Ephesians 6:21-24

21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
(Ephesians 6:21-24 NIV)

As we finish up our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (and us), we see Paul giving final remarks and instructions.

In yesterday’s study, Paul had just finished talking about prayer, and had asked for prayer for himself.  Paul’s prayer was not to be released from prison, but to be a fearless witness for the Lord, even while being held prisoner.

Paul specifically mentions Tychicus here – he is the person that hand-delivered the letter from Paul to the Ephesian church.  Tychicus is mentioned five times in the New Testament – he was one of Paul’s faithful friends and traveling companions.  Paul did not want to write about all the trials and tribulations of his life – he wanted to encourage the Ephesians and remind them to live for the Lord.  Paul said that Tychicus could answer their questions and help them pray more intelligently, and also tell them about Paul’s situation.

Are you thankful for faithful friends, ones that you can entrust to tell your story when you are struggling or need prayer?  Paul found such a friend in Tychicus.  Paul calls Tychicus a “dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord”.  That is really high praise for an amazing friend.

Obviously, the Ephesians were concerned about Paul – they had not heard anything, and were worried about his well-being, where he was located, and what his situation was.  With no phone, internet, or even mail services in Paul’s day, information was sparse, and often delayed in its delivery.  Paul wanted the Ephesians to know that he was doing fine, and even in prison, that his concern was not about his well-being, but about preaching the Gospel fearlessly and faithfully.

Paul wanted to share the struggles that he was facing – he was not trying to hide the fact that he was in prison, but he did not want the Ephesians to focus on that fact – he wanted them to pray about his opportunities to share the Gospel wherever God gave him opportunity, not fearing the consequences of doing so.  Both Paul and the Ephesians understood that Paul’s message about the Gospel might very well cost him his life, but Paul gladly counted the cost in order to share the good news with those around him.

Have you written a letter or note lately to a dear friend, letting them know how much they mean to you, and thanking God for their influence in your life?  I unexpectedly received such a letter last week.  Words cannot describe how that letter lifted my spirits and encouraged me and blessed me.  Take time to drop a note to folks that are a special blessing in your life – you will be encouraged and thank the Lord as you remember all they have been and are to you.

Paul finishes his letter with a benediction, a blessing upon them.  As we close our study of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, this is my prayer for each of you as well:

Peace be with you, dear brothers and sisters, and may God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you love with faithfulness.  May God’s grace be eternally upon all who love our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Ephesians 6:23-24 NLT)

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:18-20

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
(Ephesians 6:18-20 NIV)

As we wind down near the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (and us), Paul reminds us of the privilege and necessity of prayer.

It’s important to recognize that this section on prayer is a new thought in Paul’s letter; prayer is not part of the armor of God.  Instead, it is more like the air we breathe – an intrinsic, inseparable part of everything we are and do.

Paul did, however, put these commands to pray after describing the armor of God.  So how does prayer tie into the previous “armor of God” section?

One simple way to think about prayer is communicating with God.  All along our journey with Christ, we pray – for ourselves, for our loved ones, for those who do not yet choose to follow Christ, for those in authority over us, etc.

And so prayer is to the Christ follower as communication with his commanding officer is to the soldier.  The soldier (or group of soldiers) is sent out on a mission, but must radio back and let the commanding officer know where they are and what they need.  Yes, the analogy breaks down at this point, because the Bible tells us that God knows all about our situation before we do – but hopefully you get the point about prayer and communicating with God.

When does Paul say we should pray?  All the time.

What should we pray about?  Everything.

Who should we pray for?  Ourselves, and all the rest of the Lord’s people as well.

Paul also asked for prayer for himself, even in his current state of house arrest.  Note that Paul did not ask for freedom from his captors, but rather, for a bold witness during his imprisonment and anticipated upcoming trial.  Notice that Paul calls himself “an ambassador in chains”.  Paul did not see himself as a prisoner with no rights, but rather, as an ambassador of the highest calling, even while he is under arrest.

If we go back to the beginning of Paul’s letter, we see that Paul began with praise to the Lord in chapter 1, verses 3 through 14, then immediately went into prayer for the Ephesians (chapter 1, verses 15 through 23).  Paul starts his thoughts towards the Ephesians with prayer, and he ends his main remarks in chapter 6 with prayer.  Paul uses prayer as the “bookends” of his letter to the Ephesian believers.

