Ironside's Notes on Selected Books
The Christian Household (Ephesians 6:1-9)
In these nine verses we have the conclusion of that section of the Epistle which begins with verse 22 of the previous chapter (Ephesians 5:22). We have considered the instruction given to Christian wives and husbands in chapter 5 and now we come to consider other members of the family, or the same persons in other relationships.
The apostle spoke first to children. Of course, he spoke directly to Christian children for they alone may be expected to obey the Word of God. This is one way in which children may glorify God and bring honor to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in their early formative years. As they mature they launch out into the world to make a place for themselves and take part in public service for Christ. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” The apostle considered the matter of obedience correct and proper- “this is right.” You profess to be a Christian, young man or woman, well then, here is the first admonition your Lord and Savior gives you, “Obey your parents.” Why? Because it is the right thing to do. In the Epistle to the Colossians, where you have the same admonition, it is based on another ground. “Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). Do you say sometimes, as some Christian children do, “I would like to do some big thing for Christ. I would like to have my life really count for Him”? Well, obedience, the recognition of parental authority and loving submission is well-pleasing to Him. In Luke 2:51 we read that Jesus “went down with them, [that is, Mary and Joseph] and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.” Here you see our blessed Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, become the example for all Christian children. What a wonderful thing! If you are a boy or girl in the home and have trusted the Lord Jesus, you can say, “My Lord was once a child like me. He once had the same position in His home that I do and He filled it well. He was obedient and submissive to His parents in all things.” The wonder of it is that He, the Creator of the universe, took that place of subjection, giving us an example that we should follow His steps. Later on as you grow up and go into life you will have Him as your example in other areas of your life, but now He is your example in the home. Christian children ought to take this to heart.
It is a most inconsistent thing for a child to profess to be a Christian, to have his name on the roll of some church, to be in fellowship with an assembly of saints, even taking part in the Lord’s supper, and yet be characterized by willfulness and disobedience in the home. There is nothing more distressing, and in some senses more disgusting, than to see a child who claims to be a Christian outside the home but behaves and acts as anything but one in his home. Disobedience to parents is one thing about which God’s Word speaks most sternly. In Romans chapter 1, where the apostle is describing the sins that prevail in the heathen world, you will find disobedience linked with the worst kinds of sin. In verses Romans 1:29-30, we read:
Filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents.
Notice that disobedience to parents is linked with the vilest immoralities, even with the crime of homicide. The reason for this is that if children are not taught to obey when they are young, they will not obey God, and will not obey the powers that are ordained of God when they go out into the world. That judge in Gary, Indiana was right who, when executing sentence on some young culprits, said, “I wish it were possible to put the parents of these children in the penitentiary for allowing them to grow up like this.” As Christian parents we are responsible to see that our children are obedient. And as Christian children we are responsible to obey our parents.
When we turn to Second Timothy chapter 3 we read the apostle’s description of the apostasy in the last days. Again he spoke of disobedience to parents as one of the obvious evils of the times: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:1). In Romans chapter 1 we have the sins that characterized the heathen world when Christianity began; in 2 Timothy chapter 3 we have the sins that will characterize Christendom at the very end immediately before the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in each case disobedience to parents is listed.
In Ephesians 6:3 the apostle reminded us that the fifth commandment of the law, which commands obedience to parents, is marked out in a special way. In the law we read, “Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). As you read the ten commandments you notice that four of them have no special promise attached, and then you come to the fifth and you find that God added a special promise. It shows the importance that He attaches to obedience to parents.
How important, then, that Christian children should take this to heart. Do not be content with lip service; do not be content with attending Sunday school and church and youth group meetings, and think that these things constitute Christianity. First learn to show godliness at home. It is in the home circle that your life is under closest inspection, and it is there you are called on to give evidence of your second birth by obedience to your parents.
Then in verse Ephesians 6:4 the apostle speaks to fathers. He did not address himself here particularly to mothers. He said, “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.” Fathers are more inclined to become impatient and unduly harsh and unkind with their children. Yet let me quickly point out Hebrews 11:23 : “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents.” The word parents there is exactly the same Greek word that is translated “fathers” in Ephesians 6:4. Fathers and mothers are in this sense addressed together, and so the admonition is given to all parents with perhaps particular emphasis being placed on the fathers. As Christian parents, have in mind your children’s well-being, and do not be needlessly demanding of them. Do not lay on them burdens that are too hard for them to bear. Remember that just as children have the Lord Jesus as their example, you have God Himself as yours.
We read, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him” (Psalms 103:13). Let your attitude toward your children be in accordance with His attitude toward you, and of Him it is written, “He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). How we need to take this admonition seriously. Paul continued, “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Parents are to set an example of what a Christian should really be, ministering the Word of God to their children, praying with them, and walking before them consistently, in the fear of the Lord.
I remember the bitterness with which a young woman came to me and said, “I am in the greatest spiritual distress, and the saddest thing about it is that I cannot consult my own father who is a minister of the gospel. But I never remember him praying with his family, and I never knew him to read the Word of God to us. He kept all of his religion for the pulpit, and we never saw any of his godliness in our home.” It is in the home we are called first to exhibit godliness, to give prayer and the Word of God their proper place. Let the grace of Christ be seen in your life, and though everything else should go, your children will have the memory of godly parenting and pious upbringing. What an anchor that has been to many a young person launching out in life.
