I invite you to return with me to Ephesians 6:10-18. We are considering Paul’s most lengthy passage on spiritual warfare, as a metaphor for the Christian life.
I told you last week it was my intention to take both the Shield of Faith and the Sword of the Spirit together because they are inseparable. Faith and truth go together. We were reminded by John Calvin last week that the Sword of the Spirit and the Shield of Faith are the chief instruments of our warfare. As I was studying and learning I found I had much more to learn about the Shield of Faith and therefore had a little more to say and so was not able to get to the Sword of the Spirit until this morning with you.
To be quite honest with you I don’t have a lot to say this morning to the seasoned warrior. I have much to say to the young warrior here. I hope that the cumulative effect of what I say this morning inspires the seasoned warrior to take up the sword once again and pull it out of the scabbard once again, and meet the enemy head-on once again.
As I read our passage would you listen to all that the Lord has provided not only for our defense against ‘the prince of darkness grim,’ but for our offense, for us to go on the offense which made Apollyon screech and flee before Christian in John Bunyan’s famous allegory.
Read: Ephesians 6:10-18
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,”
We ended last week by saying our faith is only as good as the object it is placed in. You have probably heard the name, Tim Keller, by now. He is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and author of several books. One of those books is The Reason for God and he uses this illustration in that book:
“Imagine you are on a high cliff and you lose your footing and begin to fall. Just beside you as you fall is a branch sticking out of the very edge of the cliff. It is your only hope and it is more than strong enough to support your weight. How can it save you? If your mind is filled with intellectual certainty that the branch can support you, but you don’t actually reach out and grab it, you are lost. [I described that last week as intellectual assent; not personal trust but just affirming certain truths.] If your mind is instead filled with doubts and uncertainty that the branch can hold you, but you reach out and grab it anyway, you will be saved. Why? It is not the strength of your faith but the object of your faith that actually saves you. Strong faith in a weak branch is fatally inferior to weak faith in a strong branch.”
So a devout and earnest Muslim may have strong faith, but it is placed in the fatally weak branch of Islam and the Koran.
And yet a weak and limping, second guessing person can say to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief,” and be saved. Because his wavering faith was placed in the strong branch of Christ, Christianity and the Word of God, he is saved. How can we be so sure? How can we be so confident? How do we know that the Word of God, our Bible [Christianity] that Christ is such a strong branch?
The British historian, Paul Johnson, said, “Christianity like the Judaism from which is sprang, is a historical religion, or it is nothing. It does not deal in myths and metaphors and symbols, or in states of being and cycles. It deals in facts.” – historical facts.
I have been reading through C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters with many of the men and trying to bring you quotes from week to week to keep that book in front of us and encourage the men to continue their reading and discussing it together. This is the first time we have made an effort to do so and there are more books to come and I hope this will unite us.
Uncle Screwtape writing to his nephew, Wormwood, says this about historical facts: “Dear Wormwood: No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy’s camp [God’s camp] by the historical study of the biography of Jesus simply as biography. Indeed, materials for a full biography have been withheld from men. The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact – the Resurrection – and a single theological doctrine – the Redemption…”
A skeptic may well argue, “Why should I believe in the Resurrection? Nobody can prove Jesus actually rose from the dead.”
This is C.S. Lewis once again: “Believe it on authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so.… Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them; in fact, on authority.” Mere Christianity p. 62
One of those eyewitnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, put it like this: “That which was from the beginning, [referring to the life of Christ] which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you…we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ,” I John 1:1-4
99% of the things we believe, we believe because someone reliable told us. What makes them reliable? Their actual presence when those historical events occurred. Faith is only as good as the object its placed in.
The Bible is a source of historical facts passed on by eyewitnesses by those historical events. The Bible is the only worthy object of our faith. It is light that pierces darkness, it is truth. Paul calls it in our passage this morning the Sword of the Spirit. In warfare he calls us to never be without it and be prepared to unsheathe it and wield it at any moment.
I Samuel furnishes us with an inspiring example of a man taking up his sword and wielding it in battle the way that every Christian warrior wants to handle his sword in spiritual battle. His name was Eleazar. He was one of David’s mighty men. They were fighting against the Philistines and many of the Israelites withdrew, but we are told that Eleazar held his ground and fought with all his might. At the end he grew weary and his hand clung to the sword, his fingers actually had to be pried from his sword.
Young warrior! What must you do? What must we do to make our hands cling to the sword and to become one with our sword? The Word must abide in us. If the Word of God, the Spirit’s sword, does not abide in us, we will reach for it in vain when the enemy strikes. But if we do wear it, if it lives within us, what mighty warriors we can be. John said, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” – Piper Kindling 124
I have come to appreciate the no nonsense, straight shooting approach of J.C. Ryle. I think my first read of his was probably “The Duties of Christian Parents” and it remains my favorite. If you are a parent with young children in the home and you do not have a copy of that, the church office carries copies and is only too eager to give you one. Excellent reading! Another book of his is “Thoughts for Young Men”; again, straight shooting, earnest pleading with our young men to develop godly habits while still young. The best advice I have come across yet for our young people.
