Ephesians 6:10-24

Power to Overcome Evil

                   American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright 2011, J.W.  Carter.      Scripture quotes from KJV


Gate of Mazaeus, Ephesus. 
(Courtesy focusmm.com)

God provides resources that strengthen His people in their struggle against evil.  How do we resist evil?  Does Satan have power over a Christian?  Does Satan have power over God?  When an individual has not given their lives to God, accepting the saving power of Jesus Christ, they are separated from Him, and under the authority of Satan.  Lacking the love, peace, and joy that comes from faith in God, they are subject to the desires of their own flesh and to the power of evil in this world. When one accepts God n saving faith through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit then fills the spiritual vacuum in their lives, and the Spirit serves as a seal, guiding and protecting the Christian for the remainder of their days on earth.  However, since Christians are still fully immersed in a sinful world, how does one come away untainted?  How do we reconcile the obvious sin that we, as Christians, still commit?

This is a spiritual battle that every Christian is engaged in.  This study opens up a familiar segment of scripture that describes the spiritual armor that God has provided to protect us against injury which would be inflicted by sin and the devil as we journey along our walk with God.  We will continue to experience attacks by sin and Satan during that walk.  We will still sin, and we will be impacted by the sin of others.  Therefore, if we are to be obedient to Christ, we are going to experience conflict with this evil and perverse world.   What kind of conflicts do we experience? We should expect to be tested on occasion because God uses testing to teach us how to be triumphant. If we never underwent testing, we would not learn patience (Jas. 1:3). If we did not learn patience, we could not endure the rigors of life; and if we never endured, we could never be triumphant.

What are we, in the power of God, triumphant over?

  • Despair: we have hope in Jesus
  • Devil: we have salvation through Christ
  • Death: we have life from Christ.

1. The Need for New Strength

Ephesians 6:1.  

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 

Clearly we have need for strength that we would not require if we were not on the journey. Note the first word in this passage, finally. Since he uses this word several times in the letter, we might note that the Greek word used here, liopon, can be translated, "something remaining (adv.):--besides, finally, furthermore, (from) henceforth, moreover, now, + it remaineth, then." (Strongs). What has Paul been discussing up to this point? Paul has been providing council on developing and maintaining godly relationships. Where do we experience the most conflict in our lives? Most likely, it is within the network of relationships in our lives, including our relationships with ourselves, other people, and with God.  . It is no wonder that the culmination of his discussion on relationships would show our need for strength and illustrate where its source is.

What does it mean to be "strong in the Lord?" We see some dramatic examples of godly strength demonstrated by some very average people as we observe some of the scriptural history:  David facing Goliath, Moses facing Pharaoh, Abraham facing the sacrifice of his son, etc.  Here we see ordinary people placed in extraordinary circumstances who look to God for spiritual and emotional strength at times of extreme stress, chaos, and conflict.  All Christians have the same resources that those faithful people of the Bible had.  That strength comes from God, and not of ourselves.  Living in Christ and allowing Him to empower (endunamoo, dynamite) us enables us to do what God has planned for us. We are empowered to see what God is doing around us, and put our lives in line with what He is doing, rather than give to God a little of what we are doing. If Jesus is our Lord, that we have no other desire than to be obedient to Him. When we make that commitment to him He gives us the strength to fulfill that commitment. 

We have little or now power when we stand on our own.  We are no competition for Satan who has been creating chaos for eternity 'past.'  Those who dabble with Satan are completely swept up in his power.  However, Satan is entirely impotent when confronted by the Holy Spirit of God.  Jesus often commanded the demons.  Darkness has no power over the light, but light over the darkness.  In the same way, the presence of the Holy Spirit will chase away the spiritual cowardess of Satan and his demons.

Ephesians 6:11.

Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 

Paul uses the metaphor of the Roman military for the Christian's engagement in a decisive conflict with evil. As the armor is meant to defend, the armor God has given us will defend us also. "Put on" means literally to clothe oneself, in the sense of being wrapped around, or totally immersed. Consequently, how much of the armor are we to put on? We are to put on all of the armor.

How do you defeat an armored defense? You locate weakness or breaks (chinks) in the armor and focus on them. If this is reasonable, how may Satan attack us? What "schemes" will he use? He will attack in our areas of weakness, the chinks in our armor.  Here Paul looks at the armor so that we may examine it and be strengthened where there is need. 

