by Mike Ratliff
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:10-12)
When I was in Junior High, I wrestled for a couple of years. I was never very good, but I did learn many things about the importance of leverage, quickness, and flexibility. When I had to wrestle some kid who had long arms and who was physically bigger than I was, I knew I was going to have a tough time. I usually won the match if I used my speed and upper body strength to leverage my opponent onto the bottom. I usually lost if the kid I was wrestling had similar quickness to mine and who knew how to counter my upper body strength by going after my legs. Wrestling is simply body against body. It is strength and quickness against strength and quickness. It helps if the wrestler knows the right techniques for takedowns and pins; however, it is still muscle against muscle.
The Apostle Paul’s usage of the word “wrestle” in Ephesians 6:12 indicate that he was familiar with Greco-Roman wrestling. That form of wrestling forbids all forms of tripping. The wrestlers must use their upper body strength alone to take down their opponent. In Ephesians 6:10-20 we see that believers are in a battle of some sort. To look at most post-Modern believers it appears that they do not feel they are in a battle or war at all. Their perception may be closer analogously to a wrestling or shoving match than a deadly battle. Let’s take a closer look at this passage starting in v10.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Ephesians 6:10)
In this verse, Paul tells us that believers must be strong in the Lord. The word translated “strong” in this passage is found only in biblical and ecclesiastical Greek. It is made up of two Greek words translated as, “in,” and “strengthen.” In the Septuagint, this verb is used to describe Samson and Hezekiah, both whom received great spiritual strength from God. In the New Testament, it is used to describe the equipping of the Apostles with the power necessary for their office. It is better translated as “empower.” The verb form is Present, Imperative, Active. This verb form tells us that Paul is commanding the reader to do something “right now” that involves continuous or repeated action. If we simply read this verse in English, it gives us the impression that we must somehow become strong in the Lord by some action we take ourselves. However, as we have seen, the verb is to become “empowered” in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Why does the believer need to do this? In the next verse, Paul gives us a further analogy about our “empowerment” from God and why.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:11)
Unlike Paul’s command to be “empowered” by God continuously, the command to “put on the whole armor of God” is in the verb from Aorist, Imperative, Middle. This verb form tells that we must put on the armor ourselves—right now! Why? The next phrase in this passage gives us the answer. It says we must put on the armor ourselves so that we may be able to stand. The word “may” is not in the Greek. The three English words “be able to” is one Greek word that means, “to have power or ability from ones own strength.” Now wait a minute! In v10, Paul specifically tells us that being strong in the Lord means being “empowered” by Him. Now we are told to put on the whole armor of God so that we will have our own ability. God empowers believers in His strength when they put on His armor. When we are armored in God’s armor, we are empowered in His strength. The last phrase in this passage tells us why we need this. It says, “to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
The devil is our enemy. He hates the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He hates all genuine believers. He cannot take salvation away from any regenerated believer. All who have been justified by God are His forever.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:27-30)
The enemy knows that he can defeat believers by convincing them that not only can they lose their salvation, but also they also probably already have. He will attack us with temptations followed by accusations after we stumble into sin. His desire is to bring every believer into spiritual defeat and ineffectiveness in the Kingdom. Why? He does not want God to be glorified. Spirit-led believers live for God’s glory. Soul-led believers live for their own glory. The devil wants all believers to forget this walking in the Spirit stuff so that they will continue in their flesh-bound walks. Who judges hypocritically? The proud do that. Who does not judge hypocritically? The humble judge not. The Spirit-led believer is humble while pride and all of its fruit such as bitterness dominate the Soul-led believer.
Most post-Modern believers probably do not know that their in this battle. However, Paul tells us in this passage that it is imperative for us not only to realize we are in this war, but we must stand and not fall. So far, we have seen that we must become empowered by God in His might in order to stand and not fall. We do this by taking up and putting on the whole armor of God.
Many believers think their own “will power” is enough. They think that they do not need any help in order to “stand and not fall.” However, in the next verse we see that our enemy is not defeated by any strength we have inherent in ourselves.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
This war is a spiritual war. It is fought on the spiritual plain. The believer’s will power is not on that plain. This battle calls for weapons that work in that sort of war. Sometimes our enemy will use “flesh and blood” people as instruments in this war against us, but the power behind them is still his evil spiritual schemes. That is why we must “wrestle” against the correct opponent. Judging the people who are simply instruments of evil is not what we are to do. Jesus did not do it and He commanded us not to do it either. Instead, we are to recognize who our real enemy is as we forgive the people who have been our persecutors. (Matthew 5:44)
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 firm. (Ephesians 6:13)
In v13, we see again the purpose of the armor of God. The “Therefore” at the beginning ties this verse back to v12. Because this war is a spiritual war, therefore, we must become empowered by God in all His might by taking up His whole armor. When we do this, we will be able to withstand in the evil day having done all to stand firm. The armor of God empowers us to do this. The “evil day” happens to all believers. None of us are immune. Notice one more thing in this verse. We are to do ALL to stand firm. The Greek word translated “stand firm” carries with it the idea of abiding or staying firm. If you are familiar with John 15 then you see the obvious parallel between the believer’s ability to remain standing in the evil day by standing firm (abiding) and Jesus’ command for His disciples to abide in Him in order that they will be fruitful in the Kingdom in all circumstances. Taking up the whole armor of God and thereby being empowered to abide is a close parallel to the following passage.
