Dressed for Battle
Ephesians 6:10 – 24
Dressed for Battle
Don’t miss the last bit!
In my efforts to always be prepared for any eventuality, this week I was reading about survival, after being marooned on a desert island!
My wife Kathy says I’m paranoid, but I just like to be prepared for any scenario I might face!
In my reading, I came across the story of a Dutch sailor who was marooned on Ascension Island in 1825, and started to keep a journal of his, well, adventures and misfortunes!
Some time the following year, British sailors found the journal, and took it back to England. Eventually the story of the marooned Dutchman was published, with details of his life, his death, how he approached his final days on the Island and all that kind of drama.
The only problem was, when the journal was recovered, there was no ending,
There was no dramatic final entry,
There was no end of the story. For all we know the Dutchman left Ascension Island on one of the many ships that passed there every year, and lived a happy and fulfilling life somewhere in the Dutch East Indies.
The author had just made up an ending to the story, and then interpreted everything that had come earlier through his own fabrications!
And while it may have made for great fiction, the various historians who depended on that book as a source of information about life at sea, in the 1800s, they were led well and truly up the garden path.
Today we come to the last part of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, the final journal entry, and when Paul says, in verse 10, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, he’s saying this last bit, is important for understanding all that’s come before.
He’s held out the expectation of the Christian life for us in the preceding chapters, now he wants to make sure we know, that that kind of life isn’t lived in a vacuum.
This bit, will impact everything that has come before. And without this piece of information, you won’t actually be able to do everything I’ve been encouraging you to do
Be strengthened in the Lord (v 10 – 11)
And here’s the final journal entry that we cannot do without, be strengthened in the Lord, because your faith in Jesus will attract spiritual opposition
So be strong, says Paul. Literally it’s “be strengthened.”
Be strengthened, in the Lord
And Paul uses the plural. We’d have to say “youse, be strengthened.” As he’s done numerous other times in Ephesians, Paul gives a plural instruction, to describe what Christians ought to do together.
You know on the plane, during the safety demonstration, which again, always be prepared, I pay close attention to! They tell you, “If oxygen masks drop from the ceiling, affix your mask first, and then assist others”?
That’s what Paul has in mind. Affix your mask first, and then assist others.
And then together, we as a community, the body of Christ, will be able to take our stand against the devil’s schemes.
Paul’s already spoken of God’s power as raising Jesus from the dead, chapter 1 verse 20,
3 verse 7 God’s power transformed Paul from being a persecutor of the church to a messenger and leader of the church,
3:18, it’s God’s power that enables Christ to dwell more and more in the heart of the Christian person.
3:18, it’s God’s power that allows us to grasp something of the immeasurable love of Christ.
It’s that power of God that can strengthen the Ephesian believers.
And it God’s power can do all of that, well then I think I agree with Paul, that God’s power is enough to enable us to stand, when we come face to face with spiritual opposition.
Make sure we have a spiritual perspective (v 12)
We’ll come to the means of being strengthened in a moment, but in order to benefit from God’s power that enables us to stand against the devil’s schemes, we need to have a perspective that recognises the devil’s schemes.
Paul’s spiritual perspective allows him to see the reality facing Christian people.
If we have a purely worldly perspective, we won’t have the full picture.
Did you see what Paul sees, when he looks at the world? Take a look at verse 12. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
On my day off last week, we took our kids to Victor Harbor, thought we’d see if we could spot a whale or two, and, having wandered around on ground level for a bit, we then climbed up to the top of The Bluff, for a better view.
And of course, it was a better view! We were still looking at the same things, but our perspective had shifted.
Because of our new perspective, we were able to see the same things differently.
In some cases we were able to see things as they really were.
Paul wants the Christians in Ephesus to have the same perspective shift when it comes to looking at their Christian life.
Today, lots of people will scoff at the idea of spiritual forces of evil.
Even in the introduction to The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis wrote this:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. , One is to , disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.
Sometimes you’ll find people obsessed, with demons and the devil. Anything that goes wrong, from sickness to, a car that won’t start, must be the work of the devil.
