A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:13-20. 3). The armour of God.
The purpose of investing ourselves in the divine armour is *that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (verse 11), that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore…* This fourfold emphasis on the need to ‘stand’ or ‘withstand’ shows that the apostle’s concern is for Christian stability. Wobbly Christians who have no firm foothold in Christ are an easy prey for the devil. And Christians who shake like reeds and rushes cannot resist the wind when the principalities and powers begin to blow. Paul wants to see Christians so strong and stable that they remain firm even against the devil’s wiles (verse 11) and even *in the evil day*, that is, in a time of special pressure. For such stability, both of character and in crisis, the armour of God is essential.
The expression *the whole armour of God* translates the Greek word *panoplia*, which is ‘the full armour of a heavy-armed soldier’ (AG), although ‘the divineness rather than the completeness of the outfit is emphasized’. The point is that this equipment is ‘forged and furnished’ by God. In the Old Testament it is God himself, the Lord of Hosts, who is depicted as a warrior fighting to vindicate his people: e.g. ‘He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head.’ (Is.59:17). Still today the armour and the weapons are his, but now he shares them with us. We have to put on the armour, take up the weapons and go to war with the powers of evil.
Paul details the six main pieces of a soldier’s equipment – the belt, the breastplate, the boots, the shield, the helmet and the sword, and uses them as pictures of the truth, righteousness, good news of peace, faith, salvation and word of God which equip us in our fight against the powers. Paul was very familiar with Roman soldiers. He met many in his travels, and as he dictated Ephesians he was chained to one by his wrist. He refers to his chain in verse 20. And although it would be unlikely that such a bodyguard would wear the full armour of an infantryman on the battlefield, yet the sight of him close by may well have kindled his imagination.
In 1655 the Puritan minister William Gurnall, ‘pastor of the church of Christ at Lavenham in Suffolk’ (as he styled himself), published his treatise *The Christian in Complete Armour*. Its elaborate sub-title, for which one needs to draw a deep breathe, is: *The saints’ war against the Devil, wherein a discovery is made of that great enemy of God and his people, in his policies, power, seat of his empire, wickedness and chief design he hath against the saints; a magazine opened, from whence the Christian is furnished with spiritual arms for the battle, helped on with his armour, and taught to use his weapons; together with the happy issue of the whole war*. In his Dedication of the book to his parishioners, he modestly refers to himself as their ‘poor’ and ‘unworthy’ minister and to his treatise as but a ‘mite’ and a ‘little present’ to them. Yet in my eighth edition of 1821 it runs to three volumes, 261 chapters and 1,472 Pages, although it is an exposition of only eleven verses.
Let me give you a taste of Gurnall’s spirituality. Regarding God’s armour he writes: ‘In heaven we shall appear not in armour but in robes of glory; but here they (sc. the pieces of armour specified) are to be worn night and day; we must walk, work and sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ.’ In this armour we are to stand and watch, and never relax our vigilance, for ‘the saint’s sleeping time is Satan’s tempting time; every fly dares venture to creep on a sleeping lion’. He goes to instance Samson (whose hair was cut by Delilah while he slept), King Saul (whose spear David stole while he was asleep), Noah (who was in some way abused by his son while he was in a drunken sleep) and Eutychus (who slept while Paul preached).
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in our own day has written a very fine and full exposition of the same eleven verses in two volumes entitled *The Christian Warfare* and *The Christian Soldier*, totalling 736 pages. His twenty-one chapters in the former volume on ‘the wiles of the devil’, which describe some of the devil’s subtlest assaults upon the people of God (in the three realms of the mind, of experience and of practice or conduct) and how we need to be on our guard, are full of wise counsel from an experienced pastor.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.