Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Putting on God’s Whole Armor …. in Context

     In 21st-century western societies we tend to take for granted that God’s word is so readily available. Most of us own at least one copy of the Bible, and many have access to multiple copies. We can read and study and learn from the scriptures whenever we want!
     But what if we lived at a time and place where the written word of God was not as easily accessible? What would it have been like to be part of a Christian community in the 1st-century Greco-Roman world, receiving for the first time an inspired document from an apostolic representative of Jesus Christ? What if we were among the disciples living in the ancient city of Ephesus? Would the NT epistle Paul sends to this church be viewed, understood, and applied any differently than it is today?
Historical Background1
     It was around spring of the year 50 that Paul and his companions planned to take the gospel into the Roman province of Asia (modern-day western Turkey), but the Holy Spirit didn’t allow it at this time (Acts 16:6). Two years later (ca. spring 52) the apostle makes a brief visit to Asia, to the principal city of Ephesus, leaving Aquila and Priscilla to initiate the work while he promises, “I will return again to you, God willing” (Acts 18:19-21 NKJV).    
     Several months afterwards (late spring/early summer 53) he does return to Ephesus and spends the next three years helping to establish the Lord’s church in this great city (Acts 19:1, 8, 10; 20:31). From here Paul composes 1 Corinthians (cf. 16:8), wherein he writes: “The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (16:19).
     Paul departs from Ephesus in early summer 56 (cf. 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:3-8), and several months later (spring 57) he meets with the elders of the Ephesus church in Miletus (Acts 20:17-38). Here he reminds them of his recent labors and teachings (vv. 18-27) and issues stern warnings and exhortations (vv. 28-35), followed by an emotional scene of praying, embracing, tears, and goodbyes (vv. 36-38). In the biblical record they have no more communication with each other until Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is delivered via Tychicus about five years later.
The Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians2
     At the time of writing Paul is incarcerated (Eph. 3:1, 13; 4:1; 6:20). Since his last face-to-face meeting with these disciples, he has endured multiple near-death experiences, imprisonment in Caesarea for a couple of years, and has been taken to Rome where he spends another two years confined to house arrest (Acts 21:1–28:30). 
     The apostle addresses his correspondence to “the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1).His letter is intended for all the Ephesian saints [sanctified ones] as a whole, presumably comprising a small house church (as in 1 Cor. 16:19). Each member did not possess his/her own exclusive copy of the manuscript; rather it would have been read publicly (no doubt multiple times) to the entire assembly.
     Let me challenge us for a moment to remove ourselves from the modern, westernized mentality of reading our own private copy of the letter in English translation during a quiet time of devotion or study. While it has become customary for us to interpret the message as individuals and then make personal application, in all likelihood this is not what Paul had in mind when he first penned the document, and it is certainly not how the original audience would have received it.
     Note the 1st person plurals (“we,” “us,” “our”), applicable to all the readers collectively (Eph. 1:3-14, 19; 2:3-7, 10, 14, 18; 3:12, 20; 4:13-14, 25; 5:2, 20, 30; 6:12, 24). Moreover, the 2nd person pronoun “you” in reference to the reading audience is plural throughout. The epistle places much emphasis on “the church” as a whole (1:18, 22-23; 2:16, 19-22; 3:6, 10, 15, 18, 21; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:3, 23-32; 6:18), as well as “one another” (4:2, 25, 32; 5:19, 21). Even the directives to husbands, wives, children, bondservants, and masters (5:22–6:9) are in the context of a communal house church.
Putting on the Whole Armor of God
     The message of Eph. 6:10-18 was unambiguous when it was first communicated in koinē Greek in its original setting. Nevertheless, it has the potential of being obscured when read in English translation in the context of a modern, individualistic society. Ambiguity occurs because the 2nd-person pronoun “you” in English can either be singular or plural, depending on whether an individual or multiple persons are in view. When one reads this paragraph as a 21st-century, English-speaking westerner, one is inclined to ask, “What is this text saying to me, and how does it apply to my life?” In other words, the “you” tends to be interpreted as a singular (= “me”), but in so doing the point is obscured.
     Paul actually uses the 2nd-person plural form of address as he directs this admonition to a collectivity of believers. Here is how it would have sounded to those who first heard it:4
Finally, my brethren, [you all] be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. [You all] Put on the whole armor of God, that you [all] may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore [you all] take up the whole armor of God, that you [all] may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. [You all] Stand therefore, having girded [you all’s] waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod [the] feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you [all] will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And [you all] take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints
     While each of us faces his/her own spiritual battles, this passage is talking about the spiritual warfare we all face together (cf. 2 Cor. 10:4-6; 1 Thess. 5:8-11). Everyone is to prepare, participate, and fight, but we do so in a collaborative effort. Notice that when the “whole armor of God” is itemized, there is no protective gear for the back. Apparently we are to watch one another’s backs, understanding that no provision has been made for surrender or retreat.
     If I am a young or weak Christian and my shield of faith is the size of a postage stamp, I need to stand alongside the sound, mature, faithful brothers and sisters whose shields are bigger and stronger. If I have been dutifully engaged in Christ’s service for an extended period of time, I ought to be looking out for my fellow soldiers who may be struggling more than I. Christianity is not designed as a personal religion to be experienced independently and privately (cf. Eph. 4:2, 25, 32; 5:19, 21). We are part of a spiritual family, members of one body, joint-citizens of a heavenly kingdom, and fellow-soldiers fighting side-by-side in a spiritual conflict as the cohesive army of God.
     Very few in this world have a legitimate excuse for not being actively involved in a local congregation of the Lord’s people. Instead of sitting back waiting to be asked to serve or waiting to be served, everyone needs to be looking for opportunities of service, to volunteer, and to take initiative. Together we can be strong in the Lord as we take up and put on God’s whole armor, standing in truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, and salvation, collectively wielding the Spirit’s sword as we pray and persevere for (and with) all the saints.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 For chronological details, see K. L. Moore, A Critical Introduction to the NT 42-44, 154-74.
     2 On questions of authorship and destination, see Authorship of Ephesians, and Ephesians: Why So Impersonal? 
     3 Ephesus at this time was the third largest city in Roman Asia Minor, a prosperous commercial center, and the home of the magnificent temple of the goddess Diana/Artemis (cf. Acts 19:24-35).
     4 This is my own New King James Southern USA Revised version. Words added for clarification are in [square brackets], with emphasis added in bold type.

