I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 6. I started a series this spring titled, “The Quotable Paul,” and will continue on these next four Lord’s Day mornings in that series. Eventually you would have to come to Ephesians 6:10 and following, it seems to me, if you are thinking about some of those marvelous statements that the Apostle Paul makes.
More than once Paul uses warfare language in his epistles to depict the Christian life. To the Corinthians he says, “For though we walk in the flesh we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” 2 Cor. 10:3-4
To Timothy he says,
“Fight the good fight of faith.” I Timothy 6:12, and “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” 2 Timothy 2:4; and finally, in the second letter to Timothy and the last letter we have from Paul, he tells Timothy, “I have fought the good fight.” 2 Timothy 4:7
In coming to Ephesians 6:10-18, we come to his longest passage making use of the warfare metaphor. As Christians, we are soldiers—all of us—and we find ourselves not in a regional skirmish, not in a three year battle, not even in a world-wide conflict, but a cosmic war that will last until the Lord returns or takes us home. It seems to me that the Apostle Paul means to duly sober the Ephesians about the Christian life and what it will require of them.
Charles Bridges put it this way: “Though the redemption purchased by Christ, as described in this epistle, is so complete and so free, yet between the beginning and the consummation of the work there is a protracted conflict…. The Christian conflict is not only real, it is difficult and dangerous. It is one in which true believers are often grievously wounded…” All of us here have our battle scars; we know exactly what he is referring to. We all know someone who has been grievously wounded in this protracted conflict.
It is my earnest prayer as we give thought to this passage over the next few weeks that we will avoid or minimize such grievous wounds in our future battles.
I will be reading vv. 10-18 though confining my remarks to vv.10-13. Please follow along as I read.
v. 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
v. 11 Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
v. 12 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.
v. 13 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.
v. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
v. 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
v. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
v. 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
v. 18 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.
As you may have guessed by my title I have chosen a few key words to organize my thoughts around, “The War, the Strength, the Armor, the Enemy and the Stand.” Next week we will consider in more detail the armor and the weapons.
I. The War
We begin with the word war and while the word does not appear in the text I am sure I don’t have to argue that this is the context of chapter 6 v. 10 and following.
I found John White’s book entitled, The Fight, most helpful and stimulating in preparing this message. John White, like J.I. Packer, was born in England but spent most of his adult life in Canada. He says: “It need not surprise us that as an image to convey the nature of Christian living, the Holy Spirit uses that of warfare. No image could be more apt. The same courage, the same watchfulness, loyalty, endurance, resourcefulness, strength, skill, knowledge of the enemy, the same undying resolve to fight to the end come what may and at whatever cost must characterize Christian living as they do earthly warfare…”
He continues: “Christian living is war. Indeed, I would go further. Earthly warfare is not the real warfare. It is but a faint, ugly reflection of the real thing. It is into the real war that the Christian is to plunge. Wars on earth are but tremors felt from an earthquake light-years away. The Christian’s war takes place at the epicenter of the earthquake. It is infinitely more deadly, while the issues that hang on it make earth’s most momentous questions no more than village gossip.”
He then ends with this challenge: “Are you then prepared to follow Christ into the deadliest and most fundamental of all wars?”
The Bible teaches that our enemies are the world, the flesh, the devil and death itself. This passage stresses our conflict with the devil. As I was reflecting on the passage I thought, “Lord, why do you make our battles so difficult for us? If it were just our own sin nature alone that we were fighting, isn’t our own sin nature fierce enough, tireless enough? It harasses us from the cradle to the grave. Why add to the conflict the world and the devil? Why wait until the end of the cosmic conflict to throw the devil and his minions into the lake of fire? Why must the Christian life be marked by so much difficulty and danger?
As I kept reading in John White’s The Fight my curiosity was partially satisfied when I came to this paragraph:
“While wars give rise to atrocities, they also produce the noblest and best in man… Unnatural courage, unbelievable self-sacrifice, [We have heard about the soldier jumping on a grenade to save those near him.] devotion, loyalty and love, resourcefulness in the face of impossible odds, endurance beyond the limits of human strength…[We have read about soldiers standing awake in their foxhole for 48 hours in January 1945—the Battle of the Bulge.] human virtues have reached unparalleled beauty amid the horrors of war.”
