There is an epic sense to the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians.
You can almost hear an awesome soundtrack while you read the first three chapters of the letter. Big themes of salvation and history and grace, long sentences, and images of the heavenly realms. It’s a big opening to such a small epistle.
But then the soundtrack stops in Ephesians 4, and the letter grounds itself. The big orchestral music of the opening credits gives way to the tinkling of a piano while the plot is hatched.
And, of all things, the plot is hatched by a church that needs to think about how it walks.
There are five references to walking in the final three chapters. And by the way, you’ll have to refer to the original language of the letter for the correct wording — most English translations, and certainly the more popular ones, completely disregard the word walk, and, instead, translate the word as live.
Anyway, here they are, as they are addressed the community as a whole:
- Walk in a way worthy of their calling (4:1).
- Walk not like the unbelievers (4:17).
- Walk in love (5:2).
- Walk as children of light (5:8).
- Walk wisely, redeeming the time (5:15).
In other words, we have a responsibility to walk right.
We’ve been introduced to the far-reaching plan of God. Knowing that plan, then, should make us change how we walk.
There is a corporate sense of responsibility, and there is a uniting ideal that has already been achieved. Grace is the ultimate gift of God, and that should make us be different.
Our community walks together.
It is gifted, by God, for the sake of its strength (4:11-13).
It is transformational, in that knowing Christ has given us new lives (4:17-24).
It is selfless, built upon a walk of love, and not selfish desires (5:1-3).
It is proof that a different life can be lived (5:8-13).
It is full of wisdom (5:15).
Remember, too, that this letter was written to gatherings of believers, to churches, to be read aloud in churches, thus to make these passages individualistic may be a stretch. This letter is chiefly concerned with the community of God, the kingdom of God, in a realm currently ruled by dark powers.
It is the bride of Christ, cleansed for marriage (5:26), ready for its walk with God.
Even the final passage of weaponry, in Ephesians 6, speaks to an idea of community, and the way we’ve always read it changes when we change the context. Read the previous few verses about relationships within a home, and see that relational context as evident when you transition into 6:10. It’s powerful.
What if the church, instead of the individual, donned this armor?
The church would stand against the schemes of evil, instead of trying to fight them. Because there is no fight. Read here, from Ephesians 1:19-23:
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
We spend too much time fighting, I think. Political fights. Cultural fights. City fights.
There just isn’t a need to fight. The victory of Jesus’ exaltation is supreme, and complete. Nothing can contend with that.
But there is a need to stand in confidence. There are struggles. We are not called to fight. We are called only to stand.
Scholar Martin Kitchen indicated that this passage, of standing, in Ephesians 6:13-18, was meant to be heard by believers who stood, together, often, in worship and prayer. Wow! What if that’s the real meaning of this passage? What if we are called to stand in worship, praising God for our security?!
Or, maybe better said, that worship and prayer are our defense mechanisms?! Wouldn’t that change a few things!
I’m placing this passage here, and want to challenge you, for a moment, to read these verses in this context — to see this passage as a church, as a community of believers, standing together in worship, praising God for this amazing security.
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 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 saints.
Reading this passage as we’ve previously read it, as an admonition for each individual to wear this armor, always made me feel alone and isolated. I often asked myself these questions: What if no one else wore the armor? What if I was to be the only one?
The constant reading of the New Testament, though, attests to the community of the believers, not the isolation of each believer. Reading this passage as a church wearing God’s armor (it is God’s armor, by the way — remember, no part of salvation is ever earned, and neither is our defense in a fallen world — even the armor we wear belongs to God) is so refreshing, so powerful, and is the realization of the mission for the church.
And so, as the letter ends, the orchestral music plays again. Sweeping cinematography and landscapes, with a group of believers, standing fast, as battles rage around it. It stands in worship, as the dark powers in the landscape try to overcome them. Yet their praises rise to a God who is seated above even the worst of what life can be.
This is the treasure of this letter. This is the peace in this life. And this is the mission for the church.