A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.
Understanding Ephesians 6:10-20 requires a familiarity with what went before. Paul had called these Christians to “walk worthily of the calling with which you were called” (4:1)—the key verse for chapters 4-6. Everything in these three chapters spells out what is involved in Christians walking worthily of their calling. Paul called these Christians:
• Not to be “alienated from the life of God,” but to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth” (4:18-24).
• To put away falsehood and to speak truth with their neighbors (4:25).
• To deal with their anger—not allowing it to cause them to sin—not letting the sun go down on unresolved anger (4:26). “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander, be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God also in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32).
• Not to be foolish or drunken, but to be filled with the Spirit (5:17).
• Paul called wives to be subject to their husbands—and husbands to love their wives even as Christ loved the church—and children to obey their parents—and slaves to obey their masters—and masters to treat their servants kindly and respectfully, “knowing that (God) is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and (that) there is no partiality with him” (5:22-33; 6:1-9).
Paul knew that obeying the counsel that he was giving in 4:1 – 6:9 would not be easy, so he adds this “whole armor of God” passage (verses 10-20) to give the Ephesian Christians (and us) the spiritual resources to do what is needed.
This is the most oft-quoted passage from the book of Ephesians and one of the most quoted from the whole Bible—so it deserves special attention. People quote it, because it addresses real-life issues. We live in a world where the Rulers of Darkness and “the spiritual forces of wickedness” (v. 12) dominate many people’s lives—and our culture reflects their influence. Every time I think things couldn’t get worse, they suddenly move to a new, dark level—with the entertainment industry (including sports) leading the way.
Living as Godly people in an ungodly world poses a whole host of problems.
We need practical advice to help us cope as we swim in spiritually-polluted waters. The fact that people feel a need for advice is reflected in the ease with which self-help gurus enrich themselves. Some of those gurus offer good advice, but others are agents of the Rulers of Darkness. Being able to discern the good from the bad is critical—if we want to heed the counsel of secular advice-givers.
But in these “whole armor of God” verses, Paul provides an alternative. First, he warns that we are facing powerful, malignant opponents—”principalities, …powers, …the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and …spiritual forces of wickedness” (v. 12).
If you think that Paul has overstated the danger, you have closed your eyes to the overwhelming presence of evil in our midst—the violence and ruthlessness and greed that dominate so many lives—the self-destructive behaviors that hamstring so many people—the great divide that separates the very rich from the very poor. While there are many wonderful people in our world, there are also many who are evil at their core.
The hymn, “Just as I Am,” talks about “fightings and fears within, without.” Those words reminded me that pollution is not just without—in the waters in which we swim. It is also within—in our hearts. The Rulers of Darkness have infiltrated our spiritual bloodstream, and aspire to sit on the throne of our hearts. While we struggle to deal with the evil that exists all around us, we must also contend with the evil that lurks within.
Verses 6:10-20 tell us how to protect ourselves—how to establish a solid defense—how to mount an effective offense—how to parry the Rulers of Darkness. They tell us how to live Godly lives and serve God well in a spiritually challenging world.
THE ADVERSARY: THE DEVIL, SATAN, RULERS OF DARKNESS:
The New Testament uses various names or titles for our spiritual adversary—such as the devil, Satan, rulers of darkness, and spiritual forces of wickedness.
The Greek word diabolos (devil) is the equivalent of the Hebrew word satan. In the Old Testament, Satan is an accuser in the heavenly court. In the New Testament, the devil takes on the character of a tempter here on Earth (Matthew 4:1-11; 1 Thessalonians 3:5).
Jesus’ ministry started with his forty-day temptation by Satan (Mark 1:13—called the devil in Matthew 4:1). His temptation was much akin to Israel’s forty-year sojourn in the wilderness—but with a different result. Israel succumbed over and over again to Satan’s wiles, but Jesus parried successfully everything that Satan threw at him. Finally, “the devil left him” (Matthew 4:11)—but only for the moment. The scribes and Pharisees would act as Satan’s surrogates as they opposed Jesus and plotted his death. At the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would engage in a spiritual battle with Satan so intense that his sweat was “like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8), but that victory awaits its final consummation (1 Corinthians 15:24-26; Hebrews 10:12-13). Only in the last days will the devil be thrown into the eternal fire for his final denouement (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10).
