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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Ephesians 6

 

 

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Verse 1

EPH. 6

Of this whole chapter it may be said, as Dummelow said of the last verse, "It is a worthy conclusion to this immortal Epistle!"[1] Paul here continued his discussion of reciprocal relationships: (2) between children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4), and (3) between slaves and masters (Ephesians 6:5-9). His final great admonition to strength in the Lord through putting on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) was followed by practical words regarding the bearer of the letter (Ephesians 6:21-22), and the benediction (Ephesians 6:23-24).

ENDNOTE:

[1] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 966.

Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)

As in all three of the reciprocal duties discussed here, Paul began with the duties of that group who were supposed to submit or obey. "Obedience is a stronger word than submission which was given as the duty of the wife."[2] James M. Gillis outlined a program for the healing of modern society as follows:

The salvation of society is in the family and the reconstruction of family virtues, parental authority, and filial obedience. The family is the nucleus of all society. You can have no prosperous state unless the family is healthy. You can have no effective church unless the family is sound ... The family is the organic cell from which all human societies are constructed[3]

For this is right ... There will never be a time when it is right for children to disregard, dishonor, and disobey their parents. "Parents give their children three things: they bring them into being, provide them nourishment, and afford them instruction."[4] There are three concentric rings describing the situations in which all people should learn discipline and obedience, these being the home, the school and society. If one does not learn obedience at home, he becomes a troublemaker in school; and from there he soon graduates to the police court. A great deal of the world's sorrows could be prevented if all children were taught to obey their parents.

In the Lord ... Paul did not have in view here anything except Christian homes. He did not teach that children should obey instructions which contradict basic Christian principles.

[2] Alfred Martin, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 749.

[3] James M. Gillis, The Ten Commandments (New York: The Paulist Press, 1931), p. 49.

[4] Thomas Aquinas, The Ten Commandments of God (London: Burnes, Oates, and Washbourne, Ltd. 1937), p. 50.


Verse 2

Honor thy father and mother (which is the first commandment with promise).

Some have been puzzled by this reference to "the first commandment with promise."

It is asked, Does not the second commandment contain a promise, too? Or, if the reference there to the mercy of God being shown to thousands of generations is to be regarded as a statement rather than as a promise, then is not the fifth the only one of the ten with a promise[5]

Perhaps the best understanding of this is to take "with promise" not to be a modifier of "first commandment," thus being parenthetical. This would leave the flat declaration that "this is the first commandment," meaning, "This is the first commandment for children." This would make Paul's meaning to be, "Children obey your parents in the Lord, for that is the first commandment for children; also, there is a promise connected with it." Certainly, Paul was not saying here that the Fifth Commandment in the Decalogue is the first, except in the sense indicated. For more complete discussion of the Fifth Commandment, please see my Commentary on the Ten Commandments, pp. 58-70.

ENDNOTE:

[5] Francis Foulkes, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 164.


Verse 3

That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

This promise is as true now as it was when included in the Decalogue. Multiplied thousands of untimely and tragic deaths of young people would be avoided, or could have been avoided, by their simple obedience to the sacred instructions here. Disobedient, arrogant and heedless children, refusing to be restrained by parental wishes of any kind, are almost certain to violate basic rules of survival on the earth.


Verse 4

And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord.

In this matter of making basic human obligations to be reciprocal rather than limited to the ones required to obey, the Christian religion swept away the whole philosophy of pre-Christian ages. In Ephesians 5:25, Paul laid it upon husbands that they must love their wives, even as Christ loved the church enough to die for it! Here he confronted parents, fathers particularly, with their obligations to their children. They must instruct and discipline them "in the Lord," having the most urgent respect to the rights and feelings of the children. A moment later, he would thunder the obligations of masters toward their slaves (Ephesians 6:9). The epic nature of these admonitions is seen in the fact that in the society of Paul's day, wives, children and slaves had no rights.

STATUS OF WIVES; CHILDREN AND SLAVES

All women, wives in particular, were in practical fact the chattels of their husbands, without economic or rights of any kind whatever, subject to divorce or abuse upon any pretext and without recourse or protection of any kind. What Christianity has done for women has been extolled in the songs and literature of all nations; but the same glorious transformation of the status of children and slaves was also achieved by those sacred Scriptures before our eyes in this very chapter. See my Commentary on John 4:27.

