The Armor of God (I): Introduction

Today we are starting an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. After the introduction (v. 10-13), we will be looking at the seven metaphors used by Paul: the belt of truth (v. 14), the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14), feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (v. 15), the shield of faith (v. 16), the enemy’s fiery darts (v. 16), the helmet of salvation (v. 17), and the sword of the Spirit (v. 17).


Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 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. (v. 10-13)

Cosmic Battle

The letter to the Ephesians is written in the frame of a cosmic battle. In the context of this epic battle, God knew that he was going to make a people for his name “before the foundation of the world” (1:4); God’s power towards us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him “far above principality and power and might and dominion” (1:21); through our testimony, God is revealing his “manifold wisdom” to the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (3:10); and Paul concludes the letter with a sweeping reminder of how to prepare for this battle.

Spiritual warfare is a Christian distinctive. Muslims believe in a personal devil, but their only recourse in trouble is to amulets, charms, folk remedies, and Quranic chanting. The spiritualists and polytheists of the world live in constant fear of demons, and the modern era has seen whole nations of Africa, South America and Asia choose the gospel over a life of fear. Other religions have no concept of invoking help from a personal God who is daily empowering us to win.

God’s Suit of Armor

The phrase “whole armor,” used twice in this passage, is a single word in the original, which we have in English as panoply, which means a splendid display, since we think of suits of armor as historical artifacts used for decoration. For Paul’s readers, they probably would have thought of a suit of armor stored in readiness, waiting to be “taken up” (v. 13).

Of the six pieces of armor he describes, two are for preparation (the belt and shoes), one is for attack (the sword of the Spirit), and three are for defense (breastplate, shield and helmet). So he’s mainly talking here not from a position of expanding or winning new territory; he’s talking about how we defend what’s already won.

This defensive stance is also expressed in his use of the verb “stand” (v. 11, 13). In his book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee sees the Christian life expressed in three verbs used in Ephesians: 1. We sit with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6); 2. We walk with Christ on earth (4:1); and 3. We stand against the devil’s tricks (6:11).

Principalities and Powers

In several places, Paul lists types of cosmic powers, which are somewhat prone to over-interpretation. In Middle Eastern cultures, one of the ways of emphasizing a point is to list synonyms or near synonyms: principalities, powers, rulers, and hosts. In 1:21 and 6:12, as well as Colossians 1:16, these lists are not meant to be a guide to the academic study of angels; rather, they should be taken in concord.

Be Empowered in the Lord

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.[1] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The first three verbs that he uses sound very similar in Greek: “Be strong” (ἐνδυναμοῦσθε) . . . “Put on” (ἐνδύσασθε) [the armor] . . . [that you may] “be able” (δύνασθαι). Paul uses complex structures and careful word choice in his Greek epistles, and it’s possible that this alliteration was meant to add beauty to his letter or make the words more memorable, in the same way we would use alliteration in a sermon.

The opening verb “be strong” (ἐνδυναμόω) is also used by Paul in a number of other letters. It is the same verb for “strengthens” in the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Acts 9:22 says the Paul “increased in strength.”

Paul also uses this verb to describe the Lord’s faithfulness at the end of his life:

Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me. (2 Tim. 4:17)

It is clear from Hebrews that this word has a supernatural sense, because of the way it is listed with other miracles:

Time would fail me to tell of [the faithful who . . .]  quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (Heb. 11:32-34)

Being “strong in the Lord,” then, as Paul commands, is a supernatural receiving of power through God’s grace, which is why all of the elements of God’s armor described here are paired with spiritual characteristics: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.


[1] “Power of his might” sounds awkward in English, but the figure probably means “his mighty power.” This is a pretty common construction in the epistles, whereby a noun is used like an adjective. It’s especially common with the word “glory”; Colossians 1:11 says, literally, “the power of his glory,” but the traditional rendering is “his glorious power.”

 

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