As he was preparing to leave Ephesus, Paul warned, “After my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore watch!” (Acts 20:29-31a). In the letters to the seven churches, Jesus commended the Christians at Ephesus for their perseverance and their intolerance of evil. But he went on to say, “But I have this against you, that you left your first love” (Revelation 2:4). They no longer had the passion for Jesus that they had in earlier days.
Peter warned, “The devil walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8)—an apt metaphor. Lions might roar, but they also stalk—quietly and with great stealth. They don’t always succeed in bringing down their prey, but they prowl relentlessly until their bellies are full. When they begin to feel hungry again, they restart the process, looking for new prey, striking again and again.
In like manner, the devil pursues us relentlessly—skillfully assessing whether we might be most easily tempted by high things or low—whether we might be most easily persuaded to go an inch in the wrong direction—or a mile.
Many Christians today would be embarrassed to speak of the devil as a person. They have become too sophisticated to think of Satan as a vicious wolf or a roaring lion. While they acknowledge the presence of evil, they would blame poverty or bad schools or poor housing or racism or the legal system or any number of sociological factors for that evil. But that understanding is derived from humanistic sources, and is totally at odds with the Biblical accounts of Satan.
One of Satan’s most successful ploys has been to persuade people that he doesn’t even exist.
The Bible portrays Satan as a person (Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; Hebrews 2:14; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9)—a person possessed of a clever mind—and a malevolent heart—and a wicked soul—and a fierce determination to subvert our faith in God and our obedience to God. Satan is among the most powerful persons in the universe—a person who has inspired all the evil in our world, and who will not experience his final defeat until Christ comes again.
We have much to fear from Satan, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to live within us. That assures us of our ultimate victory.
EPHESIANS 6:10-12. BE STRONG IN THE LORD
10Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world’s rulers of the darkness of this age, and against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might” (v. 10). The word “finally” connects the following verses to what went before. See “The Context” above.
“be strong.” The verb is passive, so a better translation is “be strengthened.”
Not only is that a better translation linguistically, but it is also better theologically. Paul isn’t suggesting that we go to a spiritual fitness center to gain spiritual muscle-mass to enable us to whip the devil. Instead, we are to invite the Lord to strengthen us. The difference is huge. When we say, “Be strong,” the emphasis is on what we can do—a humanistic effort doomed to failure. When we say, “Be strengthened,” the emphasis is on what the Lord can do. That points to the heart of our faith.
“in the strength of his might.” The emphasis here is the vastness of the Lord’s strength. When we go to the Lord for empowerment, we tap into a vast reservoir of power that far exceeds anything that we will require—or even imagine.
Consider this: In the beginning, God spoke the world into being. He said, “Let there be light,” and light appeared to dispel the darkness (Genesis 1:3-4). A few more Godly words brought into being “an expanse in the middle of the waters”—and dry land—and vegetation—and “lights in the expanse of sky to divide the day from the night”—and “swarms of living creatures”—and a person created in God’s image, “male and female” (Genesis 1:5-31). If a few Godly words could accomplish all that, just imagine what God can do to empower us for the work that he calls us to do.
Or watch (from a safe place) during the next thunderstorm. See the pyrotechnics of thunder and lightning. Observe the torrential rainfall. Feel the power of mighty winds. Then stop to consider that you are seeing just a tiny portion of the Godly power that is manifesting itself at that same moment in millions of places across the whole globe.
When Paul tells us to “be strengthened in the strength of (God’s) might,” he is calling us to let God use some small part of God’s mighty power to empower us to do what he has called us to do—to be what God has called us to be.
“Put on the whole armor of God” (v. 11a). Partial armor would leave us dangerously vulnerable. If a Roman soldier were to leave behind his breastplate or his boots or his shield or his helmet or his sword, his enemies would immediately target the place where he had failed to protect himself.
