Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1371
October 21, 2018 Ephesians 6:10-20
Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus
(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)
“As One in Shining Armor”
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.
Be strengthened in the Lord. This may be a better rendition of the original language. Be strengthened. God gives the strength. If I tell you to be strong, I am telling you to build up your strength, to improve yourself. But if I tell you to be strengthened in someone else’s strength or to trust in some other source of strength, that does not involve our building something up in our selves by ourselves. This is a strength that is in the Lord. Yes, the battle belongs to the Lord. God gives us strength, but Paul gives the command that we be strengthened in the Lord. That means we do have something to do, get “in the Lord”! Have you ever been involved in some activity or a board game and someone really gets into it? We get into the Lord by eating up the Scriptures by spending time in prayer, by attending worship and participating in worship, by supporting the ministry of Christ in whatever way possible, by loving and forgiving and encouraging, and all that is involved in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We need the strength of the Lord to even begin to do all this. We are not seeking to strength ourselves but to take on God’s strength. We can then proclaim 1 John 4:4 with complete confidence, “for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” Christ in me is greater than the devil out there!
We need God’s strength to stand against the schemes of the devil. They are many and they are in the world constantly seeking to deceive us. It is usually not a frontal assault but a seduction, a slippery slope that seems innocent enough at first but the deeper we go the more treacherous it is. The devil works to bring us gradually to doubt the things of God. All the more reason to put on God’s armor. The armor is designed to protect every aspect of our being just as armor protected a soldier from harm. This armor and this strength protects us from the schemes and the seduction and the lies and the foolishness and the wiles of the devil.
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.
Wrestling is one of the toughest sports. I don’t mean the WWE stuff, I’m talking Olympics or college wrestling. It is hard, strength on strengthen, exhausting work. Our wrestling is not against people, flesh and blood, but our wrestling is what is going on behind or within people, the spiritual powers, the invisible forces, the spiritual realm. Sometimes that is pure evil as in the devil. Other times it is pure sin as in our fallen nature. Still other times it is an evil idea or philosophy, an idea or rhetoric we fight. It is hard wrestling and precisely why we need the strength of the Lord and not our own strength.
The enemy is sleek and subtle sometimes coming like a roaring lion and other times disguised as an angel of light. In this case the danger is without, the evil one, the demonic forces. But we must also guard against the enemy within, our own sinful tendency. Whether without or within, we are in a battle. Part of the battle is to discern what forces lie behind those who oppose us or those who oppose the truth of Scripture and the ways of God. That discernment helps us know what to pray and how to use our sword of Scripture. It’s like the battle Jesus fought in the wilderness when the devil tempted Him even with the Word of God. The devil is behind some of the crazy chaos of this world. Sometimes it might be sinful nature, but even that has some roots in the devil scheme all the way back to the garden of Eden. Whether the devil or sin, we wrestle.
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. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
Earlier in Ephesians Paul taught that we are to live worthy of our call in Jesus. We are to walk in the Spirit, live in righteousness and holiness, put away falsehood, deal appropriately with our anger, live in marriage submitting to one another and children to obey their parents. Paul does not lay out an easy path for life, but one that requires discipline and grace and love. So Paul gives us an encouragement by calling us to put on the armor of God. These are the spiritual tools, spiritual armaments that enable us to do what God calls us to do. Just like the strength that is God’s strength, so too is this God’s armor, not our own. You see, God has done the work, God is doing the work, God will do the work. We are called to get in on God’s work by following Jesus, keeping commandment, and loving others as Christ has loved us.
A brief look at the armor:
The belt – truth. There is the truth that we tell, that is, not telling lies and there is also the Truth (capital T) that is the Truth – Jesus Christ. We both truths in Scripture. Tell the truth, do not bear false witness, and speak the Truth to others, share the Gospel.
The breastplate – righteousness. This armor protects the vital organs. It is not our own righteousness but just as all the armor is God’s armor, so too is this God’s righteousness. As Paul writes in Philippians 3:9, “...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”
Good shoes – ready and at peace. Every soldier knows they need good boots. Good boots help us stand firm. Good boots give a good foundation. And these boots are the gospel of peace. It is our message and our hope and our security.
