Clothed and ready (Feb. 22, 2015)

Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: Ephesians 6:10-20

The letter to the church at Ephesus was probably written by a disciple of Paul who used Paul’s name to honor his mentor and to claim Paul’s authority for this letter. That is the conclusion many scholars have reached based on the significant theological and stylistic differences between this epistle and the authentic Pauline letters. Pseudonymity (writing under a false name) was not uncommon in the ancient world where realistically imitating a well-known figure was a literary compliment and copyright laws were unknown.

First century converts to Christianity, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, experienced radical changes in their religious practices and daily life. The Gentile recipients of this letter had been “without Christ… having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Becoming followers of Jesus Christ changed that hopeless situation. As the writer reminds the readers, “You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self… and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:22-24).

However, this radical transformation could not be accomplished instantaneously. The author’s description of the duties of Christian husbands, wives and children reflects first-century Greco-Roman practices rather than Paul’s description of the body of Christ that transcends class, gender, and ethnic categories (see Galatians 3:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13).

Ephesians 6:10-12: Cosmic warfare  In the first century, many people believed that there were cosmic spiritual forces, powers linked with the stars and planets, that controlled human destiny. Greek and Roman religions personified these forces as numerous gods and goddesses. Honoring these gods with sacrifices and offerings at elaborate temples was both a personal and a civic responsibility.

The new Ephesian Christians were engaged in what the author calls spiritual warfare on a cosmic scale. The enemies are not human beings, but “rulers… authorities… cosmic powers of darkness… spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”–even the devil himself. To stand up against these cosmic forces, the Christian needs to “put on the whole armor of God.”

Ephesians 6:13-17: God’s armor   The image of a fully armed soldier was commonly used by Hellenistic philosophers to describe human efforts to be morally strong. The same image is found in the War Scroll from Qumran, where the warfare between the children of light and the children of darkness is described. The early Christian preacher who wrote Ephesians was aware that the readers of his epistle would be familiar – perhaps all too familiar – with the armor used by Roman soldiers.

The armor of God a Christian needs for defense in cosmic spiritual battle has six parts. Truth is the belt around one’s waist. Falsehood offers no protection. To protect one’s upper torso, the chest, a breastplate of righteousness is required. This is not self-righteousness, but a commitment to justice and personal integrity no matter what the cost.

Most people know how important it is to have the right shoes for every situation. The Ephesian Christians are urged to have shoes that put them in a position to speak out for the gospel of peace. Peacemakers need shoes that will carry them away from unnecessary conflict and toward genuine reconciliation. As a defensive tool, the Christian needs a shield that douses any flaming arrows that evil forces employ.

To protect one’s head, the Christian needs a helmet that is provided by God’s saving grace. Knowing that God in Christ is our savior gives us strength to withstand all hostile powers. Therefore, we do not rely on any human being or any human institution for our ultimate salvation.

Finally, the sword of the Spirit is both a defensive and an offensive weapon in this figurative description of the Christian life. Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword….”

Ephesians 6:18-20: Never stop praying     The writer concludes with an admonition that he probably heard often from his mentor Paul, “Pray in the Spirit at all times.” In other words, rely on the power of God to lead you in prayer for all Christians and especially for those who preach the gospel. Bold and powerful preaching is what honors God and strengthens God’s people.

For discussion: Presbyterian Christians have often been at the forefront in the fight against evil and for justice. Where do you see the power of the devil at work in our world today? What do you think you, your congregation and the Christian church should do to defend against those manifestations of demonic evil?