Updated: Dec 18, 2020
[Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20] If we are a Christian, the devil is out to ruin our testimony and confidence. But God has given us the armor we need to stand firm and be bold ("the armor of God"), no matter the circumstances—we just need to “put it on”. This isn’t about a mantra; this is about following Jesus, being prayer warriors for one another, and depending on God.
For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Ephesians 6:13
[Editor's note: this Bible study supplement started as a printed newsletter for teachers, which is why it is so text-heavy. I am slowly adding older lessons to our website.]
Cosmic, Good-vs-Evil Battles
I have always loved movies about great battles between good and evil forces. I really love it when there are people who exist around the conflict who think it’s too big for them to get involved (think Luke in Star Wars, or Frodo in Lord of the Rings). I love it when we have great heroes to root for (like almost everyone in the MCU). I love it when the heroes make a sacrifice (particularly as in the Narnia films). If you have people in your class who like fiction—books or movies—ask them what it is about the great adventures that draw them in. Why do they like those stories? I think, deep down inside, people like the idea of thinking that they can be an important part in deciding a great conflict that might determine the fate of the world. “The stakes are never higher”, “and I can help!” Well, what Paul tells us is that we are all a part of a great battle between good and evil—a battle that wages all around us and that we must be a part of. Last week, we sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in our service. Some people think it’s a bit overdone and overdramatic. It’s not. You see, the battle around us isn’t between flesh and blood, but between the spiritual powers and forces that are just beyond our sight. That doesn’t make them any less real than the battles that our soldiers fight in dangerous areas around the world; it just makes them different. My hope is that your class would use this illustration to move their interest in the fictional conflicts in those movies /books to the real spiritual conflict that surrounds us every day.
This Week's Big Idea: Preventative Care
The passage we’re reading this week is about the “armor of God”. My experience has been that most Christians don’t take it seriously. So—another icebreaker you might try would be to have your class list all of the measures they take in preventative maintenance and care. If they take it seriously, this could be fun (because the rabbit hole is deep). These are the things I came up with off the top of my head.
We keep our money in insured banks
Safety deposit boxes
Security camera systems in our homes
Concealed-carry license (hopefully with training)
Oil changes and tire rotations
Testing your smoke detectors
Changing air filters
Treating your sidewalk before it ices
Lubrication on moving parts
Replacing brake pads
Up-to-date antivirus software
Regular check-ups and blood work
Regular dental visits for cleaning
Mammograms and colonoscopies
Sunscreen and big hats
Diet and exercise and sleep
Proper clothing for the weather
Protective eyewear (goggles, sunglasses)
Shampoo, body wash, scrubbers
Flu shots (and other vaccines)
Blood pressure testing
Visits to the chiropractor
Visits to a therapist (many kinds of therapists)
Obviously, with a little time, your class could write lists a whole lot longer than that! Here’s where I would go with this—ask your class to estimate how much time and money they think they put into preventative care for themselves and (if applicable) for their place of work. They don’t have to answer out loud! But follow with two questions that I would want them to answer out loud:
Is their preventative care worth it?
Do they think they should do more such care?
I think for most sober-minded individuals, the answer to both questions is probably “yes”. That leads into the lesson. Hopefully, someone noticed that I didn’t have anything “spiritual” on my lists. Why? Because I don’t think most people think of their spiritual health on the same level as their physical health. According to Paul, that’s a mistake! Ask a simple lead-in question: “does your spiritual life affect your physical well-being?” If anyone in your class doesn’t think so, then this lesson is for them! The truth is that Satan is very real, and the forces of darkness in our world want nothing more than to destroy humanity (whom God loves) and particularly Christians (because they have the message that can rescue humans from eternal damnation). We can and should take preventative measures for our spiritual life just as we do our bodies and possessions.
