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Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers Ellicott's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ephesians 6". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ebc/ ephesians-6.html. 1905.
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ephesians 6". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
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(1) In Ephesians 6:10-17. St. Paul sums up his practical exhortation in that magnificent description which has ever since laid hold of Christian imagination, both in metaphor and in allegory. He paints the Christian life as a battle against spiritual powers of evil, waged in the strength of the Lord, and in the panoply of God. We trace the germ of this great passage first in St. Paul’s earliest Epistle (1 Thessalonians 5:8-9), and then in the later Epistle to the Romans (Romans 13:12). In both these cases the image is of soldiers starting from sleep at day-break to arm for the fray in the morning light. But it is characteristic of the more elaborate and thoughtful style of this Epistle, and of the circumstances under which it was written (in the watchful presence of the full-armed Roman “soldiers that kept” St. Paul), that the image there briefly touched is here worked out in full beauty of detail.
(4 b.) In Ephesians 6:1-4. St. Paul passes from the detailed exposition of the true relation of husbands and wives, to deal with the relation of parents and children, far more cursorily and simply, but under the light of the same idea. It is to be thought of as existing “in the Lord,” i.e., within the unity binding all to Christ, in virtue of which the parental authority and the right freedom of the child are both hallowed.
(1) In the Lord.—The phrase itself, though familiar in St. Paul’s writings generally, is specially frequent in the Epistles of the Captivity, where it occurs in various connections no less than twenty-one times. (See, for example, Ephesians 2:21; Ephesians 3:11; Ephesians 4:1; Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 5:8; Ephesians 6:10; Ephesians 6:21.) It is, in fact, a brief indication of their great subject—unity with and in Christ. Here to “obey in the Lord” is to obey under the light and grace of that unity, as already belonging both to parents and children, and transfiguring all natural relations to a diviner glory.
This is right.—Right, i.e., by fundamental laws of humanity, recognised in all races and all ages, declared and sanctioned in God’s commandments (Ephesians 6:2-3), which are at once both old and new “in the Lord.”
Practical Exhortation continued (Ephesians 5:22 to Ephesians 6:9).
THE BEARING OF THE TRUTH OF UNITY ON THE THREE GREAT RELATIONS OF LIFE.
Between husbands and wives—a relation which is a type of the unity between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-33).
(b) Between parents and children—a relation hallowed as existing “in the Lord” (Ephesians 6:1-4).
Between masters and servants—a relation softened and deepened by common service to the one Master (Ephesians 6:5-9).]
(2) (18) Praying always with all prayer and Supplication.—In this verse the metaphor gives place to direct exhortation, unless, indeed, in the word “watch” there still lingers some reference to the soldier on guard. “Prayer” is the general word for “worship,” appropriated to God alone; “supplication,” used also towards man, is one element of such worship—the asking what we need from God. In Philippians 4:6 we have first the general word “prayer,” and then the two chief elements of worship, “supplication with thanksgiving.” It is by prayer that all the heavenly armour is put on.
In the Spirit.—That is, “in the Spirit of God” (as in Ephesians 6:18). Compare the relation of prayer to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost in Romans 8:26-27.
And watching thereunto with all perseverance.—These words in themselves obviously supply the other part of our Lord’s command, “Watch and pray,” naturally apposite to the consideration of the Christian warfare. “Perseverance” implies exertion, holding out against fatigue and difficulty. The corresponding verb is used in relation to all kinds of spiritual labour (see Acts 2:42; Acts 6:4; Acts 8:13); but especially in connection with prayer (Acts 1:14; Romans 12:12; Colossians 4:2). Perhaps from this frequent connection St. Paul is induced to add to it “supplication,” and this time “for all saints,” so leading on to his usual request for the prayers of his brethren. For this he is willing to sacrifice some part of the perfect appropriateness of idea; since the whole picture hitherto has been of the fight, waged by each for himself (although side by side with others), in the combined power of watchfulness and prayer for God’s help.
