“The Whole Armor of God”
The last chapter of Ephesians is a contrast to the first one. The first chapter begins “in the heavenlies.”But the last one is “on the battlefield.” In chapter 1 Paul introduces his letter by talking about our glorious position as children of God. In the second and third chapters he traces the glorious union of Jew and Gentile into one body through the work of the Holy Spirit. In the fourth and fifth chapters he describes the walk of believers in unity.
But as he closes the letter he gives a warning to those who have received these truths: that they will be lived out on the battlefield. Paul knew from personal experience that there were many adversaries in Ephesus. For example, when he wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus, he said, “I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great and effective door is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.” And the details of those adversaries are given in Acts 19:23 through 41. The city of Ephesus was consumed with the worship of Diana, the goddess of the Ephesians. One of the “seven wonders of the ancient world” was the temple of Diana, and many citizens of Ephesus were employed in the temple and in the manufacture of the arts and crafts associated with that false worship. When Paul came and preached salvation through Christ alone, the leaders of Diana worship rose up to put him to death. It was only through fear of the higher authorities that Paul and his companions were delivered from death in the arena.
These adversaries were human, visible, and vulnerable. But Paul knew that he also had an even greater adversary, one in the spiritual realm. And he wanted his readers to be equipped for this kind of warfare. So in verse 10 through 13 he describes the warfare in which we are involved from four standpoints. In verse 10 he describes “the strength in the struggle.” Then in verse 11 he describes “the supply for the struggle.” In verse 12 we have “the seriousness of the struggle.” In verse 13 we have “the stand to take in the struggle”
So let’s look first in verse 10 at the strength that is provided for the believer in the struggle
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and the power of his might. The phrase “be strong” doesn’t refer to working out with weights, etc. Rather the form of the verb is indicates receiving something from someone else – a better translation would be: “finally my brethren be “strengthened” in in the Lord. The believer does not have to fight in his own strength, but in the strength given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ. And the phrase “in the Lord” shows us where this strengthening takes place – and thus the need for strength. In fighting a human battle strength is often measured on the basis of manpower – how many men a commander can rally. Or on the basis of what weapons he has at his disposal. Or strength may depend on the commander himself. But Paul is showing us here that as the believer enters this conflict he has no strength, no weapons, and no wisdom except from the Lord.
If a soldier loses confidence in his commander, he becomes fearful of the outcome of the battle. He will not surge forward in the battle if he does not believe that his commander knows what he is doing. So Paul directs our thoughts to the Lord, in whom we can have complete confidence to strengthen and lead us in the battle. When God chose to illustrate His power He chose the resurrection in Romans 1:4 and this is encouraging because it is one power that man cannot duplicate. And this is the power which is available to believers!
But not only do we have God’s strength for the struggle, we also have God’s supply for the struggle as it is brought out in verse 11:
Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
First he speaks of the need for armor. When Paul wrote these words he was a Roman prisoner. And perhaps the Roman soldier who stood guard over him served as the inspiration for this illustration. That guard would have been dressed in full armor. And there is an object lesson: the Christian is not called to a life of leisure, but to a “battlefield.” And incidentally, the phrase “put on” is written in a tense which indicates that it is to be put on “once and for all.” This is not just a brief skirmish – Satan wants to keep us constantly under pressure. And he is crafty enough and determined to do it!
But there is something else to notice here, and that is the nature of the armor. The soldier is not responsible for providing his own armor – the government does that. (And think what a rag-tag army it would be if each soldier did provide his own!) And in the same way, God Himself provides our armor. If (and when) we go down in defeat, it is not because God did not provide the necessary armament, it is because we did not appropriate it. That is why he goes on to describe the equipment in such detail in verses 14 through 17.
Paul also goes on to explain the necessity of this supply: “that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
God does not lead us into battle to be defeated. – He is expecting victory. And He has equipped us accordingly. But to have victory we must understand what it is we are up against: the wiles of the devil.” The word “wiles” is translation of a Greek word that means “to stalk.” The picture is that of an animal stalking its prey with stealth and cunning. And this is significant as to the type of battle we are up against. (And the armor we are equipped with.) The boxer or wrestler always knows exactly where his opponent is. And the football and basketball player knows where the boundaries are, and that nothing done outside of those boundaries is going to count. But in the battle with the devil there are no such boundaries, and we never know where he is going to come from. But remember that the point of this verse is that our armor is designed to withstand even those kinds of attacks.
Tying right in with that, in verse 12 Paul details for us the seriousness of the struggle. First he talks about the nature of the engagement
For we do not wrestle with flesh and blood, but with principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places.
It is significant that Paul uses the metaphor of the wrestling match rather than some of the other athletic symbols that he sometimes used. Probably that is because the Roman wrestling match was a fight to the finish. The winning hold was literally the “stranglehold.” So by implication Paul is telling us that this is a fight to the finish. Not that we would ever lose our salvation, But Satan does try to “kill” our Christian testimony to the extent that we will not be able to go on with the Christian life and ministry. Paul’s stress is on the fact that this is not “church picnic” baseball game where we play until we get tired and then leave it to the younger players. But he also speaks in this verse about the nature of the enemy Note the phrase “flesh and blood.” That is a term usually used to describe a human being. When we have a human adversary we can figure out, more or less, what he is going to do, because we are human too. But our adversary is not human; the source of our conflict is “principalities and powers, etc. We know from the phrase “in the heavenlies” that this a reference to Satan’s organized angels. Thus our fight is not against human beings (bad as that might be) but against a highly organized, unseen, powerful enemy. And the “wickedness” of the enemy – their whole purpose and motivation is evil.
Understanding the nature of the struggle, it is easy to see why Paul made an appeal to stand in the struggle in verse 13.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand, stand therefore.
The “evil day” in which the armor will be helpful is not the judgement day, as some suppose, but this “day” in which we are living right now! This is the time for the stand. From God’s perspective, this earthly life is an “evil day.” Therefore there is no letup in the battle – it will go on as long as we live. Satan was defeated at the cross and will eventually be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years and then for eternity. But at the present time he has not begun serving his sentence.
But God has a technique for the stand we must take. First – take up the armor. Then stand therefore . . .”
As we close this study there are several things that need to be kept in mind about this passage. First of all it ought to be clear that every child of God is a soldier in God’s army. We have been called to battle, and no one is exempt from the summons. There are no exemptions or deferrals of this draft. The second thing we are to realize is the nature of the enemy. We cannot see, touch or outwit him. Therefore we need protection, wisdom and strength that is greater than our own. And Jesus Christ, our commander, has provided just the armor we need for that purpose. But it is the responsibility of the soldier to put the armor on and keep it on. If the commander provides armament, but the soldier fails or refuses to use it, the commander can’t be blamed for defeat, thus, if we are defeated, it is not God’s fault. The hymn writer asks the question, “Am I a soldier of the cross?” But it is pointless to ask that question – God says we are. The question for us to ask is “what kind of soldier am I?”