The same is true of Godly armor: Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God (vv. 14-17). Which one could we ignore without leaving ourselves fatally flawed? Take truth as an example. If we were known for all the virtues except truth, what kind of reputation would we have? What kind of witness could we bear? If the world knows us as liars, it will not trust us, and our witness will be fatally compromised. So it is with each piece of spiritual armor. Each piece (truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God) serves an important function, and each piece is essential.
So don’t leave yourself vulnerable. “Put on the WHOLE armor of God”—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.
“that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (v. 11b). Paul will repeat the emphasis on standing firmly in verses 13-14. We can expect REPEATED attacks by the tempter, so we need to GET READY and STAY READY—feet planted, knees flexed, eyes scanning, head planning, arms ready to ward off blows.
“the wiles (methodeia) of the devil.” What are the wiles of the devil?
• In C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Screwtape Letters, an experienced devil (Screwtape) is advising a young nephew (Wormwood), who has been tasked with preventing a young man from becoming a Christian. Screwtape says: “Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
• A former Army Chief of Chaplains, MG Kermit Johnson, warned against SAM—sex, alcohol, and money—three tempters that ruin clergy and ministries.
• Billy Graham said, “We cannot be dedicated to Christ without giving Him our bodies. The devil gets at the soul through the body.”
• Thomas a Kempis warns, “The devil is continually tempting thee to seek high things, to go after honors.”
• Samuel Taylor Coleridge warns, “We shut our eyes to the beginnings of evil because they are small, and in this weakness is contained the germ of our defeat.”
• Shakespeare speaks of “saint-seducing gold.”
• Martin Luther warns, “By all means flee solitude, for the devil watches and lies in wait for you most of all when you are alone.”
These are but a few examples of the wiles of the devil—a sampler, so to speak. A full listing would fill a book—or a library.
What can we do to defend ourselves from the devil’s wiles? Traditional spiritual disciplines are a great help—participation in public worship—private prayer—scripture study. We will do well to choose our friends carefully. Peer pressure has enormous power to influence our behavior, so we will do well to choose friends who will help us to act in accord with God’s will—friends who will not lead us into temptation.
“For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood” (v. 12a). Wrestling was a popular sport in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) where Ephesus was located, so Paul uses it here as a metaphor for the Christian struggle against Satanic powers.
The fight is not with “flesh and blood” people, but is with malignant spiritual forces. Paul uses several names or titles in this verse, but they all point to the same spiritual being—Satan. The multiplicity of names is a way of emphasizing the danger.
“but against the principalities” (arche) (v. 12b). The word arche means “beginning” or “first.” In this context, it means “rulers”—people who are first in power and authority.
“against the powers” (exousia) (v. 12c). In this context, the word exousia means “those in authority or power.”
“against the world’s rulers (kosmokrator) of the darkness of this age” (v. 12d). The word kosmokrator comes from two Greek words—kosmos (world) and krateo (to hold). As used here, it means “ruler of this world” or “prince of this world” or “world power.”
Paul says that these kosmokrators are “rulers of the darkness of this age.” In the New Testament, “this age” is often contrasted with “the age to come” (Matthew 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30; 20:34-35; Galatians 1:4). In that dichotomy, “this age” is evil, and “the age to come” is the time when God’s kingdom will be fully established and righteousness will reign.
While these worldly rulers could be men such as Pilate and Herod, they would also include spiritual powers such as “the god of this world” who blinds the minds of believers to the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).
“and against the spiritual forces (pneumatikos) of wickedness (poneria) in the heavenly places” (v. 12e). A spiritual person (pneumatikos) could be a Christian (1 Corinthians 2:13, 15; 3:1; Galatians 6:1). However, in this verse, Paul specifies that Christians are facing opposition from “the spiritual forces of wickedness.”
These are spiritual forces more dangerous than the ordinary evil person. They are headquartered “in the heavenly places.” From those elevated places Satan directs the activities of his minions in the earthly realm below—the realm in which you and I live.
