Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.…
Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. In drawing the Epistle to a close, the apostle falls back on a form of expression he had used in the first chapter. There he showed that he had a high admiration of the strength of his [the Father's] might which he wrought in Christ, and which was proved by Christ being raised from the state of the dead "far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion." Here his admiration is (with little variation) of the strength of his (the Lord's) might He views that as being at the command of all who are in Christ, and his injunction is that, as it is at their command, it should actually be communicated to them to make them strong, and indeed invulnerable, as the Lord's servants should be. He now puts his exhortation under the special aspect of the panoply for the Christian conflict which is presented at length. "Put on the whole armor of God."
I. NEED FOR THE PANOPLY OF GOD. "That ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." "The wiles of the devil" points to the fact that our adversary does not work by open methods. He does not rest his cause on its absolute reasonableness. Rather is he conscious of its indefensibleness in reason, conscious too of his being conquered by Christ; and hence he has recourse to ways of making men believe that they have reason on their side, when they are really under the delusion of error. We do not have things put before us in their true character. There are illusory views of life which are presented to us. There are fallacies with which we are plied, in our reading, in our intercourse with men, or from our own hearts, the danger of which is that they chime in with our natural inclinations. What are these but the wiles of the devil? And there lies the need for our being armed as warriors, at every point, with the armor of God.
II. PARENTHETICAL CONFIRMATION OF THE NEED.
1. Negatively. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood." Wrestling serves to call up the idea of close personal encounter, but otherwise, in accordance with the context, we are to think, not of the mere wrestler, but of armed warrior against armed warrior. "When Greek meets Greek, then comes the tug of war." In the contests, from which the apostolic language is taken, there was a certain equality between the combatants. It was man confronted with his own flesh and blood, and he might hope, in the life-and-death struggle in which he engaged, to come off victorious. But such equal conditions do not exist in the spiritual warfare in which we engage. We are not confronted with beings like ourselves; it is not our own flesh and blood that we are pitted against.
2. Positively. "But against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." To show the need for being properly armed, the apostle gives a bold description of the foes with which we have to contend. As to their rank, they are powerful chieftains (principalities and powers). As to their domain, it is "this darkness," which is world-wide. As to their essence, they are not encumbered with clay, but are spirits. As to their number, they are hosts, vast multitudes. As to their character, they are wicked, their inveterate disposition is to seek to work our ruin. As to their haunt, as it was before hinted at (rather than dogmatically taught) as the air, so here it is the heavenly or super-terrestrial places. The general effect of the description is that, men ourselves, we are unequally matched in having to fight against superhuman powers.
III. FURTHER RECOMMENDATION OF THE PANOPLY. "Wherefore take up the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand." The evil day is not to be viewed as a special season of temptation. It may be more or less so, but it is always the day of temptation with us. We are assaulted even when we are engaged with holy things. We are assaulted by those formidable enemies of ours who are ever busy. We must, therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that we may be able to withstand the assaults made on us, and, having done all things pertaining to the conflict, to stand (and not to be left prostrate on the field).
IV. THE PARTS OF THE PANOPLY.
1. The girdle. "Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth." In preparing for the conflict the first thing the warrior had to do was to gird up his loose flowing robe, that his energies might not be scattered, but collected into a unity. The girdle which binds the energies of the Christian combatant is truth. About the end of the eleventh century, great multitudes, known as Crusaders, girded themselves to go and deliver the holy sepulcher from the possession of the Saracens. It was not the girdle of truth which bound them; for God never meant them to spend their energies in that form. And it was not an object which kept them from flagrant irregularities in the pursuit of it. The object which the Christian combatant is to have before him is not to have mere romance, but truth, binding truth, in it. That truth may be said to be connected with Christ's tomb, but not in a mere realistic way. It is imperatively demanded, now that Christ has conquered on the cross, and that conquest has been attested by an empty tomb, that in his Name souls everywhere should be delivered. And the Christian combatant does not gird himself to get possession of some sacred place or of some sacred relic, but to help men who are in the present guilt and thraldom of sin toward their deliverance.
