The Church: Its Warfare, Ephesians 6. 10-20
John B. D. Page, Harrow
The scene now changes from the Christian household to believers on the battlefield. The atmosphere is no longer the harmony of the home but of conflict. The walk of believers now gives place to their warfare. The sphere is not the hearthside but "the heaven-lies" where war is waged.
At the outset, it is wise for believers to identify the various foes whom they have to face from time to time, otherwise a confused understanding of them may lead to defeat. Our enemies are three in number, but the manner in which we should deal with them is different for each, and therein is the secret of victory. They are the world the flesh and the devil, and we must adhere to the scriptural way when confronted with them.
With the world, our attitude may be one of three, but only one is scriptural: participation as unbelievers do; discrimination, selecting the so-called best, as carnal Christians do; or separation, in accordance with Scripture, as spiritually-minded believers do.
The flesh is at variance with the Spirit who indwells us. With carnal Christians, the flesh is not put to death but it is paramount, and this leads to inward strife. According to Scripture, the flesh is not fought but reckoned dead; consecrated Christians do this. When confronted with the devil, it means conflict, for we are told to "resist the devil", although a prerequisite is submission to God, James 4. 7. This third foe, not the other two, is the subject of the paragraph under consideration in Ephesians 6, and we shall now consider verses 10 and 11.
A Call to Arms. Immediately, the antagonists are set before us, for on one side there is "the Lord" and the Church whom the writer calls "my brethren", and on the other side there is "the devil" and his angelic hierarchy, or "the devil and his angels" if we borrow our Lord's phrase in Matthew 25.41.
As we face our "adversary the devil" who is "as a roaring lion . . . seeking whom he may devour", I Pet. 5. 8, we must neither underestimate him, for he once had "the power of death" and he is still "the power of darkness", Heb. 2. 14; Col. 1. 13, nor be overawed by him, because we are endued with power which is far greater than his. Paul makes this clear immediately: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might", and he uses the same triad of words "strong", "power" and "might", which he did in Ephesians 1. 19 to describe the exceeding great power displayed in the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Christ, and such power is at our disposal.
Being so greatly empowered, we need to "put on the whole armour of God", which signifies that God supplies it and we should wear it! The purpose of such armour is "that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil", Eph. 6. 11. Here, the posture of believers is mentioned for the fourth time in this Epistle, and the four postures are: seated with Christ, 2. 6; kneeling before God, 3. 14; walking before men, 4.1 ; and standing against Satan, 6. 11.
Our next thought is in verse 12,
The Enemy Sighted and Engaged. Before engaging an enemy, it is wise to be acquainted with his nature besides his numerical and military strength. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood", indicating that our enemy is not human, "but against principalities, against powers", which means that he is super-human. The words "principalities, . . powers" are used elsewhere in Scripture of supra-mundane beings, and it is applied to holy angels in 3. 10 and Colossians 1.16, and to evil angels in this 12th verse under consideration besides Romans 8. 38 and Colossians 2. 15. Next, we are told that these wicked angels exercise authority as "the rulers of the darkness" of this age, which may account for the spiritual darkness and the moral degradation of men. These evil forces are designated "spirits of wickedness", marg, whilst the archenemy himself is "the wicked one", v. 16 J.N.D.
In warfare, it is important to gain knowledge of the enemy's positions in the battlefield through reconnaissance. Whilst we are not told to reconnoitre enemy territory, we know that the location of our spiritual conflict is "in the heavenlies" r.v., which does not mean heaven, the dwelling-place of God. Satan is "the prince of the power of the air", 2. 2, and so the devil and his principalities and powers operate in the atmospheric heavens which are termed "the heavenlies" in the verse before us.
At the cross, Christ "spoiled principalities and powers" which were arrayed against Him, "triumphing over them" as He repulsed their attack, and so we wrestle against a potentially defeated foe.
However, we must neither underestimate the enemy nor resist him unarmed. For conflict with these "rulers of the darkness of this world", we need to put on "the armour of light", knowing that the enemy is fearful of the light, Rom. 13. 12. When faced with "the wicked one" and his "spirits of wickedness", we must wear "the armour of righteousness" for protection.
For details of our armament, with which we should familiarize ourselves, we shall now look at verses 13-20.
Our Weapons of Warfare. Having been warned of the enemy's potential, it is futile to wage war unarmed, and so "take unto you the whole armour of God", says Paul. Of the word "armour" used metaphorically twice in the New Testament, Eph. 6. 11, 13, W. E. Vine says in his Dictionary of New Testament Words, "Among the Greeks the panoplia was the complete equipment used by heavily armed infantry". Hence, Paul realized the enemy's strength. Wearing the armour of God, we are first "able to stand" against the devil and then "able to withstand" his attacks "in the evil day" of battle and, having repulsed him, "to stand" unshaken, vv. 11, 13.