Surely this is our Captain’s design, this is what our Savior intends, to produce the noblest and best in us through our warfare. Which is to say, he wills to sanctify us through it all, through conflict with our immortal enemy.
Let me say this to our young people who are maybe just grasping that life is war and that we have an enemy, a frightening enemy. I when I first became a Christian and I was overjoyed at the thought that I know God, and God knows me and my sins are forgiven and I am going to heaven. How joyful those early days were! I sat down with an older couple in the Lord and they informed me that, “Yes, glory in this and enjoy all of that, that is true.” I’ll never forget that. “But you should also know that now you find yourself in the crosshairs of the devil himself. You have an enemy, a spiritual foe who is more than my equal.” That was very unsettling for me.
I don’t want to unsettle any young Christian this afternoon, not at all. But Paul does want to sober the Ephesians, and thus sober us this morning, by the truth of this text. He wants to steel our nerves and prepare us mentally, emotionally and spiritually to stand our ground. At the end of this battle imagery I wish the Apostle Paul would have tacked on the truth we find in I John. I wish he had said, “Greater is he [Christ] who is in you, than he who is in the world.” That’s true and with Christ we have nothing to fear. We are meant to be sobered, but not dismayed by the truth of this passage.
One of those beautiful virtues mentioned by White was that of endurance beyond the limits of human strength. This leads me to my second key word.
II. The Strength
Note with me in v. 10 “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
Not one of, not one of us has the strength to stand toe to toe with the devil. We are physical and visible, he is spiritual and invisible. We are frail flesh, he has demonic powers. In our own strength we don’t have a prayer. Not even the mightiest among us, not even all of us collectively, have a prayer in our own strength. So we should be asking ourselves when we come to this passage, “How then do I obey the command to be strong in the Lord?”
I don’t think it is that complicated to explain. It is complicated to practice, but not to explain. It seems to me to come down to wrestling, trusting, relying, depending, counting on, believing the truth revealed in scripture and then acting upon it. If the scripture says God has provided each of us with armor, sword, shield—being strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might—means believing the armor is there and putting it on. Our strength lies in believing and then taking action on that belief. Again, not that hard to explain or understand but much harder in practice. It is an active, resting, trusting and believing.
Charles Wesley says, in his hymn, “Soldiers of Christ, Arise,” [#575 which we will sing later]
“Soldiers of Christ arise,
And put your armor on
Strong in the strength which God supplies
Through his eternal Son.
Strong in the Lord of Hosts,
And in his mighty power,
Who in the strength of Jesus trusts
Is more than conqueror.”
III. The Armor
Armor is our third key word. We’ll spend more time on this next week. I wanted to mention it in passing here and now because it is mentioned here in v.11, “Put on the whole armor of God,” and in v. 13, “…take up the whole armor of God.” The details of the armor are described in the balance of the passage.
Not a piece is to be neglected. All that he provides for our protection and defense is to be employed. The emphasis on the whole armor suggests our enemy knows we are vulnerable in more than one place. If he doesn’t penetrate our breastplate, then he will surely swing at our head. We better have our helmet on.
IV. The Enemy
Our second to the last key word is enemy. I need this reminder. Verses 11 & 12:
“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, [Really? It seems like most of my conflict is with flesh and blood.] but against the ruler, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
We have to get our enemy right. This again is Charles Bridges:
“If Satan is really the prince of the powers of darkness, ruler and god of this world; if he is the author of physical and moral evil, the great enemy of god, of Christ, and of his people, full of cunning and malice; if he is constantly seeking whom he may devour, seducing men into sin, blinding their minds and suggesting evil and skeptical thoughts; if all this is true, then to be ignorant of it, or to deny it, or to enter on this conflict as though it were merely a struggle between flesh and blood, is to rush blindfolded to destruction.”
In his commentary on this book Sinclair Ferguson argues that:
“It would be a mistake to analyse too closely the terms Paul uses: rulers, authorities, powers, forces. These terms suggest that Satan’s powers are well and strategically organised. Moreover his strategy is sinister, wide ranging and spiritual.”
