6:1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. 6:2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment accompanied by a promise, namely, 6:3 “that it may go well with you and that you will live a long time on the earth.”
Children, obey your parents – ‘Honour your parents both in your thoughts, and speeches, and behaviour. Think not dishonourably or contemptuously of them in your hearts. Speak not dishonourably, rudely, unreverently, or saucily, either to them or of them. Behave not yourselves rudely and unreverently before them. Yea, though your parents be never so poor in the world, or weak of understanding, yea, though they were ungodly, you must honour them notwithstanding all this; though you cannot honour them as rich, or wise, or godly, you must honour them as your parents.’ (Richard Baxter)
‘And observe how admirable a foundation he has laid for the path of virtue, that is, honor and reverence towards parents. When he would lead us away from wicked practices, and is just about to enter upon virtuous ones, this is the first thing he enjoins, honor towards parents; inasmuch as they before all others are after God, the authors of our being, so that it is reasonable they should be the first to reap the fruits of our right actions; and then all the rest of mankind. For if a man have not this honor for parents he will never be gentle toward those unconnected with him.’ (John Chrysostom)
‘Love your children with all your hearts, love them enough to discipline them before it is too late. Praise them for important things, even if you have to stretch them a bit. Praise them a lot. They live on it like bread and butter, and they need it more than bread and butter.’ (Lavina Christensen Fugal)
‘If a child tells a lie, tell him that he has told a lie, but don’t call him a liar. If you define him as a liar, you break down his confidence in his own character.’ Johann Paul Friederich (1763-1825)
Parents should work together as efficiently as two bookends.
Most people spend more time and energy preparing for their driving test than for marriage or parenting.
‘They offer their children to God in baptism, and there they promise to teach them the doctrine of the gospel, and bring them up in the nurture of the Lord; but they easily promise, and easily break it; and educate their children for the world and the flesh, although they have renounced these, and dedicated them to God. This covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil, must lie heavy on them here or hereafter. They beget children, and keep families, merely for the world and the flesh: but little consider what a charge is committed to them, and what it is to bring up a child for God, and govern a family as a sanctified society.’ (Thomas Manton)
…that you may enjoy long life on the earth – ‘Significantly, when Paul ‘reapplies’ the commandment to his Christian readers, he omits any reference to the land of Israel and ‘universalizes’ the promise…Just as in the Old Testament children who honoured or obeyed their parents were blessed with the promise of a full life, so, too, in the age of the new covenant this general principle holds true for obedient Christian children. That there were exceptions in both Testaments does not overthrow this divine promise, any more than our Lord’s assurance of answered prayer, ‘Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you’ (Matt. 7:7), is negated by lack of faith, an unwillingness to forgive, or the treating of prayer as an experiment. For the Christian son or daughter the promise attached to this commandment, which is transformed as it is taken up into ‘the law of Christ’, is no longer limited geographically. Obedient sons and daughters are assured that it will go well with them and that they will enjoy long life on earth, wherever they may live.’ (O’Brien)
6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
‘If you neglect to instruct [children] in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No; if you will not teach them to pray, he will to curse, swear, and lie. If ground be uncultivated, weeds will spring.’ (Flavel)
6:5 Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart as to Christ, 6:6 not like those who do their work only when someone is watching—as people-pleasers—but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart. 6:7 Obey with enthusiasm, as though serving the Lord and not people, 6:8 because you know that each person, whether slave or free, if he does something good, this will be rewarded by the Lord.
‘Although the numerous slaves who had come into the Christian fold were in the apostle’s mind as he wrote these words, the principles of the whole section apply to employees and employers in every age, whether in the home, in business, or in the state.’ (Foulkes)
O’Brien comments that discussions of household management would usually focus on how a master should rule his slaves. But Paul, unusually, treats slaves as ethically responsible, and just as much part of the Christian congregation as wives and children.
With fear and trembling – Foulkes notes that ‘in every case the apostle goes further than we might expect with his demand for submission.’ In this particular case, he does so by adding this phrase. The phrase itself does not suggest terror, but rather reverence and respect (cf. Eph 5:21; also 1 Pet 2:18).
Chesna Hinkley thinks that this command sheds light on the meaning of kephale. For, if this term meant something like ‘authority’, then this would make female slaves responsible to their husbands, rather than to their master. But this is an unwarranted inference.
6:9 Masters, treat your slaves the same way, giving up the use of threats, because you know that both you and they have the same master in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
Paul’s teaching here is apparently unique. ‘Only a few writers in the ancient world suggested that slaves were in theory their masters’ spiritual equals, (cf. Job 31:13-15) and so far as we know only Paul goes so far as to suggest that in practice masters do the same for slaves as slaves should do for them (6:9).’ (NT Background Commentary)
Exhortations for Spiritual Warfare, 10-20
6:10 Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his power.
