The Fifteenth and Final in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians
One of the most distinctive features of Paul’s letters is that he opens them with doctrinal instruction and closes them with the application of that doctrine to the Christian life. As we come to the end of Ephesians, we see Paul engage in this characteristic practice yet again–only this time with a bit of a twist. In Ephesians 5:15, Paul directs us to “Look carefully then how you walk,” which is one of the ways Paul exhorts us to give attention to how we live our lives as Christians. But as he often does, Paul quickly moves from generalities to specifics, as the apostle spells out how believers are to walk. All Christians are to submit to Christ, wives are to submit to their husbands, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, children are to obey their parents, and slaves are to obey their earthly masters. Having discussed the order of things within the Christian household, Paul now issues a stirring call for Christians to stand firm against the spirit of the age by clothing themselves in the spiritual armor given them by God. As Paul sees it, the Christian life is a life of spiritual warfare. Therefore, Paul summons us to battle. Believers must put on God’s armor all the while praying for God’s strength so that we might stand.
We wrap up our series on the Book of Ephesians as we make our way through the concluding verses of chapter six. This section of Ephesians includes one of the most familiar and vivid images in all of Paul’s writings–Christians are to put on the whole armor of God and do combat with the forces of darkness around us. Paul’s depiction of the Christian life as one of spiritual warfare is an apt conclusion to a letter such as this one in which Paul has spoken in big picture terms about God’s eternal purpose being worked out in history through the saving work of Jesus Christ, specifically our Lord’s sacrificial death for our sins, and his triumphant resurrection from the dead. Since those Christians in the churches in Asia Minor to whom Paul is writing were living in a very hostile and pagan environment, the image of warfare is appropriate. Being part of a Christian minority in a city such as Ephesus which is dominated by paganism necessitates a form of combat between two very different ways of thinking and doing.
Unfortunately, in much of contemporary evangelicalism and Pentecostalism “spiritual warfare” has become a category for talking about spiritual combat with the unseen forces of Satan in an unseen world. While Paul does indeed speak of combating the Devil and the spirit of the age, Paul’s focus is on the objective truth of the gospel and those who deny that truth. His focus is not on the invisible world of demons and angels, where the real action supposedly takes place. Paul is deeply concerned about those struggling Christians in these churches who must live out their faith in daily life in the presence of those who see nothing wrong with sexual immorality, debauchery, with worshiping a pantheon of pagan “gods,” and who practice all those things which go with paganism–fertility rites, spells and incantations, divination, secret ceremonies, and the worship of creatures (the Roman emperor) rather than the creator.
Having set forth how the Christian home ought to be ordered–submission to Christ, always keeping the example of Christ’s humility and sacrifice before us, and in submitting to divinely-established authority–Paul closes the letter by once again exhorting us to live out those doctrines he has set forth in chapters 1-3. And as is characteristic of his letters, Paul’s call for believers to stand firm in the face of the paganism all around them is grounded in the promise of the gospel.
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