22 August 2011

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power." (v. 10)


'What not to wear' was the tagline of two television fashionistas. They would offer advice to people who needed to know what to wear on occasions such as an office party or a family wedding. The subject of today's passage is what to wear, and since armoury is advised, we might ask who is fighting whom and why?

The author of the letter believes that Christians in Ephesus are in conflict with supernatural powers. These forces put Jesus on the cross but he triumphed over them when he rose from the dead. The message of Jesus, and the people who follow him, are perceived to be a continuing threat. Therefore, the powers are striking back by opposing the message and by distracting, discouraging and tempting Christians (Ephesians 4:17 - 5:20).

The Ephesians are urged to hold out against attack. They are to dress for battle. A belt, breastplate, shoes, shield and helmet are defensive weapons which keep the wearer safe when they are attacked. The sword is the only offensive weapon mentioned. The writer believes the truth of the gospel is like a belt which holds everything else in place. Justice is the breastplate which protects us against frontal attack. Here, justice is more than a virtue; it is the relationship with God made possible by Jesus ('justification'). The message of peace, peace between God and humanity, and between peoples previously at odds with one another, is the footwear that will keep us upright. Faith is the shield which keeps us loyal to Jesus and protects us from "flaming arrows" (v. 16) such as despair, pride or arrogance. Salvation is the helmet to remind us that we have already been saved by Jesus. Finally, "the sword of the Spirit" (v. 17) is the word of God. This is the message of Jesus previously mentioned in Ephesians 5:26. It has the power to transform lives.

All this armour requires something else: prayer. The letter began with a prayer (Ephesians 1:15-22), then there is a report of the writer's prayers for the Ephesians (Ephesians 3:14-21), and now he urges them to pray too. He particularly asks for their prayers for him as he preaches the message of Jesus from a prison cell.

To Ponder

In The Screwtape Letters, C S Lewis says that people either ignore the forces of evil altogether, or they take an unhealthy interest in them. Do you agree? What might the consequences of either stance be?

Do you pray? If so, how? If not, why not?

Bible notes author: The Revd Caroline Ainger

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