In Summary: Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Church of Ephesus. Naturally, the last chapter is not just his farewells and concluding thoughts, but the continuation of his prior instructions. After all, he didn’t mark where Ephesians 6 should begin. If Paul had done the paragraphs, I think he would have separated Ephesians 6:21-24 as a section. (As in the ESV and NIV)
Before that there are two major portions of this chapter. The first finishes the specific application points from Ephesians 5, detailing parenting and slave-master relationships. It is important to note that the latter were a fact of Roman life, and Paul addresses living in reality rather than prescribing a future way of life. An ideal Christian world does not have right master-slave relationships. It has no slavery, and Ephesians 6:9 should make that clearer to us all. After all, how would slavery ever work without threatening? It does not.
The interaction between parents and children is also in view in the first section of Ephesians 6. As we are wont to do at times, overemphasis hits “children obey your parents” without much consideration of parental responsibility. Yet both are here, and neither are optional. These concepts also turn much of traditional Roman family life sideways. Children obeyed their parents because parents had life and death power (well, fathers did), and fathers did as they pleased. Paul says that the Christian household is characterized by a focus on Christ, a trust in His promises, and a commitment that all walk with Jesus.
Not on power exercised by only one person in the household. Those implications need filling out over time, but no Christian household is rightly dominated by any person other than the Person of Jesus Christ. Modern society sees child-dominated homes, wife-dominated homes, husband-dominated homes, and sin/chaos-dominated homes. Christian homes should not look like any of these.
In Focus: Turning our eyes to the second major section, we find the Armor of God passage. If you have been in church long, or if you have been in a Christian youth group, you’ve heard this discussed. We are to put on the armor, stand firm, and fight for the faith! (Note the evening sermon here: http://www.doughibbard.com/2013/02/sermon-warp-up-february-3.html)
I am persuaded, though, that we have cut a division at Ephesians 6:18 that does not belong there. We cut off Paul’s imperative to pray at all times, including for himself, from the Armor of God passage. We distance the preparation from the action.
Consider that the Armor Passage does not open with the command to be strong, as we often claim. It begins with the rhetorical marker of “Finally,” showing that what follows is Paul’s closing thought. It should be treated as a unified thought.
In Practice: If the Armor of God is related to prayer for one another, including and especially prayer to proclaim the Word of God (Ephesians 6:19-20), then we should focus on this action. Soldiers did not wear armor around just for show—not functional armor. It weighs too much for that.
We need to grasp that neither prayer nor action are the call of the Christian life. The call of the Christian life is to walk in obedience to Jesus, which requires constant prayerful action. Paul does not commend additional prayer times or further prayer meetings.
Neither does he command that the Church take on physical training or even specific programs. Instead, the command is to be ready, do battle, and pray always. Pray for the saints to prepare, to persevere, and to proclaim.
This is what obedience looks like: aware of danger, attached to the power of God, advancing into the darkness. This is what we should be doing.
In Nerdiness: Take a look at 2 Timothy 4:12 and Acts 20:4. We see the name Tychicus, as we have in Ephesians 6:21. It is possible to make the error of assuming all Biblical people with the same name are the same person, though “Mary” and “James” should clear that up for us.
Still, one can imagine that the Tychicus of Ephesians and the Tychicus of 2 Timothy are the same. Notice that in 2 Timothy, Paul has sent Tychicus to Ephesus. Now, we take Ephesians as a Prison Letter, drawn up by Paul while under guard and in chains. That much we are certain of. Frequently, though, we place Paul in his Acts 28 imprisonment here, where conditions are at least decent. We put 2 Timothy all the way at the end of his life.
Yet we put Ephesians earlier. I am searching my available sources for reasons why, but that’s a nerd concept that needs examined. How does the involvement of Tychicus affect our timelines of the Pauline Epistles?