He then goes on to summarize the five truths that the devil, the destroyer, Apollyon by name in Revelation 9, is seeking chiefly to attack. Here they are. These truths are in the crosshairs of the devil:
1. The Word of God and its reliability. Did God really say…? Are you sure you got that right? Did God really say that?
2. The character of God and his generosity. You mean you can eat from all these trees but not this tree. He is not going to let you eat from that tree? You can’t eat from that one tree? I thought he was supposed to be a cheerful giver? That doesn’t sound very generous to me.
3. The righteousness of God and his absolute dependability. Christian, where is your God in your suffering? You are left there all alone again. You have no help. He is so distant. How is God fair? How is he righteous?
4. The enjoyment of God and its abundant pleasures. Christian, do you know that your God’s favorite words are “no” and “stop” and “don’t”? You are always having to deny yourself and may I add needlessly. Look around, look how much fun your neighbors are having. They are enjoying the abundant life. Your master is just that—a master. He is not the kind of person to be enjoyed so much as to be obeyed. Christian, how much more can you take of that.
5. The fellowship of the people of God and its harmony and unity. I don’t see why you need to go to church every week. Goodness, let’s not be fanatical. And, do you really get along with all these people anyway? Think about it, isn’t there much more here that should divide you than unify you?
The devil is crafty and we are called to stand against the schemes of the devil. They include tempting, accusing and deceiving. “Christian, doest thou feel them? How they work within? Striving, tempting, luring and goading into sin?”
Have you ever noticed that sometimes we have opportunities to sin? We might be on a business trip, gentlemen, away in another city in a hotel far away from wife and family. The opportunity is there but we are just exhausted, the day’s work was hard and we are just overcome by sleep. And at other times we are at the same hotel, same city, far away from family and the desires to satisfy our flesh are ever present, ever strong, but in the providence of God we have a Christian roommate and so we will not dare turn on that channel, we will not dare Google that website. But, heaven help us when desire and opportunity coincide. Sometimes the temptations that the devil spreads before us seem overwhelming. He is a master tempter.
He is also an accuser. Night and day he accuses us before God according to Rev. 20:10, and our consciences can hear what he has to say sometimes can’t it? “Have you considered your servant, Rick, lately? He had selfish motives when he did that. You know that don’t you?! You knew that he went headlong into that sin. He was just going to ask forgiveness for it afterwards. He’s not very sincere. Notice how he has to keep confessing the same sin over, over and over. Have you considered your servant, Rick, lately Lord?”
When our consciences speak to us this way it seems to me we have two appropriate responses to all of that. The first one is to simply agree with the devil. “You are absolutely right! Absolutely right! I am a sinner with a capital S and everything you have said about me before my Heavenly Father was spot on. I have no defense or argument. You could have said a lot more.” That is the first response.
The second response is, “Devil, I will never deserve and earn forgiveness and a right standing before my God, but Someone with a capital S has earned it for me and he has outwitted you, devil, and he has overpowered you, devil, he has conquered in my place. He is my righteousness and my everlasting hope so get behind me, accuser.”
He is tempter, accuser and he is deceiver par excellence and the father of lies. He will tell us 100 true things in order to get us to listen to the 101 thing he says—the lie by which he traps and seduces us. Or, as another said, “I believe Satan will give us a whole lake of truth if he can get us to swallow with it just a teaspoon of lies.”
I suspect one of the areas he’s been most successful in his deception is to get us to think the real battle—the real enemy is the flesh and blood around us, nearby us. Is it coincidence that the passage we just read about husbands and wives and children relationships comes just before this warfare picture and instruction. He has done a great job of making us think that the real enemy is folk very near us: our children, our parents, our spouses, those we work with.
A number of the men in the church are reading C.S. Lewis’ book Screwtape Letters and are discussing them together. This is from the third letter that he writes:
“My Dear Wormwood: I am very pleased by what you tell me about this man’s relations with his mother. [This young man just became a Christian.] You must press your advantage…When two humans have lived together for many years, it usually happens that each has tones of voice and expressions of face which are almost unendurably irritating to the other. Work on that. Bring fully into the consciousness of your patient that particular lift of his mother’s eye brows which he learned to dislike in the nursery, and let him think how much he dislikes it. Let him assume that she knows how annoying it is and does it to annoy. And, of course, never let him suspect that he has tones and looks which similarly annoy her.” C.S. Lewis
Those relations nearest us, are they the real enemy? Husband, are you harboring a grudge against your wife? Wife, do you have your husband in the crosshairs of your rifle? God put the both of you in the same foxhole that you might fight the same enemy. Oh how clever the devil is and how pleased he must be with himself to see two people in the same foxhole, meant to be life partners, now unloading their pistols on each other. Oh how satisfying!
