TRANSLATION OF THE LETTER TO EPHESIANS WITH COMMENT
EPHESIANS 6: 10 ff
Finally, keep growing stronger in the master and in his mighty power. Put on the complete armour of God, so that you are able to withstand the tricks of the devil. For our wrestling bout is not against flesh and blood opponents but against the rulers and powers who are the world commanders of this darkness, against spirits of evil in the heavens. So take up the complete armour of God, so that you will be able to stand your ground in the day of evil, and when you have fought to a finish, to stand.
Stand then, with truth as a belt around your waist and justice as a breastplate, your feet shod with readiness to announce the joyful news of peace. In the midst of all this, take up the shield of faithfulness with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And pick up the helmet of rescue and the sword of the spirit, which is God’s utterance.
In all your prayers and petitions keep on praying in the spirit on every occasion; and stay awake so that you can offer unremitting requests for all the holy people – and for me, that I may be given a message when I open my mouth, so that with bold speech I may make known the secret truth of the joyful news, of which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may speak with complete freedom in that task, as I should.
The victorious Jesus, by Piero della Francesca
This passage is the climax of the letter, since it reveals why the author has emphasised the unity of the assembly with the risen Jesus, in the heavenly sphere. Although the assembly lives in the present world, it shares in Jesus the powers of the world to come. Therefore it can do battle with the evil spiritual powers which control the “present darkness.” These do not rule the whole world but can be resisted by those who are able to do so. The author does not identify what we would call global cross-cultural forces. The book of The Revelation identifies the Roman Empire as one of them, so we can see that this language points to political, economic and cultural influences, which we regard as real and which are very difficult to oppose.
That’s why the author recommends the armour of God. This is the armour God wears and uses, in his own battle against evil. The sources of this metaphor are in the Old Testament in its Catholic form, as follows: Wisdom 5:18; Isaiah 11:5; 40:3;52:7; 59:17. These variously depict God using his armour and weapons. In spite of the military nature of the metaphor, God is not violent, but is effective. These are not just weapons God gives to his people, but primarily weapons that God uses. So for example when we see the shield of pistis, we should translate “faithfulness” rather than “faith,” for the latter is not an attribute of God. Because the assembly shares God’s life it can share his armour: truth and justice which are defence against the fake news of the enemy; God’s shoes are there to speed his announcement of joyful news; the shield is God’s faithfulness to his people; the helmet is God’s rescue of his people from their enemies. For attack God uses his speech, as Isaiah says, “God slays them with the rod of his mouth”- his/her wise judgements destroy the enemy. These are the armaments which God lends his people as they fight his jihad against the powers of darkness. Indeed the Qur’an defines jihad in a similar way.
Prayer is depicted as necessary in this holy warfare because it maintains the relationship between God and his people. The assembly of Jesus does not fight in its own strength or with its own weapons. Martin Luther based his great hymn “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” on this passage as well as on various psalms, but he goes even further than Ephesians does:
With force of arms we nothing can;
Full soon we were down-ridden;
But for us fights the Proper Man
Whom God Himself hath bidden.
Ask ye, who is this same?
Christ Jesus is his name
The Lord Sabaoth’s Son.
He and no other one
Shall conquer in the battle.
Terrible sins have been committed when the church used force against its perceived enemies that brought all militancy into disrepute. But the biblical witness sees it as actively engaged against the powers of evil in the world, recognising that it is not fighting against flesh and blood. It is still called to spiritual warfare, led by the Proper Man, Jesus.