One Last Lesson in Ephesians
The Holman Bible Dictionary entry for “Spiritual Warfare” actually includes a full walkthrough of Ephesians. (Blessedly, I’ve said the same thing that it says. Phew!) Chapters 1-3 focus on theology; 4-6 on behavior. I like their summary: “believers must live out their identity in Christ (1-3) by following the commands of Christ (4-6)”. Paul ends his letter with a sober look at the stakes. Because we are in Christ, Christians have a very real enemy in Satan. Just as Roman soldiers wear armor, so should Christians. But our armor is not something we “put on” once a day; it’s something we live out. All of the behaviors associated with following Jesus are the very things that protect us from the attacks of our enemy, the devil.
A Very Important Aside: What Is Spiritual Warfare?
Christians use this term to describe the conflict between themselves and the demonic forces in the world. Books like This Present Darkness bring angels into the conflict (i.e. without human prayer, angels can’t defeat demons). The Bible doesn’t give us any sense of that. The most amazing story we have along those lines—the archangel Michael and the “Prince of Persia” in Daniel 10—doesn’t hinge at all on Daniel’s involvement. And the only other mention of such a conflict—between Michael and the devil in Jude—is also independent of human involvement. Rather, the Bible teaches us to look at spiritual warfare as something against us. Satan and his minions, angels who fell with him in his rebellion against God, hate humans out of jealousy and want to destroy us (see 2 Cor 10:3-6, 1 Tim 6:12, 1 Pet 5:8, Job 1-2). In the Bible, we read many accounts of demonic possession, a tactic designed both to destroy that person and also to terrify the people around them. [Note: Christians cannot be possessed. “He who is in us [the Holy Spirit—God] is greater than he who is in the world” (! John 4:4).] No demon could stand against Jesus, and every demon knew exactly who Jesus was. On the cross, Jesus defeated Satan and evil entirely. He set Christians free from the curse of sin and the power of death (Heb 2:14), Satan’s only real weapon he can use against Christians (fear). So, what’s going on now? Having already been defeated, Satan is simply thrashing about in a rage, seeking to ruin the lives of Christians while he can, and most importantly preventing them from sharing the message of salvation with other people. The war is over, but the battle rages on (think of the aftermath of any modern war—battles wage even after treaties are signed). Satan is like a roaring lion (1 Pet 5:8) who must be resisted (James 4:7). Christians are called to be aware of his schemes (2 Cor 2:11, and our passage this week). Satan has several tactics to use. They include temptation, deception, division, false teaching, persecution, and distraction. Satan is often able to use world events and non-Christians to oppose the work of the church. Between self-sabotage and direct opposition, Christians have had real problems fulfilling our Great Commission. And even when we do share the gospel, the Parable of the Sower tells us that Satan is ready to snatch the good news before it can take root in that person’s life (Mark 4).
I know what some of your class will be thinking: “Come on, how real is this really?” In our Western “enlightened” view, this is just silly superstition created to help us cope with tragedy and loss. Let me put it this way: which enemy is more dangerous? The enemy you know and are prepared for, or the enemy you don’t think exists? Satan’s greatest feat has been to convince our modern world that he doesn’t exist. If you’ve ever talked to a missionary, you’ve heard direct refutation to this belief. I’ve talked to men and women I respect and trust greatly who have told me of stories of demonic possession, of the power a shaman or witch had over a population, of miracles that led to the conversion of entire villages. But every one of them has reminded me of key truths: (1) the battle was never against the witch, but against the demon behind the witch. In fact, their desire was that the witch become a Christian! (2) The battle cannot be fought in their own strength; those missionaries have no authority or power on their own. (Chuck Lawless, an IMB strategist and professor, has said that Satan’s primary tactic against believers is to persuade us to mess up, the give up, to get puffed up, to split up, or to shut up.)
