Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.…
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, etc. The subject of these words is soul-militancy, and they bring under our notice the soul's foes, the soul's strength, the soul's weapons, and the soul's religiousness.
I. THE SOUL'S FOES. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood." The passage teaches the following things in relation to the antagonists of souls: -
1. They are spiritual personalities. They are spiritual, not "flesh and blood." They exist apart from matter - apart from all animal incarnations. They are personalities. We cannot accept the interpretation of those who regard Paul as speaking here only of evil principles. If language means anything, personal agents are here indicated. A priori reasoning renders the existence of such beings probable; human experience and the Bible place their existence beyond all reasonable doubt.
2. They are wicked personalities. "Spiritual wickedness," or, as the margin has it, "wicked spirits." They are out of sympathy with God; they are in bitter and practical hostility to all that is Divine, benevolent, and happy.
3. They are diverse personalities. They differ in their make and their rank; they are not all of the same nature and measure of faculty, nor of the same rank in the universe. There are "principalities," "rulers" and "powers" amongst them. Some, as compared to others, may be as wasps to vultures, as mosquitoes to dragons.
4. They are organized principalities. They are under one head, here called the "devil." "That ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." There is one gigantic intellect that manages and marshals the whole: he who seduced our first parents, he with whom Christ battled in the wilderness - the Satan of God, the Apollyon of man. These heats of evil spirits are not left to themselves; they are welded together by one master intellect, "Devil with devil damned firm concord hold." They are managed by force and fraud, all of them. The passage suggests that under his control they act:
(1) Craftily. Hence the expression, the "wiles of the devil." All his movements are cunningly methodized, for such is the meaning of the word "wiles." These evil spirits attack us in ambush; they steal upon us slyly and stealthily.
(2) In darkness. "The rulers of the darkness of this world." Where do they reign? Where ignorance spreads her gloom: in the cold region of atheism where the mental energies are benumbed, and in the tropic realm of superstition where the soul is stirred into an agony of fear and scared with the horrid forms of its own creations. Amidst the gloomy recesses of ignorance they rear their throne; through the districts of intellectual darkness they prowl about in search of their prey. They reign where depravity beclouds the heart, where passion is stronger than principle, the senses than the soul, the love of the world than the love of God; whether that be amidst the districts of heathenism or civilized life, in the marts of business, the temples of devotion, or the flowery scenes of gaiety and pleasure. They enshrine themselves amidst the benighted chambers of an impure imagination, they haunt the atmosphere of pollution, impregnate it with their spirit, causing it to stimulate the unrighteous zeal of the selfish, to fire the passions of the carnal, and to swell the vanity of the ambitious and the proud. They reign where sorrow and suffering darken all. They delight in misery. The wretchedness of the indigent, the sighs of the distressed, the groans of the oppressed, and the agonies of the dying gratify their malignant natures.
II. THE SOUL'S STRENGTH. "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." The soul requires tremendous strength to grapple successfully with these mighty spirits of evil. What is the strength required? It is nothing less than Divine. It is to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. But what kind of Divine strength is required, for strength of all kind is from the Lord? Is it muscular? No. Samson, with his Herculean physical force, fell beneath these spirits; an evil genius touched him, and the giant fell as a child. Is it mental? No. Men of the greatest intellect and of the loftiest genius have not been able to stand for a moment before these spirits. It is not by this "might or this power" that souls can stand before these infernal hosts. It is moral strength.
1. The strength of faith in the Absolute. Faith in that which changes not, which is true to man as man, which is independent of times and circumstances - faith in the Everlasting. With this faith men participate in the omnipotence of God, work wonders, and dare the universe. Men, through this faith, have "subdued kingdoms," etc.
2. The strength of love for the supremely good. Love, when it is fastened even upon the frail and the imperfect, gives strength to the soul - strength to nerve a mother for the most trying services, strength to brace a patriot for the thunders of the battle. But when centered upon the eternally Good, its strength is increased a thousandfold; it gives the soul a power that "never faileth," a power that "endureth all things."
3. An invincible attachment to the right. To "be strong in the Lord" is to be strong in sympathy with the right. It is to prefer the right with hell to the wrong with heaven. It is this moral strength alone that will enable us to "stand against the wiles of the devil," and to battle successfully with the host of wickedness. This strength makes a man more than a conqueror, enables him to glory in tribulation and shout triumphantly in the agonies of death.
III. THE SOUL'S WEAPONS. The panoply is here described. It consists of two parts - the defensive and the offensive implements.
1. The defensive implements. What is the defensive? "Truth." This is the girdle which belts the loins with strength, and binds all the other parts of the panoply together so as to protect all the vital parts. "Righteousness." This is the" breastplate." The man who lacks integrity can offer no successful defense to the foe; the dishonest man is vulnerable at every point. "The gospel of peace." This, like the boot of the old Roman conqueror, makes the soldier firm in his step and terrible in the echo of his tread. "Faith." This is the "shield," protecting the whole body. Faith, not in creeds, but in Christ, is the true shield of moral soldiership. "Salvation" - that is, the hope of salvation. This is the "helmet." As the helmet guarded the head of the Roman soldier, the hope of salvation protects the soul. Let despair come, and the head of the soul is wounded and the whole system endangered.