Ephesians 6:12.

12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 

The conflict is described as "struggle (NIV)", "contending (RSV)", "wrestle (KJV)", "pal'-ay, (Greek)". The term refers to hand-to hand grappling, comparable to Olympic-style Greco-Roman wrestling.  With whom do we wrestle? First, our enemy is not a human enemy, though the enemy uses other humans in his attacks. When we contend against people we are only destroying relationships.  When we attack others for the sin they commit, we are attacking the wrong enemy.  That is why Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, because those who we perceive as enemies are actually people who are just as loved by God as we are.  It is the evil spirit that is engaged in the conflict that is our true enemy.  This verse does a great job of describing the real enemy.   We are set against an array of forces which we must contend against during our pilgrimage.

  • The first in the Greek is "principalities (ar-khay')", which refers to principles, literally architect or design. We contend against a world system where the principles under which we live are in conflict. 
  • Second, "authorities (ex-oo-see'-ah)", is the power to exercise the principals which we contend against. Who has that authority? That authority is often held by ungodly people who serve in high positions of power and influence.  Still, however, it is the authority that is the enemy, not the one holding it.
  • Third, "rulers (kos-mok-rat'-ore)", literally "rulers over the (dark) cosmos", or an epithet for Satan and his Demons. 
  • Fourth, "Spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly rhelms (pnyoo-mat-ik-os', pon-ay-ree'-ah, ep-oo-ran'-ee-os)", Literally that spirit of depravity which surrounds us all. Where do we see this spirit of depravity? One only has to take a short look at the circumstances of this world to see such depravity.  It is this spirit that can lead terrorists to kill thousands of people.

This sounds like a pretty heavy-duty enemy, one for which we as common people have no power to fight. Left to our own strength how would we be affected by the conflict?  We would be soundly defeated by an enemy who knows us better than ourselves, one who can expose our own imperfections and use them to convict us of our own depravity.

What kind of power does Satan have when confronted with the power of God?  Satan has no power when confronted by God. Therefore, when confronting evil, it is not from our own strength that we find the resources to fight, but rather from the weapons of defense and offense that God has already provided and empowered in the life of every Christian.

2. The Nature of the New Strength

Ephesians 6:13. 

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 

The word for "put on" here is different than the one used previously, an-al-am-ban'-o, which means to actively take up, to take part in the clothing with armor.  We must take part in our own protection by purposely and conscientiously putting on the armor. God gives us the tools to protect ourselves, but when we ignore Him and seek our own solutions, we will be disillusioned and injured; we will be unprotected and unprepared for the insidious enemy we face.   Paul states that we are to take up the "panoply (pan-op-lee'-ah)" of God, that is, take up all that He is, all that He represents, rather than all that we are, and all that we represent.

When is the day of evil? We experience the day of evil any time during our journey when confrontation takes place. (Eph 5:16, "the days are evil"). We live in the evil day.  When we are under stress, we, under the Power of God, will be able to stand our ground, as a military line bears attack without retreating. When the battle is over we will then be able to stand, strengthened, more experienced, and uninjured.  We will also be better prepared to deal with the same issue when it arises again.  Often, repeated experiences strengthen us to the point that the battle is no longer engaged.  An example of such success is the complete absence of fear that was once experienced in specific circumstances.

Ephesians 6:14.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 

The first piece of defensive armor is the "belt of truth". What is the function of the belt to a soldier? To the Roman soldier, it held everything else in place.  To an American soldier this may also include storage bins for ammunition and critical supplies.  The soldier can attach to the belt many of the tools and implements that are necessary for warfare. What would be the consequences of the loss the belt?  Had it held the soldier's canteen and ammunition, an otherwise survivable situation could be lethal.