2. The breastplate. "And having put on the breastplate of righteousness." The idea in righteousness is that of a right relation to the Law of God. Righteousness worn as a plate over the heart is to be understood rather as the mind conscious of right. The Christian combatant is to be jealous over himself with a godly jealousy. He is to have nothing to do with insincerity, but is to study reality. He is not to have selfish motives, but is to be thoroughly disinterested. He is not to have feelings of grudging malice, but is to be just and compassionate. He is to be especially fired with a desire to glorify God. The man who is conscious of this may be said to have righteousness as a breastplate.
3. The sandals. "And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace' The Christian combatant, having girded himself in the cause of truth, and being conscious of no unworthy feeling, is next to put on the gospel sandals. It is that by which he is enabled to carry the good message. For that also belongs to the work of the battle-field. He puts on his shoes for the holy war. But in that war he is not always closing with his adversary. There are times when he has to follow up an advantage. Nay, his great business may be said to be to get his message delivered, to cry aloud so that Satan's captives may hear. The message which he has to deliver is a message of peace. He fights, not for fighting's sake, but that the times of peace may be ushered in. And as he thinks of his message, and enters into the spirit of it, his sandals become promptitude, alacrity (according to the idea here); he becomes swift-footed and speeds on with his message.
4. The shield. "Withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one." As the Christian warrior runs swift-footed with his message of peace, there are fiery darts thrown at him. When any one is eminent in the Christian conflict, Satan is likely to raise up against him traducers. Those who do not believe in disinterestedness are sure to make out that he is serving himself. Those who do not believe in earnestness in religion are sure to circulate evil reports of him. It is worse when, in the very intensity of his spiritual feeling, he is laid open to temptations from his lusts. Or it may be that his very success lays him open to the temptation of spiritual pride. So it was when he who had been victorious in many a spiritual conflict was tempted (it is said that Satan provoked him) to number the people. And the dart thrown at him took effect, and was fiery enough in its consequences. What the Christian combatant is to do, when he is thus assailed, is not certainly to under-estimate the force that is brought against him, but it is also by faith rightly to estimate the force that is placed at his service. What can he do against the principalities and powers and the fiery darts they send out for his destruction? If he look to himself, he can do nothing. But he looks away to the power which placed Christ above all the principalities and powers, and he places it as a shield between him and the fiery darts, and in it their fire is quenched, their force is lost.
5. The helmet. "And take the helmet of salvation." The helmet is not, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the hope of salvation, but salvation itself, i.e. salvation enjoyed. The Christian has an important piece of defensive armor in the assurance of salvation. The Lord rebuked Satan, and encouraged Joshua the high priest (Zechariah 3:2), by pointing to him as one of his saved ones. When one can think of grace going out toward him in the changing of his position to all eternity, he can feel triumphant; he has salvation as a helmet on his head.
6. The sword. "And the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God." The Bible is the sword of the Spirit. Furnished it is by the Spirit; for it was under the inspiration of the Spirit that the Word was written. And, as the Spirit inspired men to write it, so it is only he who can enable men to make a right use of it. To this we may apply the words of the hymn -
"God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain." In the temptation of our Lord, what Satan did was to misrepresent the character of the Father, to put a gloss upon Scripture. And what our Lord, in meeting the temptation, did was to confront him with the pure truth, and the truth opposed to his deceptions. And he was so skilful in the use of this sword that he could fix upon the particular Scripture that suited the occasion. And the Christian combatant, too, must not only see the truth, but the truth for the occasion, the truth that slays his doubts, that exposes the fallacies with which Satan would compass his destruction. And he must be able to do this in connection with some sure, incisive word of Scripture. That is the offensive weapon, the weapon which carries the war against the adversary. This Christian combatant who has been described is what every Christian is bound to be. The Church militant is to have, in every one of its members, a combatant. And the apostle lays stress upon every one taking the whole armor (and not merely some of its parts). No one, for instance, is a worthy combatant who feels no responsibility in the carrying of the gospel message. If we would have the strength our Captain would see in us, we must use all the pieces of the Christian armor.