May each of us find time to pray today, even during our busy times, to let God know what’s on our hearts, and to lift up others before the throne of grace, also.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:17b

… and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
(Ephesians 6:17b NIV)

In our study of the full armor of God, we come to the final piece today – the sword.

The word translated “sword” here refers to what we would call a large knife or a small sword, with a blade length of 6 to 18 inches.  This sword was normally kept in a sheath or scabbard that was connected to the belt or separately around the waist.  This sword was used primarily in hand-to-hand combat.  The word “sword” here does not refer to the broadsword, which was usually had a 30 to 40 inch blade length.

All of the armor Paul has described so far is used for our defense and protection.  The sword is for both our defense and protection as well as an offensive weapon.

Note that the sword is the weapon of the Holy Spirit, used to fight spiritual battles on our behalf.  And what is that sword the Holy Spirit uses?  The Word of God, the Bible.

Remember Paul’s words to us in verses 10 through 12 of chapter 6… our battle is not a physical one, but a spiritual one.

Jesus experienced this first-hand when he was in the desert and satan came to tempt Him.  How did Jesus respond to each temptation?  He used God’s Word as both an offensive and a defensive weapon.

The sword, the Word of God, used in the Holy Spirit’s hands, is not a crude hack-and-slash weapon, but a precision instrument used in our lives to battle evil.  Listen to the writer of Hebrews:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
(Hebrews 4:12-13 NIV)

This reflects not only the instrument, the sword itself, but also the skill of the one who uses it, the Holy Spirit.  The writer of Hebrews says that works not only on the forces outside of ourselves, but also the forces inside us as well.  The Holy Spirit uses God’s Word to go deep into our lives, dividing soul and spirit like joints (bones) and marrow, even down into the very thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that nothing is hidden from God’s sight – God, through His Holy Spirit, knows us better than we know ourselves.  He looks past the “what” in our lives and asks the harder “why?” questions, to find the reason behind the “what”.  We may be doing a good thing, even a God-honoring thing, but if the reason why we are doing what we’re doing is selfish, then it’s not honoring to the Lord.  The Holy Spirit helps us see the “why”, and uses God’s Word to gently instruct us and guide us and do the surgery when needed.

May we put ourselves in the hands of the Great Physician, who loves us and cares for us, and teaches us through His Holy Spirit, using His Word, the Bible.  The wounds of sin are often deep, whether the sin is our own or the effects of another’s sin on us.  The pain is very real, and there will likely be scars from the battles.

As followers of Christ, this life is the worst we will ever experience; the next life, with Christ, is sin-free and pain-free.  For those who are not followers of Christ, this life is the best it will ever be.

Let us not lose our eternal perspective and take an “exit ramp” off the Narrow Road of following Christ.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:17a

17 Take the helmet of salvation…
(Ephesians 6:17a NIV)

As we continue on our study of the full armor of God, Paul discusses the next piece of our armor – the helmet of salvation.

As we discovered in our earlier studies, there are pieces of armor that we put on and keep on, an there are other pieces that we put on during battle, and can take off and keep right beside us during times of rest when we’re not in battle.  The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the boots of the gospel of peace are all pieces that we put on and keep on.  The shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit are all pieces that we can take off and keep right beside us during times of rest.

Today we take a look at the helmet.  While the helmet may have been made of either thick layers of leather or formed metal or some combination of the two materials, the purpose is the same – to protect the head.

Notice that Paul associates the helmet with salvation.  Is he talking about getting saved?  No.  If Paul was talking about accepting Jesus as our Savior and Lord at this point, then we would not have any of the other pieces of armor that are dependent on our salvation in the first place.  We would not have the belt of truth, nor the breastplate of righteousness, nor the boots of the gospel of peace, nor the shield of faith.  You can’t have any of those pieces of armor without salvation first.

So what is Paul talking about?  Remember that the best commentary on Scripture is other Scripture.  Let’s see if there are any other parallel thoughts that mention the idea of helmets and salvation.

Paul mentions a similar thought in 1 Thessalonians:

… putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
(1 Thessalonians 5:8b NIV)

In both the Ephesians passage as well as the 1 Thessalonians passage, Paul is talking about salvation in the future, our ultimate salvation when we spend eternity with Christ.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  Remember our salvation is once and for all, but spans three different time periods:

  • our past, when we came to Christ and invited Him into our lives as Savior and Lord
  • our present, as we live out the reality of Christ as Savior and Lord of our lives
  • our future, as we look forward to the day when we join Christ in heaven and spend eternity with Him

So how does all this tie together?  The helmet of salvation reminds us Whose we are, and protects our head from the blows of the enemy.  The enemy wants to inflict a head wound, to make us think that our salvation is in doubt.  If the enemy cannot inflict a head wound, then he tries to knock us out with a strike to the head, and give us a concussion so we can’t think or function properly.

