The Whole Armour Of God: Series Introduction
Last words often have conferred upon them a special importance. We remember our last encounters with our loved ones; we quote the final words of the rich and famous; in short, there is something poignant about last words; something that captures our imagination.
Paul had a number of 'last words.' In his letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians and Thessalonians, he passes on a final instruction, and in our English translations it is normally marked by the word, 'finally.' In each of these instances there is a different point he wants to get across, and each time it is urgent, almost crucial. The letter to the Ephesians is arguably the most crucial:
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (6:10-11).
The aim of this series is to understand something of the armoury at our disposal by addressing each piece individually. But first I want to set the scene by answering three key questions:
- What does it mean to be strong in the Lord?
- How are we to be strong in the Lord?
- Why must we be strong in the Lord?
The answers to these questions are interdependent but firstly, he qualifies the series of present imperative statements–"be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might"–with the aorist imperative, "Put on the whole armour of God." They were to continually or habitually (present imperative) be strong (be filled with power) in the Lord. The idea might seem technical but really it is quite straightforward: 'You must habitually be strong by putting on the armour of God urgently and as a matter of priority (the idea of the aorist imperative).' The definition of 'be strong' is 'to be filled with power' or 'be empowered,' which is helpfully reiterated in the second phrase 'in the power of His might.' This added to the fact that the verb 'be strong' is in the passive voice–meaning that it is not the subject of the verb who is performing the action, but an outside agent–reminds us that the what of the verse, is not of our doing. Our strength is not generated by our own activity. But how? We put on the armour, and the armour itself gives us the capacity to be strong.
But what about the why? Any person instructed to wear armour wants to have a compelling reason to do so; it is weighty and awkward, uncomfortable and unwieldy–the apostle does not leave us wondering:
"That ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (6:11b).
This is the most pressing of all reasons. The devil, seeking only the utter destruction of the people of God, is scheming–the word is the root of the English word 'method'–against us. He continues with an explanation:
"For 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" (6:12).
We are in a fight or a struggle, a wrestling match if you will. But this is not a struggle with an enemy that can be seen–it is not against 'flesh and blood' (humanity)–but one who is invisible and infernal. An enemy who prefers to conduct his business silently, and behind the scenes. Yes, he might use human agents to achieve his ends, but the motivations and resources are cosmic. The ESV makes for graphic reading:
"Against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (6:12).
You say, "I had no idea!" I am convinced that the majority of christians are unenlightened as to the real source of the battle–it wasn't until I read this again recently that my eyes were opened to the full extent of the situation. In his commentary on Ephesians, Harold W. Hoehner puts it like this:
It is a spiritual battle against spiritual "Mafia."
Dear believer, this series is not going to be a depressing read–at least I hope not. But before we consider the panoply of the armoury God has for us, you should know this: we are in a literal battle against a literal foe who wants our literal destruction. He won't get it, but he will do anything to try–just read Job's story. You will never have the required motivation to 'put on' the armour until you understand the urgency of the situation.