Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
After having treated Christian morals so carefully and shown how Christianity elevates the individual, the family, and the slave, Paul proceeds, in the close of this remarkable Epistle, to speak of the enemies and the arms of a Christian. Life is seen to be a battle, The enemies are manifold. It is not flesh and blood against which we fight. We leave the carnal warfare to the world. We contend against "the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Revised Version). These foes are of a spiritual character - false principles and their advocates, whether men in flesh and blood or demons in their invisible might. So that the Christian finds himself confronted by a most serious host, perhaps not in very strict order of battle, yet mobbed together into perplexing power. How is one to withstand the assault of so many? There is but one way, by becoming "strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might" (Revised Version). And, blessed be his Name, he has furnished us with a complete panoply. We must put on the whole armor, that we may withstand all the devil's wiles. Let us translate the figures into their simplicities.
I. THE CHRISTIAN IS TO BE COMPACTED BY TRUTH. (Ver. 14.) In Oriental as well Occidental warfare, the girdle or belt is all-important. It binds the soldier into a unity and makes him feel compact and firm. Now, truth, by which is meant God's truth in the man, not the man's veracity, is what gives compactness to our whole being. When Jesus is realized as the embodied "truth" (ἄληθεία, the same word as here, John 14:6), when he is felt to be dwelling within us, then we become a unity and strength which we could not otherwise be. Our straggled powers are united in the fear of God (Psalm 86:11).
II. THE CHRISTIAN IS PROTECTED BY ENTERTAINING A SPIRIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Ver. 14.) Here again it is the Divine "justice" coming into us and permeating our being. Now, there is no such protection for us in our contact with others as this spirit of fairness, the desire to do what is right as between man and man. If we are able to let righteousness reign in all our relations, the hostility of men and devils will but little avail. It is to be "God-like" in all our attitudes, and nothing then can harm us.
III. THE CHRISTIAN WILL MAKE PROGRESS ONLY THROUGH ENTERTAINING AN EVANGELISTIC SPIRIT. (Ver. 15.) Here we have the public spirit coming to secure progress. The Christian has ceased to be self-centered. He cannot live the selfish life. He must be a missionary. The gospel of peace is to be sent round the world. In doing so he must have some share. He makes progress by giving the evangelistic centrifugal force free play. We are never so safe as when the safety of others has become our great concern.
IV. THE CHRISTIAN QUENCHES ALL ASSAULTS OF SATAN BY THE POWER OF FAITH. (Ver. 16.) Now, Satan's fiery darts belong to the region of sense. He appeals to passion. He assaults us through the appetites. But faith vanquishes him, and nothing else can do so. What are we to understand by "faith"? Not assent to propositions; not a mere realizing, faculty, assuring us of things unseen; but a trust extended to the personal and Divine Savior who rules over all things. This loyalty to an unseen Sovereign enables us to see through the wiles of the arch enemy, enables us to see how narrow are Satan's limits, and how wide the order and interests of our Savior's kingdom. We are thus transported to the wider relations of the spiritual world, and the temptations through sense and passion fall extinguished at our feet. As we live by faith in him who rules the universe and dwells within us, Satan finds himself defeated.
V. THE CHRISTIAN'S HEAD IS COVERED BY THE ASSURANCE OF SALVATION. (Ver. 17.) It has been supposed that a victorious spirit will make men careless in the battle-field. But is it so? If soldiers believe themselves destined to be victorious, they will strain every nerve to make themselves so. The flush of victory in their heart gives power in the contest. Now, it is when we have got assurance of victory through our indwelling, Lord that we can do valiant things for him. Suppose that a soldier goes to battle with head exposed, and no helmet protecting it, his anxiety about self will destroy his fighting power. But give him his piekelhaube, and he passes into the fight free from self-care and with the one idea of doing his very best to win the battle. So is it with the assurance to which faith is meant to lead us.
VI. THE CHRISTIAN WIELDS, AS HIS ONLY OFFENSIVE WEAPON, THE WORD OF GOD. (Ver. 17.) This is the sword with which he is to lay around him. The Bible is a wonderful weapon. It cuts men and devils to the heart. It enters into the very joints and marrow. There is no such discerner of the thoughts and intents of men's hearts. Now, when we consider that force is only the preliminary to reason - individuals or nations fight first and then make up peace upon some pretence of principle - we see that what Christianity does is to keep strictly to the sphere of reason, and to refuse all seduction into the field of brute force. The doctrine of non-resistance is the highest of all tributes to the reasonableness of Christianity. The Christian, then, who masters most thoroughly the Word of God will be the most powerful among his fellows. For after all, this inspired Word is ahead of all human wisdom. It is the crown and anticipation of human genius. If we have mastered it in the spirit, we are ahead of our time and shall understand what we can best do for our generation.
VII. THE CHRISTIAN IS ALWAYS PRAYERFUL, AND ESPECIALLY FOR HIS FELLOWS. (Vers. 18-24.) The fight in which a Christian is engaged is not for his own hand. It is a fight for a common cause, and in the struggle we are never alone. It is a fight for the most part upon our knees. But as we wrestle, it is not for personal blessings only or chiefly, but for blessings to be conferred on others too. Our own garden is best kept when we can think of other gardens too. Hence Paul claims an interest in the Ephesians' prayers, believing that they will fight their battle best if they remember him. And thus as the Epistle closes we see how Christianity emancipates us from self, and makes us pray with a large public spirit and with our eye on the common weal. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.