THE ARMOR OF GOD Ephesians 6
“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph. 6:10–11).Use every resource God has provided to wage spiritual warfare.
Paul examines mutual responsibilities of children and parents (6:1–4), and of slaves and masters (vv. 5–9). Paul reviewed the teaching of this letter, picturing the resources God has provided as a soldier’s armor (vv. 10–20), and closes with brief greetings (vv. 21–24).
Understanding the Text
“Honor your father and mother” Eph. 6:1–3. Paul further developed the thought of mutual submission introduced in 5:21, and applied to husband/wife relationships in verses 22–33. A child’s submission is expressed by obedience to his or her parents. We might well place a comma in the saying, “Which is the first commandment, with a promise.” Psychologically this is the first commandment that a person experiences: We learn to obey our parents long before we learn about stealing, or murder, or adultery. If we learn to obey our parents as they try to bring us up in the Lord, then the rest will be so much easier. If we are rebellious all the others will be more difficult, even as it will be more difficult to submit to God. No wonder this commandment has a promise attached. The child who learns to respond to parental guidance will avoid those destructive and harmful behaviors that tend to shorten life. “That it may go well with you” reminds us again. God gives us His commandments for our benefit. As we live in harmony with what God says is right, we truly are blessed. “Fathers, do not exasperate your children” Eph. 6:4. One English version has it, “Don’t overcontrol your children.” The thought is expressed in a number of enlightening synonyms: aggravate, provoke, hassle, rile. As children submit to parents by obeying, so parents must submit to children by being sensitive, by listening to their point of view, by being fair. The important thing to remember in any relationship is that the person with the greatest social power—here, Mom and Dad—have the greatest responsibility to use that power lovingly and wisely. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters” Eph. 6:5–8. In the Roman Empire slaves were property with no right to direct their own lives. As the Gospel spread, many slaves became Christians. Several of the epistles give guidance to slaves, in each case counseling submission to their masters. Paul went beyond the other passages here, for he emphasized an inner attitude with which the slaves’ service is to be rendered. For slaves “submission” was not grudging compliance, but wholehearted commitment to doing the master’s will. Today I suppose Paul’s words would be directed to employee/employer relationships. Surely the advice would be the same. We are to do our work honestly, “with sincerity of heart” at all times. We may not have a supervisor’s eye on us. But God’s eye is. Ultimately the reward for an honest day’s work isn’t to be found in our paycheck, but in God’s “well done.” “Masters, treat your slaves in the same way” Eph. 6:9. Again “submission” is reciprocal for Christians. The employee submits by giving an honest day’s work. The employer submits by treating employees fairly, with an honest concern for their well-being. Reciprocal submission is one of the most important principles of Christian living. In every relationship we have, whether personal or professional, you and I are to consider the welfare of others, and act accordingly. “Take your stand against the devil’s schemes” Eph. 6:10–11. Ephesians is a book about the church. In it Paul presented Christ’s church as a body, a family, and a holy temple. Each of these images calls for Christians to live together in love and unity. It is this dominant theme of the book that helps us understand the nature of the devil’s schemes, and the armor God has provided us to use in withstanding them. Simply, the devil’s schemes in Ephesians are his strategies for disrupting the unity of the church. And the armor of God is God’s resource for maintaining unity. Living together in love as the living church of Jesus Christ isn’t optional. It’s essential! The heavily armed Roman legionnaire stands in full armor, equipped for battle. Paul summed up his teaching in Ephesians by linking major themes to different parts of the infantryman’s equipment. “The belt of truth buckled around your waist” Eph. 6:14. Paul had written, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (4:25). Openness and honesty will ultimately create a climate of trust and unity. Attempts to hide our motives, or deceive others, will create a climate of misunderstanding that makes unity impossible. That “little white lie” that seems so innocent is one of the devil’s messengers intended to disrupt fellowship in Christ’s church. “The breastplate of righteousness” Eph. 6:14. Paul had written, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (5:3). Personal holiness and purity are essential to unity, and to corporate holiness in Christ’s church. “Your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace” Eph. 6:15. Paul had frequently stressed the fact that the Gospel brings peace, not only reconciling us to God but also to one another (cf. 2:11–22). In Ephesians, “peace” is that quality of full acceptance which maintains the bond of unity created by the Spirit, enabling the church to move, responsively, to the marching orders of Christ our Head. Without peace, the work of Christ on earth is crippled. “Take up the shield of faith” Eph. 6:16. Paul has shown us a God who is “able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (3:20). If we keep our eyes on this God, all Satan’s fiery darts of doubt will be extinguished. “Take the helmet of salvation” Eph. 6:17. Paul described who we were in Ephesians 2. And there too he affirmed who we are: persons who are alive in Christ, who are God’s workmanship. Together we Christians need to keep this identity foremost in our thoughts. Let’s not see others in the church in the light of what they were, or even what they are now. Let’s see them in all their potential, in what we are together becoming. If this perception of our fellow Christians shapes our attitude toward them, one of Satan’s most effective schemes—to make us critical, hostile, or rejecting—will be defeated indeed. “The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” Eph. 6:17. This is the only piece of armor that Paul explained. Why? Because the themes represented by the other parts of the soldier’s equipment were explored in Ephesians, but Paul had not earlier touched on the Word of God. The other parts of the armor are for our defense against the devil’s disruptive schemes. This, the Word of God, enables us to take the offensive. When we teach and live God’s Word, Satan will increasingly be revealed to be a defeated foe. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions” Eph. 6:18–20. God has provided us with the resources we need to fight our spiritual battles. But we cannot use them without prayer. For these are spiritual resources, and we must rely on God as we use them.
Workplace Imitation(Eph. 6:1–9)
Paul’s challenging call, “Be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1), has long captured the fancy of Christians. From Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ to Sheldon’s In His Steps, believers have tried to imagine what it would be like to truly imitate God in daily life. What many miss is that Paul went on in Ephesians to describe the life of imitation as a life of mutual submission in every relationship. Husbands love their wives and put their needs first, and wives gladly respond to husbands. Children obey parents, and parents are sensitive to their children’s feelings and needs. Slaves serve their masters wholeheartedly, and masters consider the needs of their slaves. It’s perhaps a little pedestrian, but the fact is that the imitation of Christ is perhaps most clearly seen where an employee arrives on time, works hard during the day, and does his best to contribute to the profitability of his boss’ business. And where an employer pays a fair wage, makes sure his employees have medical insurance, makes sure working conditions are safe, and is satisfied with a reasonable profit, even though he could make more by taking advantage of his employees. But then again, maybe the mundane and commonplace expressions of Christian faith are the most important. After all, we’re to imitate God, and God in Christ entered the world as a human being. He lived with ordinary people, did ordinary work, and only during the last tenth of His 30-year life on earth taught or performed miracles. You and I may not be able to imitate Christ in the last, spectacular 10 percent of His life on earth. But we surely can imitate Him in the 90 percent He lived as an ordinary man. And, in the ordinary things of our life—in the home, in the workplace—we can display in our submission to others something of the hidden glory of our God.
Imitate God tomorrow. Do an honest day’s work!
“He became what we are that He might make us what He is.”—Athanasius of Alexandria The Variety Reading Plan continues with PHILEMON