Be Strong in the Lord & in his Mighty Power audio Eph 6:10-24
Do you remember when we looked at Paul's prayer in Eph 3 that I commented how difficult it is to achieve the sort of unity that God wants from his church. In fact I pointed out that that's why Paul prays the way he does: because only by God's power can this miracle come about. Paul knows that apart from the problem of our own weakness, our hardness of heart, there are forces in the world that'll try everything they can to stop us showing God's wisdom and glory to the world. The reality of life for the Christian is that we face opposition from the spiritual forces around us every day. We have an enemy whose sole aim is to ruin our efforts at every point. So Paul warns us. He says "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
So what do these spiritual forces want to do? They want to thwart God's plans. Is God's plan to create a new society? They'll do their best to break it down. Has God, through the death of Christ, broken down the dividing wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, indeed between all people, independent of gender, race, or culture? Then the devil and his agents will try to build that wall again. Does God intend his new people to live together in harmony and purity? Then the powers of evil will sow the seeds of discord and sin in our midst. We must never underestimate the danger. Never take for granted the victory over sin. Never stop fighting temptation. Never give up in our efforts to overcome it. And never be surprised when you see a Christian leader fall into sin of some sort or another. Until Christ returns to take us to the Father we'll always be fighting these spiritual battles. The peace, which Christ has bought by his blood, is still a promised peace. It's a peace that we enjoy in the midst of a relentless struggle against evil. The war is won but the battles continue.
So never underestimate the devil. Paul describes him and his followers as powerful, evil and cunning. They're the rulers and authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Until Christ returns they continue to wield their power. Christ has won the victory but they continue to fight, and will continue to do so with more and more desperation, until the last day. And make no mistake, their intentions are evil. They're the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We're opposed by spiritual forces whose desire is to conquer us and to rule us, to lead us astray from following Christ.
Notice too that the devil is a wily opponent. That is, he combines tactical shrewdness with ingenious deception. Jesus called the devil the "Father of lies" (Jn 8:44). He's described as a wolf in sheep's clothing. He even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). If he finds one strategy isn't working he'll try another. And of course one of his great strategies in this day and age is to convince people that he doesn't exist. People don't talk about the devil any more do they, except as a joke. "Oh, the devil made me do it!" But do you see that that's one of his great successes. If you don't believe in the devil, you won't be worried about his lies and temptations. If he's just a children's fable we can forget him because we've outgrown that sort of childishness. But don't be fooled. The devil is real. His opposition is something to be reckoned with. What we're fighting against isn't just human weakness. Psychological counselling and self help groups may solve some problems, but they won't help with this one!
But having said all that, let's not be overwhelmed by the situation. Let's remember that the battle we fight, we fight for the Lord. And remember that God fights with us. We fight in his power, with his armour. Paul says "From now on, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil." Notice that this is a 2-pronged strategy. Be strong in God's power, and enter the battle wearing the equipment he provides.
There's a balance needed here, you see. Some Christians are so confident in themselves that they don't even bother to ask God for his help. They just assume that they can go through life resisting all the temptations the devil throws at them. But there are others who forget that they have a part to play. These people think that as long as they pray and trust God, nothing can go wrong; he'll look after them. But that's only part of the truth isn't it? We need to rely on God's power alone, but we also need to put on the armour of God so we can defend ourselves.
Notice too, that the instruction is to stand firm. This isn't a battle where we're on the attack. Rather the image is that of a siege, where we're defending a position. In fact, think about the instructions that precede this. What were they about? Weren't they about how to order the household of God? It's as though Paul has extended that analogy, to the idea of the household now being under attack from outside, and our task is to defend it from that attack: to stand firm so the attacker can't get in and wreak havoc in our midst. Do you see how he repeats the phrase "Stand firm." (vs 11,13,14) This is a word for today if ever there was one. We're pressed on all sides by those who would have us waver in our faith and confidence in Christ. From within and without we're told you can't trust the word of God or the gospel; We're told not to believe the stories of the bible; not to be satisfied with the religious systems of Christianity; to look for a deeper spirituality than the gospel presents. But don't be led astray. Stand firm!
And notice how gracious God is to us. He doesn't ask us to stand defenceless before superior forces. Rather he equips us with armour for the battle. This idea of the Roman soldier's armour may be a bit foreign to us today. But think of our modern day equivalent: the cricketer's outfit. There's the pads, the rib guard the thigh guard, the batting gloves, strong boots with spikes to help you grip the pitch, etc. All designed for a specific purpose: to protect the batsman from a leather and cork projectile fired at him at about 140 kph. But here it isn't just armour. It's the armour of God. Just as Olympic athletes are given their country's outfits to wear, so we're given God's armour to wear in the battle. We don't stand in our own strength, nor do we wear our own uniforms. Rather we wear the uniform, the armour, that God provides, that both carries the power of God, and identifies us as part of God's team.
Well, what is this armour that God supplies. First, it's the full armour. That is, it covers all of us. The word is panoply. It was used of the full battle kit of the Roman soldier. And here's what it consists of.
