READ : Ephesians 6:10-20
If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, whether you know it or not, you’re involved in a battle. Let’s listen today to our commander’s orders.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 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. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Ephesians 6:10-20, nrsv
In his letter the Apostle has given us a vision of God’s eternal plan to sum up everything in Christ. He has opened up the riches of God’s saving work in Jesus. He has given himself to “big” prayers. He has called the believers to live a life fitting, worthy of their call, renouncing the old way of life, learning Christ, copying God, living as light, being filled with the Spirit. He has called them in all the relationships of life to show reverence for him by treating others well. In all their relationships with non-Christians they are to buy up the opportunity of witness.
But that’s not all he has to say. Paul is compelled to remind these Christians that in the background of all these concerns, they are involved in an unseen war. It’s a deadly conflict with enormous issues at stake. It will go on until the Lord returns at the end of this age. No church, no Christian will be able to stand effectively and fight well in this battle unless each is alert to what’s happening.
Here are the facts as Paul inspired by the Spirit unfolds them.
We have an enemy. He is called Satan, the adversary, the devil, the ruler of the power of the air, the god of this world. We can understand his character and activity from these names: liar, father of lies, deceiver, murderer, accuser, serpent, roaring lion, devourer. He is the ultimate expression of evil whose hatred and opposition are directed against God, God’s purpose, and all who serve God and belong to him. The devil seeks to overthrow God, defeat his purpose, defile and destroy his people. His aim: to bring everyone in this audience today, every person in the world, into the depths of sin and bondage to himself, into the misery of hell. His opposition to you and any efforts you would make to serve and proclaim Christ is furious, cruel and unrelenting.
And this enemy, we learn, has a kingdom, a network of agents. They are called in Scripture “demons,” “evil spirits,” “unclean spirits.” Here in Ephesians they are called “cosmic powers of this present darkness, spiritual forces of evil.”
Like the devil himself, they are tremendously powerful. They work with cunning strategies, and they are totally evil, opposed to God and his people.
What is more, they are invisible to us. We can only see the effects of their activity.
You can grasp what these powers of evil are trying to do by looking at God’s revealed purpose:
- Does God want to create a new humanity in Jesus Christ? The devil and his forces want to destroy it.
- Does God want to break down the walls of hate that divide people? Satan seeks to rebuild them.
- Does God want to create a holy people, make the church a beautiful bride, and make his people happy and blessed forever? The powers of evil seek to pollute, divide and destroy the church, bring misery and bondage, hatred and murder, total rebellion against God, and lostness forever.
- Does God want the good news proclaimed to everyone on earth? Satan will do all he can to keep that from happening. Whatever the living God is seeking to do through Jesus Christ, in direct opposition the devil and his legions are seeking actively and constantly to spoil and destroy.
Now those are facts. That’s reality. If you, or even billions of other people don’t believe it, that doesn’t make it any less true. It simply makes the devil’s work easier. For Christians especially, if you don’t even know you’re in a warfare, you’re of little value to your commander-in-chief, and you aren’t likely to give the powers of evil any trouble.
THE GREAT VICTOR
Here are more facts-brighter, better, infinitely more hopeful.
- The living God is the final victor in this warfare.
- In Jesus Christ, his ministry, death, and resurrection, God has won the decisive conflict.
- The devil and his hosts will not finally win.
- Every knee will finally bow to Jesus; every tongue confess that he is Lord.
- Every person and power in this universe will at last be either at or under the feet of Jesus.
- The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ and he shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah!
But just as in human conflicts, even after a decisive victory has been won, it doesn’t mean that the war is over, or that the enemy has conceded defeat. Often, what we call “mopping-up operations” continue. The fighting, here in this world, goes on. It would be pleasant to believe that the battle is no longer raging, but that would be a delusion, and a dangerous one.
EQUIPPED TO STAND
Do you want to know how you as a church, as believers, can fight well and be more than conquerors in this warfare? Paul is a battle-scarred veteran, and he can tell you: “Be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power.” That’s the great charge. Be strengthened and empowered by him. He’s your only defense, your only ability, your only firepower in this war. In your union with him, your reliance on him is your hope.
His provision for you in the power of the Spirit is called a “panoply,” which means “all the weapons.” This we translate “whole armor.” With this in place and in use we’re going to fight well, stand strong and remain as victors in the field.
It’s there for us in Christ. But hear this, friends: We have to put it on. We have to avail ourselves of it, gird ourselves with it, every day.
- We need to strap around ourselves, for example, a belt of truth -God’s truth, yes-but truthfulness in all our ways. The devil loves lies. He majors in the lie. He can’t defeat you if you are a person of truth.
- To protect your body’s vital organs, you need a breastplate of righteousness, Christ’s righteousness. Yes, but also your uprightness, your integrity leaves no place for the devil to attack.
- On your feet you need whatever is required to share the gospel of peace with others.
- A shield of faith, faith in Christ, faith in the revealed gospel, is the shield with which you quench all the flaming arrows of the Evil One.
- The helmet of salvation, knowing that you’re a child of God, knowing that you’re saved, appropriating God’s grace for yourself. That’s what guards your head and your heart.
- And the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. Remember how Jesus used it in the wilderness? To every thrust, every temptation of the wicked one, he responded, “It is written.” This is the only offensive weapon, as well as defensive weapon, that the Christian possesses, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Hiding that word in our hearts, reading the Scriptures, meditating upon them, memorizing them, internalizing what God is saying to us, give us a mighty weapon against all the powers of evil. I think of that word in Luther’s great hymn, “One little word will fell him.”
But you ask, “How do I put all this armor on? How do I equip myself daily for the warfare? We can do it by what John Bunyan called “All-Prayer.”
Paul says, “praying with all prayer and supplication for all saints.” That’s how you put all the armor in place. Do you know the hymn: “Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer, where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there”? All of these resources that we need to carry on this warfare are found in Jesus Christ. And we put all of this on by faith in him and by prayer. So that prayer is not simply one piece of the equipment, one piece of the armor. It is the great God-given means by which we equip ourselves with everything that God has provided for us in Christ. With it we are able to fight the good fight of faith.
Paul in his labor and warfare, not only prays himself, but desperately needs the prayers of fellow believers. I’m struck by the fact that twice in these verses Paul is asking these believers to pray for him that he will have boldness to speak the gospel. I’ve usually thought of Paul as a single, courageous warrior for Christ and the gospel. Here he appears as he really is, a man fearful, a person exposed to all the pressures that affect each of us, pleading with his friends to pray for him that he may have boldness to speak the gospel freely in the world.
All of us, together with the Apostle are in a constant, tremendous struggle. We look out on a world torn by strife, shrouded in darkness with people in bondage, misery and fear. Evil seems incredibly strong. How can we hope to triumph?
The answer is: Jesus himself is our victor. In him we can and will prevail. The church of the Lord, though weak and divided, will yet be the Lord’s instrument in seeing his victory manifest. Sometimes we note it only in a gleam here and a glimmer there. But your obedience to the Lord – your prayers, your tears, your witness, your work, your suffering – will make a mighty difference.
So, beloved fellow believers, lift up your hearts. We’re on the victory side. The knowledge of the glory of the Lord will yet cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Be strong in the Lord. Take hold of God’s Word. Do everything by prayer. Send forth the good news about Jesus Christ. Stand firm in Jesus Christ until the final trumpet sounds. And then, around the throne of God we’ll know the sweet fruits of victory, and we will praise our king forever! Amen.