‘The section must be read in the light of the whole of Ephesians, as a call to live out the gospel of cosmic reconciliation, not as an appendix for those with a special interest in demons and spiritual warfare. Note that Paul has chosen to recast his message in the form of a battle address: i.e. he addresses the whole church corporately as an army, not singular saints. Lone soldiers are easy to pick off! Note too that Paul has a particular sort of battle in mind: one to hold a strong position. His exhortation does not prepare soldiers to make a quick moving attack (and the Roman soldier’s key attack weapons, the twin javelins, are missing), but to take a stand (11), to stand your ground (13) and to stand firm (14). They hold the crown of the hill, as it were, and the enemy must weary itself in constant uphill attack. The strong position Paul has in mind will be clear to the reader: it is our union with Christ (Eph 2:5–6), the head over all things (Eph 1:22–23), far above all principalities and powers (Eph 1:21), and the resurrection power of God at work in us (Eph 1:19–2:7). Even the armour and weapons turn out to be a mixture of God’s very own (cf. Is. 59:17) with those of his Messiah (Is. 11:4–5). And yet Paul shows no triumphalism here. The decisive victory won by Christ lies in the past and the very fact that believers now fight on Christ’s side is clear testimony to that (see Eph 2:1–6); but complete victory still lies in the future. In the meantime it is the day of evil (13) that appears to dominate the scene.’ (NBC)
Indeed, some commentators see this passage as the climax of the entire epistle. ‘Paul has prayed that his readers would understand how the “power” and “mighty strength” of God had been made available to them by their union with the Messiah, who sits at God’s right hand, victorious over all his cosmic foes (Eph 1:19–20; 2:6). The Messiah has ascended a figurative Mount Zion in a triumphal march after the defeat of his enemies, and God’s people have shared in his triumph (see commentary on Eph. 4:7–11 above). Now, Paul urges his readers to defend the position that the Messiah has won for them by putting on the armor of God and standing firm (Eph 6:11, 13, 14) against the devil and other invisible evil powers.’ (Commentary on NT use of OT)
In a sense, the present passage gives the other side of the eschatological tension. Paul has been expounding God’s victory in Christ, and the Christian’s participation in that. ‘Now, in 6:10–17, however, he recognizes the other side of the eschatological tension in which believers live: although the victory is sure, believers must still defend the position that Christ has won for them against the last desperate attacks of the devil and his malevolent allies.’ (Commentary on NT use of OT)
Paul draws especially on Isa. 59:17; 11:4–5; 52:7. However, his use of the ‘armour’ imagery is different from Isaiah’s in a number of ways. Isaiah speaks of God’s and of the Messiah’s armour; Paul of the believer’s. Moreover, Paul’s armour includes sword and shield, but Isaiah’s does not.
Be strong in the Lord – lit. ‘be strengthened’. See Acts 9:22; Rom 4:20; 2 Tim 2:1.
‘This command is of primary necessity, for the finest armour is wasted on the soldier who has no will to fight.’ (Wilson)
‘The Christian’s strength lies in the Lord, not in himself. The strength of the general in other hosts lies in his troops. He flies, as a great commander once said to his soldiers, upon their wings; if their feathers be clipped, their power broken, he is lost; but in the army of saints, the strength of every saint, yea, of the whole host of saints, lies in the Lord of hosts. God can overcome his enemies without their hands, but they cannot so much as defend themselves without his arm.’ (Gurnall)
The command to ‘be strong’ is the central injunction of this section. The development of this is fourfold:- (1) the exhortation to strength, (2) the source or means of strength, (3) the need for strength and (4) the employment of this strength.
We are reminded here of Abraham, who “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.” (Rom 4:20) In 2 Tim 2:2 Paul urges Timothy to be strong. 1 Cor 16:13 contains several ideas found also in our Ephesians passage: “Be on your guard;” (compare Eph 6:18, be alert) stand firm in the faith;” (Eph 6:13-14) “be strong” (the Greek verb here is a cognate of the word mighty in his mighty power, Eph 6:10).
‘The source of the Christian’ strength is ‘the Lord’; specifically, the Lord’s ‘mighty power’. ‘When life is lived in union with him, within the orbit of his will and so of his grace, there cannot be failure due to powerlessness, 1 Jn 2:14. Apart from him the Christian can do nothing, Jn 15:1-5, but there is available “all the power of his might”.’ (Foulkes)
6:11 Clothe yourselves with the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
The full armour of God – Paul was under constant guard, and the armour of the soldiers who never let him our of their sight suggested a ready illustration of the was a Christian should be equipped for the spiritual battle. The armour Paul has in mind is that of the fully-armed foot-soldier. The necessity of being fully-armed is obvious: there is no point in having one part of the body protected, while another is left exposed to attack.
