In Eph 6, Paul exhorts his audience to don certain character traits and spiritual tools in a manner reminiscent of a warrior clothing himself for battle: Truth and Righteousness, Peaceful Proclamation of the Gospel, Faith, and Salvation and the Word are all tools in the toolkit of the Christian. According to Paul, this armor is essential so that they can be empowered with the type of strength that God possesses.
What kind of battle is being waged and against whom?
Throughout Ephesians, Paul has emphasized that what happens on earth has cosmic repercussions, that God’s work through Christ is a manifestation of his power, and that believers who are in Christ are also engaged in the work of God. Scholars from contemporary evangelical settings have traditionally interpreted Eph 6:10-17 as a reflection of Paul’s concern for individuals to make sure that they are protected from “the devil” (Eph 6:11) for their own sakes, and these settings have often reduced their understanding of the danger to spiritual matters. However, the context of the passage suggests something far more expansive, spanning both the spiritual and earthly realms. Just as God had previously put on his armor to act as the Divine Warrior against the enemies of justice, righteousness, truth, and uprightness for the sake of those who have experienced the effects of injustice, unrighteousness, falsehood, and duplicity (Isa 59:14-19), so now Paul expects his audience to do the same. Two of the four pieces of God’s armor are now part of the Christian warrior’s wardrobe, as they must put on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. By using the language of Isa 59, Paul is calling on Ephesian Christians—and for our purposes, the contemporary church—to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. As is the case throughout the epistle, Paul sees the effects of the power dynamics between earthly kingdoms and earthly rulers as a reflection of the cosmic power struggle between God and Satan. Christians are called to join the battle, not just to protect themselves and their own spiritual standing, but to advocate and fight for those who are most likely to feel the sting of the ugliest manifestations of human power, ego, and greed. It is no wonder, then, that Paul’s urgent instruction to believers to clothe themselves with the armor of God follows immediately after the household codes of Eph 5:21-6:9, which challenge those potential social dynamics within what the Romans considered to be a microcosm of the empire: the home. Thus, the spiritual warfare described in Eph 6 has implications—not only for the Christian as an individual—but ultimately for the Christian community that is called to live in such a way as to reflect the reality of God’s power and work in the world through Christ.