Friday, September 30, 2016

Armed with Authority (Ephesians 6:17)

“And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB95)

Historically, the soldier in Paul's day would have one of two types of swords which he would use in hand-to-hand combat. There was the broadsword which would have been about 3 to 4 feet long and was quite heavy. In the hands of a strong soldier who knew how to wield it, the broadsword could have a devastating impact on the enemy. And, there was also a much smaller sword, almost dagger-like, ranging from 6-18 inches long. This one was called the “makira.” This is the type of sword spoken of here in Ephesians 6. It was the smaller, more easily wielded, sharp double-edged sword used in hand-to-hand combat. It was the kind of sword which the soldier could quickly and easily maneuver to defend against the thrusts of his opponent, and in verse 17 Paul specifically refers to this sword as the “Word of God.”

I find it interesting that just as there are two types of swords; the huge and hefty broadsword and the smaller and more easily wielded one, so are there two words for the Word of God. And, just as Paul is not referring to the broadsword here, he also is not referring to the full and broad Word of God—the complete Bible. He is not figuratively speaking of picking up and swinging the entire Bible at our enemy. This would have been represented with the word “logos,” which is used in the opening verse of John's Gospel. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” (John 1:1) Instead, Paul used a second, less frequently used word, “rhema.”

Where “logos” is the total utterance of God, “rhema” is a specific saying, promise, truth or principle of God. Where we might look at “logos” in that sense as the whole Bible, “rhema” would refer to a specific verse or passage specially selected from the “logos” for the situation. “Rhema” refers to individual words of God such as a passage or a verse which has special application to an immediate situation. It does not refer to the whole Bible. Where the Bible or “logos” is the entirety of the Word of God or possibly the full armory, the “rhema” is just one of the weapons in the armory. It is specific to the situation or to that specific fight or parry of the sword.

It is these specific verses that you stand on when attacked that apply to the specific nature of the attack. It is these particular verses that seem to come alive and take on new meaning, even leaping off the page to direct or speak to you when maybe you’ve read them many times before without noticing just what they had to say. That’s a “rhema.” These “rhema's” are called the “sword of the spirit” because they originate with Spirit of God as the author of the Word of God, and because they are God's weapons for the believer to use when fighting off Satan's attacks or lies.

As a sword, the Word of God is useful both as a defensive and an offensive weapon. As a defensive weapon, John MacArthur states, “Unlike the shield, however, which gives broad and general protection, the sword can deflect an attack only if it is handled precisely and skillfully. It must parry the enemy weapon exactly where the thrust is made. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, His defense for each temptation was a passage of Scripture that precisely contradicted the devil's word. (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10.) ... Scripture is not a broadsword (rhomphaia) to be waved indiscriminately, but a dagger to be used with great precision.” [EPHESIANS, p.370, MacArthur.]

When we are tempted to do things that are wrong and we want to rationalize what we are about to do, it’s the specific passages of scripture that set us straight. When we find that we have failed and we’ve been defeated by Satan and we are in sin, it these “rhema” passages that come to our minds that then become the means of preventing any more painful reoccurrences of the same sin.

Jesus made it very clear that we cannot overcome Satan's deception by human reasoning. You can only do it by God's revelation. Jesus said in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word, [then] you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus also prayed later in 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” It is critical for us to use God's weapon of truth, the “rhema”, for it is our only valid weapon against the darkness of deception.

While we have been looking at these pieces of armor as defensive in nature, “rhema” is also an offensive weapon. We can use the “rhema” of God offensively to aid another individual who is being spiritually attacked by the wicked one by helping them be released from the grasp of his lie by showing them the truth. For instance: doubt often hits us when we are alone, and it gains a foothold in our lives, making us ineffective and sometimes unable to believe God for anything else. Then a brother or sister in Christ quotes a specific verse that erases the doubt and reminds us about something of God's character or maybe a promise or something we need. So we can definitely use “the rhema” as an offensive weapon.

This all points to what should be an obvious conclusion. And that is that the greater exposure there is to Scripture, the more we can use this mighty sword in our lives. And exposure comes from more than just sitting and listening to a sermon on Sunday. The battle we are engaged in is an everyday battle, and as such our time in the word really should be in line with the need. Imagine being attacked and being told, “The armory doesn’t open until Sunday. Hope you can hang on.” This is not how God works, but many Christians live as if He did. The psalmist asked and answered this important question in Psalm 119:9 and 11 where we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” … “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NASB95)

Paul wrote to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB95) The only way, as 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says that we can “destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God,” that is, identifying and rejecting specific lies, then replacing them with the truth, is to know “the rhema,” the specific truths of God found in His word.

But even if you don’t know them, don’t fret! Use the concordance of your Bible or call a mature Christian friend. Yesterday, as I sat on the couch listening, my wife Robin was that friend on the other end of the phone for a young person in need. They talked. She spoke truth to the situation, and they prayed.

(Again, this post is adapted from the course on Spiritual Warfare prepared by Joe Burgess for Calvary Crossroads Church from a sermon series given by Bob Bonner)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Remembering Salvation is Settled (Ephesians 6:17a)

“And take the helmet of salvation….” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB95)

As I think about this fifth piece of armor I think of the words “certain hope.” How fitting it is to link salvation and the protection of the head of the soldier. Without the helmet it was much easier to defeat the soldier. I quick swing of the sword or an unguarded arrow could quickly reach home and end his life. Looking to many pictures of what is known of the typical helmet of Paul’s time we see that the helmet not only protected the head, but it usually extended down in the back to protect the neck as well.

As much as people might have been entranced with the ideas of a Frankenstein or even a Herman Munster being created with a head sewn onto a body, the reality we all know is that without the head there is no life. And as humorous as some might think it to be to watch Young Frankenstein and see them use a brain labeled “AB NORMAL,” thinking it a name rather than a condition, the reality is that our brains in whatever state they are and with whatever challenges we (or our loved ones) face, are essential to life. The soldier knew the essential nature of protecting his head and all that it contained and meant. It is for that reason that when he went into battle he took his helmet with him firmly placed where it belonged.