‘The armor of light (Rom 13:12); on the right hand and left (2 Cor 6:7). The panoply offensive and defensive. An image readily suggested by the Roman armory, Paul being now in Rome. Repeated emphatically, Eph 6:13. In Rom 13:14 it is, “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ”; in putting on Him, and the new man in Him, we put on “the whole armor of God.” No opening at the head, the feet, the heart, the belly, the eye, the ear, or the tongue, is to be given to Satan. Believers have once for all overcome him; but on the ground of this fundamental victory gained over him, they are ever again to fight against and overcome him, even as they who once die with Christ have continually to mortify their members upon earth (Rom 6:2–14; Col 3:3, 5).’ (JFB)
‘The “full armour of God” which the readers are urged to put on as they engage in a deadly spiritual warfare is Yahweh’s own armour, which he and his Messiah have worn and which is now provided for his people as they engage in battle.’ (O’Brien)
Paul transfers “the whole armor of God” from God himself, or from his Messiah, to God’s people in this passage because, despite Eph 1:20–23; 2:6, he knows that the victory of God’s people over the devil is not yet complete. God certainly has struck a fatal blow against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of “this present darkness” (Eph 6:12), but the flaming arrows of the doomed regime continue to assail God’s people.
This section on the Christian’s armour not only borrows imagery from the OT – especially Isaiah – but also recapitulates key themes from earlier in the letter itself. ‘For example, the imperative to be strong in the Lord, Eph 6:10, brings to mind God’s power, which was manifested in Christ’s resurrection and exaltation, and is now available to believers, Eph 1:19f. The imperative regarding divine empowering also has links with believers strengthening through the Spirit, Eph 3:16, and the praise that God’s power is at work among them, Eph 3:20.’ (O’Brien, who also comments that Eph 6:10-20 highlights the tension between what God has already accomplished in Christ (Eph 1-3) and the ‘not yet’ of the present evil age in which the powers are still active).
The realities connected with the items of armour have been prominent earlier in the book: truth (Eph 1:13; 4:15,21,24,25; 5:9); righteousness (Eph 4:24; 5:9); peace (Eph 1:2; 2:14-18; 4:3); the gospel (Eph 1:13; 3:6) or word of God (Eph 1:13; 5:26); salvation (Eph 1:13; 2:5,8; 5:23); and faith (Eph 1:1,13,15,19; 2:8; 3:12,17; 4:5,13).
‘Christ has ‘already’ triumphed over the powers, Eph 1:21; 3:10. But they still exist, and are active in the disobedient, Eph 2:2. Through their prince they seek to gain a base of operations against believers, Eph 4:27. These evil supernatural forces listed in Eph 6:12 are the principalities and authorities that have been mentioned in Eph 1:21 and Eph 3:10; the sphere in which they function is the heavenly realm, Eph 6:12; 3:10, and the present age over which they hold sway is described in terms of darkness, Eph 6:12, or evil days, Eph 6:16. Christ’s triumph over the powers has “already” occurred, Eph 1:21, so believers no longer live in fear of them. But the fruits of that victory have “not yet” been fully realised, so Christians must be aware of the conflict and be requipped with divine power to stand against them.’ (O’Brien)
‘Between the time of Christ’s victory and the consummation of God’s purposes in Christ, therefore, believers themselves must imitate God in his role of divine warrior. Paul earlier had said that Christians must “put on [endysasthai] the new human being, created in God’s image, in righteousness, holiness, and truth” (Eph 4:24 [cf. Eph 5:9]). He also had said that they should imitate the Messiah (Eph 4:32) and God (Eph 5:1) in showing forgiveness and love to one another. Now he depicts this imitation of God in terms of the final eschatological battle in a war that has largely already been won. Before the time of final victory God’s people must strap on the armor that in the OT belongs to Yahweh and his Messiah, and, taking their stand on what God has already done for them in the gospel (Eph 6:15) (Moritz 1996: 200, 203), they must act as God would act—in truth and righteousness.’ (Commentary on NT use of OT)
It is difficult for us, all-to-familiar as we are with the paraphernalia of modern warfare, to grasp the full meaning and impact of this metaphor. But we must do so, not least because it so carefully worked out. Each piece has special significance, and most draw explicitly on OT imagery (see especially Isa 54:17).
‘A dart may fly in at a little hole, like that which brought a message of death to Ahab, through the joints of his harness, and Satan is such an archer, who can shoot at penny-breadth.’ (Gurnall)
‘Instead of relying on the arms which God has provided, men have always been disposed to trust to those which they provide for themselves or which have been prescribed by others. Seclusion from the world (i.e. flight rather than conflict), ascetic and ritual observance, invocation of saints and angels, and especially, celibacy, voluntary poverty, and monastic obedience, constitute the panoply which false religion has substituted for the armour of God’ (Hodge).
So that you can take your stand – ‘In the day of battle, Roman soldiers were to stand their ground, not retreat. As long as they stood together on a flat, open field and did not break ranks, their legions were considered virtually invincible.’
