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The metaphors in Ephesians 6 – losing focus

Posted by on Dec 18, 2012 in scripture | 13 comments

The metaphors in Ephesians 6 – losing focus

A metaphor is a figure of speech in which the subject is related (in some way) to another object. The focus is on the subject, and the object exists only as a point of comparison and/or description.

There is a very famous set of metaphors (probably just one big metaphor) toward the middle of Ephesians 6. I’ll get to that soon.

Sunday morning, we talked a little about metaphors (and similes, since they are related to one another). And, I asked for examples of metaphors. (Everyone gave similes, but that works…) These are some of the examples offered: “cold as ice,” “fast as a cheetah,” “eyes like diamonds.”

In those metaphors, the focus is on “cold,” “fast,” and “eyes,” with the objects “ice,” “cheetah,” and “diamonds” offering points of comparison and/or description.

This brings me to the metaphor(s) of Ephesians 6:

Therefore take up the whole armor of God… Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God… (Ephesians 6:13-16 ESV)

What are the subjects of focus in this list, and what are the objects of comparison/description? If you make that decision based on the “Armor of God” playset that we bought our son several years ago, then the important parts of that list would be the belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. (By the way, my son – who will be 19 in a few days – informed me that it was not a playset; it was real armor.)

In fact, if you check various pieces of artwork, books, and even sermons (along with various toys like the aforementioned playset), you might think that Paul was making that list so that we would know how a Roman soldier was decked out for battle. But, I don’t think Paul’s focus is on the armor at all, except as a point of comparison/description.

Instead, I believe that Paul is focusing on his readers “putting on” truth, righteousness, gospel, faith, salvation, and the Spirit (which is the word of God). It’s in this way that they are about to stand… or withstand… spiritual attacks.

These are not items that we can put on or take off, per se. Instead, they are ours in Jesus Christ. Always. All of them. Our “putting on,” then, is not about making sure we walk out the door with our “righteousness” strapped in place. Instead, “putting on” is about recognizing who we are in Jesus Christ and living in that reality. (Paul talked alot about that reality in Ephesians 1-3, and discussed alot about “putting on” that reality in various forms in Ephesians 4-6.)

So, when you think about the “armor of God,” where is your focus? Is it on the various pieces of armor? Or, do you focus on the realities of our life in Christ – a life which is filled through Jesus Christ with truth, righteousness, gospel, faith, salvation, and Spirit.


13 Comments

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  1. 12-18-2012

    For one thing, I recently discovered (thanks to the way the NASB highights OT quotes in the NT) that the armor of God really is God’s armor.

    Belt of truth: Is 11:5
    Breastplate of righteousness: Is 59:17
    Feet shod with the good news: Is 52:7
    Helmet of salvation: Is 59:17

    This might be old news to some of you, but to me it was a very cool new discovery. I think it’s meaningful that the shield of faith and sword of the spirit are NT additions, but I have no idea yet why.

  2. 12-18-2012

    It’s interesting to note that all of the armor is for defense, except for the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and it does offend people. The only weapon we are supposed to fight with, are we equipped to wield it?

  3. 12-18-2012

    Thanks Allen,

    I enjoyed your insite on these verses. Growing up in the church I alwas pictured, that God was offering us His armor, much like Saul offering David his armor to battle Goliath. I also have come to see that we are instead putting on Christ/God, choosing to let His life battle the enemy which He has already defeated. I don’t have to use these peices of armor to do battle but rather I get to watch Him work out the defeat of the enemy in my life and world around me, before my eyes. It is a whole lot easyer to participate in the battles He has already won.

    IN CHRIST,
    David H. Lucas

  4. 12-18-2012

    Tim,

    Yes, Isaiah used similar imagery. I haven’t looked at those passages specifically to see if there is a connection other than the metaphors.

    Susan,

    Paul’s purpose in Ephesians 6:10ff is to exhort his readers to stand against spiritual attacks. So, it makes sense that truth, righteousness, gospel, etc. would be seen as defensive in his examples.

    David,

    That’s right. The enemies that we stand against (in Ephesians 6) are the ones we once served (in Ephesians 2), but for us they have now been placed under the feet of Jesus (in Ephesians 1).