(3) That it may be well with thee . . .—The quotation is but slightly varied from Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16. But by the omission of the limiting words, “which the Lord thy God hath given thee,” St. Paul at once generalises the application and determines it to the earth, and not to “the good land” of heaven. The words so interpreted are, therefore, a promise that obedience “in the Lord” to the great natural law on which society rests, shall bring with it reward on earth; just as our Lord tells us of “meekness” that it shall “inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5), and St. Paul of “godliness” that it “has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). The visible exemplification of this law is, indeed, as in all other cases, obscured by the disorder brought in by sin, and, moreover, is affected by the consideration that this life, being a discipline for heaven, must present, in the true sense of the word, “imperfection” or incompleteness, if viewed alone. But it is still a natural law, and is still accordingly fulfilled in actual experience. The promise is not to us so important as to them of old; but it is ours still.
(3, 4) Ephesians 6:21-24 form the conclusion of the Epistle, in commendation of Tychicus’ salutation and blessing. The extreme brevity and generality of this section here—in contrast with St. Paul’s practice in every other Epistle, except the Second Epistle to the Corinthians and the Epistle to the Galatians (both of which have the abruptness of indignation) and especially with the parallel Epistle to the Colossians—seem to bear on the question of the encyclical character of this Epistle.
(4) Provoke not your children to wrath.—The word is the same as in Ephesians 4:26. It denotes the exasperation produced by arbitrary and unsympathetic rule.
Nurture and admonition of the Lord.—In this phrase we have the two elements of education. “Nurture” is a word signifying generally “the treatment due to a child,” but by usage appropriated to practical training, or teaching by discipline; while “admonition” is the “putting children in mind” by word of instruction. It may be noted that in accordance with the characteristic sternness of ancient education, both words have a tinge of severity in them. The “nurture” of this passage is the same as the “chastening” of the famous passage in Hebrews 12:4-11. (Compare the cognate verb in Luke 23:16; 1 Corinthians 11:32; 2 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:20; Revelation 3:19.) The “admonition” is used in Titus 3:10 for rebuke, and, inasmuch as it implies warning, is distinguished from teaching in Colossians 3:16. In this, as in other cases, Christianity gradually softened this stern authority of the father—so strikingly exemplified in the old Roman law—by the idea suggested in the addition of the phrase “of the Lord.” The children belong not to the parent only, but to Christ, taken into His arms in baptism, and sealed as His little ones. Hence the “reverence,” which Juvenal enforced in theory as due to children’s natural purity, become realised in Christian practice, and gradually transformed all Christian education to greater gentleness, forbearance, and love.
(5) Your masters according to the flesh.—This phrase (used also in Colossians 3:12) at once implies the necessary limitation of all human slavery. It can subjugate and even kill the body, but it cannot touch the spirit; and it belongs only to the visible life of this world, not to the world to come. The slave is a man in spiritual and immortal being, not a “living tool” or “chattel,” as even philosophy called him.
With fear and trembling.—The phrase is a favourite one with St. Paul. (See 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Philippians 2:12, in all which cases it is applied to the condition of man as man under the weight of solemn responsibility before God.) It recognises the “spirit of bondage unto fear” (Romans 8:15) necessarily belonging to all who are “under law,” i.e., under obedience to the will of another, as enforced upon them by compulsion; and this fear, moreover, is viewed as showing itself in “trembling” anxiety to obey. So St. Peter commands (1 Peter 2:18), “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward;” and it is to be noted that he describes the suffering herein implied as a fellowship with the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 6:21-24).
Singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.—The phrase “singleness of heart,” is here used in its proper sense, from which all others (see Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; 2 Corinthians 9:13) may be derived. It means having but one aim, and that the one which we profess to have, with no duplicity of reservation or hypocrisy. Such singleness of heart cannot be given perfectly to any merely human service, because no such service has a right to our whole heart; hence St. Paul adds, “as unto Christ,” bidding them look on their service as a part of the service to Him who can claim absolute devotion.
