Friday, February 24, 2006

Put on Christ against the Powers

Donna Reinhard, in her paper "Ephesians 6:10-18: A Call to Personal Piety or Another Way of Describing Union with Christ?" argues that the “whole armor of God” pericope represents a summary of the letter of Ephesians. It does this because (a) it gathers in itself emphases found in the both the indicative and imperative halves of the letter; (b) it retains the tension in Ephesians between God’s sovereign provision for his people and their ethical response.

As an example of the latter, consider the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is a gift from God; it can't be drawn from one's own well. Yet, believers are called to interpret in thought and action the implications of the imputed righteousness of Christ Jesus that has been applied to them by the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in Ephesians 2:4--in the indicative section (Eph. 1:3-3:21)--Christ is described as “our peace” whereas in Ephesians 4:3--in the imperative section--believers are urged to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

In find most intersting the contribution Reinhard’s exegesis of Ephesians 6:10-18 makes to my ongoing meditation on the Powers. Ephesians 6:10 exhorts the faithful to be made “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” Why? Because the principalities and rulers are in opposition, seeking to sow discord in the church any way they can. Believers are to “recognize that disunity within the church is a result of both external forces acting against the Church and attacks on individuals within the Church, weakening individuals in order to weaken the whole.” “These enemies are the same forces (2:2) that had once enslaved them. These are not enemies one can withstand in one’s own strength. Only by God’s resurrecting power are believers made alive in Christ (2:1-5) and freed from slavery to these dark forces. Again, the juxtaposition of God’s might and sovereignty (these enemies have already been defeated!) and the human responsibility to respond to God’s grace is clear.

So, in order to avoid being overrun by the divisive forces of the Powers, believers are to put on the armor which, as Reinhard argues, is a metaphor for putting on Christ & his purposes. “Putting on the whole armor of God” is the same as “putting on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Origen) “Putting on the armor of God is another way of talking about being “identified with God and his purposes.” (O’Brien) “Putting on God’s armor is an aspect of putting on Christ, that is, being united with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, picking up the Indicative/Imperative Sovereignty/Responsibility tension as above, the armor is God’s “God’s sovereignty and power and the riches of Christ for the believer.” “The armor given by God to believers is in some sense his own” where “the Christocentric use of ενδύω” is shorthand for union with Christ. And there is only a short distance between this and theological anthropology with the renewal of the imago Dei. Indeed, the product of this putting on is unity.

Reinhard strongly connects Christian unity and opposition to the Powers. Putting on the armor (putting on Christ) is as much for corporate as for personal protection. “Put on Christ for the sake of the unity and maturity of the Church.” Where the Powers seek division, the epistle urges believers “to live according to the now-revealed mystery of God’s will—unity in Christ.” “Putting on” empowers one to live in community in a way pleasing to God (see Col. 3:10, 12). It is the acceptance of “another view of the world,” namely warfare, resistance to the Powers, fundamental protest, the trusting and active attitude of hope. “The contradiction to the existing reality of himself and his world in which man is placed by hope is the very contradiction out of which this hope itself is born -- it is the contradiction between the resurrection and the cross. . . . It is only in following the Christ who was raised from suffering, from a god-forsaken death and from the grave that it gains an open prospect in which there is nothing more to oppress us, a view of the realm of freedom and of joy. Where the bounds that mark the end of all human hopes are broken through in the raising of the crucified one, there faith can and must expand into hope. There it its hope becomes a ‘passion for what is possible’ (Kierkegaard), because it can be a passion for what has been made possible.” (Moltmann)

Finally, Reinhard lists seven prominent thematic topics in Ephesians, which I found helpful in my reading of this epistle. (1) the unity of believers in Christ; (2) the source of opposition to Christian unity; (3) God’s power exercised on behalf of believers (which Reinhard says is found only in the indicative section: “This topic is presented differently in the two sections of the letter. In the indicative section, it is the power of God exercised on behalf of believers, and in the imperative section it is the call for believers to recognize their dependence upon Christ for strength.”) and the need of this power in the life of Christians; (4) the mystery which is now revealed.” Further, she says, “two topics are found in only one section: God’s will or purpose is found in only the indicative section, and the exhortation to walk worthy of one’s calling is found in only the imperative section.”(524)
Reinhard, Donna R. “Ephesians 6:10-18: A Call to Personal Piety or Another Way of Describing Union with Christ?” JETS 48/3 (September 2005): 521-32. See also the last post in this series Haustafel and the Powers

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