[Text: Ephesians, with a riff on 6:10-18]
Like the famous “Love Chapter” in 1 Corinthians, Paul’s “Armor of God” passage in his letter to the Ephesians stands out and often stands apart from the rest of the epistle in our minds. But what if Paul is strategically summarizing in these spots, rather than offering something stand-alone and new? We would need to read these familiar words with a conscious concentration on their contexts, if so.
I’ve written already on the way 1 Corinthians 13 revisits the themes from that whole letter. What if Ephesians 6:10-18 is similarly situated to recall to the readers’ minds the things Paul has been saying all along? If that’s the case, then we should consider this outstanding passage, too, to be related to the whole letter as a mnemonic device, much like one of Jesus’ parables in its compact structure and concrete imagery. Big ideas will be remembered best if packaged small: think bumper stickers, sound-bytes, and proverbs!
Here, then, is an attempt to sketch Paul’s intention for these “Military Mnemonics,” which I suggest represents a strategic rhetorical decision that captures his letter’s major themes for the reader or listener to mull over later.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
I pray that you will know what is the immeasurable power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might! …And I pray that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. …God is able to do abundantly more than we ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
You used to follow the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. …Give no opportunity to the devil.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Christ has been seated above all rule and authority and power and dominion. …Through the church the manifold wisdom of God is now made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. …At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. …The Lord has given leaders to the church to help equip the saints for ministry, so that together we will grow into mature manhood, to the measure of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, believed in him. …I pray that God would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened. …This grace was given me, to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. …May you know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. …Then we won’t be deceived, but speaking the truth in love, will grow up into Christ. …You were taught the truth that is in Jesus, so don’t go back to walking like the Gentiles. …Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor. …For the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true.
…and having put on the breastplate of righteousness…
We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. …For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. …I therefore urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received. …Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires…Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. …Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. …Do the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man.
…and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. …And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. …Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace which was given me by the working of his power…to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. ….Pray also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you an extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one…
When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit .…I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus! …For by grace you have been saved through faith. …We have boldness and confident access to the Father in Christ Jesus, through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. …May God strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
…and take the helmet of salvation…
God the Father has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. …In love he predestined us for adoption as sons, and in Christ we have redemption and forgiveness. …The Spirit was given to us as a seal, promising our inheritance! …You have been saved by grace, and raised up, and seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. …You are no longer strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of the household of God.
…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God…
[Rather than citing specific verses, here I would point to Paul’s authority as an apostle to deliver God’s thoughts to the believers. In Ephesians, this is expressed in his frequent assertions of the divine revelation given to him that clarified the profound mysteries of God’s plan for redemption. Like the “belt of truth” and the “shield of faith,” then, the “sword of the Spirit” mainly comprises the revealed content that Christians are instructed to believe.]
…praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power…Be filled with the Spirit, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. …Keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me.
Biblical quotations are taken from the ESV, though I have paraphrased some of these verses. This is also a quiz for students of Ephesians: do you recognize where in the letter these ideas are located? If you don’t know Ephesians that well or you’re too busy to figure it out, here is the cheat sheet.