But other people, don’t think that there’s any sort of spiritual realm. Maybe that’s you. You just want to stick to what you can see and touch.
Or it’s possible to acknowledge the reality of the spiritual realm, but to live in such a way that ignores it completely.
Paul gives the spiritual perspective. Our struggle, he says. The struggle of all Christian people, not just Paul,
Not just Christian leaders,
The struggle of all Christian people, is against spiritual forces.
Much warfare today, is conducted at some distance, isn’t it?
Paul’s language for the struggle that Christian people engage in, is much more up-close and personal.
I heard in a Remembrance Day service once, a British army officer recounting a battle in the Falklands war; Out of ammunition, and with only a broken bayonet, one solider fought on to capture a position.
That personal confrontation, is what’s on view here.
Christian person, Satan will attempt to separate you from Christ.
He will seek to undermine your faith.
He will seek to diminish your trust in the Word of God.
He will seek to silence your witness to the good news of Jesus.
He will give you every excuse and opportunity, to not meet together with God’s people.
He will seek to rob you, of your place, seated with Christ.
Do not, for a moment, think that this is not personal, and does not involve , you. It absolutely does.
There is a spiritual opposition to the advance of the gospel of Jesus, and so to try and fight it, if you like unspiritually, as if it’s merely a human battle, well those efforts can only fail.
I think also, when Paul speaks about taking your stand against the devil’s schemes, we’re reminded of the deception that the devil will use, to try and thwart the plans of God,
To stop us living as God’s dearly loved children.
Temptation and evil will be laid before us in any number of ways, and one of those schemes, as C S Lewis pointed out, is to get people to disbelieve in the reality of spiritual opposition at all.
Let me say also, that this section here puts to rest any notion, that Christianity exists to be solution, to our problems.
Some Christians have gone down the track of saying, “if you’re sick, Christianity will make it all better,
If you’re hurting, Christianity will solve your problems,
If your life is rocky, Christianity will clear your horizon of any obstacles.”
They make it sound like Christianity is a crutch, that exists purely to make your life easier.
But actually these verses tell us Christianity isn’t like that.
Christianity isn’t about solving your problems, and clearing your horizons so it’s all smooth sailing from here on in.
If Christianity is a crutch, it’s a crutch that will lead you into a situation where quite possibly your other leg will get broken!
If you’re here today because you’re trying to find out about Christian things, we’re so pleased to have you with us, and don’t hear me wrong, I’m not saying Christianity has nothing to offer, particularly in the hardest and most difficult situations of life, but I want you to understand it rightly.
Christianity isn’t a magic pill that makes all your problems go away. The Apostle Paul, writing this in the first century AD, knew better than most, exactly that kind of opposition the Christian faith would attract.
Put on the full armour of God (v 13 – 17)
So having given the spiritual perspective, and made sure that his readers are on their guard against the devil’s schemes, Paul comes back to the how, the means by which those who trust in Jesus can be strengthened by God’s mighty power.
Verse 13, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand
To speak of the armour of God, could mean, the armour that God himself wears,
This is, the shirt of Clayton.
It could also mean, the armour that is God himself.
Put on the “shirt of cotton.”
Paul might be saying God himself is the armour, God himself is the protection.
Or Paul might mean, the armour of God, is the armour that God provides us with.
And the explanation that follows makes it clear that this third meaning, the armour that God provides us with, is what Paul has front and centre in his mind.
And yet I don’t think we can entirely dismiss those other two ways of understanding it.
The descriptions of some of these pieces of armour, Paul picks up from the Old Testament, particularly from the book of Isaiah, 800 years earlier, where these same descriptions are used to picture God himself, and his Messiah, dressed for battle.
Some of this is God’s own armour.
And some of the items particularly, truth, verse 14, righteousness, are closely associated with God’s own character and nature, and so again, there is certainly an extent to which Paul wants us to put on God himself, for our protection, put on the characteristics of God.
He’s already told us, chapter 5 verse 1, to be imitators of God.
Well, here we’re told to put on, these attributes of God.
So that you may stand firm
And God offers us his strength, so that we might stand, when the day of evil comes. That’s the goal.