Spiritually speaking, the “helmet of salvation” can protect us from despair, depression, and confusion. It can keep us from giving in or giving up. And the reason that it does is because we know that all is not lost. In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 we read, “But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8, NASB95) The reality is that we live in evil times, and because of that we need to be realistic about that truth. But, we need to be realistic in the sense that this truth does not supersede the greater truth of hope that we have knowing that our salvation is a done deal.

In Christ we are secure, and we have an eternal hope that cannot be defeated. We may live at times as if it were not the case, but the helmet is to remind us that this kind of thinking is nothing more than a lie of the evil one or one of those fiery darts that we take up the shield to defend against. At that moment we are to stop taking hits to our heads (our minds) and we are to begin taking those thoughts captive to the truth that we know in Jesus Christ as we read in 2 Corinthians 10:5. “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NASB95) In Colossians 2:8 we read, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8, NASB95)

We really are engaged in the battle for the mind, and protecting our minds with the truth of God’s Word and the assurance of our salvation and security is an essential part to being able to stand firm in the midst of spiritual attack. And as the battles wage on we are to be mindful that every day is just one day closer to seeing this hope of salvation fully realized. Being alert and sober means that being lax or even dozing is not to be an option. “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.” (Romans 13:11, NASB95) Going back a few chapters in Romans, Paul wrote, “For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Romans 8:24–25, NASB95) It is so much better to be prepared in advance by being constantly mindful of our great hope, but the encouragement of this verse is to remind us when the battle comes remember your hope and then eagerly wait for it. We may not see the answer to the problem right away, but we can know the hope of victory that is assured us in Christ. “For in hope we have been saved” and in hope we persevere. Standing firm dressed in Christ we will prevail.

We have a great hope. Because we are assured of salvation in Jesus Christ we live with the assurance to guard our minds that when we pass from these bodies we step into the perfect presence of our God. There is absolutely nothing any adversary can do to change this. The enemy cannot win. God wins and because of that we are to think soundly knowing that nothing can change this reality or shake our hope.

When attacked and we are tempted to doubt we rest behind the truth that God cannot lie. We trust what He has told us to be true. Just as the Roman soldier had his shield as his forward defense to extinguish the fiery darts of the evil one, so do we have the faith which God has given us in which to rest assured that we are truly His children, forgiven and fully accepted by Him and chosen by Him for His service. We are not a fluke.

We know this to be true because we have been made at peace with God by the blood of His Son. All of the sins against us have been forgiven and we have no remaining charges. Knowing that He is not after us to condemn us, but that He is for us we can go out into the world at peace knowing the peace that only comes from Him. His peace makes us to stand prepared when turmoil surrounds us, and it is only because we are at peace with Him that we truly do find quiet to rest in troubled times.

This is because it never depended on us. It depended on the righteousness of Christ put upon us because of God’s great love that sent His Son to pay for our sins and to cleanse us. This is the breastplate that guards our heart when we are tempted to question our worthiness, and it even humbles us when we become prideful. We are made righteous by God and there is nothing that can change God’s righteousness.

And we know all of this because God’s Word is true. His Son is the perfect embodiment of truth. He came into the world with truth and grace to be for us what we could not be. His Spirit spoke though men to convey that truth into writing so that even today we have it to firmly hold onto and to hide in our hearts. Everything we know hangs on God being truthful, and for that we can be extremely thankful.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Lord is My Strength and My Shield (Ephesians 6:16)

“in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16, NASB95)

Moving into verses 16 and 17 we find the second division of the six pieces of armor. We read with the first three that these were to have already been put in place in order to remain in place as signified with the word “having.” With these next three we find the tense change to that of a present action— “taking.”

The fourth piece of armor, or the first of these last three, is the “shield of faith.” I think it safe to say that a shield is most obviously a defensive weapon intended to hold off an enemy’s attack whether it be close in by a dagger or sword or from a distance by a spear or arrow. In the comparison used by Paul we not only have arrows, but we have flaming arrows to enhance their deadliness. And, we read that these arrows, as we read a few verses earlier, do not come from the hands of man but are reflecting of the intensity of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged with evil and the evil one.

The evil one is intent on destruction, and he will not hold back anything. Therefore, being able to take up a shield when an attack occurs is an essential part of our defense and our standing firm, just as it was with the Roman soldier. But really, how effective was the soldier’s shield? What kind of shield did he have that would hold off an onslaught of arrows? There were basically two types of shields. One was a smaller one that a soldier might hold in hand-to-hand battle which was easily maneuvered and useful in close combat. It might have been rectangular, but was commonly round as you might have seen in pictures or gladiator type movies.

The other was much larger, and it is the one that Paul refers to here. It is the “Thureos,” which is the Greek word used here. It represents a shield that was approximately 4 1/2 feet tall by 2 1/2 feet wide, and it was sometimes referred to as a “door shield” because of its size. It was typically made out of wood and covered with leather that was treated with a substance that would put out flaming arrows. It could even have been covered with metal to better deflect the arrows. This shield was large enough that, if needed, the soldier could hide completely behind it, and it figured heavily in the battle strategy of the Roman army.

When the army was trying to advance upon their enemy, while under fire, they would form a phalanx, which was a long row of soldiers carrying these huge shields. And behind them the rest of the soldiers could return fire with arrows and spears. Moving steadily forward this this long row of shielded soldiers would work their way in until they came close enough to the enemy to engage in hand-to-hand combat.

This piece of armor, the “door shield” is unique in that it went in front of all the other armor and protected the other armor, almost like a second line of defense. The soldier was not only protected by his breastplate and his helmet, but he was secondarily protected by these large shields.