(4 c.) In Ephesians 6:5-9 the hardest form of subjection, that of slaves to masters, is dealt with, still under the same idea that both are “in Christ.” The slave is the servant of Christ in obeying his master, the master is a fellow-servant with his slave to the same Divine Lord. We notice on this particular subject a remarkable emphasis, and a singular closeness of parallelism between this Epistle and the Epistle to the Colossians; probably to be accounted for by the presence of Onesimus with St. Paul at the time, which would naturally press on him some special consideration of the relation of Christianity to slavery. Accordingly St. Paul’s general attitude towards slavery will be best considered in the Epistle to Philemon (which see). Here it will be sufficient to note that while the institution, unnatural as it is, is left untouched, the declaration of a common fellowship in Christ enunciates a principle absolutely incompatible with slavery, and destined to destroy it.
(6) Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers.—This verse is merely an expansion of the idea of singleness of heart. The word “eyeservice” (used here, and in Colossians 3:22) is peculiar to St. Paul, and to these passages; the word “menpleasers” is not found elsewhere in the New Testament, but is used in the LXX.; and the antithesis of “pleasing men” and “pleasing God “is not unfrequent with St. Paul. (See Galatians 1:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 2:4.) To a slave, looking on his master’s authority as mere power imposed by the cruel laws of man, this “eyeservice” is found to be an all but irresistible temptation. It is only when he looks on himself as “the slave of Christ”—who Himself “took on Him the form of a slave” (Philippians 2:7) in order to work out the will of God in a sinful world, and to redeem all men from bondage—that he can possibly serve from the heart.
(7) With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.—Here we ascend to a still higher quality than “singleness of heart.” To do service “with good will,” that is, gladly and cheerfully, “counting it joy to spend and to be spent” in the service, is really to serve, not as a slave, but as a freeman. Only so far as in the relation of slaves to masters there is, or has been, any shadow of the filial and parental relation, is this possible on merely human grounds. But St. Paul urges, in 1 Corinthians 7:22, that the slave “when called in the Lord, becomes the Lord’s freeman,” entering a “service which is perfect freedom.” That conception, logically worked out, has ultimately destroyed slavery. Meanwhile it gave to the slave in his slavery—lightened though not yet removed—the power of service “with good will, as to the Lord.”
(8) The same shall he receive of the Lord.—This verse clenches the previous exhortations by the inculcation of a sense of responsibility and hope. The phrase itself is emphatic—not “he shall receive the reward of his deed,” but “he shall receive the deed itself,” considered as a thing still living and returning on his head, both in the judgments of life and in what we rightly call the “Last Judgment” of the Great Day. A slave in the eye of the law had no rights, and therefore no responsibility or hope. St. Paul therefore bids him, as a Christian, lift his thoughts to a region in which all, bond and free alike, may hear the blessing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
(9) Do the same things unto them—i.e., treat them as flesh and blood like yourselves, having, as men, the same claims on you as you on them; “do unto them as ye would that they should do unto you.” The parallel passage in the Colossian Epistle (Ephesians 4:1) is the best comment on this, “Give unto your servants what is just and equal.” “To forbear threatening,” or, as in the original, “the threatening,” which is so common, is one example of this sense of sympathy. For threatening implies at every moment compulsion and coercion from a position of tyrannical superiority; dealing with the slave as one who has in him no free energy and no sense of duty, and who must be driven like a brute-beast, not led or guided as a man.
Your Master also.—The stronger marginal reading is perhaps better, their Master and yours.