To speak of the day of evil prepares us for every day, as we wait for Christ to return, and yet the specific language of the day, prepares us for the fact that there will be particular times, when as Christian people we need to stand against the devil’s schemes.
And perhaps the day of evil might not be a day of supreme difficulty, or obvious opposition, but a day in which we experience some success, when things appear to be going well for us.
That might be the opportunity the devil takes.
When I lived in Darwin, they used to warn people in cyclone season, about the calm that would descend, when the eye of a cyclone passed over you.
In the very centre of a cyclone, there was actually not much wind at all. People would come out of their shelters, only for the storm to strike up again, catching people unprepared, and unprotected.
God’s great desire for you is that you will not be caught off guard, but that you will be able to stand firm, stand your ground, verse 13, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Think of the sentry, standing at the front of Buckingham Palace. Maybe you’ve seen them, or seen them on TV.
Tourists like to go up to them and pull faces, tell them jokes, trying to get them to respond, to be distracted, but no matter whatever hijinks the tourists are up to right in front of them, they stand firm.
Oh, but touch one of them, and years of military training, and discipline, and preparedness instantly kicks in, and the sentry is ready for action, defending himself, and his post.
The devil is real, and strong, and powerful, yet God strengthens his people for battle.
This is a passage of assurance and confidence, not of fearfulness and retreat.
So let’s have a think about each piece of armour that allows the Christian man or the Christian woman to stand against the devil’s schemes.
The belt of God’s truth
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist,
The old Bible versions used to translate this as having girded your loins with truth. I tend to think of your belt as something that holds your pants up, whereas girding your loins was more about being prepared. In an era when clothing, even for men in battle, tended to be flowing and loose, girding your loins, buckling your belt around your waist, conveyed a sense of deliberate anticipation, reading yourself for action.
Today we’d have to say something like, “have the mobile phone of truth charged and ready to go!” “Or “with the fuel tank of truth filled up, and ready to drive”, or some metaphor better than that, that conveys that sense of readiness.
This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered the concept of truth in Ephesians. And when Paul speaks like this, he doesn’t just mean true facts.
The weather is cold today.
I am 37 years old.
Simply knowing true facts won’t enable us to stand firm against opposition.
Truth means the truth of God as made known in the gospel of Jesus.
Truth is the revelation of who God is, of his plans and purposes,
Of our place, the church’s place, within those plans
See a significant weapon in the devil’s arsenal, is to get us to doubt the truth. Not doubting true facts, but doubting the truth of God contained in the gospel of Jesus.
The truth that , God is real.
The truth that God is good.
That God always acts for our good,
That he knows best,
That he has our best interests at heart.
That was at the heart of the serpent’s question to Eve in the very beginning wasn’t it? The temptation to doubt the truth that she knew about God.
“Did God really say, ?”
Is the the belt of truth buckled around your waist Christian person?
Have you buckled yourself to the truth of God contained in the Scriptures?
Or is your relationship with the truth of God not so much with it being buckled around your waist, but more like an accessory that you pick up and carry around from time to time?
The lip balm of truth, “oh yeah, I think I need a bit more of that right now”,
The sunglasses of truth, “Some days, I need them.”
Is the belt of God’s truth buckled around you, readying you for action?
The breastplate of righteousness
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
The breastplate was what covered the torso of an ancient Roman soldier. And as he’s writing this, Paul may well have been chained to one of these soldiers.
But as is so often the case, Paul’s thinking is shaped particularly by the Old Testament, and here he draws his image from Isaiah 59, where God himself has righteousness as a breastplate, as he goes in to battle for his people.
And so righteousness here about Christian people, acting rightly, imitating God.
If, as we’re filled by the Spirit of God to all the fullness of God,
If we imitate God, as dearly loved children,
If we live out the character that God has given us, then we’ll live rightly.
To not live rightly,
To not do what we know God would have us to, would leave ourselves wide open and unprotected.
To not live according to what we know of God’s pattern for life, is effectively to drop our armour, and paint a great big target on our chests.