We are told to take up the shield of faith. There is no guessing as to what the shield is to represent. It is given to us again with the item. But what is meant by faith in this usage? The word faith has two primary usages in the New Testament. It can refer to the entire body of divine revelation or that which you believe in, like doctrine. Or, the term “faith” refers to the act of believing or trusting in someone or something. In Ephesians 6 Paul has this second meaning in mind—it is the action of believing, not the information upon which you believe. It is more than just believing something. It is choosing to stand behind it. It is making the commitment to choose to believe and stand behind what Jesus says to be true. Because we understand something that Jesus said to be true, we choose to respond in a manner appropriate to that understanding.

When we take up the shield of faith we are choosing to act on the basis of truth. Doing this we will find ourselves eventually repelling lies and doubts, or those “fiery missiles of the evil one.” These arrows might include temptations, fears, false guilt, and lusts or desires of all sorts, where doubt may very well be one of Satan’s most common fiery arrows. Doubts might be centered around our position in Christ and the security of our salvation, our acceptability to God, His forgiveness of us, or whether we might or might not be doing the right thing at any given time. Even seeking Him with all of our hearts and waiting on His direction, there may be a constant battle with believing that He indeed will direct our steps and answer our prayers. In my life there have been numerous passages that I return to in these times of waiting on direction and provision. This is particularly true when those seasons of waiting and searching endure longer than I might have ever desired or imagined. One of those key passages is Proverbs 3:5-5 where we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)

Disappointment may be another one of those common areas or attack. This might be especially true when job loss, prolonged illness and the death of a loved one come into the picture. We go through life with expectations and hopes, and these feelings are most naturally attached to those things and people closest to us. When this security is attacked we have to choose to believe that God is good and faithful, that nothing caught Him by surprise, and that He will never let us go. For me, Psalm 139 serves as one of many constant reminders of these truths in which I choose to believe and trust. And, when I find myself listening to the voices of doubt and disappointment it is critical for my standing firm to return to His truth and to take up the shield of faith that He has provided. I may have just taken a hit, but that hit is not fatal, and God is faithful to bring me to the other side.

We can stand behind this shield of faith because we know that our God cannot lie and He has promised to be our help. Consider the words of the psalmist in Psalm 121. “A SONG OF ASCENTS. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7, ESV) 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

At Peace to Stand with Peace (Ephesians 6:15)

"and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;” (Ephesians 6:15, NASB95)

The next piece of spiritual armor is the “shoes of peace.” Paul writes, “...and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”

Military boots today are a whole lot different than they were two thousand years ago. The Roman soldier didn’t benefit from our modern technology, but he did wear sandals that were specially adapted for his needs. From the top they might have looked like a normal sandal, though being heavier duty with much more strapping to stay firmly in place. But what made them truly significant was what was on the bottom. Imbedded in the soles of their boots were hobnails which enabled the soldier to have a firm footing when he met the enemy in battle on certain types of terrain. These were not shoes for running --- either in retreat or for pursuing an enemy. In fact, Josephus, the Jewish Roman Historian tells of a centurion who, because he was running after his enemies while wearing “shoes thickly studded with sharp nails,” slipped and fell on his back on the stone pavement, where he was duly dispatched!

These boots served for marching. Their function was like today’s cleated football shoe. They gave the foot traction and prevented sliding. Most ancient battles were hand-to-hand and foot-to-foot, like on the line of scrimmage of a football game. These boots gave the roman soldier an advantage over his ill-equipped foes.

So, what do you think is the spiritual application of this? Paul says that like the soldier we are to shod our feet with the “preparation” of the gospel of peace. This word “preparation” means to be made ready or equipped. Maybe it would be better explained by saying that because of something somebody knows, they are then made ready and confident to fight.

There are many passages that speak of us bringing the good news to people such as Romans 10:15 where we read, “How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”” (Romans 10:15, NASB95). But this is not one of them. This has to do solely with the difference that the gospel makes in our lives and how it prepares us for to stand firm when attacked so that we can fend off the mental attacks of the evil one. The reality is that when we preach the gospel we are most likely to be the subject of attack by the evil one. But this has to do with the attack and not the preaching, and it is important to know where our shelter is in those times---as David said, “in the shadow of [His] wings.”

Paul’s point is simply to say that just as a soldier is easily defeated without shoes, so is a Christian easily defeated if he or she has not been prepared ahead of time by knowing that everything is okay between him and God. A Christian can easily be defeated by the lies of Satan if that Christian is led to believe that he or she has no peace with God or does not have the peace of God.

The idea of the believer being equipped with the good news of the gospel of peace refers to his confidence that he is no longer at war with God, but has been made at peace. Whereas we were once enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and at war with him, now we are saved by Jesus Christ. In Romans 5:1 we are taught that because we put our trust in Christ, we are at “Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Apart from God any sense of peace is temporary. There is an uneasiness to our lives that we cannot touch, explain, or put a finger on, and it can manifest itself in a variety of ways from being alienated from others, always seeking to be the best, seeking constant approval, and the list goes on. There is this awareness that no matter how good things might be going, there is still something missing.

I felt this strongly in high school, even getting into Transcendental Meditation trying to quiet the struggle. But I quickly found that this was an empty pursuit. It was around this time that I wrote a poem that I think marked my life then and might speak to the lives of so many others. [Peace of Mind, Joe Burgess, 1973]

Clutching, grasping
Trying to find
That everlasting
Peace of mind.
Thinking, groping
Always hoping
There to find
That everlasting peace of mind.
Giving, taking
Flying free
Never catching
You or me.
In one ear; out the other,
There to find
Always another
Of that kind of everlasting peace of mind.

Without a standard, peace is always going to be subjective. Its only source is going to be how we feel at the moment. But this is not how God has called us to live. We are not to live by the seat of our emotions, but by the firm foundation of His truth, and His truth says that because of Jesus we have been made at peace with God. We are no longer strangers and aliens. We are no longer enemies. We are no longer lost and without hope. We are his beloved children and His hands are firmly wrapped around us. We have been made at peace with God, and because of that we can go into the world knowing the peace of God, knowing that whatever happens that our sovereign, totally in control, absolutely wise God knows what He is doing and that He has us firmly in His grasp.

