Ephesians 6

Let us briefly look at the relations of children and fathers, as well as of servants and masters. Here, obedience is the grand point pressed on the inferior in each case. As all saints are called to submit themselves one to another in the fear of Christ, and wives especially to their own husbands, subject to them in every thing, so children are to obey their parents in the Lord. (Ver. 1.) It is not that the Holy Ghost has not a suited and a serious word for their fathers; but, in general, how easy is the flow of a christian household where the young obey — above all, where they “obey in the Lord.” Natural affection is sweet, and the lack of it is a sign of the perilous last days; but it is not enough; nor is conscience, all-important as it is in its place, an adequate guard, nor can it be a spring of power; but the Lord is. And how blessed, where duty is clothed with and absorbed in Him! This, and nothing less than this, is pressed by the Holy Ghost.

It was so with the Lord Himself when He was here, and knew what it was to be in the place of a child. “And the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon him.” Nor are we left to a vague, general statement; we are shown a living picture of His ways. “And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” Thus, He, even as a child of twelve, had the consciousness of His own proper relationship. The. humanity He had taken, as born of a woman, in no way weakened the sense He had of His Father’s love and business, but rather gave a new occasion in which He had to make it good. At the same time, we see what is so beautiful — how His eye, absolutely single, saw that which became Him on the earthly side, in striking contrast with Joseph and even His mother, who “understood not the saying which he spake unto them.” Hence we read immediately after that, “He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” Such was Jesus, the Lord of all, during much the larger part of His earthly career.

The same principle is true of the christian child; save that Christ’s relationship to the Father was essential, ours to Him and to His Father is, of course, the pure gift of grace. But still we, too, are children, conferred on us as the title surely is in and through our Lord Jesus. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God . . . . . Beloved, now are we the sons of God.” And this, by the working of the Holy Ghost, is the secret of happy obedience in the earthly relationship. Conscious of what we are to the Lord, we can obey in Him. “In the Lord” is both the encouragement, the safeguard, and the limit. The parents might be Jew or heathen, or they might bear unworthily the name of Christ; but christian children (while thoroughly owning their relation to their parents, whatever they might be) have the sweet privilege of obeying “in the Lord.” How it simplifies questions otherwise perplexing! How it determines also where and how far one ought to go! For if they are to obey “in the Lord,” such a call cannot rightly be made a reason or excuse for sin.

In the Epistle to the Colossians, where the saints were in danger from a misuse of legal ordinances, the ground urged why children should obey their parents in all things, is “For this is well-pleasing unto the Lord.” Here the faithful were free from that snare, and the Holy Ghost could freely use a principle embodied in the law, and hence adds “for this is right,” or just. Nay, He can follow it up with a quotation, slightly changed from the decalogue, drawing attention parenthetically to its special place therein. “Honour thy father and mother, which is the first commandment with promise, that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest be long-lived on the earth.” (Ver. 2, 3.) If such was God’s estimate of filial piety under law, was it less now that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ unfolds His nature and calls us to the relationship of sons unto Himself? If respect to that word of old found its approval and recompense in the righteous government of God, if He then watched over and prospered such as honoured their parents, did the revelation of Himself in grace relax the obligation for His children, or make the love that prompts and sustains such honour less precious in His own eyes now? No intelligent Christian would contend that it is other than a precept from the law, but so applied as to insinuate, if I mistake not, a kind of à fortiori conclusion to the New Testament believer. Certainly, to be well and live long on the earth is not the form in which the proper portion of a saint, since the cross of Christ) is usually set before him.

To the fathers is the admonition (more needed by such than the mothers, perhaps, though in principle no doubt intended for both), “Provoke not your children to wrath; but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ver. 4.) What knowledge of the heart of both old and young! What tender consideration, after the pressure of obedience, lest a too stringent and capricious use of the parental authority might exasperate! The bringing them up, or nourishing, is, on the other hand, to be with the Lord’s discipline and admonition. As the Christian knows His ways, as they are in exercise toward himself and others, so is he to train up his children for Him — an all-important principle for the parent’s own heart and conscience. Do we desire the Lord alone for them, or the world too?