EPHESIANS 6:13-17. PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD
13Therefore, put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. 14Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth buckled around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and having fitted your feet with the preparation of the Good News of peace; 16above all, taking up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. 17And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
“Therefore, put on the whole armor of God” (v. 13a). Partial armor would leave us dangerously vulnerable. See the comments on verse 11a above.
“that you may be able to withstand (anthistemi) in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand”(histemi) (v. 13b). Anthistemi means to stand against or to resist. Histemi means to stand, to endure, or to sustain. The two words together portray a person mounting a highly determined defense.
This is consistent with Paul’s military metaphor. A Roman soldier would be expected, in the heat of battle, “to withstand” (anthistemi) and “having done all, to stand” (histemi).
Paul is calling Christians to adopt that same courageous, “never say die” determination in our fight against Satan. A modern proverb says, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That’s what Paul is encouraging us to do.
“Stand therefore, having the utility belt of truth (aletheia) buckled around your waist” (v. 14a). Roman soldiers wore a loose tunic that could get in their way in hand-to-hand fighting, so they used a belt to cinch the tunic so that it wouldn’t restrict their movement. Paul uses that belt as a metaphor for the truth that Christians must adopt as part of their protection against the wiles of Satan—”the belt of truth.”
Aletheia (truth) is that which is real, untainted by falsehood. There are different kinds of truth. A person who avoids telling lies will gain a reputation as truthful. That is critical to our Christian witness.
However, the greater truth is Jesus—the one in whom we believe and on which we have staked our lives. Jesus is truth personified—“the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus promised, “If you remain in my word, then you…will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32).
To learn what Christ taught, we need to look first to scripture, especially the New Testament, and not to pop psychology or politically correct thought. The reformers said “sola scriptura”—scripture only. Practiced rightly, this means that all other authorities are subordinate to scripture and must be judged by their adherence to scriptural teachings.
Biblical teaching will often prove unpopular, because it is not in synch with the popular culture. It stands against the popular culture—opposes it in the name of Christ.
“and having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14b). Paul takes this from Isaiah 59:17, which says, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.”
Each Roman soldier wore a breastplate that protected his torso—his vital organs. The breastplate was designed to stop arrows, spears, and blows from a sword. Paul uses the breastplate as a metaphor for the protection afforded the Christian by righteousness.
The Greeks thought of righteousness as conforming to tradition or custom. Jews thought of righteousness as conforming to Torah law. However, the Christian’s hope is based on grace—the righteousness given by Jesus—the righteousness that we never could have earned.
Paul had pursued righteousness fervently. In his letter to the Philippians, he said:
“If any other man thinks that he has confidence in the flesh,
I (have) yet more:
circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews;
concerning the law, a Pharisee;
concerning zeal, persecuting the (church);
concerning the righteousness which is in the law,
found blameless” (Philippians 3:4b-6).
But after encountering Jesus, Paul learned that true righteousness comes through Jesus. Recounting his personal experience, Paul said:
“What things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ….
that I may gain Christ and be found in him,
not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ,
the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).
That is classic Pauline language. While Paul wants Christians to live Christlike lives, he makes it clear that moral behavior is the outgrowth of salvation rather than the cause of it. This emphasis on God’s mercy “strikes at the very heart of human pride and thus denies people the opportunity of exalting themselves” (Lea and Griffin).
“and having fitted your feet with the preparation (heoimasia) of the Good News of peace” (eirene) (v. 15). This verse takes its inspiration from Isaiah 52:7:
“How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news, who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
Soldiers know the value of a good pair of boots—boots that will stand up to hard use—boots that are comfortable and won’t cause blisters—boots with cleats for good traction—boots that allow the feet to breathe. A bad pair of boots can turn a soldier into a casualty in short order. Paul uses a soldier’s boots as a metaphor for the protection afforded by “the preparation of the Good News of peace.”
The word heoimasia (preparation) means ready or readiness. Paul is telling us that we need to prepare ourselves for encounters with wickedness—and the way to do that is through the Good News of peace.