In verse Ephesians 6:5, the apostle turned to consider another relationship. He spoke to servants, whether they be in the home or employees outside of the home. The word doulos, translated here “servants,” means “slaves”-those who are purchased. But you notice in verse 8 he is thinking not merely of the purchased slaves, “Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.” And therefore the instruction which in times past was given to slaves now applies to all employees. Slaves were bought by a master, or born into the house and raised by the master. But today we enter into an employer-employee agreement. We sell our labor, and in that way accept a certain relationship which makes us just as responsible to obey the command given in Ephesians. There would never be trouble between management and labor if the Word of God were valued more highly in all our hearts and lives. However, it is not expected that unsaved men will heed this admonition, but Paul was addressing Christian employees. “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.” The fear we are to have is the fear of not giving proper service to our employer, and so of grieving the Holy Spirit of God.
This gives great dignity to labor! Whether a man is working in a factory, or an office, whether he is a miner in the bowels of the earth, or a farmer working on the surface of the earth, each may say to himself, “I serve the Lord Christ.” When Carey applied for foreign missionary service, somebody said to him, “What is your business?” They intended it as a slur, for he was not a minister. He said, “My business is serving the Lord, and I make shoes to pay expenses.” And so every one engaged in any occupation should be able to say, “My business is serving the Lord, and my occupation pays my expenses.”
“Not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers.” I looked up the word eyeservice and found it to be very interesting. It comes from exactly the same word as that translated “servants” in verse Ephesians 6:5, and that is, properly speaking, “a slave.” Eye-service then would be eye-slavery. Did you ever know anyone who was an eye-slave? The man who pretends to be working until somebody says, “The boss is coming!” The young woman who wastes her employer’s time until somebody says, “Look out, the manager is coming through the office.” Then she immediately gets busy and the typewriter rattles as it has not done for hours. That is eye-slavery. Do not let there be anything like that with the Christians. No matter what my employment is, I am to do it as unto God from my heart. My job is the place in which He has put me and I am there to labor for Him. This lifts me far above all concern about the failure of an employer to properly recognize my worth. When I know I am working for the Lord and He knows everything, it saves me from all such worries. “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” (1 Corinthians 7:23).
I may have an employer who does not seem to appreciate me at all, who only wants to get all he can out of me and pay as little as possible. But I have sold my labor to him, and therefore I go on and labor earnestly. I say to myself, Never mind, there is One who does appreciate, and He knows that I am doing this work well and doing it for His glory. Some day I will receive my reward from Him. “Oh, yes, yes,” you say, “that is all very well. Religion is the opiate of the people.” People of Communistic tendencies say, “Christians tell the poor to resign themselves to their situation. They tell them that no matter how hard their life is here, it will be all right when they get to Heaven, in order to keep them contented here.” Not at all, that is not what the apostle is saying. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). It is true in this life as well as in the world to come that the one who honestly serves the Lord Jesus Christ is rewarded for it. Many a man can bear testimony to that! One has labored apparently unappreciated for years until suddenly under the hand of God circumstances change so that he is recognized and honored and respected for all his efforts. The Lord often sees to this even in this life; and there is a great deal more coming in the life ahead.
Next Paul turned to the masters, Christian masters, again we have to say. “And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” (Ephesians 6:9). You masters expect your employees to honor you and recognize their responsibility to rightly serve you. Very well then masters, it is your responsibility to properly consider the welfare of your employees. You have been trusted with wealth or have been put in a position where you administer the wealth of others-see that you do not look upon your employees as mere “hands.” Do not treat them cruelly, driving them in order to get the most out of them, and giving them the least. Remember that as they are responsible to serve the Lord Christ, so are you, and you are to do it to His glory.
“Forbearing threatening.” Nothing of an unkind, cruel, or discourteous character is to be seen in the Christian master. Remember “that your Master also is in heaven,” and therefore you have to give an account for all your dealings with your employees. If you cut down their wages when it is not necessary, if you seek to force them to work under unhealthful and unsanitary conditions, God is looking on and jotting everything down in His book of records. He sees that you behave in an unchristian way toward those dependent largely on you. Christianity equalizes everything. Here is the true socialism, not a leveling of all distinctions, but men and women of every class submissive to Christ. That puts everything right. Your wealth will not accomplish anything if you do not handle it correctly; your authority will amount to nothing if you do not use it for His glory. “Neither is there respect of persons with him.” God judges each one according to his own works.
What helpful instructions we have here! How important that every Christian, whatever his relationship, should act according to this truth. In the beginning of this Epistle we have the highest kind of spiritual revelation. There it is that we learn that we have been raised up together and seated together in heavenly places in Christ. “Very well,” said the apostle, “if you are a heavenly man, a heavenly woman, a member of the body of Christ, now behave on earth as Christ would if He occupied your position in life, whatever your business may be. Let the Spirit of Christ be manifested in you.” This will commend Christianity to a lost world.
We have had too much talking of high truth coupled with low living. We have had too much delight in glorious eternal truths and yet that truth never affecting the feet. “Order my steps in thy word,” prayed the psalmist. May God grant that whether as husband or wife, child or parent, employee or employer, we may each one who names the name of Christ show His grace in every relationship of life. May our homes be places where husband and wife together are seeking to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, each giving honor to the other and seeking to fulfill his or her place in the family, and where the children are growing up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. May masters and servants alike recognize their responsibility to the great Master in Heaven who was once a Servant here on earth.
In reading the first 9 verses of Ephesians chapter 6 (Ephesians 6:1-9) we find ourselves in an atmosphere of peace and blessing not known by the unconverted. When Paul wrote this letter, there were very few Christian homes in the world. But thank God, as a result of the proclamation of the truth during nineteen centuries, all over this and other lands may be found homes that follow the pattern set down here in Ephesians.