In the same way, all that we do must be bound together by truth. Consequently, what is truth? With certainty, it is God's Word. All we do must be bound, or brought under control, by God's word. The result of this would be an uncompromised integrity in EVERY area of our lives. Those actions we do are brought under control of the Holy Spirit as we listen carefully to Him.  Our knowledge of the Word of God, and our sensitivity to that still small voice that fives us peace about correct decisions serves as the "buckle" of that belt. Since God's Word is addressed specifically in verses to follow, we can focus here on integrity. How are we strengthened against attack when we put on this armor?  When we choose to live a life of integrity, that decision will immediately deflect much of Satan's attacks.  When faced with choices between what is right and wrong, the decision will have already been made.  The temptation to sin is thwarted by the decision to live a life of integrity, a life that is based on the truth of God's Word.

The second piece of defensive armor is the "breastplate of righteousness". What is the function of the breastplate? To a Roman soldier it protected the vital organs from a direct attack, a puncture from an object thrown or thrust by an enemy. Often in two parts, one piece strapped over the chest and the other over the back. This protected him against both frontal attack, and being "stabbed in the back."  What is righteousness, as described in this verse? Righteousness can be described as right conduct, uprightness in attitude and ac tions (Romans 6:13). "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out if it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). When we walk by faith after Christ, our commander, our conduct will be the result of His righteousness.  Just as the uniform of the soldier carries the rank and authority of his superior, the body of the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit of God, and carries with it the same type of rank and authority over evil.   We have probably seen numerous examples of religious leaders who showed a lack of righteousness in their lives. What happened to them? They were attacked and succumbed because of their guilt often responding in a manner we would expect from a non-Christian.  However, if you consistently demonstrate righteousness in your life, what happens when people say "all manner of evil against you falsely" (Matt 5:11). It falls on deaf ears.  Several years back I was personally engaged in a "bar ministry" where I went into the barrooms in the seedier side of town to spend time with a group of people who were lost.  Those who knew me had no concern that I was in the bar for any other purpose than ministry, and were very supportive of that effort.  Some who did not know me so well were critical that my going into the bar was to engage in sinful behavior, and the environment would be an evil snare that would pull me down with it.  Quite to the contrary, those years when I was engaged in that ministry was some of the most rewarding I have experienced.

Ephesians 6:15.

And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 

A Roman soldier was not ready for battle if he did not have on his sandals. Firmly strapped to his ankles, it had a hard, thick sole with medal cleats for traction.  Imagine trying to fight a battle with bare feet when that battle is being fought over rough, rocky terrain.  Our period of battle would be short as our cut and bleeding feet would stop us in our tracks.  Likewise we are to be prepared as we go into the battle. How are we to be prepared? (with the gospel of peace). If our preparation is the Gospel, what does this imply? We should clearly know the gospel and be prepared to share it any time an opportunity presents itself. That gospel is a gospel of love, and is demonstrated only in love.  We can be prepared by loving someone before we even know we will meet them.  Some also believe that this verse also states that our feet should be firmly planted in God's gospel. Either way, it is the foundation upon which we stand. If we try to stand on our own, we will be injured.

Ephesians 6:16.

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 

The shield is very similar to the breastplate, but serves additional functions. Purely a defensive weapon, it is mobile: it can be placed between the attacker and the defender to deflect specific attacks. Second, it extinguishes the power of the attack.  Likewise, our faith is similar. First, it is mobile: we must exercise it. No one else can do it for us. Our faith will stop the attack of the evil one. Second, it will extinguish the arrows of the attacker: with all of Satan's tactical schemes, he is always frustrated by the simple faith of a Christian.  Our faith is weak when we depend upon ourselves when the need for strength arises.  Often we are too weak a vessel to handle all of the attacks on our own, and end up frustrated, exhausted, or in failure.  The more we grow in our love and trust of God, the more we will learn to depend upon Him and His strength.  That is faith.  Faith is the ability to trust in God's purpose rather than requiring a sign or action to prove His presence.  Without faith, we are exposed to all of the darts that Satan can throw at us.  However, with even the faith of a "mustard seed," (a very small amount), Satan's attacks can be deflected.  When Jesus spoke of faith He did not speak of strong faith or weak faith (though Paul often does.)  Jesus stated that we must have faith.  Having faith saves.  Having mature faith protects as well as saves.

Ephesians 6:17.

And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 

Up to this point, we were to gird, put on, and shod. The idea is that we initiate the placement of the armor. In this verse we are to receive the helmet of salvation.