Having feet fitted with readiness
and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Here’s a picture of a soldier, firm, ready for battle, because his feet are properly equipped for the task ahead of him.
But again, Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament shapes his imagery. In Isaiah 52 we find a description of a messenger who brings good news, the word, “gospel”, who proclaims peace, and whose feet are the symbol of this peace coming.
This messenger is ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God.
And so Paul incorporates that Old Testament imagery into his picture of the soldier, and says, think of your shoes as the readiness that comes from the gospel.
It implies being sure footed,
Having understood the gospel, knowing the good news of Jesus, mean we’re not going to be able to be pushed back.
We won’t be unsure of our standing before God,
We won’t doubt our identity as dearly loved children.
We won’t fall into the temptation of thinking we have to work our way into right relationship with God, that most frequent of the devil’s lies.
And we won’t fall into despair, at the sin we struggle with, and that so easily entangles.
We have received the gospel of peace! Stand firm.
And of course, those whose feet are fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, themselves become like that messenger in Isaiah 52, we become heralds of good news.
That is, we not only stand firm, but we can advance.
When I used to coach basketball, we used to say, “the best defence, is offence.”
What better way to stand firm, than to take the gospel of Jesus to others? Not only is that the way of bringing more people into God’s family, but it’s a terrific way for Christians themselves to be rooted and established in the gospel.
Part of a Christian’s armour, part of the way that God equips us to stand firm in the face of opposition, is by using us to share the good news of Jesus with others.
Maybe this is the part of the armour, that we most easily neglect. Do we actually refuse to fit ourselves, with the readiness that the gospel of Jesus offers?
The shield of faith
In addition to all this, verse 16, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Faith in God, trust in the promises of God, is our shield against the devil’s attempts to attack us.
The children’s Bible I had as a child, had a picture of David and Goliath, and Goliath was pictured standing behind an enormous shield. And I remember as a little kid, thinking, “Surely nothing could ever get past that.”
That’s the picture here. The name of this shield came from the word for “door.” It’s like standing behind a massive door when someone’s throwing things at you!
When someone lies about you, a flaming arrow from Satan,
Someone tries to tear you down, a flaming arrow,
When you’re falsely accused,
When Satan causes you to doubt, flaming arrows,
Temptation rears its head, a flaming arrow.
Illness, persecution, criticism, from inside the church, Satan will take every opportunity to launch his flaming arrows.
The Roman shield was often wrapped in leather, and soaked in water, so that any arrow, dipped in pitch, and set alight, would be extinguished as it buries itself in the shield.
One historian notes that after a long battle some of these shields would have many smouldering arrows embedded in them, and they’d look like giant roasted porcupines!
To take up the shield of faith, is to take hold of the promises of God. It says the solution, when those fiery arrows come, the deliberate attack of Satan, the hardships of life that give him an easy opportunity, a clear shot, the solution is not to look at ourselves,
To find within myself the strength to go on,
But to continually look to God, and to trust in his promises.
What has God promised us?
What do we have faith in?
The fiery arrows are extinguished.
Of course, the historians would want us to remember that the Roman army were famous the world over, for their technique of interlocking their shields;, for each man to use his shield to protect not just himself, but to play a part in protecting the whole group.
Your faith in God, Christian person, your trust in his promises, plays a part in our corporate defence against attack.
When your confidence in God’s promises means you’re not rattled or unsettled by what we see around us in our world,
Or by the state of our society,
The brutal persecution, the execution of Christians in other countries,
When your confident faith in God and his supervision of his plans and purposes in the world, instructs and reminds and builds up others, then your shield of faith plays a part in equipping them for their defence.
The helmet of salvation
Then, Paul says, Take the helmet of salvation.
Once again, in Isaiah, we see God himself wearing the helmet of salvation as he delivers his people, and judges those who oppose and threaten them.
It’s like Paul imagines God giving Christians his own helmet.
He’s saying, “Take hold of salvation”
Put on, if that were possible, the salvation won for you at the cross of Christ, where God both rescues his people, and pours out his judgment.
Be mindful of everything that God has accomplished for you.
