For an introduction to this series, click here.
Paul wraps up this book with several general warnings and admonishments. The first is to parents and children:
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother' (this is the first commandment with a promise), 'that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.' Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." (6:1-4)
This passage is pretty self-explanatory, but I do wonder how many Christian parents make a conscious effort to bring up their children in the "discipline and instruction of the Lord." Raising children is serious business, but so many just think it happens.
"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him." (6:5-9)
Some use this passage and others to say that Paul approved of slavery, and doubtless some Southerners 150 years ago used passages like this to try to justify slavery. But we must take these passages in their historical context. Slavery was a fact of life in the Roman Empire. In fact, there were probably more slaves than free people in the entire Empire. If not at this point in the first century, then certainly 150 years or so later that would have been the case. The main point Paul was making is that these believers not to try to lead a social revolution. The church is to be characterized by love and acceptance, not militarism. Somehow the church has lost that vision, and now we are a cog in the political machine. The Lord never intended for us to be that.
The next passage falls into the category of those passages, like the Beatitudes and the Fruit of the Spirit, that are beat to death by shallow hacks pretending to be deep thinkers:
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." (6:10-20)
Paul is simply using the imagery of a soldier, something everyone was familiar with, to explain the warfare that we are in as believers. I don't think, if you would have asked him, that Paul had in mind that we are to wake up each morning and pray as we put on each piece of spiritual armor, as I have heard this passage taught. Now maybe I am wrong, but I don't think we can put that much significance in this passage. He would have expounded on this more if he had wanted so much emphasis placed on it. As I have written before, Paul's lists should be taken as exemplary of the topic at hand, not an exhaustive treatment of it. At least one other time, Paul used this imagery: "But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." (I Thessalonians 5:8, ESV) I have never heard any sermons on that passage, at least not that I can think of.
Of course this passage is good to study, as all scripture is, but this is another example of well-meaning Christians yanking scripture that sounds interesting out of its context and telling us they have found something really important. I'm not going to pretend I have everything figured out, because I don't. And maybe my emphasis on trying to understand a passage in the context of the entire epistle is misplaced or unbalanced. Feel free to correct me if you feel that it is. But honestly, I don't feel that it is fair to the writer or to us to interpret the epistles by emphasizing a brief passage that seems to make an interesting point. The epistles should be studied as a whole, not broken down into passages. The Gospels, for example, are quite episodic and it is OK to interpret them that way. But the epistles are personal letters written by a leader of the church to a group of people. They should be interpreted as such.