A belt: the belt of truth. Now we use a belt to stop our trousers falling down, but in those days the belt was used to tuck your tunic into so you could move freely without tripping over. So when Paul talks of the belt of truth I imagine he's thinking of the way we can be so easily tripped up by the devil's tricks if we're not firmly anchored in truth. Satan is the father of lies and what's the best defence against a lie? It's the truth, isn't it? Of course that isn't as simple a matter as it once was. There was a time when everyone acknowledged the truth of a matter. But these days truth is all relative. What's true for me won't necessarily be true for you. It depends how it makes you feel. People so easily get tripped up by those who put forward a view of the truth that may sound convincing but is in fact contrary to God's word. The only way to stand firm is to be convinced that God's word contains the truth.
Next put on the breastplate of righteousness. That is the righteousness that Christ has given us by grace alone. The breastplate is that part of the armour that protects the vital organs, the heart and lungs, etc. But in the Christian's armour what is it protecting us against? Primarily, I think, it's protecting us against the false accusations of the devil, who'll try his hardest to convince us that we've failed. The best defence against those accusations is to claim the righteousness we have by faith in Christ's death and resurrection.
Next: "As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace". Roman footwear was designed to provide strength with flexibility, so the soldier could stand on rocky ground without stumbling no matter what came at him. So we need to be prepared with a clear understanding of the gospel, to share it whenever the situation demands, or the opportunity arises. And in the context of a quest for unity in the church, notice that he's talking here of the gospel of peace. When disputes arise, be ready to apply the gospel of peace to the situation.
"With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one." The Roman shield described here was made of two layers of timber overlaid with linen, then leather and bound with iron. It was specially designed to stop flaming arrows and put them out. And it was designed so that soldiers standing side by side would form a wall of shields that nothing could get through. Faith is something that grows when we share it together. Satan struggles to weaken our faith if we're serving God together. And what are the flaming darts of the evil one that our faith is meant to stop? Well, no doubt they're the accusations that the devil fires at us, that inflame our consciences with false guilt. But also, they're the temptations to doubt and disobedience, to rebellion, to lust and envy and malice and fear. And how does faith help us? In 2 ways at least. First it lays hold of the promises of God in moments of doubt or depression. It reminds us that Christ has died to bring us forgiveness; that Satan's accusations won't stand up. And secondly, it looks to the power of God in moments of temptation. It says, God has promised to provide everything I need to be happy, so I'm going to believe that and rely on his help to provide me with what I need at this moment.
This is related to the next item, the helmet of salvation. Just as the soldiers helmet gives him a sense of confidence on the battle field, it's our awareness of the salvation that Christ has given us, that no-one can take away, that gives us confidence as we face our enemy, the devil.
The last, and the only weapon in our armoury that can be used for both defence and attack, is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. Now there are two things to be said about the Roman sword. First it was a short sword. So it was designed for hand to hand combat. But secondly it was also designed for use in a battle column, shoulder to shoulder with other soldiers. Paul doesn't make a lot of this, apart from using the illustration itself, but think about it for a moment. The word of God is a powerful weapon for both defence and attack, but it's also something that needs to be read with others. Just as faith is strengthened when we share it with other Christians so our understanding of God's word grows when we study it with others. Paul talked in ch 4 about the way God gives gifts to the church so we can all grow to maturity; and each of those gifts has to do with the word of God. God wants us to learn from his word together so we grow into a unified body under Christ. Elsewhere we find similar teaching about learning together. In fact almost the entire New Testament is addressed to churches rather than individuals. Even those parts written to individuals are written in a way that shows they were meant to be read by the church as well. So it's not going too far, I think, to say that the sword of the Spirit is meant to be wielded in conjunction with others.
And what does this sword do? Well, Hebrews 4 tells us that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). God's word cuts through people's defences, pricking their consciences, throwing light into dark places, and bringing truth to the situation.
Finally, he says pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. Prayer isn't another weapon, but rather the thing that keeps us going as we do battle. And notice how we're to pray:
- In the Spirit: that is, guided and prompted by him;
- at all times: it doesn't matter how important or otherwise the situation seems to be. God loves us to pray to him. Don't think that your need is too small for God. He's a God of detail as well as of the big picture. So go to him with whatever need you have.
- similarly we're to pray with all kinds of prayer and request. Pray long prayers and short prayers, depending on the situation. And don't forget to go to him with thanks when you find your prayers answered, or when good things happen to you; when you have a victory in the battle.
- pray with alertness and perseverance. Be aware of what's going on around you. Be alert! And keep on praying even when things don't seem to be going well.
- pray for all the saints. Remember others who are with you in this spiritual battle. And notice that he asks for prayer for himself. Don't forget to pray for those who are your leaders in Christ.
It's easy enough to be like some Christians and pray on some occasions, some sorts of prayers, with some perseverance, for some of the saints, but here we're told to pray at all times with every prayer and supplication, for all the saints, always persevering. I can't help but feel that on this rests our hope of victory. Not our final victory of course. That depends on Christ's victory alone. But our ability to stand firm, and our success in achieving all that God has planned for us as a church, as the new people of God will depend on how much we make prayer a priority.
So never take for granted the victory over sin that Christ has won for us. Never underestimate the devil. He'll oppose us at every opportunity. Never give up in the fight against sin and evil. But always remember the power of God and the armour with which he's equipped us. Someone once suggested that you start each day by putting on each piece of armour to prepare you for the day. That's not a bad suggestion. And finally, pray on every occasion that you'll be able to stand firm.