We Stand Together in Spiritual Battle

| Ephesians 6:10-20

Week of August 30, 2020

The Point: We stand strong with God’s armor and the support of others.

The Whole Armor of God:  Ephesians 6:10-20.

[10] Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [11] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. [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. [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. [14] Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, [15] and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. [16] In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; [17] and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, [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, [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.   [ESV]

PLEASE NOTE: This is the final lesson aid that I will do. For the past 15 years I have greatly enjoyed spending time each week looking for additional reference materials that would assist you in teaching your Sunday School classes. I pray that God has used these lesson aids to further his glory as you have sought to honor him through the faithful teaching of his word.

“Principalities and powers [6:10-20]. 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 [12]. 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. Verse 12 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 the heavenly places, that is, in the sphere of invisible reality. 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 [11]. It is because the devil seldom attacks openly, preferring darkness to light, that when he transforms himself into ‘an angel of light’ [2 Cor. 11:14] we are caught unsuspecting. 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. 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 ‘wiles 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. 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. True, it is in those same heavenly places, in that same unseen world, that the principalities and powers are working. But they 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. When Paul urges us to draw upon the power, might and strength of the Lord Jesus [10], he uses exactly the same trio of words which he has used in 1:19 in relation to God’s work of raising Jesus from the dead. Two exhortations stand side by side. The first is general; be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might [10]. 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 [11]. 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 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 [11], 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 wiles 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. 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 girdle of truth: having fastened on the belt of truth. The soldier’s belt 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. Many commentators understood this to mean ‘the truth’, 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, and Paul has in this letter several times referred to the importance and the power of the truth. Other commentators prefer to understand Paul to be referring 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. He loves darkness; light causes him to flee. Perhaps we do not need to choose between these alternatives since both are necessary. The second item of the Christian’s equipment is the breastplate of righteousness. The soldier’s breastplate often covered his back as well as his front, and was his major piece of armor protecting all his most vital organs. Now ‘righteousness’ in Paul’s letters more often than not means ‘justification’, that is, God’s gracious initiative in putting sinners right with himself through Christ. Is this then the Christian’s breastplate? 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, whose Hebrew name (‘Satan’) means ‘adversary’ and whose Greek title (‘devil’) means ‘slanderer’. On the other hand, the apostle wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:7 of ‘the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left’, apparently meaning moral righteousness and has used the word in the same sense in Ephesians 4:24 and 5:9. So the Christian’s breastplate may be 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. Alternatively, as with the two possible meanings of ‘truth’, so with the two possible meanings of ‘righteousness’, it may well be right to combine them, since according to Paul’s gospel the one would invariably lead to the other. The gospel boots come next in the list. The Roman soldier’s boots were made of leather, left the toes free, had heavy studded soles, and was tied to the ankles and shins with more or less ornamental straps. These equipped him for long marches and for a solid stance. While they did not impede his mobility, they prevented his foot from sliding. Now the Christian soldier’s boots are the readiness given by the gospel of peace [15]. We should always be ready to bear witness to Jesus Christ as God’s peacemaker and also to give gracious answers to the questions which ‘outsiders’ put to us. Such tip-toe readiness has a very stabilizing influence on our own lives, as well as introducing others to the liberating gospel. 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 boots strapped on. Our fourth piece of equipment is the shield of faith [16] which we are to take up in all circumstances, as an indispensable addition. 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 all 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 next piece of armor was the helmet of salvation, that is, our assurance of future and final salvation. 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 [17]. 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 signifies the short sword. It is the sword of the Spirit, which is then immediately identified as the word of God. This may well include the words of defense and testimony which Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would put into his followers’ lips when they were dragged before magistrates. But the expression the word of God has a much broader reference than that, namely 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 (as Jesus did, quoting Scripture to counter the devil in the Judean wilderness) and in evangelism. Every Christian evangelist, whether a preacher or a personal witness, knows that God’s word has cutting power, being sharper than any two-edged sword. 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: the girdle of truth and the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel boots and the faith shield, salvation’s helmet and the Spirit’s sword. They constitute God’s armor, as we have seen, 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 (probably) 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 (both regularly and constantly), with all prayer and supplication (for it takes many and varied forms), with all perseverance (because we need like good soldiers to keep alert, and neither give up nor fall asleep), making supplication for all the saints (since the unity of God’s new society, which has been the preoccupation of this whole letter, must be reflected in our prayers). Perhaps most important is the command to stay awake and therefore alert [18]. 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. The apostles echoed and extended his admonition. ‘Be watchful’ was their general summons to Christian vigilance, partly because the devil is always on the prowl like a hungry lion, and false teachers like fierce wolves, and partly lest the Lord’s return should take us unawares, but especially because of our tendency to sleep when we should be praying. 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 [19]. 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. The two major qualities he wants to characterize his preaching of it are words (utterance) [19] and boldly [20]. The first of these two words seems to refer to the clarity of his communication, and the second to his courage. Clarity and courage remain two of the most crucial characteristics of authentic Christian preaching. For they relate to the content of the message preached and to the style of its presentation. What is needed in the pulpits of the world today is a combination of clarity and courage. Paul asked the Ephesians to pray that these might be given to him, for he recognized them as gifts of God. We should join them in prayer for the pastors and preachers of the contemporary church.” [Stott, pp. 260-287].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Who are our real enemies? What does Paul tell us about them? How does Paul express the proper combination of divine enabling and human cooperation in the area of spiritual warfare?
  2. What is the purpose of the armor of God? List the six pieces of armor. What does each one signify? What weapons of the devil do they protect us against? Can you identify any chinks in your armor? What do you need to do in order to become fully equipped?
  3. When Jesus encountered Satan in the wilderness and was tempted by three different temptations, each time he answered the temptation with the words: It is written [Matt. 4:1-11]. What does this tell you about the importance of the sword of the Spirit for defending yourself from all types of temptations? What are you doing to develop and sharpen your ability to use the sword of the Spirit so that you will be able to defend yourself from Satan’s attacks?
  4. Look closely at verse 18. What is the significance of Paul’s four uses of the word all? How does your prayer life look in the light of Paul’s guidelines? Based upon Paul’s request for prayer, how should you be praying daily for your pastor?

References:

Ephesians, James Boice, Baker.

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.