Next (ver. 5-8), the christian slaves are exhorted to obey their masters according to the flesh (such they were, whether converted or not), to obey them with fear and trembling, in singleness of their heart, as to Christ; not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the soul, with goodwill doing service as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each doeth, this he shall receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. Is it not worthy of all note the extent and depth of the liberty that is in Christ? There is nothing violent or revolutionary; and yet the change is complete, absolute, final in its principle and character, though one has to grow in the appreciation and manifestation of it. And this growth is important morally, being part and parcel of Christianity practically viewed, where the very first blessing which God’s grace bestows upon us in Christ appears not save to faith, has to be realized all through in the power of the Spirit through self-judgment, and is only ours in actual possession and display when that which is perfect is come in resurrection-glory. Still, how blessed, that if in one sense we have nothing, in another and just as real a sense we possess all things. On this truth faith has to lay hold and act; and among the rest, what a boon to the christian bondman! What a mighty motive for him, who, already consciously free in Christ in a liberty entirely superior to circumstances, has for that very reason such a scope for triumphing over his fetters and serving Christ in obeying the worst of masters if it were the Lord’s will so to try him! Doubtless, the master too has his duties; but if he fail, what then? Is the slave absolved from his responsibility? How can this ever be a difficulty, if he obeys in simplicity as unto Christ? Does He fail? What a deliverance from every shade of dishonesty! — “not with eye-service as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ [how honourable the title which one shares with an apostle!], doing the will of God from the soul;” for such is the true word here. More than this: not only is there the call with goodwill to do service as to the Lord and not to men, but they are reminded that the day was coming when each, whether bond or free, should receive of the Lord for whatever good he might do. Ample wages then, be assured; for He, at least, is not unrighteous.

Then, in turn (ver. 9), the masters are called to impartial equity, doing as they would be done by, and abstaining from the threats so natural toward a poor slave. They were to know that the Lord both of masters and slaves was in the heavens, and that no respect of persons is with Him: — both of them weighty considerations for a master, and, with delicate propriety, laid before him rather than the slave.

We now enter on the final exhortations of the epistle, no longer occupied with the several relationships of the saints in their earthly circumstances, and hence looking at distinct classes, but addressed to all. “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” It is the opening of the solemn subject of proper christian conflict, viewed, naturally in Ephesians, as carried on at the height of our heavenly privileges in Christ. In 1 Peter the scene lies, so to speak, in the wilderness, where, most appropriately, sobriety and vigilance are enjoined on the pilgrims and strangers who pass onward to the incorruptible inheritance; because their adversary, the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour. Here the enemy is regarded as on high, where the saints are blessed with every spiritual blessing, where their Head is exalted, where they are seated in Him, where the principalities and powers are learning by them the manifold wisdom of God; there, too, is the real struggle with the prince of the power of the air and his hosts.

But if, on the one hand, there is no keeping back from the believers the formidable conflict to which they are inevitably committed, there is, on the other hand, no weakening of their hands. On the contrary, the trumpet, which here summons to the battle, gives the most certain sounds of good courage, without presumption, in the saints, and of the amplest provision for their victory in the Lord, who has called them to warfare at His charges. What was His name by faith in His name to him that was lame from his mother’s womb, whom they laid for daily alms at the gate of the temple? Is it less for our need? Far be the thought. All that is needed is the faith which is by Him; and faith comes by a report and this by God’s word; and what more inspiriting to us than such words as these, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might?”

Nevertheless, the mighty contest with the powers of darkness admits of no negligence on our part. We cannot afford to be unguarded anywhere. We have to stand, not so much against the strength of the devil (Christ did this) as against his wiles. In truth, he is to us a vanquished foe in the cross; and we are entitled always to treat him as such. Therefore, says James, (James 4:7), “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” It is his artifices that are chiefly and always to be dreaded; and to resist these we need to put on the panoply of God, as it is added here: “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.”

Well might we tremble if we stood in any resources of ours against such an array. But it is not so. The battle is the Lord’s and our exposure but draws out His mighty hand and unfailing wisdom. Still we have to fight. It will not do to plead our weakness or His strength in order to shirk our responsibility. We must not merely look at, or point to, the panoply of God as our possession, so to speak, but must put it on at His bidding.