Peace (eirene) is a significant word, occurring nearly a hundred times in the New Testament. It has its roots in the Hebrew word shalom, which was used frequently in the Old Testament. The LXX (the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the Greek word eirene to translate the Hebrew word shalom nearly two hundred times. In other words, as used in the Bible, eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) are essentially synonymous.
Both eirene (Greek) and shalom (Hebrew) can refer to an inner kind of peace—the kind of well-being that is derived from a deep relationship with God—the kind of wholeness that comes from having the image of God, once shattered by sin, restored in the believer.
Elsewhere, Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)—in other words, “If God is for us, who cares who might be against us?” or “If God is for us, what does it matter who might be against us?” Paul’s point is that a close relationship with God confers on the believer a confidence that cannot be shaken by any opponent or any danger. It would be appropriate to call that state of mind “peace”—eirene—shalom.
But both eirene and shalom can also refer to an external kind of peace—the absence of rancor or violence. Paul is calling these Ephesian Christians to live in harmony and tranquility with each other.
“above all, taking up the shield (thyreos) of faith” (pistis) (v. 16a). The word thyreos is related to thyra (door). The Romans used thyreos as a name for their large door-like shield that was wide enough and tall enough to protect most their bodies. Soldiers configured into a battle line would hold their shields in front of their bodies, and their fellow-soldiers would do the same. Standing close together, they would erect a solid wall of shields protecting the entire line of soldiers against whatever the enemy might throw at them. There was, therefore, a communal aspect to the use of the shield. A soldier gained maximum value from his shield when he joined it with the shields of his fellow soldiers.
Paul uses that shield as a metaphor for faith (pistis). In the New Testament, pistis (faith) has to do with the person’s response to the kerygma (the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ). In other words, Christian faith is faith in the Lord Jesus—steering our ship by Jesus’ star.
Just as the Roman soldier gained the maximum value from his shield when he joined it to the shields of his fellow soldiers, so also Christian faith gains its maximum value when joined to the faith of fellow Christians. Our faith reaches its peak strength as we worship and pray together as a community of faith.
“with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one” (ho poneros) (v. 16b). Soldiers would wrap arrows with cloth, dip them in pitch, set the pitch afire, and shoot the arrows. When the arrows hit, the pitch would spatter, setting fires. If it landed on a person’s clothing or skin, it required immediate attention to prevent a disabling injury—and sometimes there was little that anyone could do to put out the fires. It was the napalm of its day—a fearsome weapon. These were “the fiery darts of the evil one” that Paul mentions in this verse.
“the evil one” (ho poneros)—the devil, Satan. “In one parable, …Matthew uses ‘ho poneros‘ (13:19) precisely where Mark uses ‘Satan’ (4:15) and Luke ‘the devil’…’ (8:12)” (Lipsett, 361). In other words, the three terms (devil, Satan, and evil the one) all refer to the same Satanic person.
The fiery darts that the evil one hurls our way are temptations of various sorts. See THE ADVERSARY section near the beginning of this commentary for detailed information on Satan and his methods.
“And take the helmet of salvation” (v. 17a). Paul quotes Isaiah 59:17: “He put… a helmet of salvation on his head.”
A helmet protects the soldier’s head. A blow to the head is more likely to kill or disable a soldier than a blow to the body, so helmets are one of the most important pieces of armor. Consider this: When you see pictures of people whose jobs are dangerous (police, fire fighters, soldiers, etc.), every one will be wearing a helmet. First-responders understand that helmets are essential equipment.
The protection for the believer’s head is “the helmet of salvation.” Paul earlier described what salvation means:
• “God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (2:4-5).
• “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast” (2:8-9).
But Satan tries to strike a knockout blow to our spiritual heads by causing us to doubt God—to doubt our salvation—to doubt that God has forgiven us—to doubt that God answers prayer—to doubt that God cares—to doubt, even, that God exists. Once Satan succeeds in planting a doubt, he then pries and wheedles and coaxes and cajoles to see if he can use that opening gambit to bring about the collapse of the whole edifice of our faith.
