Ephesians 6:10-17: Spiritual Warfare and the Celestial City of God
By Eric Landstrom
Main Idea and Outline
The main idea Ephesians 6:10-17 is that Christians are to put on the full armor of God to resist, combat, and stand firm against our enemy.
A) Exhortation (Eph. 6:10)
1) Be strong in the Lord.
2) And in the strength of God's might
B) The Armor of God (Eph. 6:11)
1) Command: Put on the armor of God
2) Why? So as to withstand the schemes of the devil
C) The Enemy (Eph. 6:12)
1) Is so close that we must personally wrestle
2) Is not flesh and blood (material)
3) Principalities or "authoritative powers" which Vines says indicates powers which have left their heavenly habitation assigned to them by God aspiring for prohibited conditions (Vine's, 1996, p. 488).
4) Rulers of this world, kosmokratwr, contrasting the ruler of all. Vine's says, "The context ("not against flesh and blood") shows that earthy potentates are not indicated, but spirit powers, who, under the permissive will of God, and in consequence of human sin, exercise satanic and therefore antagonistic authority over the world in its present condition of spiritual darkness and alienation from God" (Vine's, 1996, p. 540).
5) Wickedness from heavenly places
D) Second Command (Eph. 6:13)
1) Put on the armor of God
2) Why? To withstand the evil day
3) Why? To have done everything to stand firm
E) Steadfast in Truth and Righteousness (Eph. 6:14)
1) Gird yourself with truth
2) Having on the breastplate of righteousness
F) Gospel of Peace (Eph. 6:15)
1) Having shod your feet with the gospel of peace
G) Exhortation of the Shield of Faith (Eph. 6:16)
1) Most important ("Above all")
2) Take the shield of faith
3) Why? To put out all the fiery arrows of the wicked (In this sense, what is wicked is opened up to being more than just dark spiritual powers.
H) Helmet of Salvation (Eph. 6:17)
1) Take the helmet of salvation
2) Take the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God
Imagine soaring over an ancient, walled city that has come under siege upon the wings of an eagle. Below the safety of your wings thousands of smoke pots dot the horizon sending columns of smoke upward to the heavens. The smoke mingles together as it ascents skyward into a shapeless, dull haze that clouds out the sun. Chaos reigns below outside the walls of the city as enemy commanders bark out orders over the clamor of war. Ever moving legions constantly seek new strategies and positions from which to attack the city. Companies of well-armed archers ignite their arrows from the smoke pots and in volleys, repeatedly fire their burning missiles into the sky towards the defenders atop the walls of the besieged city. Endless streaks of flame from every direction pepper the sky and the fog of war settles upon the city and the surrounding country as far as the eye can see. From the north and the south, the east and the west, the enemy gathers strength as endless columns of troops march upon the city of God traveling upon broad and well-worn roads.
The illustration I have just provided is often how the body of Christ, the city of God, is depicted within the world. Reflecting upon such imagery while pondering that the body of Christ is called to be in the world but not of the world can be beneficial-for it illuminates the true condition of the church: Besieged.
When we study Ephesians 6:10-17, the exhortation to put on the whole armor of God in steadfast defiance of our enemy is lost if we only think of our enemy as standing without the walls of the city of God. To justify the text, we must carry our illustration further and address the hearts and minds of the defenders who stand atop the walls of the besieged city against the gates of hell.
The apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Ephesians to address a group of believers who were rich in Christ, yet are unaware of their wealth through their ignorance. The city of Ephesus was a religious center and known for its temple dedicated to Diana/Artemis (Roman and Greek names for the same pagan god). This temple was considered as one of the seven wonders of the known world and the practice of magic and other occultic arts was associated with temple practice. The city itself was the third largest in the Roman world and was the greatest city of the richest region in the Roman empire. Paul wrote to give these converts a positive grounding in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to exhort them to lead a distinctly Christian lifestyle (Arnold, ZIBBC, 2002, p. 301).
The apostle Paul had ministered in the city of Ephesus for some three years on his third missionary trip (Acts 19; 20:30). He had previously visited the city at the end of his second missionary journey leaving behind Priscilla and Aquilla at the end of this second effort to minister (Acts 18:18-21; Wilkenson and Boa, Talk Thru The Bible, 1983, p. 401). His own efforts, as well as those who labored with him in the city, resulted in a church plant that would come to greatly impact the area.