Another thing must be borne in mind. It is no question here of our wants before God. For He has no conflict with us; but having delivered our souls, He calls us to wrestle for the mastery with the unseen armies of His enemy. As naked in our lost estate once, we needed to be clothed; and His grace did clothe us with the best robe, with Christ. This is our clothing as before God: nothing less, nothing else, would suit His presence as His guests. But here it is a question of fighting the enemy, after we are clad with Christ; and we needed armour of divine tempering to stand aright and securely. On the details of this armour we shall enter by and by; it is only on the general truth that I would insist now.

How remarkably we are here reminded of Joshua in verse 10, and Israel’s foes in verse 12! To Joshua the word was, “Arise, go over this Jordan, thou and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses . . . . . There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous.” (Joshua 1. Compare also verses 9, 18.) Again, it is clear that if the Canaanites were but enemies of flesh and blood, they are types of the still deadlier foes we have to fight — foes whose effort it is to hinder the Christian from taking possession, in present enjoyment, of his heavenly inheritance.

It is not here, note it well, the Red Sea crossed, and then the desert, where we have to learn what God is and to be proved ourselves. The wilderness is the great scene of temptation; though, no doubt, there are occasional battles, as with Amalek and with Midian, still it is the place where we have to go or stay at God’s bidding, in need of daily, heaven-sent supplies, where there is nothing else to sustain, ever marching onward with the heavenly land before us. But the wrestling here, as in the Book of Joshua, supposes the passage of the Jordan and entrance into Canaan, where the day of conflict begins, rather than that of temptation in the wilderness.

Is the evangelical school right in making Jordan to be the act of death at the end of our career when the saint departs to be with Christ? Clearly not; for in this case what would answer to the wars in Canaan? No! excellent as Bunyan was, in this he was mistaken, following the mistakes of others before him and perpetuating them far and wide to this day. Indeed, this is one of the tests of where the soul is and how far it is emancipated from traditional theology, which limits its disciples to a minimum of truth. Elsewhere, as for instance in their use of the Passover and Red Sea, there is defectiveness; here there is absolutely nothing, or error. And this I say, singling out the author of “Pilgrim’s Progress” as a noble and most advanced specimen of popular views. The best of their day in the religious world are but his commentators — some of them literally so. Can there be a better proof how completely the gist of this epistle is ignored? The truth is that in the Red Sea we have Christ dead and risen for us; in Jordan, we have our death and resurrection with Him: the one ushering us into the world as the dreary waste of our pilgrimage, the other putting us in view of our heavenly blessing, which we have then to appropriate by victory over Satan. The distinction is as clear as it is important, though both are true of the Christian now. When the glorious day comes for the inheritance to be ours, not by the force of faith which thus in practice defeats the enemy and makes good the land God has given us, we shall not have to wrestle with these principalities and powers in heavenly places: the conflict will be closed for us and for ever. The expulsion of the dragon, “that old serpent,” is not our work, but that of Michael and his angels. With overcoming him we have to do, but not with his forcible ejection from heaven. All the time the Church is here below, our conflict goes on with these spiritual wickednesses in heavenly places; when the actual casting out by God’s providential power takes place, we shall not be here, but above.

After the Passover and the Red Sea there was no return of Israel to the slavery of Pharaoh; their taskmasters were overthrown and gone; “there remained not so much as one of them.” “The Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptian, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead upon the sea shore.” But circumcision did not characterize the redeemed in the wilderness. No sooner were the children on the Canaanitish side of Jordan than they rolled away the reproach of Egypt at Gilgal. The knife of circumcision was applied to deal with Israel before they draw the sword on the doomed inhabitants of Canaan. They were in Canaan and had nothing more to do to get there: their work was to make the land their own.

Has this no instruction for us? Have we consciously laid hold of our union with Christ on high? Do we know our place is there in Him, and that we have there to stand? Is nature, root and branch, a judged thing in us? Do we render a heavenly testimony — not only righteous and holy, but heavenly? Are we then and thus advancing on the enemy and making good our title by present victory to enjoy the boundless blessings above which we have in Christ? Or are we still, as far as realization goes, ransomed, but in the wilderness, with Jordan uncrossed and the old corn of the land for us untouched food? Are we merely guarding against the flesh breaking out here or there, against worldly temptations overtaking us in this or that? If so, need we wonder that verse 12 sounds mysterious, and that we question what is meant by the wrestling with the enemies in heavenly places? It was probably the total misapprehension, or non-apprehension, of the truth here revealed, which led our English translators into the unwarrantable change of heavenly into “high” places in this passage only. It behoves ourselves, however, to consider whether our own souls have proved and are proving the panoply of God in this conflict, where, above all, it is plain that “the flesh profiteth nothing.”

