keep our gospel shoes strapped on. Our fourth piece of equipment is the shield of faith. The word Paul uses denotes not the small round shield which left most of the body unprotected, but the long oblong one which covered the whole person. It was specially designed to put out the dangerous incendiary missiles then in use, specially arrows dipped in pitch which were then lit and fired. What, then, are the flaming darts of the evil one, and with what shield can Christians protect themselves? The devil’s darts no doubt include his mischievous accusations which inflame our conscience with what (if we are sheltering in Christ) can only be called false guilt. Other darts are unsought thoughts of doubt and disobedience, rebellion, lust, malice or fear. But there is a shield with which we can quench or extinguish all such fire-tipped darts. It is the shield of faith. God Himself is a shield to those who take refuge in him [Prov. 30:5], and it is by faith that we flee to Him for refuge. For faith lays hold of the promises of God in times of doubt and depression, and faith lays hold of the power of God in times of temptation. The Roman soldier’s helmet, which is the next piece of armor on the list, was usually made of a tough-metal like bronze or iron. Nothing short of an axe or hammer could pierce a heavy helmet. The Christian soldier’s helmet is the hope of salvation [1 Thess. 5:8], that is, our assurance of future and final salvation. Here in Ephesians it is just the helmet of salvation which we are to take and wear. But whether our head piece is that measure of salvation which we have already received (forgiveness, deliverance from Satan’s bondage, and adoption into God’s family) or the confident expectation of full salvation on the last day (including resurrection glory and Christ-likeness in heaven), there is no doubt that God’s saving power is our only defense against the enemy of our souls. The sixth and last weapon to be specified is the sword. Of all the six pieces of armor or weaponry listed, the sword is the only one which can clearly be used for attack as well as defense. Moreover, the kind of attack envisaged will involve a close personal encounter, for the word used describes the short sword. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is then immediately identified as the word of God. This refers to Scripture, God’s written word, whose origin is repeatedly attributed to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Still today it is His sword, for He still uses it to cut through people’s defenses, to prick their consciences and to stab them spiritually awake, yet He also puts His sword into our hands, so that we may use it both in resisting temptation and in evangelism. Every Christian evangelist knows that God’s word has cutting power, being sharper than any two-edged sword [Heb. 4:12]. We must never therefore be ashamed to use it, or to acknowledge our confidence that the Bible is the sword of the Spirit. Here, then, are the six pieces which together make up the whole armor of God. They constitute God’s armor for He supplies it. Yet it is our responsibility to take it up, to put it on and to use it confidently against the powers of evil. Moreover, we must be sure to avail ourselves of every item of equipment provided and not omit any. Finally, Paul adds prayer [18-20], not because he thinks of prayer as another though unnamed weapon, but because it is to pervade all our spiritual warfare. Equipping ourselves with God’s armor is not a mechanical operation; it is itself an expression of our dependence on God, in other words of prayer. Moreover, it is prayer in the Spirit, prompted and guided by Him, just as God’s word is the sword of the Spirit which He Himself employs. Thus Scripture and prayer belong together as the two chief weapons which the Spirit puts into our hands. Prevailing Christian prayer is wonderfully comprehensive. It has four universals, indicated by the fourfold use of the word all. We are to pray at all times … with all prayer and supplication … with all perseverance … making supplication for all the saints. Most Christians pray sometimes, with some prayers and some degree of perseverance, for some of God’s people. But to replace ‘some’ by ‘all’ in each of these expressions would be to introduce us to a new dimension of prayer. Perhaps most important is the command to stay awake and therefore alert . It goes back to the teaching of Jesus Himself. He emphasized the need for watchfulness in view of the unexpectedness both of His return and of the onset of temptation. He seems to have kept repeating the same warning: ‘I say to you, Watch!’ The apostles echoed and extended His admonition. ‘Be watchful!’ was their general summons to Christian vigilance [1 Cor. 16:13], partly because the devil is always on the prowl like a hungry lion, and false teachers like fierce wolves [1 Peter 5:8; Acts 20:31], and partly lest the Lord’s return should take us unawares [1 Thess. 5:1-8; Rev. 16:15], but especially because of our tendency to sleep when we should be praying [Col. 4:2]. Watch and pray, Jesus urged. It was failure to obey this order which led the apostles into their disastrous disloyalty; similar failure leads to similar disloyalty today. It is by prayer that we wait on the Lord and renew our strength. Without prayer we are much too feeble and flabby to stand against the might of the forces of evil. Pray also for me, Paul begged . He was wise enough to know his own need of strength if he was to stand against the enemy, and humble enough to ask his friends to pray with him and for him. The strength he needed was not just for his personal confrontation with the devil, however, but for his evangelistic ministry by which he sought to rescue people from the devil’s dominion. Thus Paul asks for prayer that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel .” [Stott, pp. 261-287].
Questions for Discussion:
- For the most part, the world today ignores the reality of spiritual forces of evil. But the bible repeatedly warns us of their reality. What are the three main characteristics of the spiritual forces arrayed against us? What are the two things Paul commands us to do in our battle against these spiritual forces?
- List and explain the significance of the six pieces of the armor of God that we are to use in our battle against the spiritual forces of evil. Write these six things down on a card and take them with you this week. Think about how you are to use these items in order to stand against the schemes of the devil. Pray that God will enable you to stand firm by using and depending upon His whole armor.
- In Ephesians 6:17-18, Paul mentions two spiritual weapons: the Word of God and prayer. List the four universals Paul gives for Christian prayer. How can you use these weapons to both destroy arguments against the Gospel and take every thought captive to obey Christ?
- How did Jesus use the armor of God? How do we put on the various pieces of armor, which Paul describes? What special wiles of the devil do we need to be on our guard against today?
Ephesians, Bryan Chapell, REC, P & R Publishing.
The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter O’Brien, Pillar, Eerdmans.
The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.
Ephesians, Frank Thielman. BENT, Baker.