The devil’s schemes – Cf. Eph 4:14; 2 Cor 2:11. ‘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.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 397)
The devil ‘useth arts and strategems, as well as force and violence, and therefore, if any part of your spiritual armour be wanting, he will assault you where he finds you weakest.’ (Poole)
We ought not to think that [the Devil’s] activity is primarily, or even mainly, to be seen in dramatic, extraordinary “power” encounters, where people are exorcised or delivered of demons. His warfare against us – and make no mistake it is real – takes place primarily at a far more frightening level: at the level of ordinary, everyday life.
We see this illustrated repeatedly in the Epistles when our battle with the Devil is mentioned. We keep him at bay when we deal promptly with anger and do not allow it to fracture relationships (Eph 4:28). We elude his ravenous jaws when we bear up under suffering, and cast our cares on God (1 Pet 5:6-11). We resist his advances and cause him to flee, when we stop compromising ourselves with the world, and commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God (Jas 4:4-8).
‘The saddest symptom of about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twoce every week. But the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all this they appear to know nothing at all.’ (Ryle, Holiness, 56.)
”Although part of the church pays lip service to the reality of sin and worldliness and even demonic agents, it seems to me that much of the church’s warfare today is fought by blindfolded soldiers who cannot see the forces ranged against them, who are buffeted by invisible opponents and respond by striking one another.’ (Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p18.)
Our struggle – The idea is of close hand-to-hand combat. And this involves all of Paul’s readers, both then and now.
Flesh and blood (Lit. ‘blood and flesh’) is an idiomatic expression referring to what is merely human. Cf. Mt 16:17 1 Cor 15:50 Gal 1:16. Paul’s negation should be sufficient to warn us against all forms of physical warfare as means of defending (or advocating) the Christian faith. This expression also draws attention to the relative weakness of human opposition. The unseen spiritual forces arrayed against us are far more powerful that those that are human.
Against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces… – the absence of a conjunction could indicate that Paul is referring to the same forces by different descriptions. NIV’s ‘and’ is unwarranted. Equally, Paul may be referring to different groups of powers. Whether he has in mind different ranks of powers is also debatable.
‘Paul, as it were, parades the devil’s army in review, using each of the four designations to set forth a different aspect of this dreadful host. The terms “principalities” is probably meant to indicate that these fallen angels have retained the rank of ruling dignitaries. That this is not an empty title is show by the fact that these rebellious spirits are also called “powers”, which suggests that they are invested with the authority to exercise such rule. The third phrase defines the sphere of their dominion: the world in its present state of darkness is the realm over which they exert their usurped sway within the limits permitted them (cf Dan 10:13,20). Finally, “the spirit-forces of evil” (Moffat) points to an invisible horde whose “appetite for evil only exceeds their capacity for producing it” (eadie).’ (Wilson)
Many scholars think that the expression ‘the powers of this dark world’ (kosmokratoras) has its roots in astrological thought. The expression is, lit, ‘the world-rulers of this darkness’. The goddess Artemis was called, amongst other names, ‘kosmokrator’ (world-ruler). A huge temple at Ephesus was dedicated to her worship, and this worship had a strong occult flavour.
‘The world is frequently spoken of…in the NT as in the power of the evil one, 1 Jn 5:19, and in consequence in darkness, cf. Lk 22:53; Rom 13:12; Col 1:13.’ (Foulkes)
‘The fact that at magical arts were practiced at Ephesus along with the customary pagan worship (Ac 19:23-34) prepares us for Paul’s mention here of major supernatural forces behind such activities.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
Although it is true that other people (including professing Christians, see Eph 4:14) may oppose God’s people, Paul’s point here is ‘that the Christian life as a whole is a profound spiritual warfare of cosmic proportions in which the ultimate opposition to the advance of the gospel and moral integrity springs from evil, supernatural powers under the control of the god of this world.’ (O’Brien)
‘The careful reader of the letter will have no problem in understanding the nature of the fight against these powers, or the content of the devil’s schemes (v11). He seeks to alienate humanity from God by disobedience (Eph 2:1-3 4:18-19) and by ignorance and corrupted thinking. (Eph 4:17-18) he tries to separate people from each other through the alienating sins of greed, (Eph 4:22,23) falsehood, (Eph 4:25) anger (specifically related to the devil in Eph 4:27) and related sins. (Eph 4:25-31) By referring to the cosmocrats as ‘of this present darkness’, Paul points back to Eph 5:7-14; and depicts the powers as the influence to sin that characterizes this age and this creation, in contrast to the ‘light’ of the new creation to come. It may strike us as strange that these powers are located in the heavenly realms, but that phrase signifies the whole spiritual dimension from what Eph 2:2 calls ‘the air’ to God’s throne (and Christ’s) in the ‘highest’ heavens.’ (NBC)
‘This is a sobering passage. We know Paul held that there were actual demons behind pagan gods. (1 Cor 10:20-22) we know also that Satan deceives the nations. (Rev 20:3) Given these realities, it would be not only wrong but foolish and dangerous to live the Christian life without being prepared for spiritual warfare.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
‘They are largely those elemental forces that dominate the world of men and women and are powerful so long as men and women believe in them and render them allegiance. But when their minds are liberated by faith in the crucified and risen Christ, then bondage imposed by those forces is broken, their power is dissolved and they are revealed as the “weak and beggarly” nonentities that they are in themselves’ (F.F. Bruce). Bruce adds that two of the most powerful of these forces are the tyranny of sin and the fear of death.