If today you are unsaved and you have sometimes stumbled over the inconsistency of Christians, let me say that the Word of God takes it for granted that Christians need constant admonition. But you are invited to come just as you are to Christ, trust Him as your Savior, receive the divine life by faith, and then live as a Christian should, and show the rest of us what a real Christian ought to be. Do not be foolish enough to stumble over anyone else’s inconsistency and refuse God’s offer of salvation. Remember, there is power to make you what you ought to be-a Christian not in word only but in deed and in truth.
The Christian’s Conflict (Ephesians 6:10-12)
As we turn from the beautiful description of the Christian household we immediately find ourselves in an altogether different atmosphere. The apostle has barely concluded his admonition to husband and wife, parents and children, masters and servants, before he speaks of warfare and conflict, for we cannot always enjoy the sweetness and quietness of a Christian home. We have to go out into the world. We have to go out into a life where cruel enemies seek to disrupt and destroy our Christian experience and endeavor in every possible way to lead us to do or say things that will bring dishonor to the name of our Lord. We go from the home to the battlefield.
Earlier in our study we noted the correlation between the letter to the Ephesians and the Old Testament book of Joshua (see Introduction). In the book of Joshua we have the Israelites, a redeemed people, entering their possession, the land of Canaan. In the Epistle to the Ephesians we have believers, moved by the Spirit of God, entering in to possess their heavenly inheritance in Christ. This inheritance is not merely something which is to be ours when we die and leave this world or when our Lord returns, but we are told that here and now we have been blessed “with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” There is a grand and wonderful sphere of blessing, which God would have us enter in spirit while we are yet in this physical world.
Many people are accustomed to think of Canaan as representing Heaven after death, and therefore they think of the river Jordan as always representing death itself. If you will stop and think for a moment, you will realize that there is a sense in which Canaan could scarcely represent Heaven, because it was after the people of Israel entered that land that their real conflict began. They found it was already occupied by hostile nations who immediately rushed against them and sought to keep them from the enjoyment of that land which God had given them. When you and I who are saved are finally called away from this world, we are not going to the other side for conflict - we will not find ourselves engaged in battle with evil spirits in Heaven. But as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, when we seek here on earth to appropriate the blessings that are already ours in Him, we find at once that there is a host of evil powers seeking to prevent us from enjoying the victory that is ours by right of our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can see how Canaan represents primarily our present place of blessing in the heavenlies. The armies of Canaan, disputing Israel’s possession, represent what we have in Ephesians 6:12 - the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness, who are doing their utmost to keep Christians living on a low, worldly level.
As the apostle closed his letter to the Ephesians we are reminded that we are not yet in Heaven. We have not reached the rest that remains for the people of God, and therefore he wrote, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Perhaps it might be translated, “My brethren, be daily strengthened,” for it is in the continuous tense; that is, “be constantly receiving strength from the Lord and go forth in the power of His might.” It is important to realize that even after we have been converted for many years we have no more power in ourselves to ensure victory over the foe than we had when first saved. The power is not in us but in God, and therefore we need to live in constant communion with Him. The preacher and the choir cannot do their work effectively unless in communion with God. The Christian laborer, secretary, salesman, or farmer cannot defeat the enemy unless they are in communion with God. We all need His mighty quickening power to enable us to triumph in our respective spheres just as much as any missionary going to a foreign field to carry the gospel to lost men and women. Here is a challenge each of us must face, for we cannot overcome in our own strength. Therefore we are reminded of the importance of living near to the Lord, being strengthened in the Lord and in the power of His might.
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). This is the armor that we have delineated for us piece by piece in the next section of the Epistle. The armor is from God; it is nothing of ourselves, for we have nothing in ourselves whereby we can meet the foe. Not only in Ephesians but in other Scriptures as well, the apostle by the Spirit insists that we dress appropriately for battle. In Romans 13:11-14 we read:
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
How many a Christian has forgotten these words and found himself absolutely powerless in the hour of temptation, unarmed, exposed to every imagination of a cruel enemy. “Put on the whole armour of God.”
Then again, in 2 Corinthians chapter 10, the apostle wrote of this same warfare. We read that it is not a conflict with the flesh. We are not told to fight the flesh but to reckon ourselves dead to sin in the flesh. Our conflict is with the fallen spirits that dominate this present age of evil. These spirits, of course, cannot indwell believers, but they can do a great deal in the way of alluring believers into paths where they tarnish the name of the Lord. In verses 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 we read:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war [against] the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) Casting down imaginations [or human reason, for Satan works through the mind, getting men to question rather than to believe what God has revealed in His holy Word], and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
Here, then, is our conflict. We are exposed to these evil spirits who are haters of God and our Savior. Therefore they seek to disgrace that holy name whereby we are called, by leading us off into things that grieve the Holy Spirit and discredit our testimony. How necessary then is the admonition, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
It would be a very simple thing if the adversary of our souls came to us honestly and said, “Good morning. I am the devil, and I want you to get into something that is going to cause you a lot of misery and wretchedness, and which will dishonor your Savior. If you will only listen to me and obey me, I will be able to accomplish this.” We would have no difficulty in saying to him, “Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (Mark 8:33). But he does not come that way. He is transformed into an angel of light, and he seeks to deceive us. Paul wrote of the wiles of the devil. The word wile is the same one from which we get our English word method, but it implies a subtle method or craftiness. Satan is an old campaigner; he has been at the business of deceiving men and women for at least six millenniums, and he knows exactly how to approach every individual soul as he comes with his crafty method. In every conceivable manner he will seek to hinder us from making progress in our Christian lives and experience, and therefore we need to be constantly on the watch. We are given an illustration of that in Joshua chapter 9.