They’ve also helped me understand the real purpose of this chapter in Ephesians. “Putting on the armor of God” is not some sort of code prayer that you recite and, boom, you’re good. Rather, it’s about incorporating the resources described into your life: truth, righteousness, gospel, faith, salvation, the Word. That’s something that happens all day, every day. The byproduct of living the way God wants us to live is that we are better protected from the schemes of the devil. In the Old Testament, God is described as the Great Warrior who fights our battles, the Lord of Angelic Hosts. He defends us. He empowers us. He strengthens us. But He’s not strengthening us to fight against demons; He’s strengthening us to share the gospel and advance the kingdom all the while trusting Him to take care of the spiritual battle. If we do that, we remove almost all of Satan’s weapons against us—getting us to fall into sin and lose our witness, to bicker with one another, to become discouraged or bitter. All that’s left for Satan is to attempt to destroy our body. But as Martin Luther said, “The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still. His kingdom is forever.”
In the end, Satan and his forces will be destroyed. God wins. We are encouraged not to be distracted by the turmoil Satan stirs against us and press on to the goal: obeys Christ fully in our lives, walking together as Christians in a world that needs Jesus.
Part 1: Aware (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say this again—the devil’s greatest advantage today is that many (most) people don’t take him seriously. The chart above is from 2014 (and actually I think those numbers are high; a Pew study from 2014 said only 63% of Americans believe in God without a doubt; interestingly, only 66% of Mainline Protestants actually believe in God—that doesn’t look good for the long-term viability of your religion). Every trend shows that belief in God is continuing to decrease. However, belief in Satan is decreasing at a slower rate. Many people have speculated about that, most settling on the fact that it’s hard to dispute the presence of evil in the world. (If you’re brave, do a Google search on what secularists believe about the devil; they’re harsh on belief in God; they’re harsher on belief in Satan.) Paul’s point is very simple: we are in a battle. The devil (Satan/Lucifer/Beelzebub) is constantly scheming to ruin Christians and discredit their message so that as many people as possible will die and go to hell. (As Jesus said, he is a liar and the father of lies; he seeks only to steal, kill, and destroy.)
But! It’s not a message of doom and gloom. Rather, it’s a reminder that God has already won the victory, and all we need to do is rely on His mighty power! The tense Paul uses implies a continuous activity—every day we are to do this. Every day we remember that we are in a battle. Every day we remember that we have an enemy. Every day we look to God for protection and guidance. And . . . Every day we remember that the people around us who oppose us and make us miserable are not the enemy. We tend to get angry at people. That’s wrong. One, Jesus points out that being angry with someone is like committing murder against them. Two, those people will die and go to hell unless they hear the gospel and believe, repenting of their sin and turning in faith to Jesus. And Jesus died for them!
Paul identifies different types of enemy forces, and scholars have tried very hard to understand exactly what Paul meant. I honestly don’t think we are to get caught up in understanding the levels of demonic forces; it’s beyond our vision. Paul’s point is that there are many forces at work in our world against us. All of them are dangerous. And God has given us protection—something Paul call’s “the armor of God”. The idea here is that God has already given us this armor; it’s ours. We need to “take it up” or “put it on” and actually make use of it. Through the words of the Bible, believers have been given all the warnings and admonitions we need to successfully stand against the enemy.
Ask your class something like—have you ever forgotten to put on sunscreen before a long day outside? How did that go for you? Did you regret your forgetfulness? Paul is going to tell us what we need to do to face our enemy.
Part 2: Prepared (Ephesians 6:14-17)
Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God.
