In the preceding sections in Ephesians Paul has described salvation as being, on the one hand, the product of God’s sovereign grace, on the other hand, the promised reward of human effort, the latter being made possible from start to finish by the former. These two elements—divine grace and human responsibility—are again most beautifully combined in this closing section in Ephesians 6:10-20.
In this post which is part of the ongoing series at Servants of Grace on Ephesians, we will look in three articles at Ephesians 6:10-20. Today we will focus on Ephesians 6:10-13 and the basic truths regarding the believer’s necessary spiritual preparation as well as truths regarding his enemy, his battle, and his victory.
Man must equip himself with a full suit of arms, that is, it is he who must put it on. It is also he, he alone, who must use this entire panoply. Nevertheless, the weapons described in Ephesians 6:10-20 are called” the full armor of God.” It is God who has forged them. It is God who gives them. Not for one single moment is man able to employ them effectively except by the power of God.
What is it that makes the taking up of this formidable armor absolutely necessary, so essential that salvation is impossible without it? The answer is that the Church has an enemy hell-bent on its destruction. Paul begins this remarkable concluding exhortation with respect to the church’s effective armor by saying: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Ephesians 6:10). It is the exercise or manifestation of the might of the Lord that is the source of power for believers.
Apart from Christ, Christians can accomplish nothing at all (John 15:1-15). They are like branches severed from the vine. On the other hand, in close fellowship with their Lord they can do whatever they need to do: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). By His strength, God not only created the heavens and the earth, caused the mountains to tremble, the rocks to melt, the Jordan to be driven back, the cedars of Lebanon to be broken in pieces, and the forests to be stripped bare, but specifically, as Ephesians teaches that by His strength he caused a) The Savior to arise from the dead (1:20) and b) His chosen ones to be made alive from their death in trespasses and sins (2:1).
Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
The Apostle Paul believed in a personal prince of evil—Satan. Paul was writing to people most of whom before their rather recent conversion to the Christian faith had been in great fear of evil spirits, as is true also today among pagans. It is almost impossible to appreciate how widespread, haunting, and overwhelming is this dread of demons which one encounters throughout heathendom. How did Paul counteract this fear? Did he say what many are saying today, namely, “The world of evil spirits is one huge untruth, a mere figment of the imagination?” He did not.
Instead, without accepting paganism’s demonology or animism, he, nevertheless, emphasizes the great and sinister influence of Satan. The biblical writers all describe the power of the devil in the following way: Having been cast out of heaven, he is filled with fury and envy. His malevolence is directed against God and His people. Satan’s purpose is to dethrone his great enemy and to cast all people into hell. He walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. He has a powerful, well-organized enemy and has established an outpost within the very hearts of those whom he aims to destroy.
Paul says that Satan’s methods are crafty. These methods are the schemes of the deceiver. Believers should not be ignorant of the schemes of Satan (2 Cor. 2:11). Some of Satan’s schemes include the following: mixing error with just enough truth to make it appear plausible (Gen. 3:4-5, 22), misquoting Scripture (Matthew 4:6), masquerading as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14), and causing his “ministers” to do likewise so they “fashion themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13), strengthening people in their belief that he does not even exist (Acts 20:22), entering places where he is not expected to enter (Matt. 24:15; 2 Cor. 2:4), and above everything else promising people that good can be attained through wrongdoing (Luke 4:6-7).
Paul in light of all of this urges the people of God to “put on the full armor of God.” His charge is to leave nothing out, you will need every weapon. Do not try to advance against the devil and his host with equipment from your own arsenal. Rather, say with David, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them” (1 Samuel 17:39). Such weapons, such as trusting in human merits in one’s own erudition or mental acumen, in seclusion from the world, in the invocation of saints and of angels, in the theory that sin, sickness, and Satan do not exist will not avail in “the evil day.”
Ephesians 6:12, “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.”
The urgent character of the admonition is that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against the devil and all the demons under his control. Fallen angels are here characterized as principalities and authorities as “the world-rulers of this darkness,” that is those who under the permissive providence of God are in tyrannical control of the world of ignorance, sin, and sadness. Paul develops this thought in Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore take up the full armor of God.”
The language used in Ephesians 6:13 is incisive. The command is curt and crisp. The purpose is: “in order that you may be able to stand your ground in the day of evil”, that is, in the day of severe trial, the critical moments in your lives when the devil and his sinister underlings will assault you vehemently (Ps. 41:2; 49:5). And inasmuch as one never knows when these cries will occur, the clear implication is: be ready always.
Christians are not to sit back waiting in the shelter of their fortress for Satan’s attack. The context (Ephesians 6:17 and 19) does not allow for this interpretation. The “standing” of which Paul speaks is not that of a brick wall that is waiting passively for the assault of the battering ram. The soldiers referred to here are drawn up in a battle array and rushing into the fight. They are both defending themselves and attacking. Only when they make full use of God’s armor will they be able to “stand their ground,” that is, to withstand the foe, stand up against him, repulse his onrush and even gain ground, for the sentence continues: “and having done everything, to stand firm.” The assumption is that they will have accomplished thoroughly—will have carried through to the end, as implied in the original – marvelous things. Resisting, the devil, standing against him, has this comforting result that, at least for the moment the devil will flee (James 4:7; Matt. 10:22).
The Apostle Paul experienced a fight against Satan-inspired Jewish and pagan vice and violence; against Judaism among the Galatians and others; against fanaticism among the Thessalonians; against contention, fornication, and litigation among the Corinthians; against incipient Gnosticism among the Ephesians and far more among the Colossians; against the fighting’s without and fears within; and last but not least, against the law of sin and death operated within his own heart.
The best defense is an offense. All of Paul’s missionary journeys may be regarded as manifestations of offensive warfare. Paul was invading the territory which heretofore had been the devil’s own, for “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). He had made these incursions into the hostile territory and was going to make even more, since the devil had something that was earnestly desired by the apostle, namely, the souls of men. Paul wanted them in order to present them to God. He yearned with all his heart to be used as God’s agent in bringing about their rescue of men from the realm of darkness and their transfer into the Kingdom of Light. Whenever he refers to this subject he uses language that is expressive of deep feeling (Rom. 1:13; 10:1).
In order to properly interpret what the apostle meant by this battle, it must be borne in mind that the Church and Satan are on a collision course. They are rushing at each other. They clash!
In our next post, we will learn about the full armor of God.