The epistle itself is thought to be one of Paul's four "prison letters" that he authored during his imprisonment in Rome (60-62 A.D.). Some contemporaries hold that the imprisonment mentioned in Ephesians (Eph. 3:1; 4:1) refers to a Caesarian imprisonment or a hypothetical Ephesian imprisonment-but these theories are generally not accepted or supported (Wilkenson and Boa, Talk Thru The Bible, 1983, p. 401).
The pericope of Ephesians 6:10-17 is lain within the context of Paul's explanation of the practice and conduct of the Christian life (Eph. 4:1-6:24). Within this larger section Paul addresses concerns of church unity (4:1-16), holiness in life (Eph. 4:17-5:21), responsibilities at home and work (Eph. 5:22-6:9), and the Christian's conduct in conflict (Eph. 6:10-24). Hence, Paul's purpose was to make believers aware of their position in Christ as being the basis for their strength in living out their walk with the Lord.
Focusing upon Ephesians 6:10-17, O'Brien writes: "Here the apostle [Paul] looks at the Christian's responsibility of living in the world from a broadercosmic perspective. The moral issues with which he deals are not simply matters of personal preference, as manycontend. On the contrary, they are essential elements in a larger struggle between the forces of good and evil" (O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 1999, p. 457).
Dr. Peter O'Brien noted in his commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians that the paragraph (Eph. 6:10-20) falls into three sections. O'Brien writes that vv. 10-13 "admonish the readers to be strong in the Lord and to put on the armour of God in their warfare against supernatural powers." Continuing, he says of vv. 14-17 that "the imperative, Stand firm, is followed by a listing of the pieces of armour to be put on" (emphasis his). Concluding his observation, O'Brien declares that "vv. 18-20 focus on the need for constant prayer and watchfulness for all believers" (O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 1999, p. 460).
Among the highlights of the pericope, it can first be noted that each verse relates to a specific teaching found earlier within the context of the epistle as a whole. Herein the seventeenth paragraph (Eph. 6:10-20), Paul not only ends his list of specific applications of the Christian life (first begun at Ephesians 4:1), but Ephesians 6:10-20 serves as the climax of the whole epistle with the admonishment given to the believer to "Put on the whole armour of God" (v. 11). To "Put on the whole armour of God" is to personally engage ("wrestle"; v. 12) in spiritual warfare against the powers of evil.
John MacArthur observed that allusions to the armour of God are found frequently throughout Scripture (cf. John 13-17; Ps. 18; Matt. 4:1-11 and parallels; 2 Cor. 6:2, 6-7; MacArthur, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, 1995, p. 173). But more importantly, the imagery of the armour caps off and summarizes Paul's teachings to the Ephesians in an easy to remember illustration as the chart below illustrates.
|Key Words||John 13-17||Ephesians 6:10-20||Prominent points earlier featured|
|Power from God||15:4-5||v. 10||Now available to believers (Eph. 1:19-20)|
|Prayer related to the Word||15:7, 16||vv. 18-20 cf. 6:17|
|Presence of evil one||13:2; 17:15||vv. 11, 13, 16; cf. 2:2; 4:46|
|Protection from evil one||17:15||vv. 10-17, esp. 11-13, 16|
|Truth||14:6, 17; 16:13||v. 14||Eph. 1:13; 4:15, 21, 24, 25; 5:9|
|Righteousness||17:15, 19||v. 14||Eph. 4:24; 5:9|
|Peace||14:27; 16:33||v. 15||Eph. 1:2; esp. 2:14-18; 4:3; cf. 6:23|
|Faith||14:1, 10-12; 16:9, 27, 30||v. 16||Eph. 1:1, 13, 15, 19; 2:8; 3:12, 17; 4:5, 13|
|Salvation||14:6; 17:3||v. 17||Eph. 1:13; 2:5, 8; 5:23|
|Word of God||14:21; 15:3, 7||v. 17||Gospel (Eph. 1:13; 3:6; cf. 2:17; 3:8) or word of God (Eph. 1:13; 5:26)|
|Spirit of God||14:26; 15:26; 16:9-11, 13-15||vv. 17, 18|
(First three columns of table from MacArthur, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, 1995, p. 173; last column adapted from O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 1999, p. 459.)