God had told Joshua to cross over Jordan and that he would find there the seven nations of Canaan. They were corrupt and abominable, given to all kinds of vileness and idolatry, and the Israelites were commanded not to enter into any leagues or marriages with them, but to completely destroy them. The words were plain, and for a time Joshua and the people carried them out implicitly. But one day a strange-looking group of men, dressed in rags, limped up the highway. Their sandals were worn out, and they carried old sacks that contained moldy bread. Their goatskin water bottles were cracked and dried up. Some of Joshua’s scouts went out to see them and asked, “Who are you, and what do you want?”
“We would like to see your general,” they said.
And so they were led into the presence of Joshua, who inquired, ‘Well, what is it you want with us? Where do you come from?”
“From a very far country,” they said. “You see these clothes of ours. They were brand-new the day we left home and you can realize that we have come a long way. These sandals were bought from the shoe dealer the day we left. This bread was brought fresh from the oven, but now it is all moldy. We have come a long distance because we have heard of you and of how God is with you. We would like to make an alliance with you. Let us be friends. We would be very proud to be linked up with you, and we hope that you will be willing to make an alliance with us.”
“This is most interesting,” said Joshua; “you say you are from a long way off. How did you hear about us?”
“Oh, the word is going all through the land. We heard of the victory as you entered the land, how Jericho and Ai fell before you. Let us get together and make an alliance.”
And we read that the Israelites made an alliance with them and asked not counsel of the Lord. Thus they were deceived by the wiles of the Gibeonites. A day or two after they had made the league, when there was no chance to break it, they found out that these men came from a nearby village and were anxious to join them in order to save their own lives.
How the devil has deceived God’s people through the years! One of his first attempts to corrupt the church of God is by getting unconverted people into its fellowship. Today church membership is often largely made up of unsaved men and women. When it comes to public service for the Lord, a great corruption in the church today is that of unconverted people joining together in a choir to professedly sing the praises of the Lord. Choir members who are flirting with the world are just as truly a hindrance to the work of God as the preacher flirting with the world. It is one of the wiles of the devil to try to mix the saved and the unsaved together. Of course there is no blessing when such a condition exists. Oh, that churches today were totally committed to God!
We are to recognize that we are not wrestling against flesh and blood. We have no quarrel with our fellowman, but we are wrestling “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). It might be translated, “Against the world rulers of this darkness.” These are the principalities of fallen angels who are marshaled under the skull and crossbones banner of Satan himself. They are the great evil powers-evil angels who are seeking to control the hearts of world leaders, to hinder men and women from submitting to the truth of God. For example, look at the leadership during World War I. Who were the rulers of the world at that time? There was President Wilson, King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, King Victor Emmanuel of Italy. However, they were not the actual rulers of the world; they were simply like the pawns on the chessboard. The world rulers were the wicked spirits endeavoring to influence the hearts of men in an attempt to destroy the human race. So malignant is the spirit of these evil beings spoken of here in the Word of God that we are not competent to meet them until we put on the whole armor of God. We cannot face this enemy and win the battle unless we draw our strength day by day from our Lord Himself, and use the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
When we get home to Heaven our conflict will be over. In Revelation chapter 12 we read of a conflict in Heaven between Michael and his hosts and the dragon and his hosts. But when we go up to Heaven, the mighty foe who throughout the centuries has been the accuser of the people of God, will be cast down to earth. Our conflict is while we are still in this world. I am afraid a great many Christians never realize this. They never stop to think that day by day Satan and his hosts are doing their very best to keep them from honoring the Lord Jesus. He is waging a war to keep Christians from prayer and Bible study so that they will fall and bring shame on the Savior’s name. Consequently we see today a largely divided church simply because believers do not know what the real conflict is.
Note that last phrase in verse Ephesians 6:12, “Against spiritual wickedness in high places.” It seems as though the translators of our beautiful King James version hardly dared accept what this passage really teaches. A clearer translation is, “Against wicked spirits in heavenly places.” It is wrong to think that Satan and his hosts are already confined in Hell. Quite the contrary is true; they are still in the heavenly places. That does not mean that they are in the immediate presence of God. Scripture speaks of three heavens: the heaven where the birds fly or the atmosphere, and then the stellar heaven, and beyond all that the Heaven of heavens-the third heaven, the immediate presence of God. Satan and his hosts are represented in Scripture as in the lower heavens. The devil is “the prince of the power of the air.” And inasmuch as the eyes of the Lord are everywhere, he is pictured as in the very presence of God as the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10). Our conflict is with these wicked spirits.
We may well sing:
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
We have been saved as far as deliverance from the guilt of our sin is concerned, but we are now to be saved practically by conformity to Christ and obedience to the Word of God. In this way we will be prepared in the fullest possible sense for fellowship with Him. May God enable us to be on our guard, to remember that we cannot put the sword out of our hand or rest on past victories as long as we are in this world. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). And yet there is no reason for discouragement because, as our faith and trust are centered in Christ, we may know that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
The Whole Armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-17)
As we have considered the Christian’s conflict we have found that since it is not with flesh and blood, nor is it with our own carnal nature, we need to be clothed with the whole armor of God. This armor is very different from the garments in which we stand before God through grace. Every one of us who has put our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ has been clothed in the righteousness of God- “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). The best robe is His. We stand before God in Christ, but we do not put this robe on ourselves. God has clothed us. But when it comes to the armor for war, we ourselves need to put on each separate piece in order to stand firm in the evil days when the hosts of Hell are attacking our souls and it seems as though we would be defeated. We are not to turn our backs and flee from the foe. We are not to act on the human presumption that “he who fights and runs away may live to fight another day.” Rather, we are to face the foe, for there is no armor provided for the back. If we turn our backs and retreat, we expose ourselves to the fiery darts of the wicked one. But as we face the foe unflinchingly in the power of the finished work of Calvary we will be able to stand.
