Summary of the Text
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was probably intended for wider distribution and use among the various churches around Ephesus. As such, there is no particular crisis or pressing issue being dealt with; rather, Ephesians is a letter to the church about the church as it expounds on who they are through God’s salvation accomplished in Jesus, and what they are called to be and do in response to the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul addresses the topic of spiritual warfare. But this is no add-on section or appendix for in every chapter throughout the letter Paul has been touching on the cosmic ramifications of the gospel, the spiritual realm in which this warfare is taking place, and the enemy who once held power over Christians before Jesus saved them (see, e.g., 1:3; 2:2; 3:10-11; 4:27; 5:15-16). Before Paul signs off, he now gives these final instructions: God’s people must be prepared and equipped as they engage in this spiritual conflict. While this subject may seem abstract and obscure to some, the preacher might show how our culture generally accepts and is aware of it as evidenced by popular stories, movies, and TV shows which have elements of the supernatural and often pit cosmic good against cosmic evil.
The passage can be broken down into three main parts. First, we are told who the enemy is (vv. 11-12). It is the devil and the powers of darkness. The various titles and descriptions warn us that our enemy is powerful (“rulers, authorities, powers, spiritual forces”), wicked (“evil”), and cunning (“the devil’s schemes”). Like it or not, as God’s people, we now “struggle” against them—the word describes a wrestling match or hand-to-hand combat—for they seek to come against God by coming against his people. Here the preacher may draw on other biblical insights and teaching on who the devil is and how he schemes against us, e.g., he is a murderer, liar, thief and deceiver who seeks to devour and destroy God’s people (John 8:44; 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:14; 1 Peter 5:8).
Second, we are given our orders and what we are to do (vv. 10-11, 13, 14). We are instructed to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” and to “put on the full armor of God.” The emphasis in both commands is on God. We are not told to be strong in ourselves, to win new ground, to gain new victories, or to be spiritual heroes, for it is the Lord Jesus who has both saved us from the enemy (2:1-10) and accomplished the decisive victory through his death and resurrection (Colossians 2:15), and his resurrection power is now at work in us (Ephesians 1:19-20; 3:16). Consequently, we are told four times to “stand firm” (vv. 11, 13 [twice], 14) in what Jesus has done for us.
Third, we are provided with the resources to help us stand (vv. 14-18). Paul draws on the armor and equipment of Roman soldiers (which his original readers would have been familiar with) as a kind of visual aid. We are not to press the imagery too much; the emphasis is on the spiritual resources God has given us. “Truth,” “righteousness,” “peace,” and “salvation” are all blessings of the gospel which we discover in “the word of God” and receive through “faith” in Jesus. Practically then we “put on” the full armor of God and stand by: (a) constantly reminding ourselves of the gospel by regularly reading and plowing the truth of Scripture into our hearts and minds; (b) praying and relying on the Holy Spirit—God’s very presence and power who lives in us and is far greater than the enemy (v. 18; cf. 1 John 4:4); and (c) faithfully participating in Christian community (for it must be remembered that Ephesians—like most of the New Testament letters—is addressed to churches, and these commands are in the plural; “all of you, put this armor on”). The section then ends as Paul, at the mention of prayer, asks the Ephesian Christians to pray for him as he carries on his gospel ministry (vv. 19-20).
Finally, it must be emphasized that while in this world we “struggle” against the devil and the powers of darkness and cosmic evil, we have nothing to fear. Jesus at the cross has already won the decisive victory. By his Spirit he now enables us to stand firm. And one day he will return to complete his final victory and we will stand with him. He himself guarantees it (Matthew 16:18; Romans 16:20).
Gabe Fung serves as lead pastor of Spectrum Church Irvine [spectrumchurchirvine.org] in Irvine, Calif.
Gabe was born in England and grew up in Hong Kong. He previously served as a missionary in Australia with Youth With A Mission, and as a pastor with churches in Westminster and Irvine, Calif. He has a BA from Seattle Pacific University, and MDiv and DMin degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. His central focus in ministry is helping people trust and follow Jesus in all of life and equipping them to help others do the same. Gabe is married to Maribeth and they have two children, Matthew and Amy.
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
Preaching angle: Satan and the powers of darkness and cosmic evil are real and powerful. Christians should neither underestimate nor overestimate them, but we need not fear them because Jesus has already triumphed over them.