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.

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