Often this concussion-like blow to the head comes in the form of disabling doubt and/or discouragement.  The enemy does not have to make us a fatality (where we die) as long as he can make us a casualty (where we are no longer a threat).

Our helmet of salvation protects our head and prevents such strikes from the enemy.

Remember to be strong and put on all your armor as you take on the enemy of your soul today.  At the end of the day, Paul reminds us in verses 11 through 14, to be the one standing, victorious in the battle.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:16

16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
(Ephesians 6:16 NIV)

Today we continue on with the full armor of God, looking at the shield of faith as our next piece of armor.

Before we jump into today’s time, however, it’s important to make a distinction between the previous pieces of armor mentioned in verses 14 and 15, and the new list started in verse 16.  Notice that the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the boots of the gospel of peace are put on once and stay on for the duration.  The pieces mentioned starting in verse 16 are just as important, but can briefly taken off during lulls in the war to allow for rest.

Picture in your mind a hockey player.  When they are on the ice during the game, they have their pads, uniform, skates, hockey stick, gloves, and helmet on.  When they come off the ice to rest on the bench, they leave their pads, skates, and uniform on.  They set their hockey stick, gloves, and helmet aside while they rest, but keep them close so as to put them on in a moment’s notice when the coach calls them to rejoin the game.

And so it is with the full armor of God.  Some pieces stay on, some can be kept within arm’s reach while we rest, but are readily available when the enemy approaches.

The armor piece described today is the shield.  There were multiple kinds of shields employed during Roman times, and two were the most common.  The first was a smaller round shield that was used during hand-to-hand combat.   The soldier wore the shield on his forearm, and used it to deflect the enemy’s short sword or dagger during hand-to-hand combat.  The second type of shield was much larger, nearly a man’s height, and was used when approaching the enemy, and not necessarily during hand-to-hand combat.

This larger shield was typically made of wood or wood covered with leather.  When the enemy shot their arrows at the advancing soldiers, the soldiers would stop, stick the end of the shield on the ground, then crouch behind the shield, safe from the arrows.  If the enemy shot arrows covered in tar or pitch and lit on fire, the Roman soldiers would often soak the face of the shields in water before the battle so the shield would not catch on fire.

While these shields offered individual protection, they also were used together to form a nearly impenetrable force to advance an entire unit of soldiers.  The soldiers on the front and sides held their shields as described above; the soldiers in the middle of the unit held their shields over their heads to protect from the arrows flying in from the top.  They formed a team, a small “community” to protect one another as well as themselves.

With all this imagery in mind, Paul says that the evil one shoots his flaming arrows at us.  The enemy has great aim and accuracy, and does not fight fair – he uses flaming arrows to get us distracted, to have fears of getting burned, to get us to turn our shield around to see if it is on fire, and thus expose ourselves to danger and getting shot.

Our “shield” is not a physical one, but one of faith, Paul tells us.  Our faith, our trust in God, is our protection.

Listen to David’s words:

As for God, His way is blameless;
The word of the Lord is tried;
He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
(Psalm 18:30 NASB, emphasis mine)

May you put your faith, your trust in the Lord to shield and protect you today.  The enemy’s fiery arrows are incoming.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:15

15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
(Ephesians 6:15 NIV)

As we look at the full armor of God, we have reviewed the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness so far.  Today, we take a look at the footwear needed for a soldier.

Before we look at verse 15, let’s go back and look at verses 13 and 14a.  Notice what Paul said:

13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then…
(Ephesians 6:13-14a NIV, emphasis mine)

Notice that Paul mentions standing three times here.  Do you suppose this might be important?

A soldier does not fight lying down, or sitting.  A soldier fights standing up.  If you can’t stand, you can’t fight.  Since nearly all of the fighting was hand-to-hand combat, footwear was vitally important to winning the battle and defeating the enemy.

