We regret that Dave Robertson, Director of Community Life at The Church of the Resurrection’s West Campus, was unable to write for today’s blog. In his place, we offer insights from pastor and scholar N. T. Wright’s Paul for Everyone commentary on Ephesians.
As C. S. Lewis says in the introduction to his famous Screwtape Letters, the general public prefers either to ignore the forces of evil altogether—to pretend they don’t exist, and to use cartoon images of a ‘devil’ with horns and hoofs as an argument to that effect (‘You can’t believe in that nonsense, so you can’t believe in a devil at all, can you?’)—or to take an unhealthy interest in everything demonic, which can be just as bad in the long run. What we have in the present passage…is a sober, realistic assessment both of the struggle we are engaged in and of the weapons at our disposal.
It is, of course, a surprise to many people that there is a ‘struggle’ at all. Yes, they think, we find it difficult from time to time to practise our Christianity. We find it hard to forgive people, to pray regularly, to resist temptation, to learn more about the faith. But as far as they’re concerned that’s the end of it. They have never thought that their small struggles might be part of a larger campaign….
Holding out against attack is what this passage is mostly all about….The belt, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield and the helmet, are all to enable you to remain safe under attack. Only the sword has a potentially attacking capability. We’ll come to that in a moment; but notice what the Christian’s defensive armour consists of.
First, truth. The primary thing about the Christian message is that it is true; if it isn’t, it’s meaningless. It isn’t true because it works; it works (if it does) because it’s true. Never give up on the sheer truth of the gospel. It’s like the belt which holds everything else together and in place.
Second, ‘justice’, or ‘righteousness’. This isn’t just ‘virtue’, important though that is. It’s the fact that the one true God is the one true judge, and intends to put the whole world to rights. Indeed, the process already began when God vindicated Jesus, and vindicated (‘justified’) us in him. The fundamental justice and goodness of God, and the status that Christians have of already being ‘in the right’ before him, is like a breastplate, protecting us against frontal attack.
Third, the ‘gospel of peace’—the message, that is, of peace with God and peace between different previously hostile groups, as in Eph. 2:11–22. The enemy will do all he can to knock you off your feet. Holding fast to this message of peace will make you ready, like good shoes or boots would do, to stay upright.
Fourth, the shield of faith. Belief in Jesus as the risen Lord, and utter loyalty to this Jesus, will protect you when the enemy hurls flaming arrows…of doubt or despair; of adverse circumstances; of sharp temptation that will burn you up if you let it catch light on you; of personal tragedy; or indeed the kind of triumph that tempts you to arrogance and pride. Believing loyalty will quench them all.
Fifth, the helmet of salvation. Knowing that you already belong to the family of the risen Messiah, and that you have therefore already been rescued from the ultimate enemy, enables you to face all secondary enemies. Wear this helmet always.
But this still leaves the one offensive weapon: the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. The ‘word’ in question is clearly the same as in Eph. 5:26, that is, the word of the gospel through which God accomplishes his powerful, cleansing work in people’s hearts and lives….
What, then, is the battle? Who is fighting against us? And what are we to do about it?
Paul clearly supposes that the forces of evil that put Jesus on the cross have been seriously upset by the victory of the resurrection. They are now positively panic-stricken at the thought that the message of this Jesus is everywhere challenging their power and authority, and that communities loyal to Jesus as Lord and king are springing up, bringing together peoples and communities in a new unity, a new humanity, that shows evidence of the creator’s sovereign power and hence of their own imminent destruction. They are therefore doing their best to oppose this gospel, to distract or depress the young Christians, to blow them off course by false teaching or temptations to anger or immorality.
Sometimes this attack will take the frontal form of actual authorities in towns and cities who try to prevent Christians from spreading the message. Sometimes it will take the more oblique form of persuading Christians to invest time and energy in irrelevant side-issues, or to become fascinated by distorted teaching. Sometimes it will be simply the age-old temptations of money, sex and power. But in each case what individuals and the whole church must do is, first, to recognize that attacks are coming; second, to learn how to put on the complete armour which God offers; and, third, to stand firm and undismayed.
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.