We are at peace with God because our sin and our guilt were all removed on the cross. There is no more need to fear death or the rejection of God. Thanks to Jesus’ propitiating work, there is no reason to think that God is angry at us or that we are His enemies. Jesus took care of all of that, with his substitutionary death.

And because this is true, we not only have peace with God, but we have the peace of God. We stand in the confidence of God’s love for us, in His partnership with us, and in His commitment to fight for us. We have no need to fear any enemy, even Satan himself, because “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

In the upper room on the final night of his earthly life, Jesus told His disciples, and indeed all who follow him, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (John 14:27) He gives us His personal peace. Maybe the best way to define this peace is to describe it as a deep sense of well-being, wholeness and that you are secure in the hands of God, regardless of your circumstances. This, in turn, gives us the confidence to stand firm and not flinch against the wicked one. This is what Jesus knew and this is what He gives us.

Hence, mentally and symbolically having put on the shoes of the preparation of the Gospel of peace is acknowledging and claiming the truth that we are at peace with God and therefore we have the peace of God. A Christian soldier who realizes these truths about himself, which came as a result of what Christ has accomplished, can stand firm no matter what the enemy throws at him. Satan’s accusatory lies will not move this soldier. His feet are firmly planted. With these shoes of peace firmly set, the Christian can hold his ground against any attack of the wicked one.

Those who know this peace with God and the peace of God are at peace with themselves and they also tend to work hard at settling quarrels, not starting them. They are the peacemakers. They tend to be more accepting, tolerant and find little pleasure in being negative.

So, this piece of armor, to “Shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” really is standing in the confidence which comes from knowing that one has PEACE WITH GOD AND THE PEACE OF GOD.

(Much of text of this post for today finds its roots in the class prepared for Calvary Crossroads on Spiritual Warfare as adapted from a sermon series by Bob Bonner.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

His Righteousness to Our Core (Ephesians 6:14b)

“Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,” (Ephesians 6:14, NASB95)

The second piece of armor that we read of in verse 14 is the “breastplate of righteousness.” Similar to the belt of truth, this piece was to be worn at all times by the Roman soldier, whether he was engaged in battle or not. It was part of his on-duty dress, and he would not be properly attired without it. This breastplate was probably the most vital piece of the Roman soldier’s armor because it covered the most vulnerable parts of his body. It was behind this breastplate that the soldier’s vital organs rested. It was from behind its protection that his heart continued to beat and his kidneys and liver performed their most necessary functions. For the soldier who went out into battle without this protection he left himself exposed and susceptible to being easily defeated.

We read that we are to have put on the breastplate of righteousness. This is something that is done in the past with a present awareness of what it accomplishes in the present. It speaks of a truth which is to be constantly on our mind. In the same way that the breastplate protected the core of the soldier, so it is figuratively that this breastplate of righteousness protects the core of who we are in Christ. The Bible speaks poetically of the bowels, or this inward region, as that part of us from which all of our emotions, thinking and even life flows. We might know that our thinking occurs in the brain, but there is this very real aspect of who we are rising from deep within. We use terms like “gut feeling” or “in my soul” or “heart” to speak of this, and remind us that we are more than processors of facts. The breastplate is used to speak of protecting who we are at our deepest level.

But what does it really mean to have the breastplate of righteousness firmly in place and to know its power to make us to stand firm in the face of spiritual attack? Well, just as there is the knowledge of who we are in Christ because of His being absolutely truthful and we are then to live according to that truth, so it is that there are multiple facets to the breastplate as well. We are told that it is a breastplate of righteousness. This does not mean first and foremost that we are made to be victorious because we live righteous or right lives. Though this is an intended response as to how we live, it primarily points us to an even more basic and fundamental truth. Apart from Christ not one of us is righteous. This is made clear in Scripture, “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one;” (Romans 3:10, NASB95)

The righteousness that we have is because Christ has imputed to us (or put to our account or on us) His righteousness. We are made irrevocably righteous by the righteousness of Christ. This means that we can stand before God without fear of being condemned. We have been made fully acceptable by Jesus and we can stand worthy before Him. Where once we were enemies of God, we who are saved have now been made fully right with Him. And, not one bit of this was because of anything we did or could have done. It was done 100% by Jesus who is the righteous Son of God who took on the form of man to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins and to give us life. We stand as righteous because the Righteous One makes us so, and continues to affirm it in us every day as we seek and follow after Him.

It is important for us to be constantly mindful of this second piece of armor because it serves first as a reminder of what Christ has done for us, but also secondarily as security in which we are made to stand when we act, think, or others might accuse us otherwise. This does not mean that we do not stumble and need to admit such before our loving God and that others might see us tarnished. What it does mean is that we have the constant truth on which to stand that our righteousness never depended on us, but on Christ. It is in His righteousness that we are made and it is to a standard of His righteousness that we return as soon as we realize the transgression. The enemy might want to bombard us with accusations, but we need to remember that it is also Christ who is our advocate before the Father. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” (1 John 2:1, NASB95)

Returning to the class of Spiritual Warfare referenced in a previous post, we read, “It was always about the righteousness of Christ. All we had to do was to put our trust in Jesus as our savior and master or Lord of our lives, and then His righteousness is imputed or put to our account. God transfers Jesus Christ’s righteousness, Jesus Christ’s acceptability and integrity, to us as believers. This is what the Bible teaches and the term used to describe this is “imputed righteousness”. This doctrine of imputed righteous is so important that Paul, in the book of Romans, spent from 3:21-5:21 explaining it to us. When a person has had Christ’s righteous imputed to his or her account, this is what the scriptures calls being justified by faith. You were not just declared righteous, but you were made permanently righteous before God.”

