November 12, 2017
The Granite Mountain Record Vault is one of the most secure places on earth. It is where the Mormon Church stores its genealogical and other historical records. Located deep inside the mountains in Utah, it is kept at 60 degrees. It is fire-proof, flood-proof and earthquake proof. It contains motion and heat detectors as well as infrared sensors. There are a few six-ton blast doors and seismic sensors that can detect any invasive drilling. As far as I know there are no offensive capabilities. The focus is defensive. The vault is well protected against any attack.
As I’ve been thinking about Ephesians and the church in general it seems to me that the church is also well protected. In fact I would say that the church is more secure than the Mormon Record Vault. Not only that but as far as I can tell from the New Testament, the church is not called to go on the offensive against the evil in the world. Rather the church is to be the church in the midst of the evil in the world.
This morning we are in Eph.6:10-20. It is a very riveting passage of scripture. Some years ago Frank Peretti wrote two books of fiction based on Eph.6. The titles are, “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness.” They are exciting stories. But the reality of spiritual warfare does not seem near as exciting as the books. However that does not make spiritual warfare any less real or dangerous. The truth is, believers must be strong in the Lord in order to stand firm in spiritual warfare.
I. RECOGNIZE THE ENEMY. 6:11-12
Anyone who tries to live the Christian life for very long quickly learns that it is extremely challenging. On the one hand it is challenging because dwelling in our bodies are all sorts of sinful habits of thought, word, and deed. In Jms.1:13-15 James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” But dealing with our own sinful desires and habits is only part of the problem. In these verses Paul identifies the primary source of spiritual conflict.
Anabaptists are known for being pacifists. Some Anabaptist writers use v.12 to make the point that believers are not fighting against other people. Paul makes it clear that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Rather, we are in a spiritual battle in which willing humans are often used as pawns.
As we see the unraveling of our civilized society right before our eyes, we are amazed at the evil and chaos. What makes people do the things they do? Why do governments brutalize and oppress people? What is behind all of the evil and chaos? How does one explain a man who sits in a hotel room shooting people or enters into a church, killing more than 25 people?
Paul makes it clear that this is not just a human problem. The reality is that there are rulers, authorities, spiritual forces of evil, and cosmic powers who dwell in the heavenly places. They are unseen and they exercise a range of authority over this present darkness that we see in the world today. In v.11, Paul refers to the schemes of the devil. The word for schemes, is μεθοδεία. Our word, “method,” comes from this word. It refers to a method or procedure. It is used in this verse in a bad sense and has the meaning of scheming to deceive, craftiness, cunning, deception. The evil that we see in the world today is driven along by these evil powers. These powers do all they can to actively thwart every good work done to the glory of God. And while the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, they are doing a lot of damage. They operate in the arena of deception and discouragement. Every believer is under attack. Every pastor is under attack. Our struggle is not against humans. It is a spiritual battle against these cosmic powers of darkness.
Paul is not writing this to make us afraid. We need not fear these cosmic powers of darkness because we know that they have already been defeated by Jesus Christ through his death and resurrection. Instead Paul tells us that it is imperative that we be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. We must take steps to protect ourselves and the church. And so in v.13-17 we are urged to…
II. PUT ON THE ARMOR OF GOD. 6:11a, 13-17
Before I read these verses, I want to read, 2Cor.10:3-4. There Paul writes, “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.”
If we are going to effectively engage in this spiritual battle, we must recognize that while we are citizens of this country and subject to its government and participate in elections, etc., we do not depend on government and social programs to accomplish the work of Jesus Christ. Government and social programs have their place and can do much good, but the good they do will always be limited and subject to the pride, corruption, and selfishness of this world.
What is more, Paul is not just writing to individual believers here. He is writing to the church. It is the church of Jesus Christ that embodies the hope for the people of this world. Jesus called the church to be the light of the world. Governments will fall, the church will not fall.
In these verses, Paul calls us to take up the armor of God so that we can stand against the devil and the spiritual forces of evil. He is picturing a Roman soldier dressed in full battle armor. A number of the allusions to armor come from Isaiah. For example, in Is.11:5 we read, “Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” In Is.59:17 it says that, “[God] put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.” In Is.52:7 it says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns.”
And let me also point out that the important thing is not the pairing of certain virtues with certain pieces of armor. In 1Thess.5:8 we read, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love.” In using the metaphor of armor Paul is seeking to capture our attention to help us see the importance of these virtues for engaging in spiritual warfare.
One final thought is that spiritual warfare is ongoing. We may not realize the shape that the battle is taking on any given day and we may not even feel that we are under attack. Regardless of how we feel, the battle rages on.
Basically Paul is telling us to daily walk in truth and righteous living. He is telling us that we need to be gospel people, people characterized by the peace given to us in Christ. Being at peace with God, ourselves, and one another, we are ready at all times to live and share the gospel. The shield referred to in v.16 is the largest shield used by a roman soldier. Those shields were covered with leather and soaked in water before battle in order to snuff out flaming arrows. As Christians, every day we are affirming our trust in God, exercising faith in the faithfulness of God so that when the arrows of temptation and evil come to us we can stand in the strength of the Lord. The helmet of salvation reminds us that in Christ we are secure. Our sins have been forgiven. We have received life in the kingdom of God. We are safe. No one, and no thing can pluck us out of the hand of God or separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
The last piece of armor is the sword of the Spirit. What is the sword of the Spirit? Paul says it is the word of God. Of course the Bible did not exist in Paul’s day. Some think Paul is referring to the Old Testament. Others think he is referring to the gospel. When under attack by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy. But being able to quote the Bible in spiritual warfare is not the point. When Jesus quoted the Old Testament it’s not like he said, “There! Take that!” The idea is that the Word of God brings the truth of God to the battlefield. It shapes our mind and character so that as the people of God we are able to take our stand against the evil one in truth. The word of God strengthens us so that we can, “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” The effectiveness of the armor has to do with the depth and strength of our relationship with Christ. We never take the armor off. It is our daily life in Christ.
III. PRAY IN THE SPIRIT. 6:18-20
Praying is something that we do often. I want to make a few brief comments about this. Praying in the Spirit describes the environment or sphere in which we pray. With this in mind, I believe it is important that when we pray we take a moment to settle ourselves into the reality of God with us through his Spirit. Imagine being in a busy department store in which there are many people all talking to each other. There are all kinds of noises competing for our attention. We are caught up in buying the things we need. But out of the corner of your ear you hear beautiful music softly playing in the store. So you stop and begin to attend to the presence of the music. As you attend to it you begin to hear it better, with greater clarity. So it is with the Holy Spirit of God. He is always present and we are usually occupied with many things. But when we stop and allow ourselves to acknowledge and affirm the presence of the Spirit with us, we can begin to pray in the Spirit.
Also notice how Paul urges us to pray in a very broad way for all the saints. Paul wants us to pray for believers everywhere, whether it be the believers who are grieving in Sutherland Springs, Texas, or the believers who are persecuted throughout the world.
But along with praying for all the saints, Paul asks prayer for himself. In other words, our prayers are for all and for the people we know personally. When Paul asks for prayer he doesn’t list his infirmities and hardships other than to note that he is in prison. Rather he asks prayer that he may declare the gospel, boldly. His prayer was for the ongoing work of God in this dark world.
I do not believe Paul would have us focus on these spiritual forces of darkness. We need to recognize that they exist and are causing havoc in this world. Our focus must be on cultivating our life in Christ within his Church. This is how we stand firm against the schemes of the devil. It’s how we wrestle against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Amen