“And having done all, to stand.” Where and how do we stand? Is it simply by determination of our own, in some goodness of our own? Not at all. We stand in the perfection of Christ’s finished work. The foe cannot harm us there. We meet the enemy in the name of Christ the victor, and we claim the victory because Christ has already defeated him on the cross. There Satan bruised the heel of our divine Redeemer, but his own head was bruised, and now we are entitled to consider the devil as one already defeated. But, though he knows he is defeated and his doom is sure, he will do everything he can to harass and distress the Christian as long as he is in this world. Therefore we need to stand strong in faith, and resist the devil in the power of the cross of Christ.
“Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth.” This verse alludes to the long flowing garments worn in many oriental cultures. While perfectly comfortable when worn for leisure, the garments must be drawn about the waist, and held in by a girdle or belt during strenuous movement or conflict so as not to hinder progress. In the same way, you and I as believers are to have our loins girt about with truth. What does this mean? Elsewhere we read, “Gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13). Just as the Oriental’s flowing garments were to be tightly fastened that they may not be blown around by the wind, so we are to have our minds surrounded with truth in order that our imaginations may not be “carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). We are to prepare our minds for action, “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). In other words, our minds are to be controlled by what God has spoken, not by what we think or hear in the world. Our thoughts are to be brought into subjection to His holy Word.
I wish Christians would come back to the Bible. I am often distressed when people ask me, “What do you think about this, or what do you think about that?” I have to tell them, “It does not make any difference what I think. My thoughts do not amount to anything. The great question is, What has God said? What is written in the Word?” If God’s Word does not speak on a particular subject, we have no right to attempt to speak, but where it has given a clear definite declaration, we should be positive and sure in our faith. How important it is that our thoughts are in harmony with God’s Word when we have to face the devil. Satan works through wily error, presenting all kinds of false systems and views, and maligning the name of Christ. It is only as our minds are controlled by the Word that we will be able to counter these false teachings. The better you know the Bible, the better fitted you are to meet the assaults of the enemy, and yet some of you have never even read your Bible through once. Perhaps you have never gotten beyond the genealogies. You came right up to them and stopped. You never went any farther. You did not know that hidden in those genealogical chapters there are some of the most beautiful little gems you will find anywhere in the Bible. You will miss them if you are not careful.
A friend of mine used to tell of listening to Andrew Bonar many years ago. Dr. Bonar was speaking on Heaven and the great reunion of loved ones over there. In his eloquent way he pictured the believer newly come from earth walking along the golden street and suddenly meeting a group of Old Testament prophets. In a moment he recognizes them and says, “Why, this is Ezekiel; isn’t it?”
“Yes,” says Ezekiel, “I am so glad to meet you.”
“And this is Micah and Zechariah and Amos.”
And then Ezekiel says, “Oh, you know about me, do you? How did you like the book I wrote?”
“Book? What book was that?”
“Oh, surely you remember my book! Did you enjoy it?”
“I am sorry to say I never read it.”
And then Micah says, “And what did you think of my book?”
“Let me see; was that in the Old Testament or in the New Testament? It seems to me I remember there was such a book.”
Bonar continued, “How would you feel to meet these men when you never have read their books?”
Some of you had better get busy. There is far too much time spent in reading novels and newspapers, and too little time given to the Word of God. Good literature is fine, reading the newspaper is all right, but these things should not crowd out time for reading God’s Word. Remember, the Bible is the only Book that will last for all eternity, and anything you can get out of it here you will have for all the ages to come.
The next piece of armor we are to have on is “the breastplate of righteousness.” The Bible suggests two types of righteousness. The first is that righteousness which is imputed to every believer in the Lord Jesus. It is a glorious truth that we have been made the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). But that is not the righteousness referred to here. You and I do not put on the righteousness of God. God does that for us. But the breastplate of righteousness is something we are to put on. The apostle evidently had in mind Isaiah chapter 59, which refers to a practical righteousness:
And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor: therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him. For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke (Isaiah 59:16-17).
In these verses Isaiah was speaking of the Messiah, our blessed Lord. He came into this world as a man and was obedient to the will of God. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and now you and I are called to imitate Him by putting on the breastplate of righteousness.
