As Paul comes to the end of his letter to the Ephesians he concludes with an exhortation - "be strong in the Lord". Here is an exhortation to faithful service, an exhortation to discipleship.
v10. "Be strengthened in the Lord". The source of this courage is found "in the Lord." He is the one who will strengthen us in the trials of life. This strengthening Paul calls God's "mighty power", the power that raised Christ to life, Eph.1:19-20. It is the power that comes from the operation of the Holy Spirit in our inner psyche, Eph.3:16.
v11. We are strengthened by putting on armor that is good for attack and defense. This Christ-like armor enables the wearer to stand against the deceitful attack of the devil. Paul has already described the devil's schemes earlier in this letter, 4:26-27. As far as Paul is concerned, the attack of the powers of darkness serves to undermine fellowship in the church by working on anger and hurts.
v12. Paul now goes on to describe more fully these evil powers which seek to attack us. He reminds his readers that our real battle is not against the circumstances of life, or even against evil people. The real battle is spiritual, and to stand in this battle it is necessary to possess spiritual armor - "the full armor of God." Paul gives a number of titles to these evil powers and sums them up in the phrase, "spiritual forces of evil." It is fascinating to realize that not only do they inhabit the earth, but they also reside in the "heavenly realms." That is, their headquarters are in the spiritual domain, but of course, Christ is bringing them into subjection to himself.
v13. These powers of darkness will confront us in the "day of evil" and it is then we must be found wearing God's armor. The evil day is the time of the great tribulation at the return of Christ, but it is also represented in the daily troubles that inflict the human race. The armor will enable us to stand as a good soldier, fully doing our duty - to stand and not retreat.
v14-18. The armor that the believer is to put on is now described piece by piece. The first four pieces of armor are ethical in nature and derive from the character of Christ, characteristics which are ours through faith. See below.
v19. With prayer on his mind, Paul goes on to encourage his readers to pray for his ministry. He asks, in particular, for his work in the gospel. He wants to be able to "fearlessly" proclaim the gospel; he wants to unlock its mystery.
v20. Again he asks that he might make the gospel known "fearlessly". As a prisoner in Rome the temptation is to play it cool, but he wants the gospel known and so he wants to be brave enough to proclaim it.
The great puritan writers loved this passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The first to take up the image was William Gurnall, minister of Lavenham, Suffolk. He produced a massive exposition called "The Christian in Complete Armor", 1655-62. The book was some 1200 pages long.
The greatest of the puritan writers was John Bunyan. He used Paul's imagery in "The Holy War", and in particular, in "The Pilgrim's Progress". In Pilgrim's Progress Christian receives the armor in the armory of the House Beautiful. He was to use it against Apollyon in the next stage of his journey. Bunyan made a point of noting that there was no armor for the back. Christian would not be able to run. His only option was "to venture and stand his ground".
This famous passage still speaks to us as it spoke to them.
The first great truth in this passage is that "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against...... spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms", v12. Powers of darkness seeking to devour us, and it is here where our battle lies. Paul describes these powers in different ways. The passage even reads as if they might be human powers, but they are spiritual "authorities". They are powers from beyond us, evil powers intruding and invading our world. The attacker is the evil one, the devil, whispering his lies and playing to our self interest.
The second great truth in our passage for study is that for us to "take our stand against the devil's schemes", to be "strong in the Lord and in his mighty power", we must "put on the full armor of God", v10. Victory against the tempter is ours if we wear the armor of God. As Luther put it:
And let the prince of ill
Look grim as e'er he will,
He harms us not a whit,
For why his doom is writ;
A word shall quickly slay him.
What then are the individual pieces of armor which the good Christian soldier needs in their battle with the tempter, v14-18?
i] The belt. We are to put on the belt like putting on truthfulness. We are to tell the truth. It is not easy at times being "up-front", particularly if honesty is going to place us at a disadvantage. Still, truthfulness is required of a disciple, and in the "mighty power" of the indwelling Spirit of Christ we can do it, and in doing it we set to flight the powers of darkness.
ii] The breastplate. We are to put on the breastplate like putting on right behavior, putting on justice. Be righteous is the exhortation; act rightly. Not so easy when all around us act with self-interest, but to do the right thing is what is set before us.
iii] Shoes. We are to put on the boots like proclaiming peace. We are to be speakers of peace, speaking peace - being peaceful rather than argumentative.
iv] The shield. We are to take up the shield like taking up trustworthiness - trustworthiness toward God as well as toward our fellow man. Again, the Spirit can empower us to be a trustworthy person, and as such a person we are able to repel the attack of the powers of darkness. As Paul describes it here, the shield is able to put out the flaming darts launched by the evil one.
v] The helmet and sword. Paul seems to link these two together in the terms of taking up prayer, prayer that is guided by the Word of God. Such prayer destroys the enemy; it is our weapon of attack. Paul says such prayer should be undertaken in all situations. It should be in the form of petition and entreaty "for all the saints", and it should stem from watchfulness, readiness. Such prayer will enable the disciple to prevail in battle.
These then are the six pieces of a Christian's armor against the Tempters power. Let us put them on and so stand in the battle.
1. Discuss what the "devil's schemes" might be.
2. Discuss the six elements of a Christian's armor.