Respect of persons.—In this phrase the word “person” is used in its original sense (still lingering in our modern use of “person” and “personal,” for “body” and “bodily,”) of the persona, i.e., “the mask” of outward condition, circumstance, and privilege. In this general sense our Lord (Matthew 22:16) is said “to regard not,” and (Luke 20:21) “to accept not” the person of man, because “He teaches the way of God in truth.” This sense is illustrated in different forms by the other uses of the word “respect of persons,” and the corresponding verb in the New Testament. Thus in Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, it is used of the distinction of privilege between Jew and Gentile, circumcision and uncircumcision; in Galatians 2:6, of apostolic dignity in the eyes of men; in James 2:1; James 2:9, of distinction of social rank; here and in Colossians 3:25, of the difference between the slave and the freeman. In the modern sense of “person,” as signifying the real man, there is, and must be, “respect of persons” in all righteous judgment, whether of God or man.
(10) Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord.—The address “my brethren” appears to be an interpolation (probably from Philippians 3:1). Frequent as it is from St. Paul, it is not found either in this or in the Colossian Epistle.
Be strong.—Properly, be strengthened in the inner man; go on from strength to strength (as in Acts 9:22; 2 Timothy 2:1). So in Philippians 4:13 we have the cognate expression, “Christ that strengtheneth me,” in whom “I can do all things.” The conception is nearly that of Ephesians 3:16; except that there the idea is rather of passive strength and firmness, here of active power to fight “in the power of God’s might,” working in us, because it works in our Master. (Comp. Ephesians 1:19-20.) It differs also from that which follows. “Christ in us” is here our life and indwelling strength; in the next verses the likeness of Christ, as manifested in various graces, is the armour “put on” for the battle.
(6. Conclusion (Ephesians 6:10-24).
(1) FINAL EXHORTATION to put on the whole armour of God, in order to stand fast in the struggle, not against flesh and blood, but against unearthly powers of evil (Ephesians 6:10-17).
SPECIAL DESIRE OF THEIR PRAYERS, as for themselves and for all men, so especially for St. Paul himself (Ephesians 6:18-20).
(3) COMMENDATION OF TYCHICUS (Ephesians 6:21-22).
(4) CLOSING SALUTATION (Ephesians 6:23-24).]
(11) Put on the whole armour.—The special emphasis in this verse is on “the whole armour,” or “panoply” (a word only used here and in Luke 11:22); not mainly on its strength or its brightness, as “armour of light” (comp. Romans 13:12), but on its completeness, providing against all “the wiles” and “all the fiery darts” of the Evil One, leaving no one point unguarded by a carelessness which may be fatal on all. In this it accords well with the general completeness and harmony of idea so characteristic of this Epistle.
To put on the “armour of God”—given us, that is, by God—is declared (by comparison of Romans 13:12; Romans 13:14) to be to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hence its completeness corresponds to the divine perfection of His true humanity. We are “to grow up unto Him in all things” (Ephesians 4:15), to put on His image in all the harmony of “truth” and “righteousness,” of “peace” and “faith,” to receive and use His “salvation” and wield the spiritual energy of His “Word.”
The wiles of the devil.—The word “wiles” (used only here and in Ephesians 4:14) is an almost technical word for the stratagems of a skilful leader. It is notable that these “wiles” are ascribed to the devil, the “prince of the evil spirits” directing his hosts against the army of Christ; the actual “wrestling” of hand-to-hand struggle is with these evil spirits themselves. The word “wrestling” is, of course, not used technically, otherwise the counsel must have been (as in Hebrews 12:1) to divest oneself of all encumbrance. It is the personal grapple with the foe. Still it is possible that there may be some allusion to the “wrestling with the angel” of Genesis 32:24-29, though with a wholly diverse application.
(12) For we wrestle.—Properly, For our wrestling is. That there is a struggle, a “battle of life,” must be assumed at once by all who look at the world as it is; the question is whether it is against flesh and blood, or against a more unearthly power of evil.