The rights of children were also non-existent in ancient society:

A Roman father had absolute power over his family. He could sell them as slaves, work them in the fields, even in chains. He could take the law into his own hands (he was the law), punish as he liked, and even inflict the death penalty on a child![6]

The notion that a father had any obligation toward a child simply did not exist in non-Jewish elements of ancient pagan society. As a result of the prevailing attitude, many unwanted or despised children were exposed at birth to the elements, wild beasts, or other forms of horrible death.

It was exactly the same way with slaves.

A slave is no better than a beast; the old and sick must be thrown out to starve; when a slave is sick, it is a waste to give him rations; masters had power of life and death over slaves; Augustus killed a slave for killing a pet quail; Pollio flung a slave alive to the savage lampreys in his fish pond because he dropped and broke a crystal goblet. One Roman nobleman's wife killed a slave because she lost her temper. Slaves used as maids often had their cheeks torn, their hair torn out, or were branded with hot irons at the caprice of their heartless and cruel masters.[7]

Now, it was to a world which from the remotest antiquity had operated upon such principles as these, regarding wives, children and slaves, that the great apostle of Christianity thundered the mighty oracle of these magnificent chapters. In the name of Christ, he asserted the obligations of husbands, fathers and masters, thereby announcing the character of the basic rights of wives, children and slaves. In all literature apart from the word of God, where is anything that compares to what is taught here? No wonder this letter has lived two thousand years; and, as for the nonsense that it was not written by Paul, one may only ask, "Who, in the name of God, could have written it except Paul?"

[6] William Barclay, The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1954), p. 208.

[7] Ibid., p. 214.


Verse 5

Servants, be obedient unto them that according to the flesh are your masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.

This injunction addressed to slaves and masters "does not imply either approval or disapproval of the institution of slavery itself."[8] Those who understand Christianity as any kind of an attack upon the established institutions in society, should take account of the fact that the most shameful and disreputable institutions of ancient culture were in no case frontally assaulted by Christianity. Some who should know better are embarrassed by this; but there were reasons grounded in the greatest wisdom, why such an open attack was not made. See discussion of this in my Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:21.

With fear and trembling ... "This is not advice for the slave to cringe before his master, but is to be taken in close relationship with the words, as unto Christ."[9]

In singleness of your heart ... This means, "Not merely through fear of punishment, but from a principle of uprightness."[10]

As unto Christ ... All work must be done, by all people, slaves included, as being performed under the eye of God. Every piece of work a Christian does must be good enough for God to see. The economic and labor problems of the world, especially acute today, are not primarily economic at all. The problem which the world faces is a religious problem. Barclay observed that:

We will never make men good workmen by increasing pay, bettering conditions or heightened rewards. It is a Christian duty to see to these things, of course; but in themselves they will never produce good work. The only secret of good workmanship is that it is done for God.[11]

[8] Francis W. Beare, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. X (New York: Abingdon Press, 1963), p. 732.

[9] Ibid., p. 733.

[10] Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Holy Bible (London: Carlton and Porter), in loco.

[11] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 215.


Verse 6

Not in the way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers; but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.

Eyeservice ... refers to the slave (or other workman) who is diligent to appear busy only when the boss is looking. It is the opposite of work done out of good will with love and integrity.

Men-pleasers ... A motive far higher than winning approval of inspectors or superiors marks the work of Christians, that of considering every task as "the will of God," and striving to please him in the execution of it.


Verse 7

With good will doing service, as unto the Lord, and not unto men.

This is further emphasis and elaboration of what Paul had just written. All work done by the Christian is to be done "as unto the Lord," that is, "as service of the Lord." This is one of the noblest principles of Christianity, making all employment to be the service of God. Not merely those who perform public service for the church, or those who stand in some formal relationship to religious activity, not merely these, but all people who engage in honest work, doing it well and cheerfully, are servants of God, no less than they.


Verse 8

Knowing that whatsoever good thing each one doeth, the same shall he receive again from the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

Although there is a sense in which good, honest and cheerful work of a slave might bring some limited reward during earthly life, "It is ultimately the judgment seat of Christ that the apostle has in view here."[12] Whatever people may do, Christ will reward all of his workmen at last. It is the consciousness which would enable the workman, even though he was a slave, "to work zestfully and cheerfully even for a master who was unreasonable in his demands and impossible to please.[13]

[12] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961), p. 124.

[13] Ibid.


Verse 9

And ye masters, do the same things unto them, and forbear threatening: knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no respect of persons with him.

