What does Ephesians 6:16 mean?
ESV: In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
NIV: In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
NASB: in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
CSB: In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
NLT: In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.
KJV: Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
One of an ancient soldier's most important tools was a shield. It was essential to protect against enemy attacks, whether swords, arrows, stones, spears, or other attacks. This was such a powerful implement that shields are often associated with strength in the Old Testament. God calls Himself a shield to Abraham (Genesis 15:1) and served as a shield to Israel (Deuteronomy 33:29). Used in formations, cooperating with other soldiers, shields were the defining equipment in many battles.
Faith, in this case, is what deflects the attacks of the enemy. The other parts of the armor will protect the soldier if the shield is bypassed. But the strongest defense is the shield: it actually protects the rest of the armor! Note, though, that the analogy of a "shield of faith" also counters the frequent criticism of religion as "blind faith." Shields are purposeful instruments, not walls to hide behind. Shields, by their nature, are meant to be used with strategy, awareness, and cooperation.
The beauty of a Roman shield was its ability to resist nearly any type of attack. In this context, Paul notes that the shield of faith "can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one." The attack he mentions is fiery arrows, a common tactic in ancient war. Even a Roman breastplate could be pierced by an arrow. Shields prone to catch fire were vulnerable. Roman shields were lined with leather, and usually soaked with water before a battle. In other words, the One providing the armor gives His troops equipment perfectly suited to surviving the enemy onslaught.
Also notice the attack is from the "evil one," Satan. Elsewhere, Jesus teaches to pray for protection against Satan as the evil one (Matthew 6:13). Satan cannot be everywhere at once since he is not God, yet Paul seems to indicate Satan attempts to attack every believer he can. Like a military commander, he can attack Christians indirectly through his demons.
Interestingly, the shield is the only defensive piece of armor which can also protect other people. Ancient soldiers would typically fight in formation, interlocking their shields. This meant each man protected both himself, and others, with his shield. In the community of believers, cooperation, unity, and holiness are crucial. When we work "in formation," we form a wall of faith which makes the entire church safer and stronger.
Ephesians 6:10–20 concludes Paul's practical application of Christianity with a famous series of metaphors. Here, he describes the ''armor of God.'' In this passage, Paul uses the allegory of a Roman soldier's basic equipment to show how the components of Christianity work together as we strive to serve God. The soldier's tools include a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. In parallel, the Christian's implements are truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. Christians are also given prayer. Just as a soldier's equipment is designed for their earthly battle, a Christian's equipment is meant for spiritual warfare.
Paul gives specific instructions to children and fathers, stressing obedience and patience, respectively. He also directs servants to serve with sincerity and good intentions, as if they were working for Christ. Masters are warned not to be harsh: the same God who judges all will not give them preference over those they supervised. All Christians are called on to use the tools given us by God for surviving the attacks of the devil. These are imagined as pieces of a suit of armor. Paul ends this letter in his typical style, with prayer, blessings, and news about his plans.
Ephesians opens with three chapters of doctrine, followed by three chapters of practical application. This final chapter of Paul's letter focuses on specific ways Christians should live. It also summarizes the spiritual tools we are given by God, imagining them as a suit of armor. Paul pulls the same basic ideas from the rest of letter together, showing how Christians should live out their knowledge of what salvation in Christ really means.
Ephesians follows a theme common in Paul's writings: connecting theory with practice. In this book, however, he goes into greater depth before making the transition. As a letter meant to be read by more than just the believers at Ephesus, this is an important look at how Christian belief should translate into Christian action. The first three chapters lay out spiritual ideas, the last three chapters show how these truths should be applied in the life of a mature believer. Paul focuses heavily on love, the unity of the Christian church, and the incredible value of our salvation through Christ.
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