Flesh and blood.—Or rather (as perhaps also in Hebrews 2:14), blood and flesh. So in John 1:13, “Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh.” In Matthew 16:17, 1 Corinthians 15:50, we have “flesh and blood.” The sense is clearly, as the comparison of all these passages shows, “mere human power.” Possibly the word “blood” is here put first to prevent even a moment’s confusion with the idea of wrestling against “the flesh” as an evil power within ourselves. In many passages of this Epistle St. Paul had dwelt on the opposition of the Christian to the heathen life, and the duty of rebuking and putting to shame the works of darkness; but here he warns us that the struggle is not a struggle with the “flesh and blood” of wicked men—a struggle which may still admit of some reserve of sympathy—but a truceless war with the spiritual powers of evil themselves.
Against principalities, against powers.—See Note on Ephesians 1:21.
Against the rulers . . .—“Principalities” and “powers” describe simply angelic powers, whether of good or evil. But in the following clauses St. Paul defines them as powers of evil, and appears to indicate two different aspects of this evil power. The original phrase is striking and powerful, “against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual powers of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
The rulers of the darkness.—Properly, the world-rulers of this darkness. This phrase is simply a poetical expression of the idea conveyed by the title “the prince of this world,” applied to Satan in John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11 (on which see Notes). For “this darkness” is obviously (as our version renders it, following an early gloss on the passage) “the darkness of this present world,” as a world overshadowed by sin, and so kept, wholly or partially, from the light of God. The title “the prince of this world,” was applied by the Jews to Satan, especially in reference to his power over the heathen, as lying outside the safety of the covenant. St. Paul applies it in a corresponding sense here to those outside the wider covenant of the gospel; just as in 1 Corinthians 5:5, 1 Timothy 1:20, he speaks of excommunication from the Church as a “delivery to Satan.” The spirits of evil are therefore spoken of as wielding the power which the Tempter claims for himself (in Luke 4:6) over such souls as are still in darkness and alienation from God. This is a power real, but limited and transitory, able only to enslave those who “yield themselves” to it, and destined to be overcome; and it seems to refer especially to the concrete power of evil, exercised through physical and human agency.
Spiritual wickedness in high places.—The “spiritual powers” are not spiritual principles, but “spiritual hosts” of wickedness; and the phrase “in the heavenly places,” corresponding to “the power of the air” in Ephesians 2:2 (where see Note), stands obviously in antithesis to “the darkness of this world.” The sense, as in all other cases, seems to be local. (See Note on Ephesians 1:3.) The spiritual hosts of evil are described as fighting in the region above the earth. But the meaning underlying this figure surely points to the power of evil as directly spiritual, not acting through physical and human agency, but attacking the spirit in that higher aspect, in which it contemplates heavenly things and ascends to the communion with God. As the former idea corresponds to the gross work of temptation on the high mountain, so this to the subtler spiritual temptation on the pinnacle of the temple.
(13) In the evil day.—Comp. Ephesians 5:15, “Because the days are evil.” The evil day is any day of which it may be said in our Lord’s words, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). In this life all days may be evil, but, except to the reprobate, none wholly evil; for out of evil “all things work together for good.”
Having done all, to stand.—The rendering (see Chrysostom) “having overcome all” is tempting, but does not accord with St. Paul’s use of the original word. The exhortation is first “to withstand,” i.e., to resist all distinct attacks; then, when in this we have “done all” that we are from time to time called to do, “to stand,” i.e., to plant our feet firmly on the rock, being “steadfast and unmovable” (1 Corinthians 15:58). The one conveys the idea of bravery and activity; the other of calm, well-balanced steadfastness.
(14) Your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.—There is here an obvious reference to two passages of Isaiah (Isaiah 11:5; Isaiah 59:17), “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins,” “He put on righteousness as a breastplate.” Truth and righteousness are virtually identical, or, at least, inseparable. Hence they are compared to the strong belt, and the breastplate continuous with it, forming together the armour of the body. Perhaps “truth” is taken as the belt because it is the one bond both of society and of individual character. But it is in the two together that men stand “armed strong in honesty.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, the metaphor is different and perhaps less exact. There the breastplate is the “breastplate of faith and love”—that which here is the shield.