‘While it may be difficult to identify and distinguish between the specific powers named here, the point is clearly made that whatever supernatural forces there may be in this universe, Christ has gained victory over them and so may we. To recognize that is not to diminish the immense spiritual force they represent. Were that the case, there would be no need for the armor and there would be no occasion for the battle.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
The spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms = ‘spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil’ (JBP); ‘forces in the universe which work against the purposes of God and the well-being of man’ (F.F. Bruce). The expression is idiomatic Greek for ‘evil spirits’.
The location of these spiritual powers ‘in the heavenly realms’ defines them as super-human; but then the Christian is himself located ‘in Christ’ in these same realms, Eph 1:3,10,20; 2:6; 3:10.
‘The Christian’s warfare is pre-eminently a spiritual warfare and he has been equipped with all the armour necessary if he is to obtain victory. (Eph 6:10-20) It follows that he should be under military discipline, and to this end the NT abounds in injunctions couched in military terms (cf. 1 Tim 1:18; 1 Pet 5:9) and in military metaphors generally. (cf. 2 Tim 2:3-4; 1 Pet 2:11) The critical battle was won at Calvary (Col 2:15) so that the emphasis in a passage like Eph 6:10-20 is not so much on the gaining of new ground, but on the holding of what has already been won. Victory ultimate and complete will come when Christ is revealed from heaven at the end of the age. (2 Thess 1:7-10) The final clash between Christ and the minions of darkness is depicted in chs. 16, 19 and 20 of Revelation. A decisive battle is fought at a place called Armageddon (or Har-Magedon) according to Rev 16:16. The most likely explanation of the name is that which links it with the hill (Heb. har) of Megiddo(n). Megiddo was the scene of many great battles in history (cf. 2 Chron 35:22) and its appearance in an apocalyptic context is most fitting. For the enemies of Christ this encounter will mean destruction. (Rev 19:17-21) But thus will Ps. 110 and a host of OT passages find their fulfilment as the era of Messianic rule begins. The harbingers of that blessed age will indeed be ‘wars and rumours of wars’, (Mt 24:6) but when Messiah reigns ‘of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end’.’ (Isa 9:7) (NBD)
6:13 For this reason, take up the full armor of God so that you may be able to stand your ground on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand.
Put on the full armour of God – ‘One of every 400,000 babies is born each year with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease, or SCID, a disease that leaves the child with no body-chemistry defenses to fight infection from the germs that constantly attack one’s body. For such children, life is often short and always filled with danger. In a similar manner, the Christian who is not protected by the armor of God is defenseless against the attacks of the flesh, the world, and Satan. Sin, like an infection, can eat its way into his life because he has no defense against it.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching)
‘Why would Christians not want to use the full armor? What keeps them from using God’s power?
- They don’t sense danger or recognize the power of the enemy.
- They don’t have all the weapons. They have never been taught the significance and importance of those weapons.
- They are untrained in the use of those weapons. Without practice, no soldier can be ready for battle.
- They may be in a comfort zone. Perhaps they are nowhere near the battle or they are somehow compromising with the enemy.’ (Life Application Bible Commentary)
The day of evil – is the day when the battle is most severe. There will be many such days, especially as the day of the Lord itself draws near, Mk 13:4-23, 2 Thess 2:3. Cf. Lk 22:53.
After you have done everything – Presumably, Paul means, ‘after you have done everything to prepare yourselves for the battle’.
To stand – This could suggest to the modern reader that all we have to do is to remain stationary. ‘Our problem is that we naturally interpret Paul’s image in terms of contemporary warfare. The destructive weapons now available are used to penetrate far beyond any single line of defense, and defensive forces are not content to “hold the line” but must destroy the aggressor’s ability to wage further warfare. But in the ancient form of hand-to-hand combat described here, the first duty of a line of soldiers standing side by side against attackers-often with large rectangular shields (as here) close to each other-was to prevent an incursion against the enemy’s ultimate target.’ (IVP NT Commentary) In our Spiritual warfare, Christ and his kingdom are that ultimate target. The victory has already been won by Christ, Heb 2:14 Eph 1:20-23. ‘There is no need, then, for Christians to accomplish what has already been done. Instead we must resist the attempts of Satan both to retake territory no longer his and to defame Christ and his kingdom by causing us to fail. To stand is neither static nor passive, but the active accomplishment of our present task.’