The breastplate covers the heart of the man, and when we think of the heart we think of the conscience. Unless you as a Christian keep a good conscience in daily living, you will never be able to defeat your foe. When the devil comes against you, and you know there is some hidden, unconfessed sin in your life, you will fall and will not be able to stand against him. Many a person has failed when Satan made a tremendous assault on him. People said, “Wasn’t it sad?-such a failure and coming so suddenly.” But it was not sudden, for there had been an undermining going on weeks and months and perhaps years-little sins indulged in here and there, unholy thoughts, wicked things going on that were not dealt with in the presence of God. Finally, when the enemy attacked in full force there was an exposed heart because righteousness had not been put on as the breastplate. If you are witnessing to the unsaved, and they know that you do not have on the breastplate of righteousness, your testimony will not amount to very much. You may say to a friend, “I would like you to come to church with me,” and he may say to you, “I don’t know, Jack! It doesn’t seem to have done very much for you.” He has been watching you day by day in your work and has seen that you are just as irritable, impatient, and rude as others, and he says, “You may talk about good meetings at your church, but I do not see that they have done much for you.” You are not wearing the breastplate of righteousness. If you want to win in this battle, you must practice righteousness. Your life must be clean- there must not be hidden sin, or unholy thinking-if you would have victory in the conflict. Do not talk about being made the righteousness of God in Christ if you are not living righteously, for when God justifies a man He makes him just. He justifies us by faith, but having been justified He now makes us just in our dealings with other people. That is what is meant by “having on the breastplate of righteousness.”
Then, some of us need a new pair of shoes: “And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This means that we are to walk in accordance with the gospel. You tell men that you have been saved by the grace of God, that you have peace with God. Very well, let your life show it. In this metaphor there is also the suggestion of feet swift to carry the gospel of peace. A Spanish translation of this verse is, “Having your feet shod with the joyful readiness to propagate the gospel of peace.” But we are not to go about propagating the gospel of peace by word of mouth unless we are living in the power of that gospel message. Otherwise we just bring dishonor on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And then protecting the rest of the armor, “the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” This is the shield of confidence in God. That is what faith is. It is not the faith-not what you believe, but how you believe. It is faith in the sense of confidence and trust-going to meet the enemy with your trust in the living God, not in yourself. For example, a preacher is asked to preach in a gospel meeting. He says to himself, “Well, I have an old sermon here. I have used it 72 times already. It’s nearly worn out, but I think it will do for this audience. Yes, I think I will use it again. Years ago when I preached this sermon there were 18 conversions. It must still be good.” The devil hears all that, and he says, “I will show you that you have come up against a greater foe than you realize.” The meeting is a wretched failure, and the preacher says, “I don’t understand it. I have preached that sermon any number of times. I wonder what the trouble was.” It was that the confidence of the preacher was in himself and his sermon instead of in the living God. I do not care how many times you have preached on a text, if you ever dare to stand up and preach the Word without getting your message fresh from the living God and going out in confidence in Him instead of in yourself, you will be a failure. I want that lesson to be impressed on my own heart, that is why I am putting it so strongly to you.
The next piece of armor is for our heads: “And take the helmet of salvation.” That is, I am to go forth boldly, taking with me the assurance of my salvation through the finished work of Christ. If I have any doubt as to my own salvation, I will have no real confidence when it comes to facing the foe.
The final piece of armor is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Do not make a mistake here; the sword of the Spirit is not the Bible. The Bible is the armory, or storehouse of weapons. There are thousands of swords in God’s Word and every one of them is powerful and double-edged. There are two different terms in Greek translated “word.” There is logos, which is the term we usually use, but the other word, rhema, is the one used here. It means “a saying”-that is, “And the sword of the Spirit, which is the saying of God.” If the devil comes against you and you throw the Bible at him, it is not going to drive him away. You might do that, and go down yourself. But when he comes, and you say, “here is what God says,” and you have a definite saying of God to meet the attack, you defeat him.
Take the example of our Lord in the wilderness (Luke chapter 4). The devil came so cunningly and said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” He took the sword out of the armory. You need to know your Bible so that you will be able to meet the devil whenever he comes with such suggestions. Then the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and said, “All this power will I give thee… if thou therefore wilt worship me.” Out came another sword and the Lord went at the devil with it. He replied, “It is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” Then the devil tried to use the saying of God himself. He took Jesus up on a pinnacle of the temple and said, “It is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee: And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at anytime thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Think of the audacity of the devil quoting Scripture, and that to the Lord of life and glory Himself! But he left out a very important part of the verse. In Psalms 91:11-12 we read, “For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone” (italics added). It was not in Jesus’ ordinary ways to jump from the temple in order that men would see him carried by angel hands. The Lord countered with another “saying” from the Book of God; He said, “It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” The sword of the Spirit is the sayings of God. Get to know your Bible, and then when the devil comes against you, you will be able to say, “But the Book says thus and so,” and you will have the Word for him. If we want the blessing of God, we must walk in obedience to His Word. We must know our Bible so well that we can draw from this all-sufficient armory the particular saying that we need at a given moment.
Prayer and Supplication in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:18-24)
When you have the various pieces of the armor in place, there is something that must never be omitted. Bunyan speaks of it as actually a part of the armor. He said, “In addition to all the rest there was a piece called ‘all prayer’”-“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit.” The armored believer is independent of the devil because he is utterly dependent on God, and prayer is the source of his dependence. He is to keep the line of communication between himself and his God clear.
During World War I a regiment went into the Argonne Forest and was lost. For days the men were out of touch with headquarters and newspapers wrote of the “lost regiment.” When at last they were located, their ranks had been sadly decimated. When a Christian in the conflict with Satan gets out of touch with headquarters, it is a terrible thing. The apostle’s admonition is “praying always.” The trouble with many of us is that we pray only when we get into difficulty, when times are hard and circumstances are going against us. Then we remember the verse, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (Psalms 50:15). But we would be spared a great many of our troubles if, when everything was going well with us, we were just as faithful in prayer as when things were going against us. “Praying always with all prayer.”
God declares in His Word that He will not hear the prayer of the wicked. It is an abomination to the Lord. David said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” But if I have judged all known sin and am living the life of practical righteousness, I am in that attitude, that position, where I can pray in confidence.
