- The Explore the Bible lesson for Nov. 24 focuses on Ephesians 6:10-20.
What is left to say? Paul has tackled deep issues of our place in God’s divine plan. He has challenged us to see that being reconciled to God calls us to be reconciled to each other. He has commanded us to be wise, be loving, be different and be family. But how do we accomplish all of those tasks? How does one practice such distinctive behavior in a world that doesn’t want us to and with a foe who is determined to see us defeated?
Paul closes the book of Ephesians with a guide to successful Christian living. He does this by calling believers to battle. Battle imagery is powerful because it portrays urgency, seriousness, preparation and teamwork. Whether Paul borrowed the imagery from the guard who was standing near him in his imprisonment, as some have supposed, or simply drawing on the ever present reality of warfare in the Roman world, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate image that he could have utilized to paint the pictures he does in this passage. Since it is spiritual warfare, however, the means of fighting the battle are somewhat different than those of physical battle. Indeed, while the images are significant, it is the contrasts that are the most striking and the most significant.
Aware (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Paul begins with a command to “be strong.” That he adds the prepositional phrase “in the Lord” should not be surprising since that has been the theme of the entire book. It is also a vital instruction given that Paul reveals that the battle is a spiritual one and our foe is the devil. The juxtaposition of battling with the emphasis on not battling against flesh and blood perfectly encapsulates the balance that Paul has been seeking throughout the book. We seek unity with humanity, especially fellow believers, but can never be at peace with the darkness that nailed our savior to a cross. One pastor I heard in my youth expressed it with the statement, “If it bleeds, it is not our enemy.”
We should be careful, however, to avoid two mistakes here. First, we must realize our own culpability for sin and evil. Paul does not intend to suggest with his observations to lessen personal responsibility for sin. “The devil made me do it” is not a biblical appraisal of sin and our relationship to it. Second, the battle is not a struggle between equal teams vying to discover who will ultimately win. Christianity is not a dualistic religion. Christ has won, Satan is defeated. The struggle we participate in is one of postponed consummation.
So, as Paul encourages us to put on the armor, he does so not in the hope that we find victory, but in the assurance that we already have. Though Satan is crafty and deceptive, and should therefore be taken seriously, he is also defeated.
What are some ways that we can legitimately draw the line between sin and sinner and fight the forces of evil while loving those who do evil?
Prepared (Ephesians 6:14-17)
Paul identifies the armor provided by God. As mentioned earlier, Paul draws the images from the world in which he lives. When it comes to the spiritual implications of the elements, however, it is from Scripture that Paul draws his thoughts. Isaiah 11:5 talks about the belt of righteousness and faithfulness, Isaiah 52:7 mentions feet shod with the good news and Isaiah 59:17 mentions the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. The images in Isaiah are focused on Christ. What Paul is doing in Ephesians then is once again illustrating that the Christian life is lived “in Christ.” The armor we put on is the armor that he himself utilized. In this we are prepared to fight the day to day battles that we face.
How does the link between the Messiah’s armor of the Old Testament and our armor change the way you view this armor? What are some images today that one might use to paint a similar picture of preparing for battle?
Field Support (Ephesians 6:18-20)
Paul opened the book by telling the church in Ephesus that he prayed for them. Now as he closes his letter, he requests that they pray for him. At the center of all we do is the discipline of prayer. It is the source of connection and power we desperately need to win the battle. If the battle is spiritual, the resources that fight it must be spiritual as well. Prayer is the avenue by which the spiritual and the physical connect. Prayer is bringing the things of heaven to the mess of earth, and in bringing them, finding order out of chaos.
Take some time to pray for your ministry team, fellow believers, family and friends in the Lord. What ways other than prayer might we build each other up as discussed in the book of Ephesians? How do those other ways intersect with prayer?
Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University.