Jesus, the belt of truth, won’t lie to us. When He says that we are righteous when we abide in Him as our savior and Lord, we are. Believe it. Renounce the accusations of the wicked one that knock at your door when you seem to fail. Should you fail, confess or agree with God that those actions were wrong, and thank Him for Christ’s cleansing work and imputed righteousness and move on.

Thinking backward on these first two pieces of armor for a moment, imagine trying to support or devise your own sense of righteousness without any verifiable standard. How you or others felt about you would be your foundation, and a foundation like this can be shaky at best. We see this lived out every day as we hear about people buried in deep depression even leading to suicide, and we see it as we hear stories of large scale fraud played out on others by someone tooting his own horn or padding his own pocket. But in their proper order we can see that the righteousness that protects all that we are stems from a foundation of truth which is unshakable, given to us by our God who cannot lie.

We are made righteous because God declares us so. As a result, we are to live with this certain knowledge, unshaken in the truth of God’s Word which we wrap ourselves in day and night.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Firmly Fastened in the Truth which is Christ (Ephesians 6:14a)

“Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth….” (Ephesians 6:14a, NASB95)

Repeatedly we are instructed in these verses that as Christians we are to stand firm in the face of spiritual attack. Our goal in these times is not necessarily to move forward or gain new ground for Christ, but to withstand the onslaught or attack that might be most pressing. This may come in a variety of forms, whether it is through other individuals, circumstances that are unfavorable to our desires, or internal questions, conflicts, or even depression. All of these are things that come at us and are intended by the evil one to cause us to live defeated, knowing all the time that in Christ we are more than conquerors. These are the battles for the heart and mind that give rise to responses in accordance to how we stand at that moment. It is for this reason that we are told to stand firm “therefore.” We know they will happen, and they may happen over and over and over again with the same root issue which might even be our most regular struggle of faith or hope.

As we looked at in the last few posts, which I apologize for the distance between them, our enemy is about deception. He is about getting us to take our eyes off of Christ and to see whatever stands before us as bigger than Him or maybe outside of His interest or desire to handle. In light of this it is very important for us to remember exactly who we are in Christ and what He has promised for us. This means that our starting place is knowing the truth of His presence and His power.

We read in this verse, “having girded your loins with truth.” “Having girded [NAS],” “having fastened [ESV]” or “with … buckled.” Here we read that we are to already have wrapped around ourselves or to have fastened onto ourselves an object, which in this case is truth. This truth is not new truth or truth that varies with the situation, but it is enduring truth that preexisted the current circumstance. It is a truth that we are to live with a constant awareness of, and in that sense be continually girded with.

The picture here is of the Roman soldier who constantly wore a tunic which was held into place by a heavy belt upon which things could be fastened and into which his tunic could be tucked to move quickly into battle. In the same way that many men would not conceive of walking out the front door without their belt being fastened, so it is that the Roman soldier would not dress without his belt also being in place. In contrast, as I write this the picture in my head is not the Roman soldier, but a current trend among many young men who think it right to have their pants hanging below their tail end. I find it hard to imagine how they could move quickly should the need arise, and it find it very easy to imagine them stumbling instead. With the belt of truth on we are to wrap ourselves into it. We are to immerse ourselves in it, and it is the foundation of our being dressed for spiritual warfare.

Just as a soldier is to have his mind on the battle before him, being fully committed and ready to fight, so are we to be constantly on the alert. Looking elsewhere in Scripture we find similar instructions. In Luke 12:35 we read, “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:35, NASB95) We see here that we are to be in a constant state of readiness. Peter wrote, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13, NASB95) The truth exists. It has been given to us, but we also have a responsibility to hide it in our hearts and consider it actively so that we might be prepared to respond appropriately in accordance with it. We are to let nothing cause us to lose sight of the great hope that we have in Jesus Christ. There is no issue, no enemy, no disappointment, or no loss greater than our Savior who holds us firmly in His hands and who will bring us safely to the other side.

To this point we have looked at the truth of God generally, but a look at Scripture tells us that this truth is much more than Scripture itself. We read in Hebrews 4:12 that the Word of God is living and active and more powerful than a two-edged Sword. It is not a collection of words from men who have died and gone on to eternity. No, it is the living powerful Word of God. And more than that it is the accurate representation of who God is verbally given for our benefit. It is literally God-breathed as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16. It is absolutely trustworthy.

But more than that we know that the truth spoke of is more than our Bibles. The truth is Jesus Christ. Jesus told us this Himself. In a verse known to many of us we read, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6, NASB95) He is the living truth, and just as we were saved in Him, we read that we also are to live in Him. This is the primary message of Ephesians—our being in Christ, and the belt spoken of here is the constant reminder of Him as the truth being our foundation.

Jesus will not lie to us about anything. Our enemy on the other hand, will lie about everything. When the attacks come, the question we are to be prepared in advance to answer is to who we are going to listen. Without the foundation of truth, the rest of the armor quickly becomes clouded and ineffective. Without it we are not ready to fight, and we might easily become like the unstable man of James 1:5-8.

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95)

It is this being carried away that Paul said we as mature believers would be protected from just two chapters earlier in this letter. “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;” (Ephesians 4:14, NASB95) As we grow in Him we grow in His defense. And as we do this we can practice the words of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, NASB95)

The old hymn has it right when it states, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” Whatever Jesus says is true about you and life. You can believe it. It’s the truth.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Seen in its Entirety (Ephesians 6:14-17)

"(14) Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (15) and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; (16) in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (17) And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:14–17, NASB95)

In these verses we have six pieces of armor presented which are intended to compare with how a Roman soldier would have made himself ready for battle. Each piece had a purpose, and it was put on in a specific order. If the soldier did not pay careful attention to his preparation, he would find himself ill equipped for battle and exposed to the enemy. For the soldier the results of neglect could be fatal. Paul instructs us to prepare for spiritual attack by paralleling the essentials of spiritual warfare with the essentials of hand-to-hand battle. And in so doing, we are to be just as serious and orderly about it as the Roman soldier was, knowing that the results of the battle may very well depend upon our preparation. It is so important that Paul instructs us twice in verses 11 and 13 to “put on” or “take up” the full armor of God.