First, God has assured our salvation, and that assurance will protect us from Satan’s hammer blows to the head—if we will simply believe God’s promises (such as the following):
• “Those who wait for (the Lord) will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run, and not be weary. They will walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
• Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, give I to you. Don’t let your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful” (John 14:27).
• John promised, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Second, Satan is always trying to sow doubt, so we need to be on guard to strengthen our faith.
“and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17b). The sword was the principal weapon of the ordinary foot soldier. It allowed him to take the offense—to strike a blow against the enemy. Roman soldiers carried their swords in a scabbard to keep it readily available.
Paul likens the Roman sword to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The Christian’s sword is the word of God—the scriptures—inspired by the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere Paul says:
“Every Scripture is God-breathed
and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,
that the (person) of God may be complete,
thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, he cited scripture to refute each temptation:
• When tempted to make stones into bread, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).
• When tempted to throw himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, relying on angels to save him, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not test the Lord, your God’” (Matthew 4:7).
• When the devil offered to give Jesus the whole world if Jesus would fall down and worship him, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:13: “Get behind me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and you shall serve him only’” (Matthew 4:10).
Jesus was able to use the word of God (the scriptures) to defend himself against Satan’s best efforts, because Jesus knew the scriptures. Using “the sword of the Spirit,” he was able to take the offensive—not only to parry Satan’s thrusts, but also to strike blows of his own—blows that proved decisive. In like manner, we can use the word of God defensively to defeat every temptation.
Furthermore, we can use the word of God offensively to preempt Satan. For instance, we can participate in a Bible study where we might learn something that will help us to overcome temptation—or where we might teach something that will help someone else to do so.
Regular study of the Bible is necessary if we are to make effective use of the word of God. When Satan strikes, we need to be able to respond quickly and decisively—rather than trying to find a Bible and blow away the dust and use a concordance to find the right verse. By the time we do that, the battle will have been decided—and we will be the losers.
Take your spiritual health as seriously as you take your physical health. Just as you exercise regularly to keep yourself physically healthy, establish also a program to keep yourself spiritually healthy. That program needs to include some sort of regular and serious Bible study.
EPHESIANS 6:18-20. PRAYING AT ALL TIMES IN THE SPIRIT
18Pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer (proseuche) and request (deesis), and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession (deesis) for all the saints.
19Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery (mysterion) of the Gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador (presbeuo) in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
While the World English Bible is usually a good translation, I found it confusing in verses 18-19. Therefore, I am substituting a literal translation for those verses.
We tend to be ambivalent about prayer:
• On the one hand, we often think of prayer as a last resort. We say, “All we can do is to pray,” reflecting our preference for something more concrete, such as a proven medical procedure or a winning lottery ticket.
• On the other hand, we feel a deep need for God’s help and, at some level, acknowledge that God has power beyond our understanding—and that God sometimes chooses to wield that power to intervene in human history in ways that we couldn’t have predicted.
Both Old and New Testaments are full of prayers of four kinds (general prayers, petitions, intercessions, and thanksgiving)—and calls to prayer, such as the one in these verses from Ephesians. The underlying assumption is that prayer gains us access to “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Timothy 6:15; Revelation 17:14; 19:16).
Jesus gave us the Parable of the Importunate Widow (Luke 18:2-5) to stress “that (we) must always pray, and not give up” (Luke 18:1). Jesus said, “Be watchful all the time, praying that you may be counted worthy” (Luke 21:36). He taught us to “pray for those who mistreat (us)” (Matthew 5:44)—and to pray in secret rather than as a means of advertising our piety (Matthew 6:1-8).
Jesus gave us a model prayer that begins, “Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done, as in heaven, so on earth” (Matthew 6:9-10). We need to acknowledge God’s holiness before we ask God for daily bread—or forgiveness—or relief from temptation—or deliverance from the evil one (Matthew 6:11-13a).