This is the oracle of God that turned the world upside down. All obligations involving human beings are a two-way street. Slaves have duties, but so also, do their masters! What an earthshaking concept that was, and IS! Toward their slaves, masters were commanded: "Give them the same good will, love and loyalty that you hope to receive from them."[14] Behind a commandment like this lay the infinite dimensions of those tremendous new value judgments which were brought to mankind from above by Jesus Christ the Lord. The infinite value of human life! Who ever heard of such a thing? It had never been heard of until the apostles of Christ preached it in the heathen darkness, having themselves received it of the Lord. The mighty corpus of the ancient empire trembled under the impact of a shot like this verse which Paul launched from the end of a prisoner's chain; and when a shaft of light such as this penetrated the darkness, people knew instinctively that a new age had dawned.

However, it should be noted that it was not the truth alone which could change the world; it was the truth in Christ the Lord! The duty of masters to their slaves, fathers to their children and husbands to their wives, etc., was not just splendid theory. The living Christ at the right hand of God would require of every man an accounting of his deeds at the judgment of the Great Day. No man would escape it!

Shallow and unperceptive persons of our own times tend to be critical of New Testament teaching because no hard, definitive commands are uttered demanding the abolition of slavery; but it was clear to Christ and the apostles that laws never made people better; only an inward change could accomplish such a purpose as that. Paul's instructions here did not free slaves; but, as Dummelow said, "It freed slavery of its evils,"[15] and set in motion forces that would ultimately destroy, not only slavery, but other evil institutions as well.

In this connection, the resurgence of humanism in these times should be noted. Turning away from God, people are obsessed with the notion that, in themselves, they can make everything all right, with their laws, social gains and planned programs of all kinds; but it is no more possible to accomplish worthwhile human societies away from God than it is to produce a crop of apples from uprooted trees. "The New Testament presents the demands of the kingdom of God as prior to those of a utopian society on this earth ... Love of God is still the first and great commandment, love of neighbor second. Worshipping and serving the creature more than the Creator, however, drowned the pre-Christian world in debaucheries; and, if indulged, it will do it again!"[16]

[14] Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 735.

[15] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 966.

[16] Theodore O. Wedel, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. X (New York: Abingdon Press, 1953), p. 733.


Verse 10

Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.

The admonition Paul was about to give here had been in mind throughout the epistle. He mentioned the strength of God (Ephesians 1:19; 3:16) and the putting on of "the new man" (Ephesians 4:24) earlier; but now he would give final instructions for arming the Christian for the warfare against the forces which opposed him. "The cosmic purpose of God involves the believer with the spiritual hierarchy of the unseen world organized under the power of Satan."[17]

ENDNOTE:

[17] George E. Harper, A New Testament Commentary, Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 468.


Verse 11

Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The armor of God ... The Christian does not oppose evil in his own strength, but in the strength of the Lord. Only the armor of God is sufficient to the warfare involved.

The wiles of the devil ... One may experience only irritation and disgust at a remark like this: "Neither of these nouns is used by Paul; each occurs twice in this epistle (Ephesians 4:14,27). In place of `the devil' Paul always used the personal name `Satan'."[18] The incredible thesis that lies behind a comment like that is that Paul could not have written Ephesians, because there are two nouns in it that he did not use in his other writings! It is assumed by such theorizers that although Paul knew the devil's personal name and used it frequently, he did not know that Satan was "the devil," and that he could not thus have identified him here. Such a notion is outrageously fantastic. Note the following deduction that such a theory (if accepted) would require:

The pseudonymous writer who allegedly forged Ephesians in Paul's name is represented as one "deeply imbued with the mind and spirit of the great apostle, closely acquainted with his letters, etc."[19] Of course, this unknown fraud also had to be a great genius ever to come up with the kind of world-shaking truth revealed in this epistle; and yet, this great genius who knew all about Paul was stupid enough to say "devil" instead of Satan, which it is alleged Paul never did! Thus, the theoretical genius was a stupid ass, after all. The evil critics of God's word will have to come up with something a lot more reasonable than this to deserve any credibility whatever. Besides all that, the writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:14) used the word "devil"; and the conviction of this writer that Paul wrote that epistle is continually strengthened by further studies of the word of God. Paul's use of the word "devil" in this passage has its bearing in that same direction. The whole critical word game of counting and cataloging words is, in its entirety, artificial, contrived and absolutely undependable. Any writer may use words in any letter that he never used before. Of course, they talk about "probability"; but what is the "probability" that any fraudulent forger could have produced a book like Ephesians?