I remember in my early days as a Christian being very struck by some words of Bishop Ryle: ‘I fear much for many professing Christians. I see no sign of fighting in them, much less of victory. They never strike one stroke on the side of Christ. They are at peace with his enemies. They have no quarrel with sin. – I warn you, this is not Christianity. This is not the way to heaven.’
But to be a true Christian is to be a soldier. Chances are that when you were baptised, no sooner had you been signed with the sign of the Cross, than you were given the following charge, ‘Fight valiantly under the banner of Christ against sin, the world and the devil, and continue his faithful soldier and servant to the end of your life.’ That was the moment you put your armour on, and you will not take it off again until you take your last breath. ‘In heaven we shall appear, not in armour, but in robes of glory. But here our arms are to be worn night and day. We must walk, work, sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ.’ (Gurnall)
6:14 Stand firm therefore, by fastening the belt of truth around your waist, by putting on the breastplate of righteousness, 6:15 by fitting your feet with the preparation that comes from the good news of peace, 6:16 and in all of this, by taking up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The order in which the items are described is the order in which the soldier would put them on.
The belt of truth – This would be used to hold up the lower garments, and so free the soldier for action, cf. Lk 12:35; 1 Pet 1:13.
Many commentators understand ‘truth’ subjectively – truthfulness, honesty, integrity, ‘truth in the inward parts’ (Psa 51:6; cf Eph 4:25). Just as the belt given freedom of movement, so ‘it is the truth which gives this freedom with ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. Lack of perfect sincerity hampers us at every turn.’ (Goudge). A lack of such integrity severely impedes our prayer life (for we know that we are keeping ourselves at a moral distance from our God), and our Christian ministry and witness (how can we speak plainly about personal morality when our own lives are knowingly tainted with immoral thoughts and actions?)
O’Brien notes that ‘truth’ in Ephesians stands for God’s truth (Eph 4:24; 5:9), as revealed in the gospel (Eph 1:13; 4:15,21,24), which has its outworking in the lives of believers (Eph 4:24; 5:9). ‘Here in Ephesians 6 both aspects of truth belong together. As believers buckle on this piece of the Messiah’s armour, they will be strengthened by God’s truth revealed in the gospel, as a consequence of which they will display the characteristics of the Anointed One in their attitudes, language, and behaviour.’
The breastplate of righteousness – See Isa 59:17; 2 Cor 6:7.
Some commentators think that this refers to God’s justifying righteousness (Rom 3:21-26). Hodge, for example, says that righteous living offers ‘no protection. If cannot resist the accusations of conscience, much less the severity of the law, or the assaults of Satan. What Paul desired for himself was not to have his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith (Phil 3:8f). And this, doubtless, is the righteousness which he here urges believers to put on as a breastplate. It is an infinitely perfect righteousness, consisting in the obedience and sufferings of the Son of God, which satisfies all the demands of the divine law and justice; and which is a sure defence against all assaults whether from within or from without.’
However, many scholars think that Paul is thinking not of that righteousness of God which is imputed to us (Rom 3:21f), but to uprightness of character (Eph 4:24; 5:9). ‘To neglect what we know to be a righteous action is to leave a gaping hole in our armour.’ (Foulkes)
O’Brien once again allows for both the objective and subjective aspects. ‘If the expression is to be understood in the light of its Old Testament context where righteousness is parallel to salvation, then to speak of donning God’s own righteousness or appropriating his salvation is in effect to urge the readers once more to put on the “new man” of Eph 4:24, who is created to be like God in righteousness and holiness. By putting on God’s righteousness believers are committed to being imitators of him (Eph 5:1) and acting righteously in all their dealings.’
v15 Given the ambiguous meaning of the word translated ‘readiness’, the meaning could be either, (a) we must always be ready to go out with the message of the gospel (cf Isa 52:7). This is the meaning favoured by O’Brien. Or (b) our lives must have a firm foothold in the gospel. ‘As no soldier stands firm in the day of battle unless his morale is high, so believers must be assured of their acceptance with God before they can withstand the assaults of the great adversary of their souls (Rom 5:1)’. (Wilson)
‘Paul takes the image especially from the herald of Isaiah 52:7 who announces good news: sharing the message of Christ advances God’s army against the enemy’s position.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
That comes from the gospel – This could meaning either (a) a readiness that the gospel imparts; or (b) a readiness to share and proclaim the gospel. The difference is not great.
Of peace – More echoes here of Isa 52, and also of Eph 2:11-22. ‘The peace which Yahweh’s messenger brings deals with both vertical and horizontal relationships. This is precisely the focus of Ephesians 2:14-18, where God’s Messiah by his death makes peace: he destroys the alienation between Jew and Gentile, creates in himself one new humanity out of the two, and in this body reconciles them both to God (vv15f).’ (O’Brien)
The shield of faith – That is, faith itself is the shield. See Eph 1:13,15,19; 2:8; 3:12,17; 4:5; 6:23. Faith is particularly the means of acquiring divine strength, Eph 1:19; 3:16f (O’Brien).