In these verses, after a prefatory resumption, we come to the particulars of the Christian’s armour. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,” etc. (Ver. 13-17.)

The first thing to be noticed is that the Holy Spirit calls on us to take up the panoply of God. Neither strength nor wisdom of man avail in this conflict. As we have to do with the hosts of Satan on the one hand, we need on the other “the whole armour of God.” Our natural character and habits may not signify, where the Spirit of God is at work to save our souls in His grace; but they are of vast moment in presence of a foe who knows how to take advantage of every unguarded opening. Even to those at Corinth, carnal as they were, and only fit to bear the food of babes (not the solid meat which is set before the Ephesian saints), he had shown that, walking in flesh, we do not war according to flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but divinely mighty to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down reasonings and every high thing that lifts itself up against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Not flesh, but the Spirit of God has power against Satan.

Here, too, the character of the time in which the conflict goes on is designated as “the evil-day.” Evil indeed is the entire period since Christ was crucified and the enemy acquired the title of “the prince of this world.” Hence, in chapter 5, we are expected to walk with carefulness, not as fools but as wise, seizing every good and suited opportunity, because “the days are evil.” But here we have something more precise, “that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day.” For there are occasions when the power of evil is allowed to press more closely and the danger is great for the careless soul. It is emphatically then “the evil day;” and it is well when the Christian has anticipated it; for the point at such a time is not to take up the panoply, but, having already taken it, “to withstand.” “The evil day” should find us already and fully armed, if we are to make effectual resistance. Nor is this enough. For how often the victory of faith is too great for the faith that won it, and a saint who has long and afresh vanquished the enemy, may tire of the struggle and turn aside into a seemingly easier path, to prove his own folly, and his exceeding danger, even if in the end delivered by the pure mercy of God! To resist, then, does not suffice, but “having done all,” having thoroughly accomplished all things requisite, “to stand.” The fight — the fights — may have been keen, the victory complete through the Lord’s goodness and might; but the war is not over. Our place is still to stand our ground.

“Stand, therefore, having girt your loins about with truth, and put on the breastplate of righteousness, and shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” I have changed the English Version slightly, so as to adhere more closely to the true sense, which supposes not only a settled position, but the soul in activity according to the summons of the Holy Ghost. Much mischief has arisen from regarding this passage as if it treated of standing, whereas, in truth, it is essentially different. It is practical arming and conflict, founded on the most blessed standing anywhere revealed in the New Testament, and suitably closing the epistle which reveals it.

To know the truth and be set free by the truth is one thing; to have girt about our loins with truth is another. It is the intimate dealing of truth with the soul, so that there is no laxity of heart or indulged will, but, on the contrary, the affections and judgment braced up to Christ and the things of Christ. Thus the saint cleaves to the Lord with full purpose of heart; and, self being searched and judged by the truth, there is vigour imparted through the revelation of His mind and grace, which are now more than ever enjoyed. It is the power of truth in keeping the soul, delivered in God’s rich mercy, and too thankful to be under an authority so comprehensive and penetrating and absolute, as to leave nothing, let it be ever so inward, outside the range of God’s will and the saint’s obedience. To bear and delight in this, however, assumes that the heart is established in grace; it can then welcome the truth in all its energetic claim and control.

Next follows “the breastplate of righteousness” put on. This is quite distinct from the righteousness of God, which we are made in Christ. The latter we need before God; the former we want for successful wrestling with our adversary the devil. As the Spirit, in the girding round our loins with truth, shows the first piece of armour to be the thorough application of the word to us in self-judgment, and, withal, in moral energy, so the next demanded is that we put on practical righteousness as our breastplate. Nothing exposes a saint in conflict more readily than a bad conscience in his ways. I do not mean a conscience unpurged, but where evil, after the knowledge of redemption, has been allowed and communion is broken.

Connected with this is the having “the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This, again, is evidently a matter of practical power and enjoyment, the effect of maintaining a good conscience, as the latter can only be where all is held and guarded by the truth. Then the soul goes on in peace. “The fruit of righteousness,” as another apostle says, “is sown in peace of them that make peace.” Where there is laxity, the conscience gets bad; and the result is trouble, and making trouble; where truth governs, the conscience is kept bright, and, happy ourselves, we shed happiness around us.

