By Christopher VanDusen
In Ephesians 6:10-17, the apostle Paul says this:
“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 . . .” (ESV)
In this passage, Paul begins to end his letter to the Ephesian Christians. He has just instructed them on how to be good Christian wives, husbands, children, fathers, employees, and employers. Now, he closes his letter by instructing the Ephesians on how to wage the war of the Christian life.
He has ten specific instructions in this passage:
- Be Strong in the Lord’s Strength (v. 10)
- Seal on God’s Armor (v. 11a)
- Stand Firm Against the Devil’s Schemes (v. 11b-12)
- Secure God’s Armor (v. 13)
- Strap on Sincerity (v. 14a)
- Suit Up with Righteousness (v. 14b)
- Shod Your Feet with the Gospel (v. 15)
- Shield Yourself with Faith (v. 16a)
- Seize the Helmet of Salvation (v. 17a)
- Snatch Up the Sword of the Spirit (v. 17b)
He begins this passage by telling the Ephesians to be strong in the Lord’s strength:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
The first imperative here is to “be strong”. The Greek word from which this comes could literally be translated “be empowered”. This, of course, is spiritual strength, and not physical strength, but it’s necessary in order to wage war against the Christian’s enemies. However, it’s not just a command to be strong, but to be strong “in the Lord”. This means that the Ephesians are to rely upon the Supreme Authority Jesus Christ for their strength, and not themselves.
This becomes clear when we consider what Paul adds to this — “and in the strength of his might”. The Greek for “strength” could also be translated “vigor”, and refers to the supernatural power that comes from Christ Himself. The source of this power is “his might”. This refers to His almighty power that He possesses as God. Thus, Paul is commanding the Ephesians to rely upon Christ’s almighty power for their strength. Nevertheless, this requires them to do something.
The first thing this requires is to seal on God’s armor, which Paul says in this way:
“Put on the whole armor of God . . .”
The Greek translated “put on” could be literally translated “seal”, and means to completely secure clothing onto one’s body. However, in this case, the clothing is “the whole armor of God”. This doesn’t refer the armor that God wears, since He wears none, but to the armor that comes from God. Hence, Paul is saying to put on all of the armor that God provides for His people.
The second thing that is required to be strong in the Lord is to stand firm against the devil’s schemes:
“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.”
First, Paul gives as the purpose of putting on God’s whole armor “that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil”. The Greek translated “stand” literally means “stand firm”, so he’s not saying to just passively stand against the devil’s schemes, but to hold the position without giving an inch.
But what are the Ephesians to stand against? Against “the schemes of the devil”. The Greek word translated “schemes” has the connotation in this context of “deceptive schemes”. In other words, he uses deceptive and intricately planned and executed plans in order to deceive Christians into doubting and/or disbelieving God’s Word, and tempting them into sin. The reason Paul uses the name “devil” for Satan here is that it literally means “slanderer” or “accuser”. This is how the devil schemes against the saints — with lies about God’s Word, and what it teaches about many things, including God, people, and the world.
After telling the Ephesians to stand firm against the devil’s schemes with God’s armor on, he tells them why:
“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.”
What Paul’s basically saying is that their war isn’t physical, but spiritual, and against evil spiritual forces. However, it’s more detailed than that. He begins by saying that they don’t “wrestle against flesh and blood”. The Greek translated “wrestle” refers to hand-to-hand combat, so this fighting is up close and personal, and requires every ounce of strength possible. However, this combat isn’t against “flesh and blood”, or people.
Instead, the forces that Christians wrestle with are first described as “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness”. These different descriptions refer to spiritual beings that have control over the sinful world of humanity. The first are the “rulers” or literally, “chiefs”. They are spiritual rulers over humanity. The second are “the authorities”, or more literally “the powers” or “influences”. The third are “the cosmic powers”. This description seems to suggest that these beings have control over physical aspects of the world, since the word “cosmic” could also be translated “world”. However, Paul says that all these different types of demons, as they evidently are, are all “over this present darkness”. The darkness he means is the spiritual ignorance and evil that dominates and controls non-Christians. Finally, Paul says that all of these different demons are “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”. By “heavenly places”, Paul simply means “spiritual places”, or the places that are in the spiritual realm, or dimension, as opposed to this physical realm.
The third thing that Paul commands the Ephesians to do to be strong in the Lord is to secure God’s armor:
“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.”
Again, Paul tells them to use God’s armor, but in a different way. This time, he says to “take up” God’s armor. This is more than just putting it on, but actually using it. And the purpose he gives for doing this is “that [they] may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm”. The Greek word translated “withstand” could also be translated “oppose” or “resist”, so it refers to active effort to beat back an attacker. And what are the Ephesians to oppose? The schemes of the devil executed by “the rulers”, “influences”, “cosmic powers”, and “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places”.
But when are the Ephesians to oppose these forces? “In the evil day”. What does this refer to? Well, Paul has already alluded to it in Ephesians 5:16, where he says, “. . . making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”. The Greek word translated “evil” is kakos, and carries the idea of bad in effect or influence. In other words, it harms people. In this case, Paul says that “the days” are spiritually harmful to people. Thus, when Paul says that the Ephesians ought to be able to oppose the devil’s schemes and forces “in the evil day”, he has to be referring to the period of time in which the Ephesians were living. That is, every day was evil.
And how are the Ephesians to oppose the devil in the evil day? Paul adds, “having done all”. That is, they are not to only use God’s armor and to oppose the devil’s forces, but to do everything necessary to fight against them. And what is the result of doing this? “To stand firm”.
The fourth requirement Paul gives for being strong in the Lord is to strap on sincerity:
“Stand firm therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth . . .”