Elsewhere Ryle writes this about the Scripture: “You live in a world where your soul is in constant danger. Enemies are round you on every side. Satan is always labouring to lead you astray. To be safe you must be well armed. You must provide yourself with the weapons which God has given for your help. You must store your mind with Holy Scripture. This is to be well armed. Arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written Word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible….[He then goes on to ask this question.] Do you really use your Bible as much as you ought? The devil is an old and cunning enemy. He can quote Scripture readily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to fight a good fight with him….Your sword is held too loosely in your hand…Take the advice I offer you today. Do not merely read your Bible a little—but read it a great deal…Remember your many enemies. Be armed.” J.C. Ryle
I read a quote like that and I begin to think, “Look what all I have going on. How can I read it a great deal? I am far too busy.” Then I came across this story about Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison from “Disciplines of a Godly Man”; it goes like this:
“Lt. General William K. Harrison was the most decorated soldier in the 30th Infantry Division, rated by General Eisenhower as the number one infantry division in World War II. He received every decoration for valor except the Congressional Medal of Honor — being honored with the Distinguished Silver Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple heart …..
Harrison was a soldier’s soldier who led a busy, life, but he was also an amazing man of the Word. When he was a twenty-year-old West Point Cadet, he began reading the Old Testament through once a year and the New Testament four times. General Harrison did this until the end of his life. Even in the thick of war he maintained his commitment by catching up during the two- and three-day respites for replacement and refitting which followed battles, so that when the war ended he was right on schedule.
When, at the age of ninety, his failing eyesight no longer permitted his discipline, he had read the Old Testament seventy times and the New Testament 280 times! No wonder his godliness and wisdom were proverbial,…
Harrison’s story tells us two things. First, it is possible, even for the busiest of us, to systematically feed on God’s Word. No one could be busier or lead a more demanding life than General Harrison.
[The last thing I want to do is to encourage a legalistic approach to the disciplines of grace, but there is a difference between legalism and discipline. This man was disciplined and that is what we want to encourage.]
Second, his life remains a demonstration of a mind programmed with God’s Word. His closest associates say that every area of his life….and each of the great problems he faced was informed by the Scriptures. People marveled at his knowledge of the Bible and the ability to bring its light to every area of life.”
General Harrison was a modern day Eleazar. His sword was frozen to his hands. He knew how to use it in season and out. Oh, that there would be more of us like him—committing ourselves to taking up the sword as he did.
For the Word of God to abide in us, for us to be able to wield it as a sword, we must read it a great deal. There is no way around that.
As one poet put it:
“Think of it carefully
Study it prayerfully
Deep in your heart
Let its oracles dwell.
Ponder its mystery
Slight not its history
For none ever loved it
Too fondly or well.”
And like Harrison we need to read it from cover to cover. Read it widely. You remember Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness—that the man of God may be adequately equipped for every good work.”
What I keep forgetting is that when Paul said that to Timothy he was referring to the Old Testament because most of the New Testament had not been canonized yet, it was still being written. Roughly 4/5ths of all God is going to say to us on this side of eternity appears before the Gospel of Matthew. And so to disregard the Old Testament as passé is not to have the mind of Paul let alone the mind of Christ who quoted Moses, the prophets and the Psalms. When Jesus quoted the prophets, he did not just quote the major and the minors, he also quoted what we refer to as the histories today: Samuel, etc.
So to take up the Sword so that it clings to our hand, young warriors, we are talking about reading it a great deal and reading it widely from cover to cover and we are also talking about reading it deeply, going down deep in passages, meditating there, lingering longer there, getting something for our soul from smaller passages as well.
One of my favorite Spurgeon quotes:
“It is a great thing to pray oneself into the spirit and marrow of a text; working into it by sacred feeding thereon, even as a worm bores its way into the kernel of the nut…let us dear brethren try to get saturated with the gospel. I always find that I can preach best when I can manage to lie asoak in my test. I like to get a text and find out its meaning and bearings and so on; and then, after I have bathed in it, I delight to lie down in it and let it soak into me.”
I love that picture. We will talk about prayer as it relates to warfare next week, but did you hear Spurgeon’s reference to it? It is a great thing to pray oneself into the text. Just as the Shield of Faith and the Sword of Spirit go together, belief in the truth; so, too, do the Word and prayer go together. If we want a deeper understanding of God’s Holy Word, our sword, prayer plays a vital role.
So we read it a great deal, we read it widely, we read it deeply. And we learn to read it as though our very lives depend upon it. You remember what Jesus said when he was faced with the devil at Mt. Temptation after 40 days without eating. “Turn these stones into bread.” “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is our bread, the bread of life, food for our soul.
You remember the name, George Mueller. He lived from 1805-1898 and was a great man of faith and famous for establishing orphanages in England. He, too, was well disciplined in the Scriptures and pursued the Scriptures as nourishment for his own soul. See if this smacks of legalism in any way as you here this from Mueller:
“I saw, that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, whilst meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began therefore, to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning, early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious Word, was to begin to meditate on the Word of God; searching, as it were, into every verse, to get a blessing out of it; for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul.”