(14-17) In this magnificent passage, while it would be unreasonable to look for formal and systematic exactness, it is clear that (as usual in St. Paul’s most figurative passages) there runs through the whole a distinct method of idea. Thus (1) the order in which the armour in enumerated is clearly the order in which the armour of the Roman soldier was actually put on. It nearly corresponds with the invariable order in which Homer describes over and over again the arming of his heroes. First the belt and the corselet, which met and together formed the body armour; then the sandals; next the shield, and after this (for the strap of the great shield could hardly pass over the helmet) the helmet itself; then the soldier was armed, and only had to take up the sword and spear. It is curious to note that St. Paul omits the spear (the pilum of the Roman soldier)—exactly that part of his equipment which, when on guard within, the soldier would not be likely to assume. (2) Again, since “to put on the armour of light” is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” it follows that the various parts of the defensive armour are the various parts of the image of the Lord Jesus Christ; hence they are properly His, and are through His gift appropriated by us. Thus the “righteousness” is clearly the righteousness of Christ, realised in us (comp. Philippians 3:9); the sandals, which give firm footing, are the gospel of our peace in Him; the salvation is His salvation worked out in us. Only the sword is in no sense our own: it is the “Word of God” wielded by us, but in itself “living and powerful and sharp” (Hebrews 4:12).
(15) Shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.—This passage is one which even to the Greek interpreters (see Chrysostom) was obscure. What is “the preparation of the gospel of peace”? (1) It has seemed to many natural to illustrate this phrase by the celebrated passage (Isaiah 52:7; Romans 10:15), “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace”; and to interpret, “shod in (or, for) preparing the way of the gospel of peace.” But this is inappropriate to the whole context; for each piece of armour is a quality, and not a function. (2) Again, the word rendered “preparation,” is found nowhere else in the New Testament; in the LXX. we find it used in its most obvious sense of “preparedness” or “readiness” (as in Psalms 10:17, “preparedness of heart,” and Nehemiah 2:3); but this sense will not suit the passage, for “readiness of the gospel of peace” is hardly intelligible, and certainly is not a quality of the soul. (3) We come therefore, at last, to a derivative and improper sense, which, however, is most frequently used in the LXX., viz., “foundation” or “base,” as in Daniel 11:7; Ezra 2:6; Ezra 3:3; Zechariah 5:10; Psalms 88:14. The context certainly suggests that we should explain the word here by this last Hellenistic use, as signifying simply the “footing” or “basis.” The caligœ, or sandals, of the Roman soldiers were heavy sandals studded with hobnails, to give a secure foothold to those who would stand firm. St. Paul identifies these with the firm “footing of the gospel of peace.” Clearly the word “peace” is here emphatic. The gospel is looked upon as the declaration of “peace on earth, goodwill towards men.” The firm stand on this message is the firm assurance of God’s love. In this, and this alone, we stand. No doubt, this is in some sense faith, but faith of a wholly different character from the defensive faith of the next verse.
(16) Above all.—Properly, over all, or besides all else. The shield here is the large heavy shield covering the whole body, in which the “fiery darts”—that is, the arrows, with the points made red hot, or wrapped in with burning tow (comp. Psalms 7:14; Psalms 120:4)—may fix and burn themselves out without harm. St. Paul likens it to “faith.” This, however, is neither the “faith in which we stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24), nor the energetic faith of Hebrews 11:0. It is the faith of patience and endurance, the almost passive faith, trusting in God’s protection and submissive to His will, on which the darts of temptation, whether from fear, or from lust, or from doubt, fall harmless. The best commentary after all, on the words is found in Christian’s conflict with Apollyon in the Pilgrim’s Progress.
(17) And take.—There is a break here. We are said not to put on, but to “take” (or rather, receive)—a word specially appropriate to “salvation.”