All prayer is an approach to God, but note the added word, supplication. This suggests definite petition. It is one thing to approach God in prayer with a heart full of praise and thanksgiving and in a general way commit one’s affairs to Him. It is another thing to come with a very definite request for a particular matter or special trouble at a given time. We read:
Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication [there you have the same word again, it is prayer and petition] with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
No difficulty that I have to face is too great for God, and nothing that troubles me is too insignificant for His care.
Arthur T. Pierson sat with George Mueller one day, and Mr. Mueller was telling him of some of the wonderful things that God had done for the orphanage at Bristol. As he talked he was writing, and Dr. Pierson noticed that he was having difficulty with his penpoint. Right in the middle of the conversation Mr. Mueller seemed to lose sight of his visitor, he bowed his head for a moment or two in prayer, and then began writing again. Mr. Pierson said, “Mr. Mueller, what were you praying about just now?” “Oh,” Mr. Mueller answered, “perhaps you didn’t notice that I was having trouble with this penpoint. I haven’t another, and this is an important letter, so I was asking the Lord to help me so that I could write it clearly.” “Dear me,” said Dr. Pierson, “a man who trusts God for millions of pounds also prays about a scratchy penpoint.” Yes, you may go to Him about everything.
Notice, we are to make our prayers and petitions “in the Spirit.” That admonition should cause many of us to consider the effectiveness of our prayer life. Prayer in the Spirit is prayer in accordance with the mind of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. No unconverted person, of course, can pray in the Spirit, but there are even Christians who are in such a low carnal condition of soul that it is impossible for them to pray in the Spirit. I cannot pray in the Spirit if I am harboring a grudge against my brother. I cannot pray in the Spirit if there is anyone I will not forgive because of some real or imagined wrong done to me. I cannot pray in the Spirit if I have a selfish motive, or if I am seeking merely my own glory or comfort. I cannot pray in the Spirit if I have a covetous heart.
You remember the apostle James said, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3). I can pray in the Spirit when I am living in the Spirit. Then He, the gracious third person of the Trinity who dwells in every believer, will guide my thoughts as I come to God in prayer. Often, when one is in an unspiritual state, he goes to God requesting certain things. Then when he is restored to fellowship he realizes that he would be better off without them, and so he no longer asks for them. In Psalms 37:4 we read, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” If I am really delighting myself in the Lord, I will want only those things which will glorify God; I will not be asking from a selfish viewpoint. I will want God to do for me that which will magnify Christ in my life and make Him more precious to my soul.
“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance.” “Watch and pray,” our Lord Jesus Christ said, “lest ye enter into temptation,” and this, of course, only emphasizes what we have seen already. If I would pray in the Spirit, I must live in the Spirit, and so I am to watch against anything that would come into my life to grieve the Spirit of God and thus hinder real prayer.
As we continue our study of Ephesians 6:18 we note that the Lord would not have me concerned only with my own affairs. He said, “And supplication for all saints.” A brother said to me, “For years my interests have largely been in the work in which I myself was engaged, or in connection with certain institutions in which I had a part. But lately I find the Lord is causing me to think of His work everywhere, and of His people in every place.” This surely is an evidence of growth in grace. We are so inclined to narrow down our thoughts to our own little circles. We may not pray in the same way as the man who said, “God bless me, and my wife, our son John, and his wife. Us four, and no more,” but we do pray most earnestly for those connected intimately with us. We should do this, but in addition let us consider the whole church of God. Let us think of all the people He loves around the world, and hold them up before God’s throne in the arms of faith and love. If in this way we go to God, we will never lack subjects about which to speak to Him.
Some years ago I was visiting a very devoted company of Christians in a western State. They had some rather peculiar ideas. They came together weekly to study the Bible and for preaching and observing the Lord’s supper, but they had no prayer meeting. I said to them, “Do you never have a prayer meeting?”
A brother said, “Oh no, we have nothing to pray for.”
“How is that?” I asked.
“Why, God has blessed us ‘with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,’ so we do not need to pray for spiritual blessings. We do not need to pray for temporal blessings, for we have everything we need. We are well cared for; we have all the land we can farm. We do not need to pray for money, for we have plenty to keep us going. We do not need to pray for wives, for we are all married. We do not need to pray for children; I have thirteen, and Brother so-and-so has fifteen. We have nothing to pray for, so we just give God thanks.”
“My dear brother,” I said, “I wish, if for nothing else, you would come together to pray for me.”
“We can do that at home,” he said. “If we came together to pray we wouldn’t have anything to say.”
“But what about the word, ‘And supplication for all saints?’ Suppose you do nothing else but come together to remind one another of the Lord’s dear children that you know, and spend an hour telling God about them.”
But he did not see it. They seemed to have no idea of what prayer really is. Sometime after that I was in Minneapolis. One day I became very sick and was on my back with typhoid fever for six weeks. When at last, a year later, I got out to that western state again, the people of that church said to me, “When we got word that you were so very sick our hearts were greatly burdened and we had two prayer meetings a week to pray for you. But as soon as we got word that you were well enough to go home again, we stopped.” “Why did you stop?” I asked. “When flat on my back, I did not have any trouble with the devil. But when I am strong and well, I have to go out to face the foe and I need prayer far more.” They looked at me in amazement and said, “We never thought of it in that way.”
