by Shane Scott
The conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains the final imperative given by the apostle – “be strong in the Lord” (6:10; cf. 4:1; 4:17; 5:2; 5:8; 5:21). Not only does this final section call the Ephesians to action and vigilance, but it also reprises many of the profound truths the apostle set forth earlier in the letter. As we look at the closing verses of the epistle, keep thinking about the overarching themes of the book.
In the opening chapter of Ephesians, Paul spoke of Christ’s exaltation over “all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:21). Now, in the conclusion of the letter, he reminds the Ephesians of their own struggle against these wicked spiritual forces and their need to “stand” (6:11, 13, 14) against them. And the key to winning in this struggle is commitment to and reliance on the God who has triumphed over those dark powers in Christ. Notice how God-centered the command to stand firm is:
- “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (6:10).
- “Put on the whole armor of God” (6:11a).
- “Take up the whole armor of God” (6:13).
- “Take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:17b).
- “Praying at all times in the Spirit” (6:18a).
Just as David knew that he could defeat Goliath because the Lord would be with him, we can trust in God to deliver us from the clutches of the devil and his dominion (1 Sam. 17:41-47).
And ultimately that is who our foe really is. Whatever agents made of “flesh and blood” that Satan may use in his schemes, the real foe of God’s people is the devil and his minions. Previously in 4:26-27 Paul warned against a pernicious avenue the devil seeks to exploit – unresolved anger. That is just one of many fronts the adversary uses, and Paul knows that such a wily enemy can only be defeated by using every resource God provides (“the whole armor of God” – 6:11a; 6:13a).
But the formidable nature of our enemy does not mean that the struggle is hopeless. While it is crucial to know that sinister spiritual forces lurk behind our struggles as Christians, according to Paul, awareness of this fact should drive us to God and the reassurance that in Him we are “able to withstand in the evil day” (6:13b). The God who is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (3:20) can sustain us in our struggles and give us lasting victory.
To illustrate God’s complete provision for us in this struggle, Paul draws upon the imagery of a Roman soldier equipped for battle.
This would have been in the common experience of anyone living under the Pax Romana of the first century. Additionally, many of the military metaphors come from the Old Testament depictions of God and His Anointed.
- “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins” (Isa. 11:5).
- “He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head (Isa. 59:16-17).
- “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head” (Isa. 59:17).
- “And he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Isa. 11:4; cf. Rev. 1:16).
While it is tempting to assign a deep, metaphorical significance to each of the items that Paul lists in this divine armory, we must be careful not to over-do the analogy. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul makes similar use of this imagery, but there, the breastplate is connected with “faith and love” rather than with “righteousness” as in Ephesians 6:14. It seems to me that the primary point Paul wanted to get across is that God has more than adequately equipped us – from head to toe – with all the spiritual resources we need to defeat our spiritual enemy.
Those resources are:
- Truth (6:14a), whether this refers to the truth of God’s word (4:21) or our personal truthfulness (4:25).
- Righteousness (6:14b), created by God Himself (4:24).
- Peace (6:15), “the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared” (NLT), peace made possible through Christ (2:14; cf. Isa. 52:7).
- Faith (6:16), the means by which we are saved in Christ (2:8) and through which Christ dwells in us (3:17).
- Salvation (6:17a), the result of the same grace that now Paul says will supply us (2:5-8).
- The word of God (6:17b), the means by which the Spirit enables us to ward off the evil one (see Matt. 4:4; Psalm 119:11).
- Prayer (6:18), made “in the Spirit” through whom we have access to God (2:18).
It is this final resource that Paul especially emphasizes in this spiritual inventory. Not only does Paul emphasize prayer four times in verse 18 (“praying” – “prayer” – “supplication” – “making supplication”), but he also emphasizes its wide application. “At all times” – “with all prayer” – “with all perseverance” – “for all the saints.”
The reference to prayer leads Paul to ask the Ephesians to pray for him (6:19-20), something he often did in his letters (particularly in the parallel section of Col. 4:2-4). Imprisonment brought unique complications to Paul’s work as an ambassador of Christ, and he coveted their prayers for boldness rather than timidity as he proclaimed the mystery in these adverse circumstances.
Closing Words (6:21-24)
Like the many letters preserved from the first century, this one concludes with a few personal greetings and a benediction. Paul’s imprisonment undoubtedly worried the Ephesians (see 3:13), and so Paul promises to send them a fellow native of Asia, Tychicus (see Acts 20:4), to “encourage your hearts” (6:21-22). This “beloved brother and faithful minister” was a loyal companion to Paul (see also Col. 4:7-9; Titus 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:12), and his mention here is a reminder that like all of us, Paul needed the fellowship of faithful comrades to stand firm in the Lord. Paul’s closing benediction in 6:23-24 brings to mind many of the great truths of this book, such as “peace” (see 2:14-17; 4:3), “love” (1:4-5; 2:4; 3:19; 4:5; 5:1-1); and “grace” (1:16; 1:7; 2:5; 4:7).
But perhaps there is a somber warning to take with us as we conclude this letter. The last verse says, “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (6:24, ESV). The KJV renders this last phrase, “that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” And the NIV, “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” Love is the greatest command, but it must be an abiding love. Yet, when we read the letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2, Jesus says to the members there that as commendable as they were in so many ways, “you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4). We must never forget the supremacy of love – for God and for each other – because it is through love that we most clearly resemble our Father. “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1-2).