Food for the soul! Sometimes we are under the weather, as it were, spiritually and our appetite for the Word is lacking. So we have to almost force feed ourselves because it is the very Word itself that restores us, revives us and heals us. And so just a simple prayer: Lord, you know the condition of my soul. I have little appetite for your Word. Open up your Word, give me something to eat, strengthen me in it.
One of the greatest battles that you and I will ever face living at such a time and such a place as we do it to not take owning an entire Bible in our own heart language for granted. It is a real battle.
Years ago in our Youth Group in our small groups [we called them cell groups] we read Brother Andrew’s book God’s Smuggler. Brother Andrew is a Dutch Christian who took Bibles behind the iron curtain and he recalls this story in his book:
“I was alone in Prague….I was standing in the vestibule of a church….I was particularly anxious to see how a church could function without Bibles. Occasionally someone carried a hymnal, more rarely a Bible. But one thing that puzzled me—many people brought looseleaf notebooks. What were they for?
The service began. I took a seat in the back and immediately had a surprise. Almost everyone seemed farsighted! The owners of the hymn books held them out at arm’s length, high in the air. Those with looseleaf notebooks did the same. And then I realized: the people with books were sharing them with those who had none. In the notebooks were copied, note by note and word by word, the favorite hymns of the congregation.
It was the same with the Bibles. When the preacher announced the text, every Bible owner in the congregation found the reference and held his book high so that friends nearby could follow the reading. As I watched those men and women struggling literally to get close to the Word, my hand closed over the Dutch Bible in my coat jacket. How much for granted I had always taken my right to own this Book! I thought that I would never reach for it again without remembering the old granny in front of me now, standing almost on tiptoe, squinting as she strained to see the words in the Bible her son held aloft.
Thinking about those hidden people groups where the Gospel has gone and translators have been working around the clock to bring them the Scriptures and they might have a portion of the Gospel of John or one of the other Gospels, they might have one of the Gospels in its entirety, or they might have an epistle in its entirety. What is that? What is that to the entire 66 books that you and I have in our hands everyday? We have the full length of the sword in our hands and our brothers and sisters in parts of the world have a switchblade.
I am probably overstating this when I say that an army is only as good as its armor and weapons and leadership. A good leader goes a long way in battle. An inspiring Captain who leads by example can get his men to do almost anything.
Apparently Henry V was such a man according to Paul Johnson, the British historian I quoted earlier. I picked up his book titled, Heroes, at the beginning of my vacation and I read the chapter on Henry V. I want to read some excerpts from that to you:
“Henry V is a true hero in many ways, and has a strong claim to be rated the greatest of all English monarchs.
It cannot be overemphasized that the extent to which a king knew the business of commanding soldiers in battle, and his personal courage in action, was absolutely vital in ruling a medieval kingdom successfully. Right from the beginning…Henry shaped up as a practical, down-to-earth hero of the camp, the siege engine and the battery, the cavalry charge in full armor, and the hand-to-hand combat.
Henry was a hardworking young man who was all along preparing himself to become a great warrior king.
The moment he came to the throne, in 1413, he began preparations for the invasion of France to assert his territorial claims…”
If you are familiar with Henry V, you will remember the one battle he is especially most famous for, the battle of Agincourt. He and his men were outnumbered 3-1 by the French in the year 1415. This is how Johnson recalls the battle:
“Henry and his men were behind a muddy field, with thick woods on either side protected by archers, who fortified their positions with anti-cavalry stakes driven into the ground. When the enormous French cavalry force hesitated to charge into the mud, Henry ordered his archers to advance within bow shot—250 yards—to drive in fresh spiked stakes, and then open fire. It worked, for the French, suddenly exposed to lethal arrow fire as they stood, followed their instincts and charged. Then, seeing the stakes, and with the fire of arrows intensifying, they tried to wheel their horses and back off, so turning the ranks of horsemen behind them into total confusion….the French army became an easy target for endless volleys of arrows….the archers ran up and clubbed them to death, or slipped knives into the slits in their armor….
The victory revealed Henry as a matchless field commander—confident, cool, quick thinking and thoroughly professional. It was an overwhelming victory, against heavy odds, and established him at a stroke as the greatest general in Europe….
….in 1421 he caught one of the infections which were liable to strike at any moment a man who spent much of his life in unsanitary camps…. His death followed the next year. He was in his mid-thirties, probably the ablest man ever to sit on the English throne, and one who was well liked, respected and trusted by all those, high and low, who had dealings with him.”
This is how Johnson finishes his words about Henry V:
“If I had to pick an unsullied hero from all English history, Henry would be the man.”
On our pages of Scripture we encounter a greater warrior King, do we not? A greater than Henry who knows the business of commanding soldiers in battle who demonstrates personal courage in action—confident, cool, quick thinking. You remember, “It is written! It is written! It is written!”
What a command of his sword he had! Quick thinking and thoroughly professional and he outfits his soldiers with nothing less than the best armor and the best steel.
So what do we say to such a Captain, such a warrior King when he says: “Gird thee for the battle. Unsheathe thy sword and follow me.” We say simply, “Give me strength and lead on. Lead on O King Eternal.”