Being strong in the Lord
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)
We began listening to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians on Sunday 11th July and now it is the 29th August – for 8 Sundays hearing Pastor Paul now in prison probably in Rome waiting to go before Caesar speaking to the congregation, the people, he seems to have spent the most time with on all his journeys. I estimate that the letter to read in one go would be about 30 minutes – maybe less – think of it as the sermon for that Sunday – and like all sermons or messages in church the congregation would have heard it all with the ears but minds undoubtedly would have wandered or they would have stayed thinking about something they heard while the letter was still being read and then at some point they would have to ‘caught up’. We know how it is still today – how sermons come and go – mainly go in our minds – how the readings fade – how the liturgy is more a warm blanket than words we specifically recall – and we might remember a portion of the prayers. And yet the Holy Spirit will have directed something – some specific words – to us, for us, now – in our time and place. The whole Divine Service is for us. The Bible readings are for us. The music and prayers are for us. The Sacrament is for us. The blessing of God is for us. We take all it away with us when we leave but what do we remember, what has touched us in a conscious way, I don’t know but like the boy Samuel in the shrine’s precincts we also can say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’. What have you heard so far over these weeks from Ephesians?
And now Paul is coming to a conclusion and he says ‘Finally …’ and we have a final message that not exactly summarises what he’s said but rather puts his message so far in context or reminds the followers of Jesus that there is more to this world than what we see and experience because reality is both about the seen and unseen – the physical and the spiritual – the revealed and the hidden – and living under the cross we are to expect the opposite, the paradox, the mystery because our dead Jesus is also our living Lord; our Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb who was slain is the one who takes away the sins of the world; our disfigured Jesus on the cross is the glorious Lord of all; the loser according to the world who died is for us the ultimate Victor who has already destroyed the powers of sin, death, and the Devil and is bringing his Kingdom into this world through words, water, bread and wine and through his people who now live in submission to one another, in service to the world, and as living sacrifices who take up their cross and follow Jesus. The symbol, the logo, the sign, the summary for Christians is the cross and it has been victorious.
However the unseen enemies – the Devil, the cosmic powers over this present darkness – have you seen the news lately?! – ‘how dark is the world at the moment?’ are the type of questions I am hearing today – and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places manifested at times obviously and other times subtly among the rulers and the authorities, are the real enemy – not to absolve us or anyone of personal responsibility for our behaviour – but to remind Christians how to live in reality which includes the world we cannot see.
And Paul then draws on the well known picture of a kitted out Roman soldier – the Roman Empire was certainly dominant at that time – as a picture for the Ephesians and all disciples of Jesus to imagine. Soldiers are equipped, given uniform, armour, and equipment and similarly Christians are equipped, given gifts from God to move about, function, and respond – with God’s armour – an allusion to Isaiah (59:17) and the Wisdom of Solomon (5:17-20) where God comes and does battle against those who would wreck, ruin, despoil, pollute, desecrate, curse, kill. Paul, it seems, picks up this idea and taking the Roman soldier – perhaps the guard at his door – reminds us that equipped by God we can and do stand firm against evil.
Standing is important in the Bible because it is a sign of life and being in the presence of God – rather than cowering under a rock or dead – and standing, one is able to respond to the moment. The belt lifts up the robes so you don’t trip – and that is the truth about God in Christ and there are many aspects here but perhaps we can focus on the truth that God has defeated sin, evil, death, and the Devil’s power and they are fighting a rear guard action in fury that they are already defeated!
The breastplate of righteousness is given to us – it is Christ – and sturdy footwear lets us cross any terrain – and this is the Gospel of peace. Note the irony – this armoured person can travel and not hobble or trip or hop up and down because the ground is rocky or hot – and this military action is to spread peace.
The shield is the big shield that can protect the soldier and when together soldiers can produce the first type of tank – armoured persons on the move not harmed by the flaming darts. We often think of faith as something to help in times of trouble – and it is – but also consider that you can bat away with your shield all the attacks that come to mind about your sins, the so-called stupidity of Jesus, the scandalous history of the Christian Church or individuals which attack us – because none of them can extinguish Jesus’ ‘I love you’ or put him back in the tomb. With that running around your head perhaps you can then imagine well the helmet of salvation – that Jesus has saved his people! That’s what keeps our heads on straight.
The only specifically offensive piece of kit is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God and one might think of Jesus in the wilderness tempted and his use of the God’s Word to counter what the Devil threw at him. As we know the Bible so we are better equipped to say what it says when needed.
And now that the Christian is kitted out, ready for training, ready for action, we can almost sense the build up of energy, the rising heart rate ready for action, the command to ‘Charge’ or go over the top – and Paul summarises all the action, the defending, the fighting with the phrase ‘praying at all times’ and that is important to keep in mind. After nearly 2,000 years of associating Christianity and authority, strongmen types, fighting, we can miss that this task of wearing the armour of God begins, continues, and ends in prayer. Not prayer only – we have to live in the world and that involves words and deeds – but that this whole message about the hidden world that we don’t see and about the forces still wanting to take us away from Jesus means that we pray – and live – but always pray.
We seek God’s perspective to respond. We can pray for ourselves – supplications are fine – and in the Divine Service you can ask for what you need in the Collect and the private prayer in silence and then hear what God reveals to you. We can pray for others – intercessions are fine – and hard work to do constantly – and in the Divine Service we can pray for others that the evil forces will not win over them in the Prayer of the Church and our intercessions. We can pray the Lord’s Prayer for ourselves and for others. This is the spiritual warfare in action – again it seems so tame or ineffectual but it is powerful and hard to do regularly.
And Paul then asks for prayers for his situation – he’s in chains awaiting trial and please note he doesn’t ask to get out of prison – no, that’s not his issue – God has placed him there – but he seeks prayers to say the right words when the time comes that he may be a good ambassador for Christ in his chains. And that perspective is good to consider that we don’t necessarily seek help out of the mess but help to be an ambassador for Christ in the mess – and that’s what Jesus promises as he walks with us – that he is with us always.
And there it is again that mystery of freedom in Christ while in chains, power while appearing weak, and the image of the Christian soldier not to be taken aggressively in this world to claim rights for oneself or the Church but to take up the action of prayer more and more to thwart all the evil forces and to seek wisdom and strength to live well with others – and in this way we leave a Divine Service especially but any time of Bible reading or devotion stronger in the Lord and walking!
- Ephesians 6:10 - 20