Related PostsPaul's Prison Epistles

Related articles: Art Heinz's Selfishness of Skipping Church; Wayne Holland's What am I Worth to the Church?


Image credit: http://www.hexapolis.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Animated_Visualization_Roman_Army_Organization-770x437.jpg

4 comments:

  1. Undoubtedly Paul and any of his readers who were familiar with the OT also had Isaiah 59:17 in mind when considering this text.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow! Wonderful, Kevin! Thank you for sharing!!! I needed this!!! :)

    Ken

    ReplyDelete
  3. FALSE TV PREACHERS BY STEVE FINNELL

    If you are looking for spiritual guidance by watching TV preachers you are more than likely being deceived. Example Charles Stanley.

    Charles Stanley Quote: Now, I don’t know about you, but I have learned that a present that can be taken back is not really a gift at all. True gifts have no strings attached. Once we place a condition of any kind on a present, it becomes a trade—not a gift. So to say that our salvation can be taken from us for any reason, whether it be sin or disbelief, is to ignore the plain meaning of what Paul teaches us in the verse above. Questioning the permanency of our salvation is equivalent to not believing Ephesians 2:8-9 or the other passages where what Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is clearly described as a gift.

    Charles Stanley says neither sin nor disbelief will cause us to lose our salvation. The Bible teaches something different.

    Hebrews 3:12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; (NKJV)

    Contrary to what Charles Stanley says, unbelief can cause Christians to depart from God.

    Hebrews 10:26-31 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgement, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment,, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot. counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing , and insulted the Spirit of grace?.....31 It is a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God.(NKJV) [Also see:Hebrews 6:4-6]

    Christians who fall into unbelief are not once saved always saved.

    Charles Stanley says sin cannot cause Christians to lose their salvation. God says something different.

    God says Christians who live an unrepentant sinful lifestyle will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are:adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in past times, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (NKJV)

    God says Christians who live unrepentant lives will not inherit the kingdom of God. Charles Stanley disagrees.[Also see:1 Corinthians 6:8-11 and Ephesians 5:1-6]

    If you are looking to a preacher for spiritual guidance a rule of thumb is to not look to preachers who deny that water baptism is essential for salvation.

    Charles Stanley Quote:
    Baptism allows us to demonstrate our connection with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We're all members of one body under the authority of the same Lord. But it's important to remember that Ephesians 2:8-9 says faith in Jesus Christ is the only requirement for salvation, not baptism. But, to fulfill His command, we're to be baptized following our decision to accept Him into our lives.


    Charles Stanley says water baptism is not essential for salvation. Jesus said that baptism is essential. Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved..(NKJV)

    Charles Stanley says that that Ephesians 2:8-9 says that the only requirement for salvation is faith, not baptism. Ephesians 2:8-9 does not say "only" nor does it say baptism is not required.

    Charles Stanley says neither sin nor disbelief can cause a Christians to lose their salvation. He says water baptism is not essential for salvation. Do you really want to use a TV preacher who says those things as your spiritual guide???????

    YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On a historical note, Eph. 2:8-9 is addressed to folks who had already been baptized (1:1; 4:5, 20-24; cf. Rom. 6:3-18), some of whom TWICE! (Acts 19:1-5)

      Delete