What part does the helmet play in military defense? It protects the head. To go into battle without the helmet would result in certain death. As the soldier is issued the helmet prior to the battle, we as Christians were given salvation at the beginning of this journey of faith. We then, when engaged in this battle with Satan, cannot be destroyed. We will not be defeated. We can use that knowledge to strengthen our faith, affirm our resolve, and remain obedient to Christ.

The second piece of armor that we receive is the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, or the Bible. In what way is a sword a defensive weapon? Note that Jesus armed his disciples with swords after the last supper. Did he mean for them to attack with them (as Peter did)? Note how Jesus used the Word of God in the temptation in the wilderness. When a specific attack is made upon Him, his response was a literal truth from God's word. Such a statement carries God's wisdom, not our own, and can stop Satan's attack in its tracks.

How can we take advantage of this piece of armor? We must know the Word of God. The Old Testament challenges us to meditate upon it day and night.

Josh 1:8 This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.

Deu 11:18-21 Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. 19 And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 20 And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: 21 That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.

3. The Nurture in New Strength

Ephesians 6:18. 

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  The first statement made here is to do what? Pray in the Spirit always. When are we to pray? (Always) How are we to pray? (In the spirit). How can one pray "out of the spirit"? Take a look at the passage in Luke 18:11-13 

Luke 18:11-13. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess." 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner."

How can one pray always, or "pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17)"? God hears your prayers when you speak them aloud. He also hears your prayers when they are just verbal thoughts. He hears your prayers when they are simply the desires of your heart.  All you do and think is observed by the one who created you, loves you, and desires your fellowship.  You can communicate to God in all that you do.   Prayer should be intensely personal as you can acknowledge God's understanding of your every thought and desire.  Prayer can also be corporate as you voice prayer within the hearing of others.  Each Christian has immediate one-on-one access to God, and by so doing shares the privilege and responsibilities of a priest (2 Peter 2:9, ff).  We have direct access to God and the responsibility of spreading the knowledge of God to others.

When Moslems are taught to pray 5 times per day, it is a work of law that they are accomplishing. It is a rule that they follow in order to be considered righteous.  We have no such command since those who are saved are not under the law (Galatians 2). We are to be in constant communication with God. The door is to be open on our end, as the door is always open on His.  Is the door sometimes closed at our end? If so, chinks in our armor will open, our faith is weakened, and our reliance on the gospel is replaced with reliance on ourselves. The word of God in our hearts becomes quieter, our ability to demonstrate faith is weakened, and we are open for Satan's attack. As a Christian we risk spiritual or emotional, or real, depression when we do not pray with perseverance.

How does the door get closed? It gets closed when we lay down God's armor and take up our own. The gospel of peace may be replaced by an angry, bitter, or judgmental spirit. Righteousness is replaced by self-motivated actions. God's Word is replaced with our own. Satan now has been successful in breaking down our relationship with God, and by so doing disarming us without or realizing it. We will not be defeated, but we may lose the joy and peace that is an integral reward of our salvation experience.

How do we reopen the door when we find that it is closed?  How do we re-ignite our prayer life?  We can replace the self-built armor with which we have surrounded ourselves with that armor of God.  We can come out of the shell of our own making and take on the full armor of God again. We can lay down the anger, the bitterness, the self-centeredness that are sin to a Christian by giving them over to God. Jesus has already taken on the penalty for our sins, and he knows them, so give them to Him.  We can do this by confessing these sins to God, and by so doing the door of prayer is opened.  We can ask God to forgive us of the pride and self-will that we use to hold on to those sins, and turn all of it over to Him. 

We are told in these verses to "watch thereunto." Often those things that cause us to lose our focus on Christ sneak up on us and take us unaware.  Many of us have probably heard of the "Frog in the Pot" syndrome.  If one places a frog in a pot of cold water, he is satisfied with his surroundings.  If one then heats the pot slowly, the frog will not notice the warmth, and will eventually die of heat stroke.  However, if you toss a frog into a pot of hot water, he will jump out immediately.  Many times we are like the frog, and the hot water is the sin that surrounds us.  We become slowly more and more engaged in it, whether it be a sin of attitude or action, and we do not realize the impact that it is having on our lives until we are in a situation where we are struggling for spiritual (or even emotional or physical) survival.  We must be vigilant to watch the impact that sin is having on our lives and shed ourselves of it immediately.

