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Sermon - August 2, 2015

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                                           Sermon # 1222

August 2, 2015                                                                                               Ephesians 6:10-20

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

“In the Strength of His Might”

 

 

            We have been talking a lot about the rapid changes in the world and more particularly for us, the changes in our nation.  Most of what we see on the news talks about how to address issues through political powers or social ministry or some other means.  But too often what we see seems as hopeless a response as the problems themselves.  I read an article by Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation and he speaks of three particular changes in America and the possible responses.*  I wanted to share some of his thoughts with you and take it a step further with biblical responses.  We are the people who respond first with scripture and pray that others may see the truth for the sake of being set free. 

 

1.Three Changes in America – Anderson lifts three areas that have changed our context for freedom.

a.Government – The first is the change in the government and its perspectives on religious freedom.  We have seen a drastic change in how government treats the church as an institution and as an influence in politics and the public life.  In essence, our government has abandoned much of what once defined it as a government. 

 

b.Sexual Ethics – Culturally we have seen the change of sexual ethics, no longer based in scripture, but by now is just about anything goes.  The redefinition of marriage is just the next step in moving away from biblical clarity for the good of a society. 

 

c.Religious Liberty – For the first time in our nation, religious liberty is being trumped by the “rights” of any and all groups who want to change the long standing believes of our society.  Anderson says it this way: “Our Constitution protects the natural right to the free exercise of religion. But some liberals are trying to drastically narrow that right by redefining it as the mere ‘freedom of worship.’ If they succeed, the robust religious freedom that made American civil society the envy of the world will be reduced to Sunday-morning piety confined within the four walls of a chapel. They have even gone so far as to rewrite the U.S. immigration exam to say that the First Amendment protects ‘freedom of worship’ rather than the ‘free exercise of religion.’  True religious liberty entails the freedom to live consistently with one’s beliefs seven days a week—in the chapel, in the marketplace, and in the public square.”

 

 

2.Possible Responses

a.Political, civic, and legal organizations

b.Religious organizations

 

Anderson goes on to say that we fight these movements with other movements, with groups that seek to limit government or keep foundational definitions of the founding of this nation.  He claims we need to work through political, religious, civic, and legal organizations.  While I do think that is the one way to counter what is happening in the country, my task is to lift up the strategies and that scripture provides: prayer, proclamation, spiritual disciplines, obedience, faithful living and the like.  Now if those movements Anderson lifts and the biblical mandates intersect or overlap in any way, all the better.  But we cannot lose sight of our first love and our first devotion to the God of the nations.  We cannot just proceed fighting movements with other movements.  We are in a unique situation precisely because of the way this nation came to be.  We understand that we can to exist as a nation based in Judeo-Christian perspectives. 

 

 

 

3.Biblical Responses

a.Knowing our Context – Isaiah 5:18-30

 

What we find is that we are strangers in a strange land and for most of us that is an uncomfortable place.  We are used to living in peaceful agreement with our surroundings, but times have changed.  The changes have come quick but sometimes very subtle.  Just the way some politicians talk about freedom to worship rather than freedom of religion is a subtle change that makes a huge difference.  It reminds me of Isaiah 5 when the prophets speaks of how people twist things around completely.  20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  So much of what we hear and read today is turning the tables on what is truth.  It seems that politicians are masters at calling evil good and good evil.  Sometimes it is so blatant that we are left speechless on how to respond.  It goes beyond common sense or any sense of rational thought. 

Our context fits well with Paul’s words to the Romans (1:25), “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”  This seems to be one characteristic of our culture, exchanging the truth for a lie and yet believing the lie as truth – darkness for light and light for darkness.  Isaiah has some serious warnings for those who do such things.

 

Isaiah 5:18-25  Woe to those who draw iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin as with cart ropes, 19 who say: “Let him be quick, let him speed his work that we may see it; let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near, and let it come, that we may know it!”  20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!  22 Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, 23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right!  24 Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the stubble, and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.  25 Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.  For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. 

 

            Any time we see “woe” in the scriptures that means “death”.  I think that one of the roles of the church in the world today is to warn…to present the woes of scripture to those who call bitter sweet and sweet bitter.  It is called speaking truth to power.  We have not had to do this at any time in our national history, at least not in the way it needs to happen today. 

 

b.Knowing our Position – Philippians 3:17-21

 

We are a very patriotic people, and rightly so.  But we also need to keep proper Christ like perspective.  Philippians 3 is a good place to start:

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

 

            This is our context and our hope.  The context is in seeing more and more enemies of the cross of Christ and yet we are confident and hopeful because we are citizens of heaven.  We await the Savior.  We are not living by the culture’s rules or lack thereof.  We are living by the standards of our Creator who gives us life by his commands. 

 

 

c.In the Lord’s Strength – Ephesians 6:10-20

 

Because we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 3:22-23; Gal. 5:24) we fight a different fight than most.  The war we fight is subtle, even underhanded in that it takes part of what is true and distorts it until what is false is perceived at truth.  Then the truth is perceived as false.  The good news, the great news is this…we are not fighting on our own or even on our own strength. 

 

Eph. 6:10-20 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. 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. 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, 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, 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.

 

 

            So often we fall into the trap of thinking that the battle is ours alone, that we have to get America back or that we have to defeat evil powers and actions through some sort of movements and perhaps political moves, but the battle belongs to the Lord (2 Chron. 20:15).  This is the message of Ephesians 6 for we do not fight with our own strength but in the Lord’s strength.  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”  Yes, Paul tells us to be strong, but look closely at the rest of that one verse and the strength is not ours, but the Lord’s.  Be strong in the Lord.  Be strong in the strength of his might.  That strength is shown in the armor that God gives us.  It is not up to us to muster up the strength or the weapons for battle, for God is the one giving us all we need to be strong.  That is our encouraging word for the day and for our time – be strong in the midst of a changing world, for God will fight the battles that need fighting. 

            In fact, God has already defeated all enemies through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Being strong becomes a whole lot easier when we know the battle is already won!  So as we fight the good fight, we cannot be angry or bitter or unethical, but we are called to be like Jesus.  He went on about his Father’s business in the midst of hostility and unbelief.  He showed compassion without compromising the serious consequence of sin (go and sin no more – John 8:11).  He did his work even if that work threatened the existing religious or civic leadership.  So be strong in the Lord, for he is the only one with the strength to fight these battles of faith and life.  Amen.

 

*http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/07/why-is-religious-freedom-at-risk-3-historical-developments-explain-it