The wiles of the devil ... This refers to the strategems employed by the evil one with the design of destroying the faith of Christians. Paul was familiar with many of the devices by which Satan had sought to hinder and thwart his apostolic labors. He mentioned a glaring instance of this (1 Thessalonians 2:18), knew that the most intimate human relationships could be exploited to the detriment of Christianity (1 Corinthians 7:5), and pointed out that the devil could even take the form of an angel of light so as to lead believers away from the truth (2 Corinthians 11:3,14).

So-called "moderns" who are so far above the word of God that they reject all possibility of an unseen kingdom of evil presided over by a malignant personal foe (Satan), are not "wise" in any sense, but are blinded and deceived by "the god of this world."

[18] Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 737.

[19] Ibid., p. 600.


Verse 12

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places.

In this verse, Paul described the spiritual enemy. He had already mentioned the "devil"; but Satan has many allies, "the spiritual hosts of wickedness." It is an unpardonable error to suppose that Paul here had any reference to the mythological gods of the Greeks and Romans, or to any of the complicated theories of vain speculators regarding the unseen creation. Of them, Paul affirmed nothing. It is a fact beyond denial that the ancient pagan world was organized along patterns of evil, and the whole pagan complex of antiquity was fitted together, dovetailed and interwoven in Such a manner as to forbid the notion that such a sprawling, powerful, effective and arrogant pagan society was merely accidental. Satan had organized it. Furthermore, evil is still organized; and organization presupposes an organizer.

Principalities ... There are various dominions of evil, that is, certain classifications of it. Paul's use of some of these words here appears to be figurative; nevertheless, there were and are genuine realities behind them.

World-rulers of this darkness ... Barry interpreted this as a "poetic expression of the idea conveyed by the expression `prince of this world,' applied by Jesus himself to Satan (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11)."[20] The power of Satan is limited to them who yield themselves to do evil; and in no sense does Satan share ultimate authority with God. This whole passage, including the discussion of the armor, is figurative, setting forth the Christian's struggle against evil as a warfare; and this passage is a description of the foe.

In heavenly places ... This expression, as Paul used it, sometimes means "in the very presence of God," but in others it is limited to what might be called, loosely, the Christian religion; and it is so limited here. Satan is not conducting any war in heaven against God! However, religion, in the broad sense, provides a very extensive and convenient field of satanic operations, the great apostasy itself having been produced in the church herself.

ENDNOTE:

[20] Alfred Barry, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 57.


Verse 13

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 nature of the Christian warfare is further evident in this. It is not so much an attack against evil, as it is a warding off and foiling of evil's attack against the Christian which is indicated by the emphasis upon "stand." The forces of evil on earth have been mightily offended and wounded by the gospel of Christ; bitterness and hatred against the truth are to be expected everywhere.

In the evil day ... The notion that Paul here referred to "the time which the horoscope has designated as dangerous, when the unlucky star is in the ascendant,"[21] is ludicrous. Nothing could have been any further from the mind of the apostle! What is meant, of course, is the day of crisis or decision; and, as Hendriksen pointed out: "In order to stand one's ground in the day of evil or crisis, let him stand his ground today!"[22] Over and beyond this, there also looms the certainty of the final judgment on the last day.

[21] Francis W. Beare, op. cit., p. 739.

[22] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1967), p. 286.


Verse 14

Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; withal taking up the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Which is the word of God ... These last six words are descriptive, not merely of the sword of the Spirit, but of the whole armor of God, and of each several part of it also. Note the following:

TRUTH ... What is this, if it is not the sacred word?

RIGHTEOUSNESS ... The Biblical definition of righteousness is "all the commandments of God" (Psalms 119:172).

THE GOSPEL OF PEACE ... This is the word of God.

FAITH ... "Faith comes by hearing God's word" (Romans 10:17).

SALVATION ... Paul wrote to Timothy that "From a babe thou hast learned the sacred writings which are able to make thee wise unto salvation" (2 Timothy 3:15). Thus salvation comes only of the sacred writings which are the word of God.

THE WORD OF GOD ... This is also the sword of the Spirit.SIZE>

No passage in all the Bible any more dramatically teaches the absolute necessity of the Christian's thorough knowledge of the word of God. Not having it, he is naked, barefooted, bare-headed and helpless before the enemy.

