By James R. Strange, Ph.D.
Professor of biblical and religious studies, Samford University
The Strength to Stand Against Temptation
Today we conclude our series on dealing with temptations with a well-known passage from Paul. In Ephesians, which was written to Gentile believers (4:17; 5:8), Paul reminds his readers of Christ’s saving power, aims to tear down the barrier between Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ and insists on the abandonment of Gentile ways (4:17–5:21). Success will not come without a battle.
Standing against temptation is a spiritual battle. (10–13)
Remember that every “you” is plural. Paul is not addressing Christians acting independently but the body of Christ acting corporately. It is the Church, therefore, that is to be armored.
Read the passage, emphasizing “in the Lord,” “His” and “of God.” Human strength and Roman armor impart no advantage in this battle, and both status and wealth are equally useless. After all, Paul has just addressed Christian households of the Roman Empire, including children, who have no strength, and slaves, who have neither status nor power (5:21–6:9). Yet these must also join the fight.
The darkness is temporary but for now, the rulers, authorities and cosmic powers have control.
To call the battle spiritual doesn’t mean the Church ignores social systems and realities. We work as God’s agents in the world, as Jesus did. We are Christ’s body (4:15–16). If some behaviors and systems won’t exist in God’s Kingdom, they are immoral and unjust now as well. As the body of Christ, the Church calls them out.
Standing against temptation necessitates God-given equipment. (14–16)
What is the Church fighting? Why must it stand firm? The Church resists not only desires that lead to sin but also the temptation to do nothing in the face of immorality and injustice.
This is why Paul primarily talks about defensive equipment. The Church cannot defeat the devil. Only God will do this at the eschaton. The Church stands against the schemes of the devil lest its members believe that the way the world works is inevitable, that you can’t beat the system or that it should not work for change because it can make only a small difference in
These misconceptions are all “the flaming arrows of the evil one” that must be extinguished.
Armor implies defense, yet Paul doesn’t call for passivity. If the Church fastens on the belt of truth, it speaks truth. If it wears the breastplate of righteousness, it does what is righteous. Ironically, the armored Church proclaims God’s gospel
Standing against temptation requires God’s Word and prayer. (17–18)
As Jesus demonstrated in Gethsemane, the Church takes up the shield of faith, which is obedience to God’s call in spite of great cost. If Paul is still working with the metaphor of 4:15–16, then it is Christ who bears the helmet of salvation, who is salvation, for the Church.
The only weapon of offense is the sword of the Spirit, another reference to the proclamation of the gospel, to speaking truth to these powers.
To make a difference, even a small difference, the Church must speak truth, do righteousness, remain faithful and proclaim the gospel of peace. The work to which God calls the Church is good, not because it is effective (we pray that it is) or successful (with God’s help it will be) but because it is God’s work.
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