The helmet of salvation.—The word here (as in Luke 2:30; Luke 3:6; Acts 28:28) rendered “salvation,” is not the word commonly so rendered in the New Testament. It is, indeed, not “salvation” in the abstract, but a general expression for “that which tends to salvation.” But it occurs in the LXX. version of Isaiah 59:17, which seems obviously referred to, “He put” a helmet of salvation upon his head.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:8, where the breastplate is “of faith and love,” the helmet supplies the third member of the triad of Christian graces in “the hope of salvation.” Here the metaphor is probably somewhat different. The helmet guarding the head, the most noble and vital part, is “salvation” in the concrete—all that is of the Saviour, all that makes up our “state of salvation” by His atonement and grace—received in earnest now, hoped for in perfection hereafter.
The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.—In this we pass to the one offensive weapon of the Christian, “the sword of the Spirit”—i.e., given by the Holy Spirit—which, like the helmet, but unlike the rest of the defensive armour, does not become a part of himself, but is absolutely of God. The passage reminds us at once of Hebrews 4:12 : “The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword.” But there (as in 1 Corinthians 14:26; 2 Corinthians 2:17; Colossians 1:25; Colossians 2:0 Tim. 2:29) the original word is the larger and deeper word (Logos), signifying the truth of God in itself, and gradually leading up to the ultimate sense in which our Lord Himself is the “Word of God,” revealing the Godhead to man. Accordingly the work of the Word there, is that of the “engrafted Word,” “to divide asunder the soul and the spirit” within. Here, on the contrary, we have another expression (Rhema), signifying the Word as spoken; and St. Peter (in 1 Peter 1:25) defines it exactly: “The word of the Lord endureth for ever; and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” We cannot, of course, limit it to Holy Scripture, though we naturally remember that our Lord used the Scriptures as His only weapon in the Temptation. It is the gospel of Christ, however and wherever spoken, able to put to shame and to flight the powers of evil.
(18, 19) And supplication for all saints; and for me.—It is curious, and probably not accidental, that the prepositions in these two clauses are different. The first is properly “touching all saints,” and the second “on behalf of me.” Both are often interchanged; but there is, perhaps, here a touch of greater earnestness in the request of their prayers for himself, in especial reference to the need which is spoken of in the next words.
(19) That utterance may be given me, that I may open my mouth . . .—This hardly renders the original “that word may be given me in opening my mouth.” The “opening the mouth”—an expression always used of solemn and deliberate utterance—seems taken for granted. What the Apostle desires them to pray for is that “word may be given him”—“the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge, by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:8), according to our Lord’s promise (Matthew 10:19-20), “It shall be given you in the same hour what you shall speak; for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you.” Then he adds as a consequence of this—to make known in plainness of speech the mystery of the gospel. For to make known a mystery in simplicity needs not only boldness to speak, but also the knowledge of the true word of God.
The mystery of the gospel.—The word “gospel” being used emphatically is, of course, the mystery of the new and universal grace of God to the Gentiles of which he speaks at large in Ephesians 3:1-10. This was “made known to him;” he desires inspiration “to make it known” to others.
(20) In bonds.—Rightly, as in the margin, in a chain. The word is the same which is used in Acts 28:20, “For the hope of Israel I am bound in this chain.” It occurs also in Mark 5:4, Luke 8:29, where it is distinguished from a “fetter” properly so called, as binding the feet, and therefore obviously signifies a “manacle” binding the hand. Both are included (see Luke 8:29) in the general word “bonds.” The allusion is undoubtedly to the custom of chaining the prisoner by the hand to the soldier who kept him. Thus in Acts 12:6 we read that Peter “was sleeping between two soldiers,” and therefore “bound with two manacles;” and in Acts 21:33 that a similar precaution was used on the first apprehension of St. Paul. Here the singular number is probably to be understood literally. St. Paul was free except for the one chain, which the soldier was responsible for holding, and perhaps did not always think it needful to hold. That chain he seems to speak of as the badge of his ambassadorial dignity. To ambassadors, indeed, it belongs to be safe from imprisonment; but it was his greater glory to wear the chain for Christ.
