Study Guide Prepared by: John McVay
Key Texts: Eph 6:10-20, Part 2
- In Eph 6:10-20, Paul exhorts believers to adopt an urgent, soldier-like approach to Christian discipleship and witness. How sustainable is such a “battle footing” approach?
- How important is the “secret weapon” of Eph 6:10-20, Christian esprit de corps, camaraderie, and community? How can we best signal our support for one another as fellow combatants in the great controversy?
- Granted that Paul in Eph 6:10-20 is offering a final metaphor for the church, what may we learn from the passage about our individual battles against sin and temptation?
- What promise, offered in Eph 6:10-20, do you need the most? How can you lay claim to it?
Just what are truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, etc. as mentioned in Eph 6:14-20? Are they human virtues or divine gifts? For example, what does it mean that the Christian warrior is to “belt on truth”? Does it refer to believers adopting truth-telling as a virtue (cf. Eph 4:25)? Or to believing the truth of the gospel (cf. Eph 1:13; 4:21)? Here, it likely means both as understood in the context of the addressees’ conversion to Christ and through the armor imagery. For Paul, the addressees have experienced a dramatic transformation. Through God’s gracious rescue in Christ, they have been drawn out of falsehood, lies and darkness and have entered into God’s truth and light (Eph 2:1–22; 4:17–5:20). This transformation is skillfully symbolized by the act of putting on the implements of the God-given, head-to-toe armor, the panoplian. Truth is not their own, it is a gift of God (cf. salvation in Eph 2:8). It is not, though, to remain abstract, a distant asset without any transforming impact on their lives. They are to “put on” God’s truth, to experience and use this divine gift. They do not so much possess God’s truth as God’s truth possesses—and protects—them. Donning the armor is Paul’s picturesque way of encouraging them to adopt afresh their distinct Christian identity, accepting God’s grand, gospel gifts and allowing the Holy Spirit to activate them in their lives.
How might we summarize the central lessons Paul is picturing in his military metaphor (Eph 6:10-20)? One way is to summarize the passage using four distilled commands:
- Follow the Leader. As a general, Paul conveys the orders of the true Commander in Chief, who calls us to battle while promising to be with us in the fight. We are to be strong “in the Lord and in the strength of his power (Eph 6:10, NRSV).
- Know the Foe. In battle, it will never do to underestimate the opposing forces. Paul invites a realistic assessment. While we confront enemy forces on the human plane, our real battle is with “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” In according titles of power to the church’s spiritual foes, Paul displays a kind of respect for them. There is wary acknowledgment, too, in his description of the devil as a cunning, devious foe. We need God’s armor to counter “the schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11).
- Join the Army. Our passage has usually been taken as a description of the individual Christian’s battle against evil. However, in Ephesians 3:10 Paul has the church as a whole engaged with the powers, arguing that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God” is “made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” The church, says Paul, is a well-equipped, united army fighting in the long-running battle of the cosmic conflict. Just as soldiers are to support one another and encourage each other to fight courageously, so believers are called to Christian community and collaboration. Our passage does not portray a solitary, lone warrior confronting evil. Instead, it offers a unified army that vigorously and unitedly presses the battle. There is a “secret weapon” in our passage: Christian camaraderie, community, and esprit de corps. (See Sunday’s lesson)
- Fight to the Finish. Paul is adopting no tame metaphor. He imagines the church as army suiting up and entering the fray, charging forward with full energy to that moment when the two opposing forces crash together and fight in deadly, close order combat. The verb “to stand,” used repeatedly in our passage (Eph 6:11, 13 [2x], Eph 6:14; see the study guide for lesson 12), refers to the needed action at the awful moment of impact. Paul commands no defensive posture or mere holding action. As general, he conveys the Commander’s orders for a full, zealous, fight-to-the-finish attack on evil.
How important is it to avoid “friendly fire”? “When men arise, claiming to have a message from God, but instead of warring against principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, they form a hollow square, and turn the weapons of warfare against the church militant, be afraid of them. They do not bear the divine credentials. God has not given them any such burden of labor” (Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, p. 22).
How does Paul envision believers praying in Eph 6:18-20? Paul describes the “battlefield prayer” of believers with two participial phrases that urge perseverance in prayer—“praying always with all prayer and supplication”; “being watchful to this end with all perseverance” (NKJV). The battlefield setting of Paul’s invitation to prayer is confirmed by his call to be “watchful,” which echoes expectation for Christ’s return (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36). Prayer is to be offered “in the Spirit,” likely reflecting dependence on the Holy Spirit to help believers pray as they should (Rom 8:26–27). The two participles (“praying always”; “being watchful”) seem to modify, at least conceptually, the principal verb of the section, the command to “stand” (v. 14). Believers “stand” by practicing diligent, urgent, watchful, persevering prayer. If the church is to be successful in its battle against the powers of evil, it will be because it practices dependence on God through Spirit-inspired prayer.
What would it have been like to be in the judgment hall with Paul and Nero? In Eph 6:18-20, Paul looks toward a future show down with Emperor Nero (see Friday’s lesson for a treatment of the phrase, “an ambassador in chains”). He alludes to the scene as history in 2 Tim 4:16. Ellen White describes the scene in some detail in Sketches from the Life of Paul, chapter 30, “Paul Before Nero,” 310-318 (cf. Acts of the Apostles, 492-497). A sample (p. 312):
Paul and Nero face to face!—the youthful monarch bearing upon his sin-stamped countenance the shameful record of the passions that reigned within; the aged prisoner’s calm and benignant face telling of a heart at peace with God and man. The results of opposite systems of training and education stood that day contrasted,—the life of unbounded self-indulgence and the life of utter self-sacrifice. Here were the representatives of two religions,—Christianity and paganism; the representatives of two theories of life,—the simplicity of self-denying endurance, ready to give up life itself, if need be, for the good of others, and the luxury of all-absorbing selfishness, that counts nothing too valuable to sacrifice for a momentary gratification; the representatives of two spiritual powers,—the ambassador of Christ and the slave of Satan. Their relative position showed to what extent the course of this world was under the rule of the prince of darkness. The wretch whose soul was stained with incest and matricide, was robed in purple, and seated upon the throne, while the purest and noblest of men stood before the judgment-seat, despised, hated, and fettered.
Bibliography. Ephesians 6:10-20 has inspired a stream of devotional commentary over the years, including Erasmus’s Handbook of a Christian Knight (1501; much treasured by William Tyndale, who translated it into English), William Gurnall’s three volumes totaling more than 800,000 words and 1,500 pages on the passage, The Christian in Complete Armour (1655-1662), which was praised by luminaries such as John Newton and Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan’s The Holy War (1682; and to a significant degree his Pilgrim’s Progress as well), and two of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s eight-volume “Exposition of Ephesians” series, Christian Warfare (vol. 7, 1976) and The Christian Soldier (vol. 8, 1977). Works by Seventh-day Adventist authors include Taylor Bunch’s The Armor of Righteousness (1957)