Following is an overview presented in a course prepared for Calvary Crossroads Church on Spiritual Warfare. It will be followed in the next several posts by a deeper look at each piece.

A.      The “armor of God” represents: Jesus and what Jesus has accomplished for us.

These pieces of armor are not physical pieces of armor, but symbols of something real. In Romans 13:14, Paul clearly declares what this armor represents. He says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14, ESV) Also, in writing to his son in the faith, Timothy, the Apostle says to Timothy in military terms, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” … “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1, 3, ESV). Jesus is the source of our strength. Christ and His works is our defense. He is our armor.

B.      There are two general divisions of the armor.

These six pieces of armor fall into two divisions. The Roman soldier of Paul’s day actually had two groups of armor. The first was that which he never took off. For instance: he always kept on his belt upon which all the other weapons hung, he always wore his breastplate and his sandals. This part of his battle dress was his daily uniform. Anytime he went outdoors, he wore this part of his armor. With these on, he was ready at a moment’s notice to pick up the second portion of his armor to fight off would be attackers. When the battle got hot, all the soldiers had to do was to pick up their second group of weapons to defend themselves. Such weapons as the shield, the sword, and the helmet were to be carried into the heat of battle.

1.       Permanent pieces of armor to be worn at all times. v.14-15

In verses 14 and 15 we find the first three pieces which are set apart as pieces that are always worn. This is designated by the word “having.” “(14) Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (15) and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE;” (Ephesians 6:14–15, NASB95) All three of the verbs describing these pieces of armor are past tense. The word “having” indicates that this is something that was already to have been done. It was a completed action. From this we know that the first three pieces of armor represent something that has already happened to us in the past, at the moment that we were saved, whether we were aware of it or not.

These pieces of armor, like the armor worn by soldiers of Paul’s day, represent foundational truths that are never meant to be taken off or forgotten. They are permanent weapons to be worn at all times. But part of our problem as Christians is that many times we forget about or have never really known about these three truths represented by each of these three pieces of armor, and hence we do not prepare ourselves with awareness. It is as if we somehow lay them aside. Then, when the enemy attacks us unprotected, we get hurt.

2.       Armor to be carried into the heat of battle. v.16-17

The second group of weapons we only need to pick up when we become aware that we are in immediate danger or are being attacked, so to speak. “(16) in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (17) And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:16–17, NASB95) These pieces of armor are indicated by the present tense of the verbs in verses 16-17. “Take up the shield of faith”; “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.” These pieces symbolically represent things we can do today, truths we must act on when we are in the heat of a spiritual battle.

C.      There is a precise order to which we are to put on each piece of armor.

The next observation to be pointed out about is that pieces are given to us in a specific order, because they are to be thought of or put on in this order. Historically, we know how Roman soldiers prepared for battle. They all got dressed in the same manner and put on their armor in the same order. First they put on the belt, over which they put on the breast plate, and later upon that same belt, they attached the sword, etc. No soldier, unless in an absolute emergency would go into a fight without first putting on his breastplate. He wouldn’t want to leave himself exposed. Theologically, this also makes sense as we will see in depth when we look at each piece of armor.

So, the order in which we apply the truths of this passage or the order in which we put on this armor cannot be ignored if we want to be successful soldiers of Jesus Christ. When we get mentally dressed for spiritual warfare, we must mentally put on this truth, or recall and consider as true the truth that each piece of armor represents. Each truth sets the foundation for the next truth.

D.     There is no protective armor for the back of the soldier. (James 4:7)

Another observation is that there is no armor given to protect the rear of the soldier. And there is a reason for that. You and I are not to turn and run from Satan. We don’t have to, and God doesn’t expect us to. If we walk with Jesus, controlled by the Holy Spirit, we do not need to run. Do you remember what James 4:7 says? “Submit yourselves therefore to God (in other words, allow Him to take control of your life). Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7, ESV)

E.      Every piece of the armor is essential.

A fifth point that should be noted comes also out of verses 11 and 13. Paul stresses that the “full” armor is absolutely necessary to be victorious and to stand firm. You need every piece of the armor to be successful in spiritual warfare. All of it is essential. Without all of it, you can fall flat on your face. That’s why we are going the time to look at each part of this armor, to make sure we know what each piece represents and how to use it.

F.       Our goal = to resist and to stand firm.

The last point that we want to observe is our goal or objective in the battle. Verses 11, 13, and 14 tell us that we are commanded to “stand firm.” Paul doesn’t tell us that we are supposed to seek after new territory to conquer or to fight Satan and his cohorts so as to slay them. Instead, he tells us that our goal in this war is to “stand firm and resist the devil.”

The reason is twofold: first, our enemy is not made of flesh and blood. We cannot see Satan, so how can we go out and aggressively hunt him down and attack him? We can’t. It is a sign of victory to just resist and stand firm.

Secondly, we have no new ground to conquer. In Christ, we already own it all. Ephesians 1 says we already have all of the inheritance we will ever need. We have no more to gain. “who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:14, NASB95) Nowhere in God’s word does He command us to go out on a witch hunt and to look for demons to cast out. He does tell the apostles that he will give them and us authority over demons, and should we come in contact with them during the course of our lives, we are to resist them without fear. They cannot harm us or have any control over us, as long as we remember who we are in Christ.

One other thing about this command to stand firm, the verb form used here for “stand firm” dictates the translation to actually read not just “stand firm”, but more accurately “start and keep on standing firm”. By saying it this way, Paul is saying to his readers, and God is saying to us, that some of us are either not aware of the war and what our objective is or we are not being obedient to the Lord and putting on the armor to be more effective fighters for Him. Or to put it another way, some of us are losing the battle right now and God is saying, get with the program!