There’s a lot of great information out there on the armor of God (which is why I’m focusing on other things in this handout). I encourage you to research the little details about Paul’s illustration! Most importantly, remind your class that Paul isn’t talking about a “mantra”, a prayer that you pray which automatically gets you ready. Rather, he’s talking about the lifestyle he has been preaching for the past three chapters! “Truth” here isn’t the Bible (that’s later) but the quality of honesty and integrity. Belts kept soldiers’ garments in order so they wouldn’t trip over anything. “Righteousness” is our right standing with God. Satan can wound us, but he can’t get to our most vital property, our right relationship with God. The sandals “of peace” is interesting; the better way of translating it is sandals “for peace”. In other words, we need to be prepared to take the gospel/good news of Jesus wherever it needs to go. Proper footwear enables a soldier to travel safer. “Faith” is almost certainly our personal belief and trust in Jesus and God’s Word. The shield Paul was thinking of was probably the full-length shield found in a phalanx; properly held, a group of soldiers could create a near-impenetrable wall for arrows. Why would “salvation” protect the head? Again, don’t push this illustration too far. The helmet was a vital piece of armor, and Paul wanted something very important to equate to salvation. The last piece is very carefully chosen, though. There is only one offensive piece of equipment listed: the Word of God. Just as Jesus only quoted Scripture in His defense against Satan, we should only “debate the world” using Scripture, not our own clever arguments.
At the Georgia Baptist Convention last week, I sat in a seminar in which a pastor gave a very convincing argument that pastors don’t take the armor of God seriously enough. His point was that when pastors try to work in their own strength, fight the battles in their churches on their own, they are just sitting ducks for the demonic forces in the world. I’m sure he’s right. And if it’s true of pastors, I’m sure it’s true of church members! Ask your class how seriously they take their spiritual protection. If they say “I’m not taking advantage of the equipment God has given me”, then make sure they pay close attention to the end!
[Aside on visuals. There are lots of great visuals available online for the armor of God. They’re helpful in providing a reference against actual Roman armor that Paul would have had in mind when describing it. All I can ask is that you not push the illustration too far; Paul isn’t trying to be technical here. He’s just trying to make the importance of our walk with Christ all the more real and urgent.
Part 3: Field Support (Ephesians 6:18-20)
Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. 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. For this I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I might be bold enough to speak about it as I should.
So—what is the Christian’s strategy for fighting these spiritual battles? For taking advantage of the armor of God? Prayer. The “armor of God” is just Paul’s creative way of describing a life that follows Jesus (“walking worthy of our calling”). We’ve looked at (1) living in unity with other believers; (2) being a part of a church that builds its members up; (3) not living like the world does but living in righteousness and holiness; (4) being kind, compassionate, forgiving, and loving; (5) exposing the evil of the world, not participating in it; (6) following the wisdom of God not the wisdom of the world; (7) submitting to one another (last week we looked specifically at such relationships in a family). Ask your class to think about this. If you have a strong relationship with Jesus, a strong church that builds you up, a healthy view of the world, a stable and uplifting family, and a firm grasp of the truth of the Bible, how effective are Satan’s attacks going to be against you?
Of course, it’s not “that easy”. That’s why we are always to rely on prayer. But look at how Paul describes our needed prayers: mainly, praying for the needs of one another. If we were all praying for one another all the time (remember, Paul isn’t being literal here; he’s talking about an attitude of continuous awareness of our need for God and the needs of others), don’t you think our churches would be stronger? Intercession is specifically about praying on behalf of others. And modifiers like “alert” (a sense of urgency) and “persistence” (a need for confidence) simply raise the stakes for our prayer lives. And then Paul let us into his life by giving that church a very specific prayer request. He was in prison, and he worried that his imprisonment was making him timid about sharing the gospel with those people around him (most of them were gruff soldiers). Paul wanted people to pray for boldness for him. But make sure your class catches Paul’s wording: “pray that I’ll know what to say when I have an opportunity”. Does that make you feel better like it does me? Paul didn’t always know what to do or say; he still needed God’s help. But where you and I might keep our mouth shut if we’re not totally sure what to say, Paul wanted to be bold; he never wanted to miss a chance to share the gospel. He was going to open his mouth—but he wanted the boldness to speak the truth about the gospel and the wisdom to say it in the right way (based on the needs and background of the person he was talking to).
Like Paul, we are ambassadors—ambassadors to a dangerous country. We need to be prepared and equipped. But we also need to be bold, not scared. What steps will you take to be prepared to stand firm for the gospel?