Secondly, it can be noted that God himself is the armour of God that believers are to wear because it is upon God's power and might that believers are to draw from to contend against spiritual wickedness and not upon their own resources (the exhortation to "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" Eph. 6:10 contrasted with the folly of finding strength within ourselves: cf. John 3:30; 1Cor. 4:10; 2 Cor. 12:10 ). O'Brien explains: "Paul's sustained imagery is drawn from the prophecy of Isaiah, which describes the armour of [the Lord] and his Messiah (11:4-5; 59:17; cf. 49:2; 52:7). The Isainic references depict the Lord of hosts as a warrior dressed for battle as he goes forth to vindicate his people. The 'full armor of God' which the readers are urged to put on as they engage in a deadly spiritual warfare (v. 11) is [the Lord's] own armour, which he and his Messiah have worn and which is now provided for his people as they engage in battle" (O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 1999, p. 457).
The armour of God itself consists of six pieces in Paul's illustration. Taken as a whole, these six pieces make up "the full of armor" (Eph. 6:11, 13, NASB, emphasis mine):
1) Truth (v. 14). "Gird your loins with truth."
2) Righteousness (v. 14). "Put on the breastplate of righteousness."
3) Peace (v. 15). "Shod your feet with the gospel of peace."
4) Faith (v. 16). "Taking up the shield of faith."
5) Salvation (v. 17). "Take the helmet of salvation."
6) The Word of God (v. 17). "the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God."
The contrasts of the truths that each piece of armor symbolizes are striking:
1) Lies and deception are the opposite of truth.
2) Wickedness and unrighteousness are the opposite of holiness and righteousness.
3) War and turmoil and the opposite of peace.
4) Lack of trust and disobedience and the opposite of faith.
5) Being lost is the opposite of salvation.
6) A lying spirit: Taken together, the five contrasts listed above collectively contribute toward diverting and deceiving, a spirit of lies against the Word of God.
Filling out the Pauline imagery of the armour drawn from the prophecy of Isaiah, John MacArthur portrayed Christ himself as modeling every aspect of the armour. For Christ is the truth who sets us free (John 14:6; cf. John 8:32, 36). Believers are said to be "in Christ" who "is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (Rom. 8:1, emphasis mine; cf. 1 Cor. 1:30). Christ is the one who has "put on righteousness as a breastplate" (Isa. 59:17, emphasis mine). Paul remarks in Ephesians 2:14 that Christ "is our peace." Jesus Christ is the subject and the object of the gospel (Rom. 1:9, 16; 15:19; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 2:12) of which Paul writes, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Rom. 10:15). He is called "Faithful and True" (Rev. 19:11, emphasis mine) and is our salvation (Eph. 1:13; cf. Ps. 27:1) and wears a "helmet of salvation upon his head" (Isa. 59:17). Of this, MacArthur confidently writes, "He has covered the believer's head in the day of battle (Ps. 140:7)" (MacArthur, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, 1995, p. 177). Jesus Christ is the Word become flesh (John 1:14) and is the Word of God (John 1:1; Rev. 19:13). MacArthur concludes, "Christ is the armor, and when Paul personalizes this armor in a composite sweep, he says, 'But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts' (Rom. 13:14). We Put on Christ in putting on the new man, which is created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (Eph. 4:22; MacArthur, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, 1995, p. 177).
The evil day: In the eyes of New Testament writers and the earliest commentators of the church the present age is not only being ultimately shaped by the power of God (Matt. 28:18) but also by continuing the remnants of the powers of evil (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). Although the powers of darkness ultimate defeat has already occurred on the cross and begun in human hearts (Eph. 5:13-16; 6:12-16; 2 Tim. 3:12, 13), the present age of evil (cf. Eph. 5:16, "days are evil") which Christ was sent to reconcile with God is to remain an age of sin, continuing until the finals days. This contrast of the church in the world but not of the world, of the present evil and the peace to come was picked up by the early church in the unity of the church in combat and in victory. (This age and the age to come; cf. Eph. 2:7: The church as it lives in this age looks forward to the age of future consummation. Though the saved exist in this age, they are born from above as new creatures at the moment of their salvation. For believers, now is the dawn of a new age for them while they live in an age that is yet to end (notice the "both/and" position of believers). These believers also look forward to the next age in which they will be incorruptible, conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29). Therefore when Ephesians 2:7 speaks of ages to Christians, it speaks righteously because those who are born from above participate in two ages with the blessings of the Lord: the end of this age, and the glory of the coming age when the kingdom of God is fully revealed-which believers experience foretastes of in the present.) Hence it is said that the church in this age is both the church militant, fighting and conquering by the power and authority given by Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 28: 18-20), and the church triumphant being at peace with God in the present while awaiting the promises yet to come (Pastor of Hermas, ANF, vol. 2, p. 43; John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions, ACW, pp. 58-60).