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:1-11)
Now, think through this carefully. What is the pruning that the Father does to the branches abiding in Christ? Never forget that our enemy, Satan the devil, is a defeated foe. Yes, he attacks us. Yes, he tempts us. Yes, his motive is our defeat, but he is completely subject to God’s will. He is on a very short leash. God uses Satan’s malicious attacks on us in order to prune us. (Job 1-2) What do the branches that are pruned do? They produce more fruit. Jesus’ call to us is to abide “in the midst of the pruning.” How? He gives us His joy when we abide and it is our strength to abide.
Let’s put this together with the analogy of the full armor of God. All believers are called to abide in Christ in order to be “proved” to be true disciples. Those who abide will produce fruit. In order for them to become more fruitful God prunes them. This is where the attacks of our enemy come in. Paul tells us that these attacks are spiritual and we cannot fight the battle unless we are empowered by God by taking up and putting on His full armor. In John 15, we see that our strength is the Lord’s joy, which He gives us. Jesus tells us that without His joy we can do nothing.
The armor of God that empowers us to stand firm or abide is related closely with the joy the Lord gives those who do abide. Being strong in the power of God comes from the Lord’s joy. This joy empowers each element in our armor. Without the Lord’s joy, we would be helpless to stand. We would never be fruitful either. What does abiding in Christ in the midst of pruning look like?
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:14-20)
Paul used the armor of a 1st Century Roman soldier as an analogy for how we are to become empowered. The soldier wore a loose fitting tunic. In battle, this could get in the way with its many loose ends. The belt was used to tie all of these loose ends together. Paul related this belt to truth. This is God’s truth found in His Word. False doctrines flow from loose ends not properly tucked away in God’s truth. Only by seeing God’s Word as inerrant, complete and God’s very word to us can we treat it correctly. Taking text out of context in an attempt to teach some aberrant theology is a weapon of the devil. We must take the Word of God and approach it correctly. Using proper exegesis instead of eisegesis will keep those loose ends from causing unnecessary problems.
The breastplate of righteousness represents the believer’s personal holiness. The breastplate protected the heart. We are called to live holy, Spirit-led lives. If we do this, our conscience will be pure and non-condemning. This will allow us to withstand the enemy’s attacks with temptations of lust, et cetera.
The shoes of the gospel of peace represent the fact that all in Christ are at peace with God. The soldier’s boots had nails or spikes in them that enabled them to stand firm. When the believer knows they are at peace with God it enables them to stand firm or abide in Christ. This is related to assurance of salvation as well.
The shield of faith was the large man-high shield that was large enough for the soldiers to hide behind during arrow attacks. In relation to our faith, this shield is our trust in God. Never forget that our faith is a gift of God. He empowers it by His grace. If we rely on this faith during attacks, we can stand behind it and never be hit by the fiery darts of temptation from the devil.
The helmet of salvation is our assurance. If we are fully assured in our salvation because we know the Lord saved us by His grace through faith because we read and understand these things from the Word of God then no amount of doubt can penetrate that helmet. However, if we are relying on our own actions, such as works for our assurance, then we are not wearing the right helmet.
The sword of the Spirit refers to the small short sword that the soldiers carried. This analogy refers to memorized scripture. We hide these words in our hearts that we might not sin against God. (Psalm 119:11)
The last part of the armor is prayer. Prayer is our communication with God. We are to pray continually. Praying this way enables the believer to become Spirit-led. Spirit-led believers are God-focused rather than self-focused.
Abiding in Christ while be pruned looks like a believer wearing the full armor of God. He or she is grounded in the Word, trusts their sovereign God alone for salvation, they are fully assured and they pray continually while meditating on the Word of God. The abiding believer is empowered by God to do so. Abiding results in joy while being empowered by it. God’s grace provides it to us. Abiding believers recognize their tests and trials as God’s pruning. When the enemy uses people to attack this believer, there should not be any retaliation or hypocritical judging from him or her. Instead, there is forgiveness, patience, peace, and joy. The pruning actually results in the believer becoming more fruitful and Christlike.
If a believer becomes testy and hard to be around while being pruned then he or she does not have the right focus. We must learn to listen to God’s voice in the midst of our fiery trials. We must understand that pruning is designed by God to produce spiritual greatness within us.
Dear heavenly Father—I praise You. You are perfect, Holy and Righteous. Oh Lord, give us wisdom by your grace. We cannot abide in You unless you empower us to do so. We must take up the armor and put it on, but it is by your grace we stand. Give us eternal perspective Lord. I pray for those poor Souls that the enemy uses to attack us. I pray for their salvation Lord. Oh Lord, we ask these things in Jesus’ name—Amen!
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.