From Pilgrim's Progress, it will be recalled that the armor with which the Christian was outfitted in the House Beautiful had no protection for his back. Christians are not protected if they flee from the foe; they are expected to stand against every attack.

The sword of the Spirit ... It should be noted, especially, that the word of God is the means by which God's Spirit enables Christians to stand against the enemy and overcome. There is nothing here to support the view that God's Spirit, apart from the word of God, will ever enable the child of God to overcome. Our generation needs to return to the word of God.


Verse 18

With all prayer and supplication praying at all seasons in the Spirit, and watching thereunto in all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

As Hendriksen noted, the word "all" is used four times in this verse.[23]

ALL kinds of prayers and supplications are to be used: public prayers, private prayers, intercessory prayers, prayers of thanksgiving, every kind!

ALL seasons are the season of prayer: all times of the day, all conditions and circumstances, all occasions, all states of mind, etc.

ALL perseverance: through times of discouragement or defeat when it seems that all is lost, when victory has smiled or when it has failed .... let nothing hinder the prayer life.

ALL the saints are to be remembered in prayer. What an intercessor was Paul. His letters abound with the word that he is praying for those whom he remembers and for those who will receive his letters.

Even though the Christian has put on the whole armor of God, he cannot win the victory except through a constant reliance upon prayer. A prayerless Christian is a contradiction of terms.

ENDNOTE:

[23] Ibid., p. 280.


Verse 19

And on my behalf, that utterance may be given unto me in opening my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.

As Paul constantly prayed for others, he earnestly desired that others should constantly pray for him. The reason why he felt especially in need of prayer was stated in the next verse. He was an ambassador of the Highest, yet he was chained to a Roman soldier; but Paul was not intimidated by the disparity between his true status and that which might have seemed to be his status. Chained though he was, Paul, in those letters he was dispatching from his Roman cell, was destroying the great pagan empire; and there can be little doubt that Paul fully understood this.

The mystery of the gospel ... This is another reference to the mystery of Christ, the mystery of God, etc., as Paul variously identified it. See under Ephesians 1:9.


Verse 20

For which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

See under the preceding verse. This was during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome, "during which Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians were written; and, although not as severe as his second imprisonment, he was nevertheless a prisoner."[24] From Acts 28:20, it is inferred that Paul was continually chained to a guard.

Paul did not pray for the easement of his burden, but for the grace to proclaim the word of God boldly in spite of it.

ENDNOTE:

[24] Ibid., p 282


Verse 21

But that ye also may know my affairs, how I do, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known unto you all things: whom I have sent unto you for this very purpose, that ye may know our state, and that he may comfort your hearts.

This message is nearly identical with Colossians 4:7f, indicating that Tychicus was also the bearer of other letters besides this one. Tychicus was a native of Asia (Acts 20:4), is named among the delegates to the Gentile churches who went with Paul to Jerusalem, and was mentioned as a messenger of Paul in 2 Timothy 4:12 and Titus 3:12. Bruce observed that, "On the present occasion, he was probably Paul's special envoy to churches in the province of Asia which were planted in the course of Paul's Ephesian ministry."[25]

Whom I have sent ... This may sound strange, since Tychicus was still with Paul when this was written. "This is the epistolary aorist tense ... at the time they read this letter, he will have been sent."[26]

[25] F. F. Bruce, op. cit., p. 135.

[26] Alfred Martin, op. cit., p. 753.


Verse 23

Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ with a love incorruptible.

Hendriksen's noble comment on these verses is:

The peace that passes all understanding, the love that is the greatest of the three greatest, and the faith that overcomes the world, these three precious treasures are given away to any one who sincerely requests them of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.[27]

The significant thing here, of course is the reverse order in which Paul's favorite words are enumerated. In Rom. 1:7,1Cor. 1:3,2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3, and Colossians 1:2 - in all these, the order of the words is invariably "grace," then "peace." Here it is the other way; and, as Dummelow said, "An imitator would have copied the other epistles in this."[28] No one but Paul himself would have dared reverse the order of these words; therefore, this conspicuous departure from his usual mode of expression has, in this instance, the impact of an apostolic signature.

Love incorruptible ... What an amazing word is this!

It is those who love with an imperishable love that are meant: there must be neither decrease nor decay; and "those who were chosen in him before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4) retain their love for him undiminished after the world itself has passed away![29]

[27] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 286.

[28] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 966.

[29] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 286.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ephesians 6:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/ephesians-6.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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