Every Christian is a missionary of the gospel in a perverted and evil world. Christians have the ability to put on the whole armor of God so that they will not become stained by it, nor succumb to it. God has provided resources that strengthen His people in their struggle against that world. Let us take advantage of those resources.  Start with that prayer.

4. Postscript

Ephesians 6:19-20. 

And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

If any would claim that Paul was a fearless orator who always knew the right things to say, we can find here that such an opinion is unfounded.  Paul here requests that the Ephesian Christians would also pray for him in three areas.  

(1) When called upon to speak, Paul would be given the words to say by the Holy Spirit.  It may be interesting to note that this is probably a concern for all Christians who are called up to give an account of their faith, and one that might prevent many from doing so.  We can be comforted to know that even Paul even had such a need, and to request prayer for such a need is quite appropriate.

(2)  The phrase, "open my mouth" is an idiom that refers to any circumstance where one is called upon to give an oral defense.  Paul also asked that prayers would be raised on his behalf that addressed his need for courage when opportunities to give an account of his faith arose.  One might say, at this point, "is this really Paul speaking?"  Some people have argued that, because of this verse, Paul did not actually write this letter.  They argue that it was written by another person who used Paul's name as a pseudonym.  I would argue, rather, that Paul was a real person and just like any other Christian, needed courage when called upon to witness.  Again, all Christians can be encouraged by this "humanness" of Paul, and we can follow his lead as we also pray for one another for courage to give an account of our faith.

(3)  Paul also asked that the words that he spoke in response to circumstances within the given context would be clearly understood by those to whom he would speak, and that the content would clearly serve to communicate the gospel message.

We can see from this prayer request that Paul had the same needs that Christians today express.  When called upon to given an account of their faith, Christians need the correct words to say and the courage to say them.  Though Paul has shifted the focus of instruction at this point in his letter, he is still teaching the Ephesians how to live a lifestyle that honors God.  Like himself, the Ephesians, and modern Christians alike, share this responsibility to share the gospel, and also share the fears that are associated with actually fulfilling it.  Christians can pray for one another in this area. 

Paul uses an interesting oxymoron when he refers to himself as an "ambassador in chains."  An ambassador, even in ancient times, enjoyed some level of diplomatic immunity to prevent them from political imprisonment and by so doing, disabling communication between countries.  Obviously, as an ambassador of "heaven", Paul enjoyed no such immunity.  This made his task much more difficult.  So, his prayers for boldness when called upon to speak are all-the-more appropriate.  Those to whom he is writing are bound by no such chains, and enjoy more freedom to share the gospel.  (Though we should not forget that they were persecuted for their faith.)  Modern Christians, though experiencing persecution in some isolated places in the world, are for the most part entirely unencumbered in opportunities to share their faith.  The barriers relating to faithful witnessing are addressed in the first three of Paul's prayer requests above, instructing us to pray for one another for the same purpose, and encouraging us to be faithful in our witness.

This relates to Paul's admonition to "stand firm" in the armor of God, as these prayers serve to overcome the fear associated with that firm stand.  Though it is not an additional piece of armor, this prayer for one another serves to hold that armor together.

Ephesians 6:21-22. 

 But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things: 22Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts. 

Paul sent his letter to the Ephesians with Tychicus, a close friend and fellow-worker with Paul.  Tychicus also served as Pal's representative to the church in Colossae and to the slave owner, Philemon (Acts 20:4, Col. 4:7, 2 Tim 4:12, Titus 3:12).  Travel from Rome to Ephesus was not a trivial task in ancient times, so Paul's sending of Tychicus is significant.  Tychicus would be away from Paul for a very long time.  This expresses how much Paul wanted the Ephesians to be comforted by his letter as he would send a personal representative who means much to him rather than with a dispassionate courier.  Also, Tychicus would be spending time with the Ephesian church, and would be able to answer all their questions concerning the letter, its doctrine, and also any concerns of Paul's state and health.  Furthermore, Tychicus would be bring back to Paul the greetings of the people of Ephesus. 

Ephesians 6:23-24. 

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.

Paul closes the letter as he starts it, pointing to the Grace of God, desiring peace, love, and faith among all.