In an ending not found in some manuscripts, Jesus ends the prayer, “For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen” (Matthew 6:13b)—closing the prayer as it began, by honoring God. That’s an important point. Our prayers will gain strength when they emphasize honoring God.
Jesus also assures us, “Whatever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you will ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14). That promise, of course, is subject to the condition that we pray in Jesus’ name. That requires that we first try to understand Jesus’ mind so that our prayers represent his will as closely as possible. To pray in Jesus’ name is to bring our prayers into accord with Jesus’ character and will.
After Pentecost, the first disciples “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42)—a four-point spiritual discipline that incorporated prayer as one of its key elements.
Paul assures us that “we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in (Christ)” (3:12). Consider this. We would be highly honored if the president were to invite us to the White House. Only a few trusted people have regular access to the White House, and even fewer to the president. But we have “boldness and access” to Christ—the highly exalted one—the one who has been given the name above all names, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). Just think about that! We have bold access to the one who sits on his throne in heaven—but who came to earth to bring us salvation!
That leads to the question, “Why aren’t we using that bold access?” Why aren’t we praying? Why are we taking Christ for granted? Why do we wait until our backs are to the wall before bowing our heads and pleading that Christ will prevent our wild oats from germinating? How foolish we are to disregard this source of strength!
“Pray at all times” (v. 18a). This is the first of four all’s—”all times” and “all prayer” and “all perseverance” and “all the saints.” Paul intends this repetition of the word “all” to emphasize the importance of prayer.
Paul uses similar language in his first letter to the Thessalonian church: “Pray without ceasing.”
How can we do this? Life places many demands on us, and we cannot spend every moment in prayer. But we can live every moment in the confidence that we are connected to God’s love. We can look to God for guidance when we need to make a decision.
If we have eyes to see, we will find a thousand things for which to give thanks—and a thousand situations around the world that require God’s help. There are any number of people deserving of our supplications—our family and friends, co-workers, the church and its members, church leaders, governmental leaders, the person standing in line with us at the supermarket, and the clerk who takes our order at Burger King.
“Pray…in the Spirit” (v. 18b). Praying in the Spirit involves prayer inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit—prayer that seeks the Spirit’s guidance and the Spirit’s will for our lives. It involves praying as best we can, acknowledging that “we don’t know how to pray as we ought,” but praying with confidence that “the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can’t be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
While some equate praying in the Spirit with speaking in tongues, praying in the Spirit is a broader category. Speaking in tongues is only one manifestation of praying in the Spirit.
with all prayer (proseuche) and request” (deesis) (v. 18c). Proseuche is a general word for prayer. Deesis has to do with supplication or prayers to meet particular needs, and can take on a beseeching, pleading quality.
and stay alert in this with all perseverance (Gk. proskarteresis) and intercession (deesis) for all the saints” (hagioi) (v. 18d). Paul calls for these Ephesian Christians to “keep on keeping on” with their prayers for the saints.
The Greek word proskarteresis has to do with persistence and perseverance. It could be translated “steadfast.” Paul is calling us to be firm and unwavering in our prayers “for all the saints.”
As noted above, deesis has to do with supplication or prayers to meet particular needs, whether for oneself or others. I used the word intercession—prayer in behalf of others—in my translation. While deesis doesn’t necessarily mean prayer for others, Paul specifies that he is talking about “prayers for all the saints.” That makes them intercessory prayers.
“for all the saints” (v. 18d). While the word saint has come to mean a super-Christian, the New Testament uses hagios/hagioi to refer to ordinary Christians (Acts 9:13, 41; Romans 1:7; 12:13; 15:26; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Philippians 1:1, etc.). Hagios means holy—set apart for God’s service—which is true of all Christians.
“Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (v. 19). Paul requests prayers for himself—something that he often does (Romans 15:30-32; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Colossians 4:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; 2 Thessalonians 3:1; 4:3-4).
Even though Paul is writing from a prison cell (v. 20a), he doesn’t request prayers for better food or kinder guards—or even for freedom. He requests prayers that God will give him the right things to say as he has opportunities to witness for the gospel. He often succeeded in converting guards and fellow prisoners, and intends to convert Caesar.
