Ephesians 6:15 has been taught mostly in my lifetime as a matter of the Christian's evangelism. I remember I sometime in the past reading or being taught (as an exception to the norm) that evangelism is not what is being taught here, and each time I would come back to this passage I would try to think through that again.
I am currently reading Martyn Lloyd Jones book, The Christian Solder: An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20, and he lays it out well. I have been sharing as I go my studies from this book with several of my friends. This particular part is easier to put on a blog post for easier reading.
We are interested in the spiritual application of this analogy. The term ‘preparation’ is the key to that. ‘The gospel of peace’ is not difficult to understand, but what is the meaning of the word ‘preparation’, as it is translated, in the Authorized Version? There are two main interpretations, and both can claim, up to a point, that they are based upon the original basic meaning of the word used by the Apostle. The first is, that it simply conveys the notion of ‘firmness’, that the ‘preparation’ of the Gospel of peace means the firmness which is given to us by the Gospel of peace. The so-called New English Bible adopts that meaning in its translation, ‘to give you firm footing’. But the common idea which is adopted very generally, with few exceptions, is something much nearer to what we have in the Authorized Version, and, indeed, is but a variant of it—‘Your feet shod with the “preparedness” [or the “readiness”] …’John Wycliffe was the first to see that that is the real meaning. He translated it ‘in making ready’, which means ‘readiness’, or ‘being prepared’. The Revised Standard Version of America supplies a good translation, namely ‘equipment’; ‘having your feet shod with the equipment of the gospel of peace’. The translation given by the New English Bible is not even considered by Arndt and Gingrich in their lexicon. They concentrate entirely on the ‘preparedness’, ‘readiness’, and especially on the idea of ‘equipment’. There is no doubt, it seems to me, that this is right.
The same word is used in the Epistle to Titus in the third chapter and the first verse, where the Apostle says: ‘Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates to be ready to every good work’. I propose therefore to accept as the best translation the word ‘equipment’, because it seems to me that the word ‘equipment’ includes both the idea of preparedness and also the element of stability and steadfastness.
Why does the Apostle tell us that we must have our feet shod with the preparedness, the readiness, the equipment of the Gospel of peace? There are some who say that what is meant is our readiness to take the good news of the Gospel of peace and of salvation to others; that it means that as Christians we should be ready to evangelize, always ready to obey the command to go and ‘preach the Gospel’. In Dr John Henry Jowett’s book on The Armour of God, in the chapter devoted to this matter of the feet, there is a characteristic sermon emphasizing our being ready to obey the call of God and to engage in missionary activity; that we are always to be on the qui vive as it were, so that when the command comes to us we shall be ready to go. ‘For My sake and the Gospel’s, go, and tell redemption’s story.’ I imagine that this interpretation was suggested by those Bibles which have marginal references which direct to two portions of Scripture. The first is Romans 10:15: ‘How shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things!’—a quotation from Isaiah 52:7. So in the marginal reference you will find opposite ‘feet’ in Romans 10:15, Isaiah 52:7. And so the notion comes in of being ready to run with the Gospel, the good news of peace with God through the blood of Christ.
It seems to me that this interpretation must be rejected completely, and for one all-sufficient reason. The Apostle is dealing here with one thing only, namely our fight and conflict with the devil. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers.’ His whole object is to enable us to ‘stand’ against the wiles of the devil. He is not thinking of evangelizing, he is picturing a Christian who is being attacked night and day by the devil and all his powers, and warning him that if he is not filled with the power of God, and if he does not put on this whole armour of God, he will be defeated. It is a defensive warfare. How can the question of evangelism possibly come into this matter of defensive warfare?
But someone may ask, ‘Well, how did anyone ever come to interpret it in that way?’ Here we have a most interesting point in connection with our reading and interpretation of the Scriptures. It is good to use a Concordance, but it can be a very dangerous instrument! You can read this verse, ‘And your feet shod …’ and then turn to your Concordance and you are referred to Romans 10:15, Isaiah 52:7 etc.; and this determines your interpretation. Now that is a bad use of a Concordance. There are many who always interpret Scripture in such a manner. They take a word, turn up the references, and the sermon is based upon the uses of the word. And an interpretation is produced which has little relationship to the context. Here, then, is a most important lesson. We must never interpret a word or a phrase without being sure that the interpretation fits the context. Do not isolate it and think of possible meanings or uses; everything must be taken in its context. The moment you adopt this method here, you see that that particular interpretation of ‘preparedness’ and ‘readiness’ and ‘eagerness’ is altogether wrong. Indeed, it is quite misleading at this point, it makes you forget all about the devil and the principalities and powers. In the sermon by Dr Jowett to which I have referred they are not even mentioned at all. He speaks of nothing but preaching the Gospel, and taking it to the distant parts of the world, and being ready to obey the call. It is important, I say, always to take a word, or a phrase, in its context. If people paid attention to the context most of our problems of interpretation would be solved. Most heresies have arisen because men have lifted a word or a phrase entirely out of its context and elaborated a false theory or a point of view out of it.
Since, then, the Apostle is speaking about our fight against the devil, our interpretation of his words must include the following principles. The first is firmness, confidence, a sense of assurance. If you are engaged in a mortal conflict with a powerful, wily, nimble adversary, you must guard against falling and slipping and sliding, by making sure that you are well shod. That is important in all kinds of physical conflict; and it is even more important in the spiritual realm. You have to be quite sure that you know what you are doing, and where you are standing. You must not suddenly find everything slipping from under your feet because your feet have not got a firm grip.
This means that you must resolute; that you have to resolve to be ‘a good soldier of Jesus Christ’, come what may. You have to resolve to adhere to this Gospel, no matter what hosts of foes may be arrayed against you. You have to take a firm grip of yourself. You must not come into the Christian life and continue in it half—heartedly, half in and half out, desiring benefits but objecting to duties, wanting privileges but rejecting responsibilities. You have to start by being firm and solid and resolute and assured. Paul’s mention of the sandals carries that notion. If you want to ‘stand’, make sure that you can stand and that you want to stand. Do not rush out as it were in your bare feet, but put on the sandals with the studs. Pay great attention to this requirement.
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