In this verse, Paul is actually alluding to Isaiah 11:5, which says,
“Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (ESV)
In particular, Paul is honing in on “faithfulness”, which is the Hebrew parallel to “truth” in Ephesians 6:14. The Greek word translated “truth” can also be translated “truthfulness” (NASB) or “sincerity”, since it can just as well refer to integrity or sincerity as to the truth itself. In fact, that’s what the word “faithfulness” points to in Isaiah 11:5. Thus, Paul is telling the Ephesians to put on a belt of sincerity.
But why does he use the metaphor of a belt? Well, in this passage, he’s alluding to the war equipment that the Ephesians would have been most familiar with, being Roman citizens. The belt was the article that held in the soldier’s loose dress-like clothing, so it wouldn’t be a hindrance to him in combat. Hence, Paul is suggesting that those things that the devil could possibly use against the Ephesians their lifestyle should be eliminated by being sincere and truthful in the way they live their lives.
The second use of armor that Paul instructs the Ephesians to do is to suit up with righteousness:
“. . . and having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . .”
For soldiers in the Roman world, the breastplate was essential, since it protected their biggest target against sword blows, spear thrusts, and arrow shots. In Paul’s metaphor, he says that the breastplate of the Christian needs to be righteousness. This can’t be the legal, judicial righteousness that all Christians possess, but rather practical righteousness of the whole of life. In other words, this simply refers to right living that pleases God — that is, the keeping of Christ’s commands, and living according to one’s conscience.
Thirdly, Paul instructs the Ephesians to shod their feet with the gospel:
“. . . as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”
In Paul’s analogy of the Roman soldier, he uses shoes to picture “the readiness” of the Christian to oppose the devil’s forces, and to stand firm against him. The Roman soldier had spikes in his sandals, in order to have a stable foothold on the ground. Likewise, the Christian needs to be ready to oppose and stand firm against the devil’s schemes and forces with “the gospel of peace”.
What does Paul mean by “the gospel of peace”. Obviously, he means the good news of peace with God through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and trust in that news for the forgiveness of sins. Paul is implying that the Christian needs to know and understand the gospel of peace completely, and know that he has peace with God, in order to stand firm against the devil’s schemes.
The fourth instruction for using God’s armor is to shield yourself with faith:
“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one . . .”
Here, Paul commands the Ephesians to shield themselves with faith in God’s Word “in all circumstances”. Why? To “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”. What are these flaming darts? Well, if Paul commands them to believe God’s Word to prevent harm from them, then they must refer to the devil’s lies, which seek to persuade believers to believe things that contradict God’s Word.
Fifthly, Paul instructs the Ephesians to seize the helmet of salvation:
“. . . take the helmet of salvation . . .”
Obviously, this piece of armor is also essential, since the head is the control center of the body. But what does Paul mean by it? It obviously can’t mean that the Ephesians are to receive God’s gift of salvation, since they already have. Paul gives us a clue in 1 Thessalonians 5:8:
“But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” (ESV)
Since Paul is very consistent in his teaching, it’s best to take “the helmet of salvation” as referring to “the hope of salvation”. The Greek word for “hope” doesn’t mean a wish, as we use the word today, but rather refers to a confident expectation of something that is certain to happen. And what is certain to happen for all Christians? They will eventually be completely saved from sin’s presence. Therefore, Paul is telling the Ephesians to remember that they will eventually be completely saved from sin’s presence and power, and made like Jesus in His sinless humanity, and perfected body.
Finally, Paul commands the Ephesians to snatch up the sword of the Spirit:
“. . . take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God . . .”
Here, Paul simply tells the Ephesians grip “the sword of the Spirit”. Why does he call “the word of God” “the sword of the Spirit”? Because it’s the weapon that the Christian uses to strike back against the devil’s attacks. If the Christian shields himself against the devil’s attacks by believing Scripture, then he must attack the devil’s efforts by learning, understanding, applying, and teaching Scripture. The Word of God is the offensive weapon for the Christian. However, it’s not just his weapon, but it’s also “the sword of the Spirit“. This is God the Holy Spirit, who teaches Scripture to people, and uses it to change the way that people think, leading to growth in Christlikeness and salvation.
So, are you being “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”?
Have you put on the whole armor of God?
Are you standing firm “against the schemes of the devil”?
Have you taken up the whole armor of God?
Are you opposing the schemes of the devil, and his spiritual forces?
Are you truthful in the way you live?
Are you living a consistently righteous life?
Are you compelled to fight by the gospel of peace with God?
Do you believe God’s Word, and trust God during your daily life? When you learn an idea you’re unsure of, do you compare it to God’s Word?
Are you confidently expecting to be saved when Christ judges you at the final judgment?
Do you learn, think about, and apply God’s Word to your life on a daily basis?
If you aren’t doing any of these things, then you might not have peace with God. He sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus of Nazareth, sent Him to suffer and die on a cross as punishment for our failures to love, worship, and obey Him as our Creator, raised Him from the dead, and made Him the King of the universe. He’s now commanding everyone to change their minds about Him, and to trust in His death for our sins, and resurrection as the only grounds of His forgiveness, since He’s sending Him to judge everyone perfectly according to everything that we have done. Please make sure that you’ve changed your mind about God, Christ, and yourself, and you are trusting in the risen Lord and His death in your place for God’s forgiveness. If you haven’t, Christ will punish you for your sins against Him by confining you to the lake of fire and outer darkness for eternity. He promises to forgive all who change their minds and trust in Him as their risen Supreme Authority and crucified Savior.
Most Scripture references taken from:
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Some Scripture taken from:
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
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