We have come to our last key word this morning. We have had the war, the strength, the armor, the enemy and now:
V. The Stand
I don’t have a lot to say. I really want to show you John Bunyan’s picture, but nonetheless look with me at v. 11. “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand.” And again at the end of v. 13, “….and having done all, to stand firm.” And how does v. 14 begin, “Stand therefore….”
It seems to me in warfare we are either advancing or we are retreating in order to regroup and advance or we are staying put, we are digging in, we are standing. We are on important ground that we must not give us. And the important ground that we are placed on as Christians is what I am going to call Mt. Salvation.
Christ, our Captain, won that hill for us and has placed us securely on that hill. He does not call us to go and take that hill. It was already won by him and the devil simply doesn’t have enough in his arsenal to take the hill from us. We are more than conquerors in all of this. We are simply called to stand firm in the strength of the Lord and fight with the armor and weapons he has given us much like Christian did against Apollyon.
“…in this Valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little Way, before he espied a foul Fiend coming…to meet him: His name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again, that he had no Armour for his back, and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him greater advantage,…therefore he resolved to stand his ground….
Apollyon met him: Now the Monster was hideous to behold: He was cloathed with scales like a fish; he had wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question him.
A: ‘When come you? And whither are you bound?’
C: ‘I am come from the City of Destruction, and am going to the City of Zion.’
A: ‘By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the Prince and God of it.’
C: ‘I was born indeed in your Dominions, but your Service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on…
A: ‘There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I…lose thee…’
C: ‘but I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes….I have given him my Faith, and sworn my Allegiance to him…’
A: ‘Thou didst the same to me,…’
C: ‘What I promised thee was in my non-age; and besides, I count that the Prince under whose Banner now I stand, is able to absolve me;…besides…to speak Truth, I like his Service, his Servants, his Company, and Country, better than thine;…therefore leave off to persuade me further, I am his servant, and I will follow him.’
A: ‘Thou hast already been unfaithful in thy service to him. Thou didst faint at first setting out, when thou wast almost choaked in the Gulph of Despond; thou didst attempt wrong ways to be rid of thy Burden,…Thou didst sinfully sleep, and lost thy choice Things. Thou wast also almost persuaded to go back at the sight of the Lions: And when thou talkest of thy Journey, and of what thou hast heard and seen, thou art inwardly desirous of Vain-glory in all that thou sayest or dost.’
C: ‘All this is true, and much more, which thou hast left out; but the Prince whom I serve and honour, is merciful and ready to forgive…’
A: Then Apollyon broke out into a grievous Rage, saying, ‘I am an Enemy to this Prince; I hate his Person, his Laws, and People: I…come…to withstand thee.’
C: ‘Apollyon, beware what you do; for I am in the King’s highway,… therefore take heed to yourself.’
A: Then Apollyon straddled quite over the whole breadth of the Way, and said, ‘I am void of Fear in this matter; prepare thyself to die; for I swear by my infernal Den, That thou shalt go no further: Here will I spill thy Soul!’
And with that he threw a flaming Dart at his breast; but Christian had a Shield in his hand,…and so prevented the danger…Then did Christian draw; for he saw it was time to bestir him; and Apollyon…throwing Darts as thick as hail…wounded him. Christian took Courage, and resisted as manfully as he could. This sore Combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent.
Then Apollyon espying his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful Fall; and…said…I am sure of thee now….Christian began to despair of Life. But, as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow,…Christian…reached out his hand for his Sword,…and…gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian perceiving that, made at him again; saying, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through him that loved us.’ And with that Apollyon spread forth his Dragon’s wings, and sped him away, that Christian saw him no more.’’
“Soldiers of Christ arise and put your armor on, strong in the strength which God supplies through his eternal Son.”