Ephesians 6:10-24 – Be Strong in the Lord 28/6/15
Today we’ve finally reached the end of Ephesians! Some of you might be rejoicing at that news, others might be lamenting. I for one am a little sad. Paul’s taken us on an incredible journey, starting at the cosmic level with the eternal plan of God who chose us before the foundation of the world. He’s shown us what it means to the church, holy and united in Christ. And he’s given us guidance on how to conduct our most intimate of relationships. As he finishes his letter though, Paul wants us to know that living as God’s people isn’t going to be easy. Why not? Because we’re going to face stiff opposition. And it’s not so much the opposition we’ll face from within ourselves or from the world around us that he warns us against, ‘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.’
What do these spiritual forces want to do? They want to thwart God’s plans. If God’s wants us to live in the light, they’ll do their best to convince us to remain in darkness. 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.
Paul wants us to face up to the reality of the devil and his minions. He doesn’t want us to underestimate them or the danger they pose. They’re powerful, rulers and authorities, cosmic powers, spiritual forces of evil. And they’re cunning and wily. Satan will use any tactic he can in his attempt to thwart God’s plans and to lead us astray. So we can never underestimate the danger. We can never take for granted our victory over sin. We can never stop fighting temptation. Never give up in your efforts to overcome it. Until Christ returns to take us to the Father we’ll always be fighting these spiritual battles.
But Paul doesn’t want us to be discouraged or overwhelmed. No, he wants us to be prepared and on guard. While we might not be able to stand up to the devil on our own, we don’t face him on our own. Paul says, ‘Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.’ The devil might be strong, but God is stronger. We’re to take hold of the strength that God gives us and to make use of every gift that he gives us. Do you notice that Paul rejects the two extremes of how we might react? We can’t go out in our own power, it’s not enough. But we can’t just sit back and say God’s got it all under control, we don’t need to do anything. No, we need to be strong, in the strength that God gives us.
Did you notice too that Paul doesn’t call us to go out on the attack? It’s not up to us to win the war, God’s already done that in Christ. Our duty is to stand firm, to resist the devil, to defend ourselves and the church so that the attacker can’t get in and wreck havoc in our midst. So four times Paul says, ‘stand firm.’ We’re to put on the whole armour of God so that we can ‘stand against the devil’ (v11). Again in verse 13 he says take up the whole armour of God so that we can ‘withstand on that evil day, and having done everything to stand firm.’ And again, in verse 14, Paul says stand therefore and get dressed for battle.
So we need to put on the whole armour of God. It’s the armour that God provides, it’s the armour that carries the power of God and that identifies us as part of his team. And it’s the whole armour of God that we’re to put on. We can’t leave a single bit out.
Well what is this armour that God supplies? The first item Paul mentions is the belt of truth. These days we use a belt to keep our trousers from falling down, but in those days a belt was used to tuck your tunic in so you didn’t trip over when you needed to move about. 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’s the father of lies and what’s the best defence against a lie? It’s the truth, isn’t it? So we need to be grounded in the truth of God’s words so that we’re not tripped up.
Next we’re to put on the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate is the piece of armour that covers your vitals. Ours is the breastplate of righteousness, the righteousness that Christ has given us by grace alone. It protects us against all the false accusations the devil makes against us. How many times have you felt that fear that maybe you’re not good enough for God, that maybe you’ve finally gone too far in your sinfulness and there’s no forgiveness for you? When you feel like that the best thing you can do is to claim the righteousness we have by faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. The best thing you can do is remind yourself that we are made righteous through God’s endless, amazing grace.
As for our footwear, ‘put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.’ A Roman soldier’s shoes were designed to provide strength and flexibility so that they could stand without stumbling in all terrain. 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’, Paul says, ‘take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.’ The shield Paul’s describing is not a small round one, but the large Roman shield, that 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 becomes stronger when we stand 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. So how does faith help us against that? It’s in at least two ways. 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’s how we take hold of the power of God in moments of temptation. It says, God’s promised to provide everything I need, including everything I need to be happy, so I’m going to believe him and rely on his help.
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 item in our armoury that can be used for both defence and attack, is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. The Roman sword Paul based this on was 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 studied with others. Just as faith is strengthened when we stand side by side with other Christians so our understanding of God’s word grows when we study it with others. Paul talked in chapter 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. 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, we get a picture of it in Hebrews 4:12 which 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.” 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. Paul’s already shared two of his prayers in this letter, so we know how powerful and important prayer is. We’re going to come back to this passage in a few months, so for now let me just draw your attention to two things. Paul says we’re to pray in the Spirit, guided and prompted by him. And it’s no good praying just on some occasions, some sorts of prayers, with some perseverance, for some of the saints. We need to pray at all times with every prayer and supplication, for all the saints, always persevering. 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. And finally, pray on every occasion that you’ll be able to stand firm.