(Note: A good portion of the text of these posts on Ephesians 6:10-17 is taken from a sermon series given after preparing the course in Spiritual Warfare. A good portion of the text of the course was prepared by Bob Bonner, teaching pastor at Calvary Crossroads. Recognizing this, the outline and much of the text of today’s post are more his words than mine. Our hope as always is that whosever words are used that they accurately present the truths of God’s Word. Thanks Bob for letting me be a part of this.)

Sorry for the longer post.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Readied to Resist (Ephesians 6:13)

“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” (Ephesians 6:13, NASB95)

Again we are told to wear the armor of God. We were told to put it on in verse 11 and here we are told to take it up. Both of these instruct us that we have a role. God is not going to keep us from attacks of the evil one. He has not put us in some kind of bubble that keeps us exempt from all that the world experiences, but rather He has chosen to equip us to stand when these things do happen. And His method for doing this is to give us what we might look at as pieces of armor which we will explore further in the posts to come. This why we read that we are “therefore take up the whole armor of God.” The battle we are engaged in is not with a flesh and blood enemy but a spiritual one, thus we are to prepare by equipping ourselves for battle with the spiritual armor which God supplies.

The armor is here. It is available to us. But just as having clothes sitting in a drawer really serves no purpose unless they are worn, so are we to dress ourselves constantly in that which God supplies us in order to protect us against attack. And, we know that Paul is speaking about attack because we see even in this verse words such as “withstand” and “stand firm.” Think about it. Are these offensive words or defensive words? Are these words that direct us to go out and engage the enemy or ones that tell us how to prepare ourselves for when the enemy attacks?

We sing the song “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and we picture ourselves marching out to war in order to win the world for Jesus Christ. And in that sense we ARE sent into the world as His ambassadors knowing that we may be persecuted. But this is not what Ephesians 6 is about. It is about those times when we know something is coming our way and we need to be ready. It is about those times when we are blindsided when we are least expecting it. It is even about guarding our own hearts and minds against some of the regular battles we have within ourselves. It is about all of these, and being able to stand firm in Christ when the darts fly in. Whether they are anticipated or not, we certainly know that they will come.

We also read in this verse about a time for which we are to be prepared. Notice the expression, “in the evil day.” This does not refer as much to the time period we are in today lasting until when Jesus comes again as it does to the seasons of intense struggle that we each face from time to time. Every day is not the same. There are some days that are more intense than others, just like war. Not every day for a soldier is the same in intensity, though they may string together with periods of sporadic calm.

This passage was given to us to teach us how to face those days or seasons in our lives when we are under attack from the wicked one. The objective is that we will be able to stand our ground firm, having resisted Satan and become secure in the truth we know about God and ourselves. Paul wants us to learn how to maintain the stance of soldiers who are victors rather than the fallen nature of a victim.

(Note: A good portion of the text of these posts on Ephesians 6:10-17 is taken from a sermon series given after preparing the course in Spiritual Warfare. A good portion of the text of the course was prepared by Bob Bonner, teaching pastor at Calvary Crossroads. Recognizing this there may be portions of these posts that are his words and not mine. After so many years of teaching this material combined I seem to have lost the line between the two. Thanks Bob for letting me be a part of this.)

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Focus on the Right Enemy (Ephesians 6:12)

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB95)

Prior to this section in chapter 6 of Ephesians Paul had written about the key areas of life in which we tend to have conflict. In writing about them he gave us a better perspective and a way to respond when conflict arises. Now he writes about what lies beneath many of these conflicts. When the effort to be at peace with the world and to walk as one in Christ with other believers seems to hit a wall, he tells us that our struggle with them lies deeper than what we can see.

We read that our enemy is not flesh and blood. So, if it is not our spouse, our child or parent, our boss or an employee, our President or a foreign terrorist, an elder in the church or someone in a small group or on a ministry team, then who is it? If the battle is not where we can see it and wrap our hands around it to bring it to an end, then where is the battle and what are we supposed to do in response?

Paul goes on to tell us that our enemy is an unseen one, and in order to stand we need armor that is effective in that realm. We read that our real battle is wrestling against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

We’ve already seen in Scripture that those who are not saved are children of their father the devil. They are slaves to sin, and they are subject to his influences without seeing the light of God. Looking at them it is easy to see that they are following the marching orders of the only general they know. And looking at it in a military way our real enemy is not the soldiers but the general who commands them. Sure, when it comes to conflict and war we engage the soldiers, but the reality is they are doing what they know. They literally are moved by forces they do not see, and the only way to fight them is through the power which God supplies. It is Him who strengthens us, and it is Him who turns their hearts.

This is easy to grasp of these obvious enemies, but what about those we love? What about those who carry the same label as “Christian?” What about those whose Lord is Christ? Each of us has areas of our lives in which we struggle, in which we do not fully submit to and follow after God. Each of us has rough areas that need to be cleaned up and which need to be reshaped into our new identity in Christ. As Christians we even hold some varying theological positions. It is in the previous chapters of letters like this one which tell us how to walk with one another with Christ. God’s Word really does tell us how to live with those who aren’t easy to live with at times.

But we should never be deceived into thinking that the battle is something we can muscle through on our own. We are engaged in a spiritual battle with spiritual forces that are extremely dark and destructive, and the only path to victory is in the power of the One who is light and infinitely righteous.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Be Prepared (Ephesians 6:11)

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11, NASB95)

Every day when we get up we choose to get dressed. We could choose not to do so and we would walk through our days exposed which, contrary the opinion of some, would not be a good thing. Getting dressed is important to me, and I appreciate when others do the same. Paul tells us a similar spiritual truth that in order to be strong in the Lord we have to dress ourselves in “the whole armor of God.” This isn’t a do it in the morning thing and forget about it as it is most days with our clothes, but it is certainly a good thing to walk through this spiritual dress as you attend to your physical dress. What Paul is writing about here is a continual dressing that is particularly important in times of spiritual need.

