A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:13-20. 3). The armour of God (continued).
The sixth and last weapon to be specified is *the sword* (verse 17). Of all the six pieces of armour or weaponry listed, the sword is the only one which can clearly be used for attack as well as defence. Moreover, the kind of attack envisaged will involve a close personal encounter, for the word used is *machaira*, the short sword. It is *the sword of the Spirit*, which is then immediately identified as *the word of God*, although in the Revelation it is seen issuing from the mouth of Christ (Rev. 1:16; 2:12; 19:15; cf. Is. 11:4; Ho.6:5). This may well include the words of defence and testimony which Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would put into his followers’ lips when they were dragged before the magistrates (Mt.10:17-20). But the expression ‘the word of God’ has a much broader reference than that, namely to Scripture, God’s written word, whose origin is repeatedly attributed to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Still today it is his sword, for he still uses it to cut through people’s defences, to prick their consciences and to stab them spiritually awake. Yet he also puts his sword into our hands, so that we may use it both in resisting temptation (as Jesus did, quoting Scripture to counter the devil in the Judean wilderness) and in evangelism. Every Christian evangelist, whether a preacher or a personal witness, knows that God’s word has cutting power, being ‘sharper than any two-edged sword’ (Heb.4:12). We must never therefore be ashamed to use it, or to acknowledge our confidence that the Bible is the sword of the Spirit. As E.K.Simpson wrote. this phrase sets forth ‘the trenchant power of Scripture…But a mutilated Bible is what Moody dubbed it, “a broken sword”’.
Here then are the six pieces which together make up the whole armour of God: the girdle of truth and the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel boots and the faith shield, salvation’s helmet and the Spirit’s sword. They constitute God’s armour, as we have seen, for he supplies it. Yet it is our responsibility to take it up, to put it on and to use it confidently against the powers of evil. Moreover, we must be sure to avail ourselves of every item of equipment provided and not omit any. ‘Our enemies are on every side, and so must our armour be, on the right hand and on the left’.
Finally, Paul adds prayer (verses 18-20), not (probably) because he thinks of prayer as another though unnamed weapon, but because it is to pervade all our spiritual warfare. Equipping ourselves with God’s armour is not a mechanical operation; it is itself an expression of our dependence on God, in other words of prayer. Moreover, it is prayer *in the Spirit*, prompted and guided by him, just as God’s word is ‘the sword of the Spirit’ which he himself employs. Thus Scripture and prayer belong together as the two chief weapons which the Spirit puts into our hands.
Prevailing Christian prayer is wonderfully comprehensive. It has four universals, indicated by the fourfold use of the word ‘all’. We are to pray *at all times (both regularly and constantly), with all prayer and supplication (for it takes many and varied forms), with all perseverance (because we need like good soldiers to keep alert, and neither give up nor fall asleep), making supplication for all the saints* (since the unity of God’s new society, which has been the preoccupation of this whole letter, must be reflected in our prayers). Most Christians pray sometimes, with some prayers and some degree of perseverance, for some of God’s people. But to replace ‘some’ by ‘all’ in each of these expressions would be to introduce us to a new dimension of prayer. It was when Christian ‘perceived the mouth of hell…hard by the wayside in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and saw flame and smoke and heard hideous noises, that ‘he was forced to put up his sword, and betake himself to another weapon, called All-prayer: so he cried in my hearing, “O Lord, I beseech thee,
deliver my soul.”’
Perhaps the most important is the command to stay awake and therefore alert (verse 18). It goes back to the teaching of Jesus himself. He emphasized the need for watchfulness in view of the unexpectedness both of his return (E.g. Mk.13:33ff.; Lk.12.37ff.) and of the onset of temptation (Mk.14:34-38). He seems to have kept repeating the same warning: ‘I say to you, Watch!’ The apostles echoed and extended his admonition. “Be watchful!’ was their general summons to Christian vigilance (1 Cor.16:13; cf. Rev.3:2-3), partly because the devil is always on the prowl like a hungry lion, and false teachers like fierce wolves (1 Pet.5:8; Acts 20:31), and partly lest the Lord’s return should take us unawares (1 Thess.5:1-8; Rev.16:15), but especially because of our tendency to sleep when we should be praying (verse 18; Col.4:2). ‘Watch and pray’, Jesus urged. It was the failure to obey this order which led the apostles into their disastrous disloyalty; similar failure leads to similar disloyalty today. It is by prayer that we wait on the Lord and renew our strength. Without prayer we are much too feeble and flabby to stand against the might of the forces of evil.
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.