V. THAT WHICH ACCOMPANIES THE USE OF THE CHRISTIAN ARMOR.
1. Prayer. "With all prayer and supplication, praying at all seasons in the Spirit." We are not to think of "all prayer" as a separate weapon. We are rather to think of it as that which conditions the right use of the whole armor. Without prayer we cannot gird ourselves for the conflict, but are cumbered as with loose robes. Without prayer we cannot have that purification of motives, that rectification of life, which the conflict demands. Without prayer we cannot have swift-footedness in carrying the gospel. Without prayer we shall not have faith to ward off the enemy's darts. Without prayer we shall not be able to lift our head in the assurance of our salvation. Without prayer we shall be unskillful in the use of the Word. Constant use and prayer, then - that will keep the helmet from being dulled, the sword from being rusty. But:
(1) Prayer must not be mere repetition. "And in praying," says our Lord, "use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do." If we are bent on having our request from God, it will come up again and again, and under new aspects. Prayer is using arguments with God, and, as our mind works on our need, we shall ever be discovering new grounds on which to press our request. So, while we are to have prayer for ourselves and prayer for others (supplication), it is to be all prayer and supplication, i.e. to say, it is to have that variety which comes from an abundance of life, from active thought and feeling, and not that sameness which comes from lifelessness.
(2) Prayer must not be irregular. The apostle teaches that it is to be connected with all seasons (to vitalize them, to redeem them from unprofitableness). It is true that we are not always in a mood for praying; but let us keep the appointed season. Prayer is one of the means by which we are to get into the fight mood. And if we keep to our plan from a sense of duty (though our feelings are cold), and when the time comes round fall on our knees before God, then may we expect liberation from our unspiritual moods.
(3) Prayer must not be from self. "Praying in the Spirit," it is said here, and there is the same association in Jude 1:20. Prayer is dependence, and we have the influences of the Spirit on which to depend in prayer. We can only pray aright, under the impulse of the Spirit, when the Spirit indeed makes intercession for us. And, therefore, we should look to the Spirit to put the right desires within us and to give us right words.
2. With petitions .for ourselves we are to blend petitions for others. "And watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication." The apostle is here carrying forward his thought into a special channel. While we are to take heed to be persevering in praying for ourselves, we are to be especially persevering in praying for others. And the ground of that may be that our prayers are apt to be characterized by selfishness. We may go on praying for ourselves; but we too soon give over praying for others. We unwarrantably (and to our own detriment) contract the circle of prayer.
(1) Circle of supplication. "For all the saints." That is not the outmost circle; for it is said in 1 Timothy 2:1, "for all men." But the apostle is here presenting the matter under a special aspect. It is this that the combatant is to remember his fellow-combatants. Every combatant has his peculiar difficulties, his weak points. But, if he feels the struggle to be hard for himself, that should put him in sympathy with all others, to whom (in their own way) it is hard too. And he should manifest that sympathy by beseeching God to make their armor bright, to hold them up, to give them to win the day, wherever they are appointed to fight.
(2) Special member of that circle. "And on my behalf."
(a) Special prayer he wishes them to offer for him. "That utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel." That is to say, boldness of utterance, whenever he was called upon to open his mouth in preaching the gospel. This was the great accomplishment of the apostle, that he could preach the gospel. And he here discovers the secret of it. He put it clearly before his own mind, and got others interested in his object, so that they helped him by their prayers.
(b) Special reason for the prayer. "For which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." Reason of his office. He girded himself to save souls, He kept strict watch over his heart. He was swift-footed in proclaiming the message of peace. And as he sped from place to place, the fiery darts were thrown at him. Satan stirred up the Jews against him; men said that he was mad. But he interposed the shield of faith; he held up his head in the assurance of pardon. And he used the sword of the Spirit against many a heresy which threatened the peace and prosperity of the Church. It was of great consequence that there should be preserved to such an ambassador the courage of his office. Reason of his position, He was at the time in chains, He was in a condition, therefore, when his courage would be specially assailed. John the Baptist, in the gloom of his dungeon, gave way to doubts of Christ's mission. The apostle's liberty was not so much restricted. That the liberty he had might be well used by him, that he might speak boldly as he ought to speak, he would have them make that the subject of their prayers for him. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.