Verse 16 introduces another and quite as necessary a part of the divine armour, but, doubtless, justly put subsequent to what we have seen. “Above [or, beside] all, having taken up the shield of faith with which ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” This means that confidence in God Himself which the soul is entitled and encouraged to cherish: I say, in Himself, because, though inseparable from the godly and righteous state the previous portions of the panoply intimate, it is a confidence springing only from what God is known to be in His own nature and character. All the envenomed efforts of the wicked one are futile where God is thus known in the power of the Holy Ghost ungrieved within us; all his darts not only fail to produce despair and distrust, but they are extinguished by the shield of faith.

But there is more (ver. 17): “and receive the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.” The shield of faith is more general confidence; the helmet of salvation is rather the bold and joyful consciousness of the full deliverance God has wrought for us in Christ. This crowns the various parts of the armour already noticed, and is therefore followed, not by further means of defence (for it is complete), but by the instrument of offensive energy against the adversary, the sword of the Spirit, even God’s word. How wisely it is thus placed in the last place of all, will be apparent to the instructed mind! Indeed, if there be not this order known practically, the word is made a mere toy of, or perhaps a scourge for self, rather than to have the character of the sword of the Spirit; it is misused and powerless. Handled in the Spirit, what deliverance it works! What disabling of adversaries and what a detector of Satan! It is for conflict.

We have had the details of the panoply of God, active energy following that which pertains to the state, practical security and the confidence of the soul. But there is a hidden spring of power without which nothing avails — the expression of weakness, strange to say, but of weakness in dependence on God. Hence the word is, “praying always with all prayer” — praying at every season. There is nothing the enemy more dreads, nothing that flesh more seeks to hinder, or to make amiss if there be the form. But so much the more need we to bear in mind the call to habitual and complete dependence.

Besides, there is the exercise of spiritual desires, and not dependence only; as it is said by our Lord elsewhere, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” (John 14, 15) In a word, there is encouragement and exhortation to every kind of prayer and at every opportunity, while there is also that character of petition which is sustained in the power of the Holy Ghost, “supplication in the Spirit,” which all prayer of the saints is not.

Another weighty word is the call to “watch unto this very thing;” for this supposes the activity of love which is quick to discern in the fear of the Lord and in the bowels of Christ that which might tarnish His glory on the one hand, and on the other whatever would contribute to the exaltation of His name in His saints and testimony. What a deliverance this is, not only from self-will, but from anxiety and from self-importance! And what a field for gracious affections to turn everything of good or ill into occasions of intercourse with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to turn all — otherwise transient, or food for gossip — into channels of everlasting blessing! How wise and good is every word of our God! May the thing itself, as well as His word about it, be precious in our eyes! Where this is so, there will be watching in the habit of prayer, “with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” For where God’s presence is thus realized, there is no straitness in the affections, but love goes out energetically to Him and in communion with Him concerning all the saints. It is the service of love before Him who is love. But as having at heart the interests of Christ, there is the special remembrance of such as gather with Christ. So here the apostle speaks of their supplication on behalf of himself; and, as it appears, with a link of greater energy than that which spread desires about the saints before the Lord — “and for me” (not merely περὶ, but ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ, as indicating particularity among the general objects of the action), “that utterance may be given unto me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, on behalf of which I am ambassador in chains; that therein I may be bold as I ought to speak.”

It is blessed to find such a practical evidence of the apostle’s own sense of the value of intercession, the intercession of saints, for his ministry. His consciousness of its dignity rather increased than diminished his wish to be thus remembered.

But again, he reckoned on their love, not only in thus praying on his behalf, but also in their desiring to know matters concerning him, how he fared; and, therefore tells them that “Tychicus, the beloved brother, and faithful servant in the Lord’ shall make known to you all things: whom I sent unto you for this very purpose, that ye may know our affairs, and that he may comfort your hearts.” What a contrast with the spirit of men is the mighty, gracious working of divine love in the heart, which counts on the tender concern of the saints in him who served and loved them in the Lord! Man, as such, would either be indifferent and hard, or would fear the imputation of vanity, as if his matters could be objects of interest to others. But Christ changes all for the hearts of those that have received Him.

“Peace to the brethren, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: grace with all that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption.”