For victory, we must "stand" initially, which the writer reiterates in verse 14, showing no sign of withdrawal, and having on the whole armour provided by God, which is described in verses 14-17. Of the six pieces of armour listed, five are defensive, and only one is offensive. Furthermore, no armour is mentioned for a soldier's back, for "looking back" was a sign of weakness on his part, (cf. Luke 9. 62), whilst the only safeguard is to resist the devil, and then "he will flee from you", as the Lord Jesus experienced, James 4. 7; Matt. 4. 11. We shall now look at each piece of armour.
"Stand . . . having girded your loins with truth" r.v. All easterners, both civilian and military, wore a girdle, which was tightened to afford freedom of movement. The girdle is a symbol of "truth". As the archliar and deceiver, Satan will first attack us, as he did our foreparents in Eden, but the girdle of truth affords protection. Christ is the Truth, for He said, "I am the truth", John 14. 6.
"Stand . . . having put on the breastplate of righteousness" r.v., which is apparently quoted from Isaiah 59. 17. A breastplate was a piece of armour to protect the body between the neck and the waist. When confronted with Satan's accusations, we need to be clothed with righteousness like a coat of mail. Our own practical righteousness would not be impervious to Satanic attacks, but the imputed righteousness of God would be.
"Stand . . . having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace" r.v. Satan is the destroyer of peace and the instigator of discord. Peace is more than the cessation of hostilities between two parties; it is a harmonious relationship first between God and man and then between men. "Having put on the breastplate of righteousness", we are accounted righteous, and so "we have peace with God".
"Stand . . . above all, taking the shield of faith". The words "above all" do not mean in addition to all, but over all, and it is an allusion to the protective cover afforded to the whole body by a large oblong shield, measuring about 4 ft. x 2 ft., which a small round shield did not give. Satan's tactic is to create doubt about God Himself and His Word, as he did with Eve by asking her subtly, "Hath God said?". His objective is to discredit deity and the Word of God and cause a cleavage between God and man. With "the shield of faith", we are linked to our victorious Lord, and we "shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one" r.v., which is an allusion to the water saturated skin shield that quenched the fire-tipped arrows of the enemy. To serve as a shield for quenching the fiery darts of the evil one, our faith must be mingled with the Word of God.
"Stand . . . and take the helmet of salvation", which is probably a reference to Isaiah 59.17. The helmet gave protection to the soldier's head. This piece of armour is essential, because Satan attacks a believer's mind with defiling thoughts and deceptive teaching, and so the undiscerning mind of the carnal Christian is easy prey. Therefore, we need to take "the helmet of salvation" when engaged in spiritual conflict, and the word "salvation" here denotes not our initial deliverance from the guilt of sin but preservation in the Satanic attack and deliverance from it, which have been won by Christ.
"Stand . . . and take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". This is the believer's only weapon for offensive action against Satan. The Word of God, being inspired by the Holy Spirit, is "sharper than any twoedged sword", Heb. 4. 12, and we can wield it to defeat the devil only by the Spirit who indwells us. Satan's three attacks against the Lord Jesus were repulsed by "the sword of the Spirit" as He uttered the words "It is written" on each occasion.
With his "loins girt about with truth", and his "feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" besides having on "the breastplate of righteousness" and taking "the helmet of salvation" for protection, the "soldier of Jesus Christ" is ready for active service when the enemy attacks. With this "armour of righteousness", he has "on the right hand" the "sword of the Spirit which is the word of God" for attack, "and on the left" taking "the shield of faith" for defence against "the fiery darts of the evil one".
This brings us to
The Way for Victory. So far, we have seen that we wage war in the supernatural sphere, for which "the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds", 2 Cor. 10.4.
Prayer, the theme of the remaining verses, Eph. 6.18-20, is not a weapon but the realm of conflict where the battle is won. "Praying always": the Christian warrior has nothing in himself for fighting but he has everything in Christ, and prayer is a sign of his dependence upon Christ. In a struggle against Satan, we must be praying "always"—not spasmodically but continuously, supplicating the Lord earnestly. As carnal weapons will not prevail in spiritual warfare, so praying in the flesh is ineffectual. Hence, effectual prayer is "in the Spirit", so that the Spirit will determine the character and content of our prayers; cf. Rom. 8. 26-27. Our attitude, as prayer-warriors, should be one of "watching thereunto with all perseverance", which means to be vigilant and not to faint.
Finally, in times of conflict, we may be confused, but we need to remember that Satan tortures us because he hates us and we should resist him, but the Lord tests us by way of discipline because He loves us and we should submit to Him. In times of attack, we should remind ourselves that the devil was defeated by Christ upon the cross and the victory is ours through our victorious Lord. Therefore, as Paul said at the outset, "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might".