    -Alan

  5. 12-18-2012

    Excellent, so true.
    Isn’t it amazing how people think you are nuts/heretic/wishy-washy when you explain this?

    The Message Bible makes it clear:

    “Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life.”

    The specific pieces of armor are not even mentioned.

  6. 12-18-2012

    It seems to me the passages in Isaiah all apply directly to Jesus, in context. They also seem to point to God deciding to move. Strapping on armor is a precursor to going to war.

    In the context of Ephesians, I think we are being told to prepare for battle but we’ve since interpreted that as non-relational activity. Our tendency is to forget that the bulk of Ephesians consists direct commands to relate to one another with the power of the Holy Spirit.

    I think the day of the vengeance of our God has a lot to do with the removal of barriers to relationship with Him and one another. That is a spiritually violent activity that does not appear so to our eyes, at least not until we witness the reaction of someone who has long been isolated to real love and fellowship.

  7. 12-18-2012

    Dave,

    Thanks for sharing that passage from The Message. I haven’t noticed before that Peterson left our the armor metaphor. I think it’s a good representation of what Paul is communicating to the Ephesians.

    Tim,

    Thanks for bringing in the relational aspect of this passage. You’re absolutely right. It’s impossible to understand any of Ephesians from an individualistic perspective.

    -Alan

  8. 12-19-2012

    Wow! You folks made me stop and think.
    I was struck by Alan’s remark that ‘putting on’ doesn’t mean ‘putting on’.
    When I was a child, leather biker jackets were ‘cool’. I asked for and received a plastic one from my folks. I put it on and strutted around in it, but I had no intention of behaving like an outlaw biker.
    I wonder if, like the ‘robe of righteousness’ with which we are clothed, we are clothed (a state of being) in these things (truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation). Since ‘putting on’ is an activity, maybe it means that we can act like we look, by God.

  9. 12-19-2012

    Hi to the holy ones,

    I like what Nelson said, putting on armor/Christ, since putting on is an activity, maybe it means we can act like how we are in Christ. Paul regularly opens His letters by telling the churchs who they are IN CHRIST, then from the basis of who they ARE he challenges them live like who they are. It is a whole lot easyer to practice/live out who we are, then to do works to become like Christ.

    IN CHRIST,
    David H. Lucas

  10. 12-19-2012

    WOW ALAN!!!! I love when God does this. LOL! I have been without internet & just got it back today & posted a blog on seedsinmyheart today that I had written while I was detoxing from the internet. Then I came on and saw this blog! WOW!!! LOL yes yes yes. He aligned our teaching again this week! God is so cool!! :)

  11. 12-19-2012

    sorry I was so excited I didn’t even describe my blog entry haha. I too was reflecting & studying the armor of God the past 2 weeks!

    3 truths in particular

    a) Jesus is each of those pieces of armor for us
    b) it’s more of a battle of thought than in having any power to take off or put on anything
    and
    c) God put these pieces on us – and He won’t take them off….. the battle is to believe & cling to that no matter what!

  12. 12-20-2012

    Alan,
    You have a great group of commenters.
    Re: metaphors
    Since the object tells us something about the subject, what do the various objects tell us about these subjects?
    The items are listed separately, so they must be important separately, as well as in the whole. Each item in the subject list has its own object. For example, salvation is compared to a helmet, not a shield or a breastplate.
    Or maybe it means that our equipage is as complete and effective as armor is for a soldier. (‘equipage‘ I couldn’t help it. I read it somewhere and I finally found a place to use it. I know one other big word, delicatessen. I use it a lot.)
    Or maybe it means that these things are not only conditions, they also have uses.
    I’m still thinking. Any help will be appreciated.
    BTW Scripture points out that no one goes to war at his own expense. Just sayin';).
    Nelson

  13. 12-20-2012

    Nelson,

    I’m not sure that the fact that separate items are listed means they must be important separately, especially since Paul begins by pointing to “the whole armor of God.” I would think they list shows that they all go together. In the OT, the items are associated with different aspects of our life in God. For example, see Isaiah 11:5 and Isaiah 59:17.

    David,

    Yes, “putting on” is often a metaphor used by Paul. We can’t physically “put on” righteousness.

    Randi,

    That’s really cool. Thank you for sharing that!

    -Alan