“the mystery (mysterion) of the gospel” (v. 19b). We need to be careful with the word “mystery,” because we use it today to mean something quite different than what Paul meant. We use mystery to mean something beyond our understanding.
But for Paul, a mysterion (mystery) is not something that can’t be known. In fact, it is quite the opposite. For Paul, a mystery is spiritual knowledge that God has revealed to those who can see through eyes of faith (Romans 16:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; Ephesians 3:3-5; Colossians 1:26).
The mystery that God has revealed is the gospel—the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“for which I am an ambassador (presbeuo) in chains” (v. 20a). Originally, the word presbeuo meant “old” or “eldest.” However, it came to be used for important positions that required the kind of wisdom that comes with age and experience. In this instance, ambassador is a good translation, because that word brings together the idea of wisdom and authority.
An ambassador is the agent of a ruler. An ambassador does not decide what shall be done, but instead delivers to others the message that the ruling authority chooses to send.
Nevertheless, an ambassador is far from a simple lackey. According to Jewish custom (saliah), the one sent is fully representative of the one who does the sending. Therefore, an ambassador speaks with the authority of the ruling authority, and people to whom the ambassador has been sent are expected to treat the ambassador with the kind of respect that they would pay the ruling authority.
But Paul is “an ambassador in chains.” Paul was imprisoned on several occasions—initially in Philippi by the high priest and other Jewish leaders (Acts 5:17-18; 21:27-30), but later (at the instigation of Jews) by the Romans (Acts 16:19ff; 21:31ff). The Romans took him via Caesarea (Acts 24:1ff) to Rome (Acts 28:11ff). As a Roman citizen, Paul has a right to plead his case to Caesar, and that is what he intends to do. As a private citizen, he would never have the prospect of witnessing personally to Caesar, but his arrest affords him that opportunity. So he considers himself Christ’s ambassador, responsible for taking Christ’s message, the Gospel, to Caesar himself.
“that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (v. 20b). This is what Paul wants these Christians to pray for—that he might speak boldly in the face of human power—that he might not be intimidated in the presence of Caesar—that he might not flinch in the face of death—that he might have the courage of his convictions.
Later, from his prison cell in Rome, Paul reported:
“At my first defense, no one came to help me, but all left me.
May it not be held against them.
But the Lord stood by me, and strengthened me,
that through me the message might be fully proclaimed,
and that all the Gentiles might hear;
and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
While we don’t know with certainty what happened to Paul, it seems likely that he was executed in the persecution initiated by Nero in 64 A.D. If so, as a Roman citizen, he would have been beheaded. But he had said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Paul was saying that he could not lose. For him, to live was Christ (which was good) and to die would be heavenly gain (which would be even better for him personally).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
In the opening chapters of the epistle to the Ephesians, Paul gives a wonderful overview of our position in Christ and the riches of God’s grace that have been poured out on all who are in Christ Jesus. But as we approach the end of the epistle, he does not want us to forget that despite our heavenly privileges we are living on earth.. and engaged in an ongoing spiritual battle.
As soldiers of Christ we are to arise and be strong in the Lord, and not to rely on ourself. And as members of the family of God, we are to stand firm in the power of HIS might – and not take courage in our own strength.
The Christian has enormous heavenly blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus, but every true believer soon realizes that we are living in a world in which we are engaged in war – not a conflict fought with fleshly weapons, sophisticated technology, cleverly devised battle strategies or procedures of war, but a conflict that is fought in the spiritual realm, and which requires a heavenly power from above – strength that is outside our human capacities – power that only comes from the Lord.
In our own strength we are no match for the evil plots and cruel strategies of the enemy, that old serpent which is called the devil and Satan – but we can be strong in the Lord and in the power of HIS might.
It is only when we are conscious of our weakness, inabilities and ineffectiveness that we look to the Lord for the strength we need – for God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. For only when we recognise our weakness and die to self.. will we be strong in the Lord and in the power of HIS might.