Think of some of the language we’ve heard so far in the letter, if you’ve been with us;
Redemption, being bought at a cost,
Made alive with Christ,
Seated in the heavenly realms,
A new humanity created in Christ.
When Satan attacks,
Whether that be with doubt,
With ridicule on the lips of colleagues,
Or rejection from you family,
When your Christian faith is opposed, or your Christian perspective shouted down,
When you begin to wonder, could God possibly use me?
I’ve failed miserably at all the instructions to Christian people so far in Ephesians,
Take the helmet of salvation.
Be mindful of everything that God has accomplished for you in Jesus Christ,
That he sent his Son to die for you while you were living as his enemy,
And let that give you confidence to stand.
The sword of the Spirit
The final piece is, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
Paul’s language here is a little unusual. He doesn’t use his normal word for “word”, instead he uses a word that usually means , “spoken word.”
The idea is not that we ought to be walking around clobbering people with our Bible,
It doesn’t even suggest that we could say something to Satan that would render him powerless, rather, the emphasis is on us as Christian people, speaking the message of God’s word.
As we faithfully speak the gospel, as we bring the Word of God to bear on people’s lives, the Spirit does his work, and gives the Word power and effectiveness.
And there is a reflexive, personal aspect. We need look no further than Jesus himself, for the example of someone who, when faced with Satan’s attack, he was able to stand, by speaking the Word of God in reply to Satan’s attack.
Satan was shown to be a liar,
His promises were demonstrated to be false,
The behaviour he called for was ruled out of line, by the word of God that Jesus was able to speak.
And pray continually
There’s still one more thing though, that will enable Christian people to stand;
Verse 18, And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
Paul’s just heaping up the words for prayer,
in the Spirit,
all kinds of prayers, and requests,
always keep on praying,
for all the Lord’s people.
We can’t miss the point, can we?
Whatever need we have,
Whatever need others have,
If we are to be strong in the Lord,
If we are to stand,
We need to be pray continually.
Specifically, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him, that he will effectively wield the sword of the Spirit, Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
And I imagine that Paul expects that this kind of prayer is essential for effective use of all the other pieces of armour, too.
You might know the old hymn, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”, which includes the line
“Put on the gospel armour,
Each piece put on with prayer”
It’s not Paul’s exact language, but seems to fit with Paul’s understanding that prayer is an essential part of God’s person standing firm in the armour of God.
I think that’s why he says always keep on praying, for all the Lord’s people
He expects that the prayers of Christian people will be significantly other person focussed, that our concern will be that other brothers and sisters will stand firm.
And just as our armour is provided by God himself, the means for prayer is provided by God himself. Did you see that?
Ever , single, Christian person, can pray in the Spirit, Prompted by the Spirit of God,
Encouraged by the Spirit,
Directed by the Spirit.
Yet again, we can’t miss the corporate nature of our identity as Christians.
Even Paul, who founded the Ephesian church, depended on people like the Ephesian Christians to be effective in his ministry. He is the one who makes known the mystery of the gospel, but it’s their prayers, verse 20, that under God, will allow him to declare it fearlessly.
And even the closing greetings in 21 to 24, remind us of the shared work, the mutual encouragement of God’s people labouring side by side for the cause of the gospel.
I wonder, who is like Tychicus for us?, Speaking to us, of what God is doing far from our own situation.
Who tells us of the ministry of other believers, so that we can be encouraged by God’s purposes reaching their fulfilment,
So we can be in prayer for them, praying on all occasions, so that they might stand firm.
I wonder who we can pray for, who might ask us to pray for them, so that whenever they speak, words may be given that they will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.
There are people in our family here, with these sorts of opportunities, to declare the gospel fearlessly, every day.
There are people connected to our church in other parts of Australia, and in far-flung countries.
Maybe we need some encouragement, to always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.
If you don’t know who to pray for, ask someone from here who they’re praying for, in this regard, and while you’re at it, you might like to tell them how they can pray for you, that you will stand firm.
Or come and ask me who you could pray for.
Send me an email.
I’d love to help you always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people, that together, may be able to stand your ground, and after we have done everything, to stand.