Faith, or faithfulness? ‘Although it is possible to interpret faith here as God’s or Christ’s faith[fulness], it is preferable to understand it of believers laying hold of God’s resources, especially his power, in the midst of the evil one’s attacks. To take the shield of faith, then, is to appropriate the promises of God on our behalf, confident that he will protect us in the midst of the battle.’ (O’Brien)
‘Roman soldiers were equipped with large rectangular wooden shields, four feet high, the fronts of which were made of leather. Before battles in which flaming arrows might be fired, the leather would be wetted to quench any fiery darts launched against them. After Roman legionaries closed ranks, the front row holding shields forward and those behind them holding shields above them, they were virtually invulnerable to any attack from flaming arrows.’ (IVP Background Commentary)
‘Because the Greek and Roman god of passion (called Eros and Cupid, respectively) was said to strike with flaming arrows, some of Paul’s readers may have thought specifically of the temptation of lust in this verse, although Paul probably intended the image to cover more than that danger (cf. Ps 11:2; 57:4; 58:3–7; 64:3; perhaps 120:1–4; Prov 25:18).’ (IVP Background Commentary)
‘The shield of faith’ is reliance upon God. ‘This faith is neither self-generated (carnal self-confidence) nor reflexive (faith in our faith), but is the gift of God (cf Eph 2:8) by which we are enabled to lay hold of Christ and all his saving benefits. It is therefore a faith which is as objective as the shield with which it is compared. The subjective aspect of faith is covered by the command to take up and use this shield in quenching all the devil’s fire-tipped darts.’ (Wilson)
‘If a child be assaulted, it runs and calls to its father for help: when faith is assaulted, it runs and calls Christ, and in his strength overcomes. Faith furnishes itself with a store of promises. The promises are faith’s weapons to fight with. As David, by five stones in his sling, wounded Goliath, so faith puts the promises, as stones, into its sling. 1 Sam 17:40. ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’ Heb 13:5. ‘A bruised reed shall he not break.’ Mt 12:20. ‘Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able.’ 1 Cor 10:13. ‘The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.’ Rom 16:20. ‘No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.’ Jn 10:29. Here are five promises, like five stones, put into the sling of faith, and with these a believer may wound the red dragon. Faith being such a grace to resist and wound Satan, he watches his opportunity to batter our shield, though he cannot break it.’ (Thomas Watson)
The flaming darts of the evil one – In NT times arrows were often tipped with pitch and set on fire. The shield would need to be able to quench these effectively. Shields were often soaked in water in order to achieve this.
Paul might have been thinking of ‘the arrow tongues of men, the shafts of impurity, selfishness, doubt, fear, disappointment, that are planned by the enemy to burn and destroy. Paul knew that only faith’s reliance on God could quench and deflect such weapons whenever they were hurled at the Christian.’ (Foulkes)
These depict ‘every kind of attack, launched by the devil and his hosts against the people of God. They are as wide-ranging as the “insidious wiles” (v11) that promote them, and include not only every kind of temptation to ungodly behaviour (cf 4:26f), doubt, and despair, but also external assaults, such as persecutions of false teaching. Paul’s expression conveys the sense of extreme danger. The forces of “the evil one” are incredibly powerful, and left to our own devices we would certainly fail. But these flaming arrows cannot harm those whose trust and confidence are “in the Lord and in his mighty power”, v10.’ (O’Brien)
‘Do you not know something of what is is, perhaps, to wake up on the morning and to find that before we have had time to do any thinking, thoughts come to us, evil thoughts; perhaps even blasphemous thoughts? You were not thinking, you were dong nothing, you had just awakened; but suddenly the darts reach you. That is what the Apostle means by “the fiery darts of the wicked one”.’ (D.M. Lloyd-Jones, The Christian Soldier, 301)
‘As burning arrows not only pierced but set on fire what they pierced, they are doubly dangerous. They serve here therefore as the symbol of the fierce onsets of Satan. He showers arrows of fire on the soul of the believer; who, if unprotected by the shield of faith, would soon perish. It is a common experience of the people of God that at times horrible thoughts, unholy, blasphemous, skeptical, malignant, crowd upon the mind, which cannot be accounted for on any ordinary law of mental action, and which cannot be dislodged. They stick like burning arrows; and fill the soul with agony. They can be quenched only by faith; by calling on Christ for help. These, however, are not the only kind of fiery darts; nor are they the most dangerous. There are others which enkindle passion, inflame ambition, excite cupidity, pride, discontent, or vanity; producing a flame which our deceitful heart is not so prompt to extinguish, and which is often allowed to burn until it produces great injury and even destruction. Against these most dangerous weapons of the evil one, the only protection is faith. It is only by looking to Christ and earnestly invoking his interposition in our behalf that we can resist these insidious assaults, which inflame evil without the warning of pain.’ (Hodge)