Footwear for a Roman soldier was a heavy boot, to protect the soldier’s foot.  The boots had small nails protruding, similar to track cleats or football shoes, so the soldiers would not slip on the ground.  The terrain was rough, with thorns and sticks protruding out of the ground that would pierce the soldier’s feet.  The rough rocks and cobblestones the soldiers had to march over would bruise their feet if they did not have shoes.   Shoes were essential to victory.

So what is Paul saying here?  He is talking about sharing the Gospel with the unsaved?  While that is a tempting conclusion, that is not what he is referring to.  Remember the context – this is preparation for battle with the enemy.  And who is the enemy?  The devil and all his schemes (verses 11 and 12).

So how do we fight?  Do we charge the enemy, like the old movies portray typical battlefield scenes?  Again, we need to look at the text and see what Paul says.

Verses 13 and 14a tell us that we just need to stand our ground.  The devil does not fight fair.  He plays mind games with us, and tries to bully us and get us to loose our cool and respond emotionally, or taunts us and tries to bully us so that we will either run away scared, or chase after him and leave our post unguarded.

So Paul’s instruction to us is clear – just stand our ground and defend the turf God has given us.  We are prepared, Paul says, with the gospel of peace.

This feels very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  Our natural inclination is to either run away, or aggressively fight – the old “fight-or-flight” scenario that happens so often in human and spiritual relationships.

But as believers, Paul tells us that we put our boots on to stand our ground.  He knows this is not a physical battle, but the battle for our minds and our hearts.  And the enemy does not fight fair.

Lace up your spiritual boots today before heading out – you’ll need them.

Blessings,
~kevin

Ephesians 6:14b

with the breastplate of righteousness in place …
(Ephesians 6:14b NIV)

Paul is instructing the Ephesians (and us) to prepare for spiritual battle, because the enemy is bringing in the fight to our doorstep.

Paul uses the analogy of a Roman soldier’s gear to explain how we are to outfit ourselves for our battle.  Last time, we looked at the belt of truth buckled around our waist.  Today, Paul tells us to have the breastplate of righteousness in place.

The breastplate has taken many different forms, from a single piece of formed metal, to a series of interwoven metal rings or links (like medieval “chain mail”) or other materials.  While the materials or construction may vary, the purpose is the same – to protect the heart and vital organs.

As with so many Scriptures, there are multiple layers of understanding and application in this passage.  In Paul’s day, the heart was both the organ that pumped blood throughout the body, as well as representative of the mind, the seat of reason and thought.  The vital organs, in Paul’s day, were collectively referred to as the “bowels”.  These represented the seat of emotion and affection.

Paul says that we need to cover both our minds and our emotions from the attacks of the enemy, just as a soldier covers his heart and his vital organs.

So what does Paul say our breastplate, our covering, is to be made of?  Righteousness.

And what is righteousness?  A right relationship with God.

And who defines a “right relationship with God”?  God.

If we try to define our own righteousness, then it quickly becomes self-righteousness, and it’s very selfish and protective, in an attempt to make ourselves look good at the expense of others.  And when all of us try to do that, we quickly break up the unity Paul told us we have in Christ, and descend into factions, and if left unchecked, into anarchy, and we cease functioning as the body of Christ.

In case we somehow delude ourselves into thinking that our self-proclaimed righteousness is something of value, let’s remember Isaiah’s words:

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
(Isaiah 64:6 NIV)

Solomon also recognized that we are all guilty of sin – no exceptions:

Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
    no one who does what is right and never sins.
(Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV)

Jesus also addressed this self-righteous attitude with the religious rulers His day:

For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:20 NIV)

Thankfully, we are not dependent on our own righteousness to get us into heaven.  Only Christ’s righteousness can provide salvation for us; we cannot earn it on our own.

Is Christ’s righteousness something to be put on a shelf, like a fragile piece of fine china, a cherished gift from a close friend?

It is absolutely a cherished gift from a close friend – we cannot possibly pay for it or earn it.

Is the righteousness God gives us like a fragile piece of fine china?  Not at all.  It is durable, it is for our protection, it can withstand the strikes and blows of the enemy.  Think of God’s righteousness like a bulletproof vest for our heart and vital organs, the seat of our mind and emotions.  We cannot buy it or earn it, but we can receive it as a gift and wear it.

Will we take some hits from the enemy?  Yes, no question.  Will they hurt?  Absolutely.  Are we protected?  Yes, with God’s righteousness, that covers us completely.

Be encouraged, friends – God does not send us into the battle without equipping and training us.

Blessings,
~kevin