2. The offensive. What is the offensive? "The sword of the Spirit." The true soul has not only to stand its ground, to maintain its position, to keep its territory, but to advance, to extend its boundaries, to prosecute an invasion; it is to conquer all other souls to Christ, and the weapon is the "Word of God." This is the sword by which the Christian soldier has to cut his way from soul to soul through the whole world: "For the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword," etc. (Hebrews 4:12). God's Word is the truth that slays error, the love that slays selfishness, the right that slays the wrong, the happiness that slays the misery of the world.
IV. THE SOUL'S RELIGIOUSNESS. Religiousness, viz. a conscious dependence on God, lies at the foundation of all true soul-militancy. A man can do nothing rightly or successfully in spiritual soldiership who is not religious in the very spirit of his being. Religiousness is the only soil in which man's spiritual faculties can grow into heroic vigor. In materialism they wither; in mere intellectualism they are only skeletonic at best; in religiousness they are like the tree planted by the rivers of water - their roots are in the Everlasting, they drink into them the very life of God. Religiousness, in one word, is the source that supplies the muscle and the instinct that gives the skill in true moral warfare. It teaches our "hands to war and our fingers to fight." This religiousness is here described by the apostle in these words, "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints," etc. These words are so true to the original and so obvious in their significance that they call for no minute examination. They show us how this religiousness in the soul of the true spiritual soldier is to express itself; and it is to do so:
1. In prayer. "Praying always with all prayer," or, as Ellicott has rendered it, "with all prayer and supplication praying always in the Spirit." The words teach us:
(1) That the prayer is to be comprehensive. "With all prayer and supplication." All kinds of prayer, expressed and ejaculatory, private and social. Prayer is not so much a service as a spirit, not so much an act as a sentiment. Hence we are commanded to "pray without ceasing." Consciousness of dependence on God, which is the very essence of prayer, should run as a living current through the whole of our life. Our whole life should be an unbroken litany.
(2) That the prayer is to be Divine. "In the Spirit." That is, under the influence of the Divine Spirit, who is to make intercessions for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. There is no true prayer that is not dictated by this Spirit. Man's great care should be to lay his soul open to the Divine. If a man would have his body crave healthily for food, he must drink in as much as possible the fresh air of God; and if he would have his soul crave for spiritual food, he must breathe into his spiritual nature the breath of the Divine.
(3) That the prayer is to be watchful. "And watching thereunto." The soul has its moral moods. It has seasons favorable for culture, weathers for launching out on the deep. Its duty is to watch for these moods - watch the motions of the Divine Spirit upon the heart. Watch, as Elijah did on Carmel, for promising signs in the heavens.
(4) That the prayer should be persevering. "With all perseverance." We are to be instant in prayer. Our Savior taught the duty of importunate prayer in the parable of the "unjust judge." Importunity is needed, not to influence the Eternal to mercy, but to prepare our hearts rightly to receive his gifts.
2. In prayer for the good in general. "For all saints." The apostle would not have them merely to pray for themselves. He who prays exclusively for himself never prays at all. His prayers are but the breath of selfishness. Paul required them to pray for "all saints" - saints of every intellectual grade, of every social position, of every ecclesiastical sect, of every theological school, of every kingdom and every tribe. Why for all saints? Because all saints are members of the grand army battling against the common foe - against the "principalities of evil," etc. The more force, courage, skill, each member of an army possesses, the better for the cause, the more likely the victory in whose advantages all participate. The battle of Christianity is a common battle - a battle against error, wrong, and depravity everywhere. All saints are engaged in it and they should be prayed for.
3. In prayer for gospel ministers in particular. "And for me, that utterance may be given unto me." Why does Paul wish them to pray for him? Is it that he might be liberated from prison? No. He was now, he tells us, an "ambassador in bonds." The clanking chains of the prison hung heavily on him, and one would not have wondered if his first request had been to the Ephesians to pray for his bodily deliverance. But this he does not. He is too absorbed in the cause of Christ and universal happiness for this. What he prayed for was that he might be enabled properly and successfully to preach the gospel. "That I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel," that is, the gospel that was once a mystery. The preaching of the gospel was God's grand instrument for restoring the world to intelligence, dignity, and happiness, and because of that, he desired to do it in the most effective way. There are several remarkable things in these words.
(1) Paul was an ambassador from heaven - God's messenger sent to proclaim restoration to lost humanity. The grandest commission this.
(2) God's ambassador from heaven in bonds. Wonderful that the great King, whose word could have shivered Rome into atoms, should have allowed his ambassador to have been in chains. But so it is; and we shall have an explanation ere long.
(3) God's ambassador from heaven in bonds, losing all idea of his own personal sufferings, in the desire to help his race. Though a prisoner at Rome, he was permitted to preach (Acts 28:30, 31). And as a prisoner he wanted to discharge that high mission in the most effective way. For that he prays. A true gospel minister has a right to ask the prayers of Christians for him particularly. Like a general in the army, he has the most responsible position, the most arduous task. Failure in him may turn the tide of battle in favor of the foe. Prayer, then, is a necessary qualification of spiritual soldiership. The victory cannot be won without it.
"Restraining prayer, we cease to fight;
Prayer makes the Christian's armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees." Even the great Commander of all the legions of the good recognized the mighty power of prayer during his struggles on this earth. "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" As if he had said, "With one breath of prayer I could bring the mighty battalions of eternity to my aid." - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.