Kids are an interesting learning ground. How many of you have ever had a child come up to you with frozen fingers after playing in the snow and you asked them where their gloves were to hear that they were not wearing them? You may have had the best weather appropriate gloves in the world and they may have fit them perfectly, but unless they put them on it does absolutely no good. And lest you think it is only kids that do this, how about us as adults who maybe don’t put on a pair of good work gloves before doing some strenuous outdoor work only to find out that you developed some really nice blisters. Or, maybe you went and worked at cutting back the blackberries while wearing shorts, or you went out in the sun for a long period of time without a hat or sunscreen. We all have things in our lives that we did and do where we were not properly prepared and then had to suffer consequences because of it.

All of the examples above spoke to events after they were completed and there was the realization of some form of defeat. I think that all of us can look to our past and find similar spiritual situations where we realized after the fact just how much we might have lost a battle either because we chose to ignore what was right or because we blew right past the warning signs to stop and regroup with God before proceeding. This instruction of verse 11 follows verse 10, where we read “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” Verse 11 is the means to accomplishing verse 10. In order to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might we need to “Put on the full armor of God.” Just as a soldier would not go into battle without being properly dressed and equipped, so are we told to make ourselves ready before entering the spiritual battles that we encounter on such a regular basis.

Also in verse 11 we begin to see the real realm in which these relational and other battles are fought. We continue to read, “so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” We do have an intelligent and devious enemy. He is all about destruction, and he will do what he can to take advantage of any situation to bring it about, whether it is an intense trial or a flip comment. It doesn’t matter to him when he finds an open door as we read in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NASB95)

God warned Cain about this in Genesis chapter 4 after his offering was rejected. “So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? “If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”” (Genesis 4:3–7, NASB95) God told Cain to get his heart and his actions right and he will have victory over his attitudes. But Cain did not listen, and verse 8 gives us the tragic consequence. “Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Genesis 4:8, NASB95)

We see affirmed in these verses that the devil is indeed real and he is active. The battle we are engaged in is with him, and our only hope for victory in a battle with him and his cohorts is in the strength of the One who defeated him on the cross—Jesus Christ. This is what these verses are all about; about defeating the devil as we are properly armored in Christ who makes us to stand victoriously. He may outsmart us, but there is no way he outsmarts God, and we can be so thankful that God has given us His Word to inform and His Spirit to empower as we fully rest in His Son.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Strengthened to Stand (Ephesians 6:10, intro to vv. 10-20)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” (Ephesians 6:10, NASB95)

When first joining the staff of Calvary Crossroads I was charged with developing some classes covering a selection of subjects which could be taught over and over again. These included courses on Spiritual Gifts, Bible Study Methods, and Spiritual Warfare. The first one was the Spiritual Warfare class. For it I began with a sermon series that our teaching pastor, Bob Bonner, had done several years prior. As a part of the preparation I was challenged to rearrange the material into a classroom framework with independent study. This afforded me the opportunity to do a lot of my own independent study and grow in my own understanding on the spiritual battles in which we are engaged and how to stand victoriously in the midst of them.

The heart of the Spiritual Warfare class was found in these few verses of Ephesians 6:10-17, with the added emphasis on prayer for one another found in verses 18-20. Before we begin, let’s take some time and read the whole passage.

"(10) Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. (11) Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. (12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

(13) Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. (14) Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, (15) and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; (16) in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (17) And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

(18) With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, (19) and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, (20) for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:10–20, NASB95)

Breaking it down into larger chunks, we have the first three verses (10-12) which deal with the instruction given by Paul to “stand firm” as he tells us both the source of our strength and the object of our battle. In the next five verses Paul covers the six pieces of spiritual armor that are critical to victory in these battles (13-17). And, then in verses 18-20 Paul instructs us to pray for one another even as he asked for prayer for himself.

Verse 10 begins with the word “finally,” which is more than the last item on a list of other items. It is different than saying, “When you go to the store pick up some apples, bread, milk, and oh yes, as the last thing would you pick up some ice.” The last thing here is the ice, probably since if it were to be first thing it might melt. This word “finally” more literally means “henceforth” or “from here on after.” It has the idea of from this time forward do what follows, and what follows is being strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. It doesn’t matter how you may have tried to muscle through things before. From now on stand in the strength that comes from Christ whose strength is limitless.

Paul had just concluded writing about the most important relationships in our daily lives. He wrote about the relationship between Himself and His church, husbands and wives, parents and children, slaves and masters or to apply it to our present circumstance-- employees and employers. Each of these consumes relationships significant portions of our time and focus. They also provide ample opportunity for conflict in which we might even be tempted to see one another as our enemies momentarily or from time to time. Paul follows this with these next three verses by telling us that these other important people in our lives are not our enemies. Understanding this we are then to live in relation to them with this truth firmly grasped and in practice.

Having read about these relationships, from this point forward live accordingly. Don’t interact in your own strength knowing that you will fail, but do it in the strength you have from Christ. This is what we read in verse 10. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” This sure sounds great, and I have said many times before that I was not going to fight these fights any more, only to take them right back up again to try to do on my own. For me, and I’m sure it is likely true for some of you as well, there is a constant battle as we walk this line between trusting God to enable us and leaning on our own strength and understanding as we read in Proverbs 3:5. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5, NASB95)

It is popular to say, “Let go and let God,” and how some take it is that they are simply to release their hand and let things happen as they might. But when it comes to these battles there is much more to it, and simply letting go is not the complete answer. As we move through our look at these passages we will see that it not a matter of letting loose, but of holding tight to certain truths and trusting God to make us strong. Spiritual warfare is real, and we are instructed by Paul to recognize that truth, but also to recognize that it is Christ who makes us victorious.

Paul writes that we are to be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. Clearly we see that the starting point is deciding to trust and to rely even when we don’t see. We are told to trust God that He will strengthen us and to rely on Him to do so. This is not an issue of us passively sitting on the sidelines while He fights the battle for us. As we look to these next verses we will see that it is really about how He equips us to engage in these battles in His strength as we trust Him for the victories.