The helmet of salvation – The helmet which consists of salvation. Paul has described what God has accomplished in terms making us alive with Christ, raising us up with him, and seating us with him in the heavenly places, Eph 2:5f. As a consequence of this, we have been raised with Christ to a position of higher power and authority than our supernatural enemies. This gift of salvation means that we can never be mortally wounded in the battle. ‘As they appropriate this salvation more fully and live in the light of their status in Christ, they have every reason to be confident of the outcome of the battle.’ (O’Brien)
See Isa 59:17, where God is the one who wears the helmet of salvation. ‘This is therefore the helmet of victory, for we receive it as an objective assurance that the decisive battle has been already fought and won on our behalf.’ (Wilson)
‘Paul speaks of the Christian helmet as the “hope of salvation” (1 Thess 5:8) or simply “salvation” (Eph 6:17). Here he borrows the image of Isaiah 59:17, where God, the divine warrior, dresses himself for battle and puts the “helmet of salvation on his head”. From Paul’s standpoint the climactic divine victory of salvation has been won and its reality, or sure “hope” of its final outcome, are the primary protection for the church as it carries out its life in the midst of the conflicts of this age.’ (DBI)
The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God – Paul’s meaning is not that the Spirit is the sword, but that it is the Spirit who makes the sword powerful and effective. The OT often refers to the spoken word as a sword, Psa 57:4; 64:3. But God’s own word is also a sword in his hand, Heb 4:12, bringing both judgment and salvation, and is also a sword in the hands of others. Our Lord used Scripture to repel the attacks of Satan, Mt 4:1-10.
The word of God is characteristically used by Paul to denote the gospel. His use of rhema rather than logos here suggests that it is the spoken and heard word that he has in mind. Isa 11:4 refers to the Spirit of the Lord resting on the Messiah, who will smite the earth with the word of his mouth and destroy the wicked with the breath of his lips. This weapon is available for Christ’s followers, as they take hold of the gospel and proclaim in by the Spirit’s power.
The sword of the Spirit is to be used both defensively and offensively. With reference to the latter function, ‘it is the faithful speaking forth of the gospel in the realm of darkness, so that men and women held by Satan might hear this liberating and life-giving word and be freed from his grasp.’ (O’Brien)
‘What is in view is the special utterance of God that is exactly fitted to repel the tempter’s attack on any particular occasion.’ (Wilson)
6:18 With every prayer and petition, pray at all times in the Spirit, and to this end be alert, with all perseverance and requests for all the saints.
Pray in the Spirit – Along with the Christian armour which has just been detailed, we need to wield the mighty weapon of prayer if we are to vanquish the foe. For ‘Satan trembles when he sees/The weakest saint upon his knees’.
‘As it is the business of tailors to make clothes and of cobblers to mend shoes, so it is the business of Christians to pray.’ (Martin Luther)
On not ceasing from prayer, see Lk 18:1; Rom 12:12; Phil 4:6; Col 4:2; 1 Thess 5:17. But this is not a mere human striving: we are to pray ‘in the Spirit’. ‘The Spirit is the atmosphere of the Christian’s life, and as he lives in the Spirit grace will be given to watch and power to continue in prayer.’ (Foulkes)
Always keep on praying for all the saints – ‘The conflict of which the apostle has been speaking is not merely a single combat between the individual Christian and Satan, but also a war between the people of God and the powers of darkness. No soldier entering battle prays for himself alone, but for all his fellow soldiers also. They form one army, and the success of one is the success of all. In like manner Christians are united as one army, and therefore have a common cause; and each must pray for all.’ (Hodge)
No surprise that when Paul describes the Christian warfare, and the various parts of the Christian armour, he immediately goes on to underline the importance of prayer. Eph 6 – ‘Put on the full armor of God, with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. 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 saints.’
The fact is, of course, that prayer itself is a kind of battle. Prayer is opposed by our bodies, which relax into lethargy and plead the excuse of tiredness. Prayer is opposed by our minds, which entertain any number of ainless thoughts and trivial imaginings rather than steadily focus on the things of God. Prayer is opposed with raging fierceness by the devil, who would prefer the Christian do anything – study the Bible, preach, evangelise – rather than pray.
But pray we must, for prayer is God’s chosen means of carrying on his work in the world. Don’t ask me to explain it: prayer is a profound mystery. But it’s also very simple. Certainly, everything that I’ve learned about prayer over the past few years can be summed up in one word: ‘Ask’. I learned this from James, who says, ‘You do not have, because you do not ask God.’ I learned it from my Saviour, who said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’
6:19 Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak—that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, 6:20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak.
Pray…for me – Curious, this, if the letter is, as many think, pseudonymous. ‘On the assumptions of pseudonymity, the apostle was already dead. Yet he also exhorts his readers to put off falsehood and to speak truthfully (Eph 4:25; cf. also Eph 4:15,24 5:9 6:14).’ (Carson, in DNTB)