January 29, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Ephesians 6:17-18 (NIV)
In one of my grad school seminars, we carefully studied Ephesians 6:10-20. My professor, a brilliant, world-renowned scholar, believed that this passage commends a purely passive approach to spiritual warfare. He argued that all of the armor in 6:10-20 is defensive, even the sword. “What do we do when we put on the armor?” he asked one day in class. “Nothing! We just stand there. Standing firm is what we do. That’s how we fight.”
At this point I raised my hand nervously. “I have to disagree,” I said. “There is something more for us to do here, something vital. Verse 18, as you know, is not separate from the armor passage. It is all part of the same argument, the same sentence beginning in verse 17. So when we have put on the armor, we don’t just stand there passively. We do something active. We pray. We pray with all kinds of prayer, all the time, for all people. Prayer is how we fight.”
When I finished my comment, the room was quiet, filled with tension because I had so plainly disagreed with my professor. He looked at me intensely and stroked his chin thoughtfully. “You may be right,” he said finally. “I haven’t seen that before.” On the outside I appeared to take his positive response in stride. Inwardly, I was cheering. I had not made a fool of myself. I might even have helped my professor to see Ephesians 6 in a new way.
Most translations of Ephesians make it difficult for anyone to see the necessary connection between God’s armor and prayer. English translations begin a new sentence with verse 18 (. . . which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit . . . ). Most, like the NIV, even start a new paragraph with verse 18. But the original Greek of this passage reads quite differently. A more literal translation would be, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit . . . praying in the Spirit at all times.” The Greek participle meaning “praying” is dependent grammatically on the imperative “take.” In other words, once you’ve put on the armor of God, here’s what you do: Pray! You pray often. You pray in all sorts of ways. That’s how you fight the battle when wearing God’s armor.
In future devotions we’ll examine in detail exactly what Ephesians 6:18-20 teaches us about prayer. We learn more about how exactly we’re to fight in God’s battle. For now, I simply want to underscore the truth of this passage—a truth often ignored. Once we have put on the armor of God, we have a clear battle strategy. We have our marching orders. We are to pray. And pray. And pray.
Something to Think About:
How does your understanding of this passage from Ephesians change when you realize that verse 18 is not a separate sentence or paragraph, but is a connected part of what has gone before?
How does thinking about prayer as spiritual warfare impress you?
Something to Do:
Since prayer is so important for spiritual warfare, make a commitment to add an additional time of prayer to your spiritual disciplines this week.
Gracious God, well, now I’m fighting! At least that’s the implication of what I have learned today from Ephesians. What I’m doing right now doesn’t seem like warfare. It seems more like a conversation. But I take seriously what Ephesians teaches. Help me to learn to see prayer more truthfully and fully. And, dear Lord, help me to pray. Teach me to pray! Amen.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
This piece brought to mind two examples. This is God’s Weapon in the hands of God’s man or woman. You mentioned it didn’t seem like fighting ‘more like a conversation’. That made me think of Eleazar in 2 Sam. 23:10 The Sword of the Spirit is our only offensive weapon. Here Eleazar; fighting God’s battle .uses his sword until it was “welded” to his hand. Eleazar and his sword became one instrument! We see another example of the hard work of prayer in Col.4:12c where Epapras is commended by Paul for “laboring earnestly for you in his prayers. Don’t miss the little words in scripture ..between verse 17 and 18 in the NAS is the word “with” there’s your connector. verse 17 TAKE….the helmet and the sword WITH all prayer and petition… And this is intercession. That takes me right back to verse 10. Thank you I injoy your devotions expecially if they send me on a treasure hunt in the Word.
That’s interesting that the NIV and other translations make verse 18 of Ephesians 6 a separate sentence…or even a separate paragraph!
The ESV does not, however, and this is how the sentence reads, starting in verse 16:
(16) In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; (17) and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (18) praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
It’s rather interesting that both of the churches I attend, one a non-denominational Village Missions church plant and one a Reformed Episcopal Church, both use the ESV Scriptures. In fact, the Book of Common Prayer 2011 (bcp2011.com) uses all ESV Scriptures for the Psalter and throughout the Scripture verses which are prayed aloud in the liturgy.
I love seeing both evangelical and more liturgical churches using the same Bible. 🙂
Soli Deo Gloria,