The apostle Paul himself not only exhorted saints to pray for one another, but he said, “And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly” (Ephesians 6:19). I am sure that those of us who stand on public platforms and preach Christ will never know until we get to Heaven how much we owe to the prayers of God’s people. It has often come like a benediction when some dear saint, possibly a shut-in, writes to me and says, “My dear brother, daily in prayer I remember you and the work that God has given you to do.” How much it means to know that all over this and other lands there are prayer warriors who are crying to God, “Keep that brother from blundering, keep him from sin.” There are temptations all around, and how much the man who stands in the pulpit needs divine help that he may be kept from anything that would mar his testimony.
Sometimes God’s dear children are far more ready with criticism of preachers than they are with prayer for them. They say, “Well, I don’t know; but Mr.- doesn’t seem to me to have much power. He doesn’t seem to have a gift for making things very clear.” And I often feel like saying, “Do you ever pray for him that he may have power, that he may have clarity to so preach the truth that men and women will believe?”
In Acts 14:1 we read that the apostles “so spake, that a great multitude…believed,” which implies that one may so speak that no one will believe. What is needed is not only the word of the preacher, but that message backed up by the saints in prayer. It is comforting to know that Christians are praying for you. Paul valued this, and he was the greatest of all the apostles in his ministry. I am sure that at the judgment seat of Christ, when our Lord is rewarding the apostle Paul, He will call up many of the saints of whom we have never heard and have them stand with Paul, for they were his fellow-workers in his ministry. And He will say, “You held up his hands in prayer, and you must share in the reward.”
Paul asked for prayer that he may “make known the mystery of the gospel.” This does not mean that the gospel message is something hard to understand, but it is a divine secret that man would never have understood if God Himself had not made it known. One reason why I am absolutely certain that the gospel message is from God is that no man left to himself would ever have dreamed of telling us that God became man to save us from our sins. All human religions take the opposite viewpoint. They try to tell us how man may save himself and eventually obtain a position akin to the Godhead. But not one of them tells us that God became man to save us from our sins. This is the mystery of the gospel, the divine secret that we are called on to proclaim to men.
“I am an ambassador in bonds.” What a remarkable declaration! The ambassador from England comes to Washington wearing many medals and decorations. But Paul, the ambassador of the highest court of Heaven says, “Do you want to see my decorations?” And he points to his shackles and says, “I am an ambassador in chains.” Somebody has well said, “God is not going to look us over for medals and decorations but for scars, to see what we have endured for Christ’s sake.” Paul was a suffering, afflicted, jailed ambassador, and he said, “Pray for me, that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” And right there in the prison he witnessed for Christ. The very soldiers who were guarding him heard the story of salvation. We read in another of his Epistles, “All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.” A better translation would be “Caesar’s guards” because he is not talking about Caesar’s household servants, but of his soldiers. They probably were heathen when sent to guard him, but Christians before they left him. He preached the mystery of the gospel to them and their souls were saved. We will never know how much of the success of Paul’s ministry was in answer to prayer until the heavenly records are opened.
In verses Ephesians 6:21-22 he wrote the only personal note in the Epistle in which he named anyone else other than himself and the Lord.
But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things: Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts.
In Acts 20:4 we read of Tychicus. He was an Asian. Ephesus was in Asia, and probably Tychicus was well-known to the Ephesian believers, so Paul sent him back in order to give a report as to how things were going with him. Notice the language he used to describe him, “A beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord.” In Colossians 4:7 he wrote, “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you, who is a beloved brother and a faithful minister and fellowservant in the Lord.” Tychicus must have been a very delightful man to meet. It is not often the two things are combined in one man-beloved and faithful. Generally your beloved brother is so gracious and gentle and easy-going that everybody likes him because he does not find fault with anyone. They say, “Isn’t he nice?” It is like the lady who, after she had listened to a Scotch preacher, was asked, “What did you think of the sermon? Wasn’t it beautiful?” “Yes, it was beautiful,” she said; “but it wouldn’t hurt a flea.” People like the preacher who does not hurt anybody, who draws beautiful word pictures, but never reproves sin. “A good mixer,” they call him today. That is the very thing Paul said we were not to be. “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.” But as a rule they are the loved kind of preachers. On the other hand, the faithful brother is apt to be so rigid that he gets a little legalistic and goes around clubbing people with the Word, and saying, “I don’t care what people think of me; I am going to be faithful.” He is rather disagreeable and no one likes to get too close to men like that. But Tychicus combined in himself the beloved pastor and the faithful exhorter. That is a wonderful combination, too high for most of us to attain.
And then in verses Ephesians 6:23-24 we have the closing words of Paul’s letter. You will observe there are no personal salutations in Ephesians. The reason probably was that the Epistle to the Ephesians was a circular letter, intended not only for the saints in Ephesus, but sent around a circle of assemblies until it reached Laodicea. Paul, writing to the Colossians, said, “Read the epistle from Laodicea.” Some think this is a reference to a lost letter, but it is undoubtedly this letter to the Ephesians. And on account of its general character there are no personal salutations for individuals in the Ephesian church.
“Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul prayed that the Ephesians would receive the peace which is given to all who have learned to commit everything to the care of our Savior. Then he coupled love for the saints with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which is the gift of God the Father through His Son.
He closed with the characteristic Pauline salutation, “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ.” And then he added a penetrating phrase at the very end, “in sincerity,” or as other translations say, “in incorruptness.” In other words, those who love our Lord Jesus Christ will exhibit their love by holy living. This is how we show in a practical way that we are one with Him in the heavenly places.
Sunday, March 26th, 2017
the Fourth Sunday of Lent
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