Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay
Key Texts: Eph 6:10-20, Part 1
- Since we are now under the authority of the exalted Christ (Eph 1:20-23), why not simply ignore the powers of darkness (Eph 6:12)?
- What is the timing of the battle or war Paul imagines? Is it a future one only, occurring on “the evil day”? Or is it continuous, happening throughout the Christian era?
- How does Paul elsewhere use military language in describing his own ministry and that of his co-workers? In what type of warfare are they engaged? How does this contribute to our understanding of Eph 6:10-20? See 2 Cor 10:3-6; Phil 1:27-30.
- Is Eph 6:10-20 a decorative add on to the letter or is it closely connected to the rest of the letter? With the help of Tuesday’s lesson, trace the theme of the great controversy in the earlier chapters of Ephesians.
- How can the reality of a long-running war between good and evil and your role as a combatant in “the army of Christ” in that conflict reshape your sense of what it means to follow Jesus?
How is Ephesians 6:10-20 put together?
- The Call to Arms (Eph 6:10-12)
Paul begins with an overarching exhortation to “be strong in the Lord” (v. 10), which he repeats as a call to “put on the whole armor of God” (v. 11a). He then specifies a purpose (to be able to stand against the devil’s schemes, v. 11b) and offers a rationale (because the battle is against powerful, spiritual forces of evil, v. 12).
- The Call to Arms Reissued (Eph 6:13-17)
Paul next reissues the call to arms in a detailed way. Believers are to “Take up the whole armor of God” in order to stand firm in battle (v. 13). They are to don belt, breastplate, boots, shield, helmet, and sword (vv. 14-17).
- The Call to Prayer (Eph 6:18-20)
Paul concludes by inviting now fully armed believers, ready to enter the fray, to do what soldiers on the ancient battlefield would do at that moment—pray. They are to pray for “all the saints” and for Paul, that he might offer bold witness as “an ambassador in chains.”
Is the tone of Eph 6:10-20 confident or fearful? The verses that are the focus of this lesson, Eph 6:10-13, exhibit a realistic assessment of the massed forces of evil but exude a confidence in God’s power and the weaponry He provides. This confident tone is illustrated by Paul’s call for believers, as they enter the fray of the cosmic conflict, to don the “helmet of salvation” (Eph 6:17), probably best understood as the “victory helmet” or “parade helmet,” which a Roman soldier reserved for the victory parade (and which has been illustrated by recent archaeological discoveries like the Hallaton Helmet). Believers are invited to don the parade helmet as a mark of their confidence in their Commander and the resources He has provided to ensure victory. In advance, before the final victory is won, they are to celebrate the grand triumph to come!
Why does Paul provide titles for the evil powers? Given that the lists in Ephesians for the evil powers differ (Eph 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; see Thursday’s lesson), Paul is not seeking to be exhaustive by providing every label for all evil powers nor does he provide a structure or hierarchy among them. In his broad descriptions (“every name named,” Eph 1:21; “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” Eph 6:12) he does affirm that all evil and supernatural powers are subjugated to Christ (Eph 1:21), recipients of God’s revelation through the church (Eph 3:10) and joined in an army of evil that opposes the church, one sure to be defeated (Eph 6:12).
How significant is the command to “stand” to the passage? Paul punctuates his battle cry four times with the urgent command to “stand” or “withstand” (Eph 6:11, 13, 14). The command does not mean, as some take it, to stand nonchalantly on the battle field, relying on others to do the fighting. In Paul’s vigorous, military metaphor it refers to the urgent action needed when two enemy phalanxes meet—to stand firm and resist the enemy’s intended advance. Paul pictures believers as warriors, fully and energetically engaged in combat. See Wednesday’s lesson for details.
What about “Spiritual Warfare”? Ephesians 6:10-20 is often judged to be one of the most important Bible passages about “spiritual warfare,” thought of as battling directly with evil spirits who have taken control of someone. What does our passage say about “deliverance ministry”? On the one hand, it says surprisingly little. It portrays the close engagement of believers against “the spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12). However, Paul’s emphasis is on God’s generous provision for victory through His presence and the weaponry. Paul does not picture would need to happen should a Christian soldier desert the post of duty, join the opposing force, and become possessed by evil spirits.
However, Ephesians 6:10-20 suggests important principles and ideas that should inform such efforts—Trusting in the Lord (rather than in our own spiritual power to rescue Satan’s captives), acknowledging the need for God’s provisions for the battle, trusting in the completed victory of Christ, requesting and relying on the presence of the Spirit (Eph 6:17-18), using the promises of God (“the word of God,” Eph 6:17), all expressed through “prayer and supplication” to God, trusting in the power of the Spirit to convey, interpret, and expand on our requests on behalf of the oppressed (“praying at all times in the Spirit,” Eph 6:18; cf. Rom 8:26-27).
C. S. Lewis’s statement about “devils” is quoted frequently: “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.”1The Screwtape Letters & Screwtape Proposes a Toast (New York: Macmillan, 1961), 3. Christians in the West often think very little about the presence of evil powers and would be perfectly happy to ignore them altogether. However, in the rest of the world (the “majority world”), the presence of evil spirits is often part of day-to-day reality and the need to participate in the delivery of the demon-possessed can be very real. In 2005, the Seventh-day Adventist Church added a 28th “fundamental belief” to acknowledge this reality, celebrating that “By His death on the cross Jesus triumphed over the forces of evil. He who subjugated the demonic spirits during His earthly ministry has broken their power and made certain their ultimate doom. Jesus’ victory gives us victory over the evil forces that still seek to control us, as we walk with Him in peace, joy, and assurance of His love.”2Seventh-day Adventists Believe, 3rd ed. (Review and Herald, 2018), 151.
Those of us who have little experience in helping those oppressed by evil spirits should listen carefully to those who do,3A helpful set of essays is “Spiritual Warfare and the Occult,” a thematic issue of the Journal of Adventist Mission Studies, vol. 11, no. 2 (2015) available online at https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jams/vol11/iss2/17/. while being attentive to the multitude of other, devious and devastating ways in which Satan and his minions work among us (“the schemes of the devil,” Eph 6:11) . . . and alive to God’s gracious provisions to counter them.
How might we summarize the themes of this lesson, with its focus on Eph 6:10-13? In Ephesians 6:10-13, Paul recruits believers as active participants in the great battle against good and evil, reminding them of the strength of Christ that empowers them. We learn that we need to be equipped head-to-toe in God’s armor to be victorious over a scheming foe, the devil, and his forces of evil. Our battle against these forces is not to be trivialized as though we are merely sparing with human enemies. Nor can it be ignored, since we do not battle these evil powers at a distance but are engaged in up close combat with them.