Ephesians - Lesson 13

By Curt Niccum

The Spiritual Battle. Ephesians 6:10-20


  1. The student can list two reasons why the standard interpretation of this passage fails.
  2. The student can identify the Old Testament contexts from which Paul draws his armor imagery.
  3. The student can identify the most important human contribution to spiritual warfare.Preparation:
  4. Bibles and pens as needed.
  5. Have prayer leaders and a song leader prepared in advance (see "Application").


Paul now closes his letter. Having argued persuasively that Gentile Christians have power (over the spiritual beings), placement (in the heavenly realms), and purity (through the God of heaven), he closes with a rousing portrayal of the victory that assuredly belongs to them.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Review the course.
    1. Early in this class we noted how Paul divides his letters into two parts, the first half addressing the theological issues (or "why") and the latter half addressing the practical issues (or "what"). Q: Where does the letter of Ephesians divide? A: 4:1 with the phrase "therefore I urge." Q: What is important about this phrase? A: Paul uses it to mark out the most important point(s) in his letters. Q: What is the most important point? A: That they/we walk worthy of the calling.
    2. We also saw that Paul addressed three different issues. Two of these Paul considered misperceptions, a failure by the Gentile Christians to understand what they already had.
      1. Q: What were the two misperceptions? A: The issues of power and placement.
        1. Gentile Christians grew up in a world that added gods and goddesses rather than exclusively serving one or the other. In a world fearful of the spiritual realms, in their view it was better to have more rather than less. Some of those to whom Paul writes failed to recognize the spiritual power that belonged to them through Jesus Christ.
        2. Gentile Christians also grew up in a world that did not associate religion with ethics. They had neither the Jewish scriptures nor morals associated with God's will taught by their parents.
      2. Q: What was the third item - the one that Paul feared would be compromised because of the other two perceived problems in the church? A: Purity. Paul feared that failing to recognize our true power and placement would result in immorality. Paul reminds the Christians that they must imitate God and model themselves after Christ.
      3. Paul discusses the first two issues in chapters one through three. The last he treats in chapters four through six.iv. Paul closes the letter with a call to sobriety in the face of evil times and a message of hope to all those who formerly feared the powers of the spiritual realms. The Ephesians Christians have placement ("clothed inthe Lord" 6:10), power (the armor of God, 6:10-18), and therefore purity(the qualities of God represented by each piece of armor).

Learning Experience:

  1. Perhaps the closing verses of Ephesians constitute the best known passage from this powerful letter. The description of the armor of God and the battle against foes who do not share in flesh and blood has generated a lot of attention and print. Frequently interpreters take this passage as a call to engage in battle those demonic forces arrayed against the Christian. Tales of fear and danger, battles with Satan and his minions, supplement the wording of Paul in many denominational interpretations.
  2. There are reasons, though, to suggest that Paul wishes us to take his powerful closing in a different direction. (If the teacher finds this approach too risky or unusual, most commentaries would provide material for constructing the last class differently.)
    1. First, Paul has gone to great lengths to assure the Ephesians that the power of the resurrection belongs to them. They have been raised with Christ into the heavenly realms above all opposing spiritual forces (2:1-10). Furthermore, the church itself victoriously announces the manifold wisdom of God to these powers (3:10-11). It does not make sense to instill a fear of these unseen spiritual opponents after having argued that Christ rendered them powerless.
    2. Second, the commands seem inappropriate for warfare. Q: In war, what is the goal? For example, in the Iraqi wars, what strategy did the American generals employ? A: To take ground and to do so quickly. In Iraq, the goal was to circumvent the Iraqi forces and plow fast and straight to Baghdad. Q: What types of commands would you associate with warfare? A: Forward march!Attack! Advance! Q: Now, look at the commands given to the spiritual soldiers in verses 11-14. What do you find? A: Stand! Not just once, but four times! (verses 11, 13 [2x - once as "withstand"], and 14). This appears odd as a directive for any army.
    3. Third, the threat of a counteroffensive seems minute. Paul offers no hint of a bloody melee or hand to hand fighting. Q: What is the sole weapon of the enemy that Paul suggests holds potential harm for the church? A: The fiery arrow (6:16). Q: Is the arrow a close distance or a long distance weapon? A:Long distance. So then, does it not seem strange that the only weapon we fear is a stray arrow in a battle so long interpreted as a serious and costly engagement?
      1. Some might argue that the Christian soldier has a sword (the Word of God) and that this is an offensive weapon. The weapon oft translated as "sword" actually describes a large knife. Its role was primarily defensive. Neither the offensive spear nor the longer sword receive any mention by Paul.
      2. Some also like to argue that the armor listed by Paul only protects the front of the body, thus he indicates forward movement and rules out retreat. Although clever, this has nothing to do with ancient armament practices or the context of Ephesians. The armor specified all comes from specific passages in the Old Testament. Although slightly modified to make sense in a Roman environment, the meaning of the armor originates in scripture which, as we shall see, has nothing to do with our movement and everything to do with God's action.
    4. Fourth, Paul specifies no footwear. The feet lack a protective covering and material to offer traction in a forward march or charge. Instead they are to be ready to proclaim the gospel of peace (v. 15). In a military context, the Greek word translated "gospel" referred to the "good news" of victory.
      1. In fact, the story behind the origin of the marathon illustrates this. An ancient army contained runners who were entrusted with passing on the news of victory or defeat to the next level of defense. When theGreeks won the battle at Marathon, the runner ran twenty-six miles to announce the decisive victory to the people of Athens (where he died of exhaustion). In light of this context and the repeated commands to stay put, we can see that our feet remain idle during battle. Instead they should be ready to announce God's victory!
      2. This also parallels to some extent Christ's own activity described in 2:17. Christ won the victory and then proclaimed the "good news of peace."
    5. Finally, the armor does not belong to us. Q: To whom does the armor belong? A: God!
  3. It is God's armor, and this changes everything!
    1. The Old Testament passages from which Paul collects his material reveal this.
      1. Read Isaiah 11:1-5. Q: Who fights the battle? A: Christ. Q: Is there any mention of outside help? A: NO!
      2. Read Isaiah 52:7-10. Q: Who fights the battle? A: Christ. Q: Is there any mention of outside help? A: NO! "The LORD has bared his holy arm."
      3. Read Isaiah 59:15-19. Q: Who fights the battle? A: Christ. Q: Is there any mention of outside help? A: NO! "His own arm brought him victory."
      4. Note that this same pattern of God fighting the battle without external aid recurs throughout biblical history. It extends from the Exodus to the appearance of the rider on the white horse who alone gets splattered with the enemies' blood as his army follows dressed in wedding clothes (Revelation 19:11-14). The battle belongs to the Lord.
    2. Several other observations should be made with regard to God's armor.
      1. First, the characteristics the armor represents are God's. My own truth, righteousness, faithfulness, salvation, Spirit, and Word do not save me. They are God's. Through God's grace I am clothed with Christ and armed with God. As Paul has shown throughout this letter, but especially in 4:1-6:9, God has empowered me to live as He lives.
      2. Second, this is a group activity. Paul gives all instructions in the second person plural. A good Texan translation would incorporate"Y'all" into this passage. The mention of the shield of faith portrays this particularly well. The Roman legions carried shields nearly body size. They were covered with leather and dipped in water to help limit the damage of fiery arrows. The legion as a whole, though, when under attack lifted their shields above their head creating a huge umbrella, a barrier of protection for the entire group. Again, for Paul,the Christian life cannot be lived in solitude.
      3. Finally, note that Paul provides no piece of equipment analogous to prayer. Additionally, ten "p" sounds occur in 6:18 drawing special attention to its content. The implication is that the only real offensive action taken by the church is going to its knees in prayer (3:14).
  4. If this interpretation is correct, Paul encourages the Ephesians with a message of hope. You need not fear those unseen spiritual forces for the only one capable of battling and defeating them is on your side. You just stand right there! Stay put. Do not move! Just watch God win the battle and you be prepared to proclaim the ultimate victory.
    1. This does not mean that Christians remain unaffected. Stray arrows may come, but God has decked us out in his own armor.
    2. In terms of the battle, Paul indicates that our own skirmishes get played out, not in the unseen spiritual realms, but in those daily decisions placed before us. I win a battle every time I treat my spouse the way I should. I win a battle when I nurture my children in the Lord. I win a battle when I speak the truth in love. I win a battle when I do not use my computer for sexual gratification. I win a battle when I say only those things which encourage and uplift others. For those moments which occur everyday, we are not abandoned to our own defenses. We have the truth, righteousness, faithfulness, salvation, Spirit, andWord of God.
    3.  Above all pray!


  1. 1.The Book of Ephesians ends on a positive note and so should the class. A time of worship would be most appropriate.
    1. Sing "The Battle Belongs to the Lord."
    2. 2. Prayers should be offered. Prayers of thanks to God. Prayers for the saints around the world who stand for God and against Satan. Prayers for those preaching the Word as ambassadors of God's Kingdom.

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