Summary: Don't be surprised if life feels like a battle some days, or even a lot of days. We have a powerful enemy in the devil and his tricks can be dangerous.
This morning we begin a new part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You could call it the grand climax. I love Ephesians because of the picture that it gives of the church. The church, blessed by God, united, holy, and now, finally, in Ephesians 6:10-17, the church militant. Please stand for the reading of God’s word.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
After all the blessings that Paul has listed in his letter so far, all the things that God has done to bless his church, it’s only natural that we should be strong, be very strong in all this strength of God’s power.
But all too often churches feel, “woe is me. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the skills. We don’t have enough people.” But Paul isn’t concerned here with churches finding financial strength or strength in human skills or strength in huge numbers. He wants them to find God’s strength.
And, in our passage for today, the reason that we need God’s strength is that we live in the middle of a huge battlefield, a cosmic battlefield. It’s the ancient battle of Satan’s rebellion against God.
Have you ever come home from work and said ‘It’s a battle out there”? Well, it is.
And we are sorely tempted to be spiritually lazy, to say that it doesn’t matter whether I am connecting with God regularly in prayer. It’s too much work to dig into the scriptures to thoroughly know and understand God’s ways. It doesn’t matter whether I’m close to the other members of the church. I’m just going to take your rest.
And Paul says, No! We can’t afford that! You need to have all God’s equipment on, the full armor of God. It’s a battle. You need to be ready. Your fellow soldiers need you to be in place to support them. This is no time to relax.
Imagine, once football season comes again, a football player running out on the field without his helmet on. Of course the official would stop the game instantly. Such a player wouldn’t have a chance! But we Christians all too easily think we can be equally sloppy and haphazard about our preparations for life in a world that is a battleground between God and Satan.
When we were in high school I went out for basketball and my little brother, Alan, went out for football and wrestling. He was a very good wrestler. He pinned every heavyweight in our league. They must have felt doomed to have to face him. But then he got a chip in his elbow and started to wear an elastic brace on his bad elbow. And what did his opponents do? They started working on his bad arm. That’s what happens to Christians who go out into the world with only part of God’s armor on.
Allow one week spot, and that’s where the devil will attack you.
My brother found an easy solution. He decided that the brace would do him more good on his strong arm, so he moved it over to his strong arm and his opponents started working on it instead and wasted their efforts. But the devil isn’t fooled that easily.
You say, ‘where’s the battle?’
Look at the mess in the Middle East. I have met Israelis who seemed like very nice people and I can say the same about Palestinians. Ask anybody there if the ongoing cycle of retaliation is a good situation and they will all say it is horrible. But it just keeps happening. Ask anyone on either side and they can give you a long list of reasons that they are right and the other side is wrong. And much of what they say is true. But it is unbalanced, one-sided, laced with half-truths. Attitudes and beliefs have been built into both sides that blind them to the road to peace. Someone always stirs things up. What’s happening is so irrational. What’s happening is so tragic. There is deeply entrenched evil on both sides in the conflict. I believe that is something of the work of the spiritual rulers and authorities that Paul is talking about. They work in the darkness of ignorance to destroy God’s beautiful creation.