Paul describes the weapons for fighting the good fight in Ephesians 6:10-20. He told the saints at Ephesus to "put on the whole armor of God," not once but twice in these eleven verses (vv. 11, 13). When God repeats something, it is to emphasize the seriousness of the matter. In this case the putting on the whole armor of God is so that we might "be able to withstand in the evil day" (v. 13).
6:14: Truth is not only an offensive weapon-when used as the Sword of the Spirit-but it is also our protection.
6:15: Walk in peace. That peace of God is not only effective protection against the enemy, it is a powerful offensive weapon. Do not let anything steal your peace or we will loose a most important protection.
6:16: Faith does not keep the enemy from attacking us, but it helps to extinguish what the enemy throws at us.
6:17 The helmet of salvation protects our minds. Unfortunately it is easy to fall into complacency and ignore our helmets allowing the pollution of the world attack our minds from sources such as television, magazines, the internet, or the confusion of daily life. We must always be on guard to protect our minds or we will open ourselves up to head wounds that will nominalize our walk with God. In this the enemy's spiritual strongholds are basically patterns of thought that conflict with the Lord and His ways. If we understand this we will not be surprised that the gospel of the kingdom was the primary weapon the Lord gave to the seventy when He sent them into the world (Luke 10).
6:17 The main offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit. Yet this sword can also be a defensive weapon. When the devil attacked Jesus, Jesus defended himself with weapons available to us: The Word of God. "Christ's answers came not from scattered locations in God's Word, but from Deuteronomy 6-8. And what is Deuteronomy 6-8? It is Moses' reminder to Israel's second generation about the sins of the first generation in the wilderness. They are to learn from these failures to live by obedience to the word of God without complaining or testing God or yielding to false worship. Jesus, Matthew is telling us, achieved what Israel regularly failed to achieve because of disobedience. As Yahweh's Son and Servant he will not only bring Israel's restoration but also a light to the Gentiles" (Baylis, From Creation to the Cross, 1996, p. 116).
If God incarnate simply used the Scripture to defend himself, how much more should Christians learn to follow Jesus' example? The more knowledgeable we become with Scripture, the more we internalize it and make it a part of our lives, the more skillful we will be in the realms of spiritual warfare and the more confident we will be in our walk.
Arnold, Clinton E., Zondervan Illustrated
Bible Backgrounds Commentary (ZIBBC), vol. 3, Grand Rapids:
Baylis, Albert H., From Creation to the Cross, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Bruce, F. F., the Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprinted 1993.
Calvin, John, Institutes of The Christian Religion, London: Reinolde Wolfe & Richards Harison, 1561, republished Oaksoft software, 2002.
Duval, J. Scott, and Hays, J. Daniel, Grasping God's Word, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.
Elwell, Walter A., Ed., Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996.
Hanegraaff, Hank, The Covering: God's Plan to Protect You from Evil, Nashville: W Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 2002.
MacArthur, John, Rediscovering Pastoral Ministry, Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995.
McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible: 1 Corinthians-Revelation, vol. 5, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers, 1983.
O'Brien, Robert T., The Letter to the Ephesians, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing company, 1999.
Oden, Thomas C., Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology, vol. 3, Peabody: Prince Press, 2001.
Penn-Lewis, Jessie, War on the Saints, abridged, New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1996.
Quasten, J., Plumpe, J.C., and Burghardt, W., Ed., Ancient Christian Writers (ACW), New York: Paulist Press, 1946.
Roberts, A., and Donaldson, J., Ed., Anti-Nicene Fathers, vol. 2, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.
Sheldon, Henry C., History of the Christian Church: The Early Church, vol. 1, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., reprint 1999.
Taylor, Richard S., Ed., Beacon Dictionary of Theology, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1983.
Vine, W. E., Unger, Merrill F., and White, Willian Jr., Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers, 1996.
Wilkinson, Bruce, and Boa, Kenneth, Talk Thru the Bible, Nashville: Tomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers, 1983.
Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page