That therein . . .—This is simply an enforcement of the previous phrase, in “plainness of speech.” The same word is used, and with the same signification of simplicity, as well as boldness, which (St. Paul here adds) alone befits his office.
(21) That ye also—i.e., ye as well as others. There is evidently an allusion to Tychicus’ similar mission to Colossæ; and we may, perhaps, also trace some indication of a generality of scope in this Epistle.
Tychicus is first mentioned with Trophimus in Acts 20:4, as being “of Asia,” and accompanying St. Paul on his last journey from Corinth to Asia, although he is not, like Trophimus, actually named as with the Apostle at Jerusalem. It is highly probable that he was one of the “messengers of the churches” spoken of in 2 Corinthians 8:18-23, as sent to bear the alms to Jerusalem. We now find him again with St. Paul, and made by him the bearer of this Epistle and the Epistle to the Colossians. Lastly, he is alluded to as still his companion in the interval between the first and second captivity (Titus 3:2), and in the second captivity is despatched once more to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:12). It is evident that he well deserved the title of a “faithful minister” to the Apostle; and we note (in 2 Timothy 4:11-12) that the command to bring Mark, as being “profitable for ministration” is immediately connected with the remark, “Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus.”
A faithful minister.—The word “minister” is diaconus; but there is no reason to think that it is used technically to describe Tychicus as a deacon. In the Colossian Epistle the words “and fellowservant” are added, showing clearly that the word “minister” refers only to ministration to St. Paul.
(22) Whom I have sent unto you.—This verse corresponds word for word with Colossians 4:8, being a quasi-official statement of Tychicus’ commission. The words “that he might comfort (or, encourage) your hearts,” although they might apply generally to all messengers from an Apostle, may probably be best explained by reference to the tone of the Epistle to the Philippians—in which St. Paul shows so much affectionate anxiety lest his converts should be disheartened by his continued imprisonment—and to the exhortation in this Epistle not “to faint at his tribulations for them” (Ephesians 3:13).
(23) Peace be to the brethren . . .—In the conclusion of the Epistle, as at the beginning, St. Paul gives the double benediction, “Peace and grace be with you all.” But it. is impossible not to notice the difference between the generality of the terms here used (“the brethren,” and “all who love the Lord Jesus Christ”) and the personal “you” of all the other Epistles—a difference which would be inexplicable if this Epistle were addressed to the well-known and loved Church of Ephesus alone.
Peace seems especially dwelt upon in the Epistles of the Captivity, of which the Epistle to Philippi contains (in Ephesians 4:7) the fullest description of the “peace of God which passeth all understanding.” It is naturally connected here with love (as in 2 Corinthians 13:11; Colossians 3:15-16)—a “love with faith,” “making perfect” (as in Galatians 5:6) the faith which St. Paul takes for granted as being in them. For peace is first with God, in the thankful receiving of His mercy; from this naturally arises “love with faith” towards Him; and out of this, again, peace and love towards men, in the conviction that, “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11). All these are gifts from “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
(24) Grace be with all them . . .—The salutation, “Grace be with you,” in various forms, is, as St. Paul himself says in 2 Thessalonians 3:17, “the token,” or characteristic signature, in every one of his Epistles, written with his own hand. It may be noted that it is not found in the Epistles of St. James, St. Peter, St. Jude and St. John, and that it is found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Here, however, it is at once general and conditional, “to all them who love the Lord Jesus Christ.” So in 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”
In sincerity.—The original is far stronger, “in incorruptibility,” a word usually applied to the immortality of heaven (as in Romans 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:42; 1 Corinthians 15:50; 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 2 Timothy 1:10); only here and in Titus 2:7, applied to human character on earth. Here it evidently means “with a love immortal and imperishable,” incapable either of corruption or of decay, a foretaste of the eternal communion in heaven.