The shield – faith. Trust God. I was reading about how the soldiers in Paul’s day would stand side by side with their shields to protect not only each one, but the one beside them. This may speak to the church as a group of people who stand together in faith to protect ourselves but also to protect one anther from the fiery darts of the evil one. I think in our day and age and perhaps in every generation, we have been in a battle over words, over rhetoric. It was one of the main components of the hearing over our latest supreme court justice. Whose words are true? It is the weapon people use in political campaigns and in advertising and in relationships. Have you ever heard that notion that a word pierced the heart? She said something that pierced my heart. The shield of faith protects the heart from the fiery words of the evil one.
The helmet – salvation. The helmet protects the head. Perhaps this means our thoughts are protected from the evil one who wants us to doubt God. But Jesus affirms time and time again that we are saved by His faithful work and grace and we need not ever doubt that we are saved.
The sword – the Word of God. This is the only offensive weapon in the armor. All the other pieces are defensive, for protection, but the sword is offensive.
How are we strengthened in God’s armor? How do we put it on? Spiritual disciplines or practices or passions like prayer, Scripture reading and study, worship and the like. We participate fully in the life of following Jesus Christ and learning of and from Him. We pray that God would fit us with His armor.
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
Put on the armor and pray. Pray in the Spirit. Pray inspired prayers as guided by the Spirit. Pray knowing that even when we do not know how to pray, the Spirit himself prays (Romans 8:26).
You have heard me say many times to make use of the Bible in prayer. Can you think of a better word to pray than to pray God’s word? Pray in the Spirit by praying the words of the Spirit, the Spirit inspired word. Take up the living Word of God and pray it back to God. Look at verse 10 in Ephesians 6. Can we pray this way? “Lord, strengthen us in your might and power. Cloth us in Your armor!” We can take this entire passage and use the very Words of God as our prayer.
Pray at all times, without ceasing. All the time! How do we pray all the time? We pray when we have the time to pray in our “formal” prayer time, the bow your head or hit your kness kind of time. Before meals, at bedtime, in the morning, at a time when we have a moment to spare. Pray when we don’t have time to pray, when we cannot take our eyes of the road, but we can turn off the radio and talk with God. Pray by living in a prayerful manner: respectful, kind, loving, righteously, hopefully, compassionate, living a gospel life.
When we pray the Word of God we are wielding the sword of the Spirit. Prayer when we think of it that way, when we pray the language of the Bible, is the offensive weapon given in the armor of God. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This is why I harp on praying the Scriptures and, in particular, to pray the Psalms. The Psalms are our prayers, the prayers of God’s people, that have become God’s Word to us. When we pray them, when we read them, when we say them out loud, we are praying in the Spirit. To pray the Word is to breathe back to God the God-breathed Word. Isn’t that amazing. We can all pray in the Spirit when we pray the Words from the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
I want to conclude with a word on perseverance. Paul encourages that we keep alert with all perseverance. Perseverance is about endurance, persistence, and consistency. I think this term also echoes the admonition to stand firm back in the earlier verse (11, 13-14). We are called to stand firm and persevere. The context in particular is to be persistent in prayer. Persevere in prayer. Be steadfast to pray. Pray and pray again and again. Keep the prayers coming and going out and working in our hearts and minds. Stand firm in prayer, resisting the devil and persevering for the truth.
We are called to live worthy of the gospel, worthy of our calling, and the only way we can do so is by the strength of God. All of this is God’s doing, not our own. God holds us in this armored protection that we might stand for the truth, resist the evil one and the evil of the world, and know the victory over sin that is only possible through Christ. So be strengthened, put on the armor, pray, and persevere, as we read in James 1:25,
But the one who looks into the perfect law,
the law of liberty, and perseveres,
being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts,
he will be blessed in his doing.
Be blessed today and everyday in the strength and the armor of God. Amen.