New Community: Stand Firm!

Sermon by David Strain on October 4, 2015

Ephesians 6:10-24

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Please take a copy of God’s Word in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6. Ephesians chapter 6. If you have one of our church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 979. Once you have the Scriptures opened before you, let’s bow our heads as we pray.


O Lord, Your Word is a light to our path and a lamp to our feet. Would You help us to live in its light now as Your Spirit works? Help us to hear Your voice clearly above the den of competing voices. We pray for those among us who don’t know Jesus, that by Your Word You would show them their own bankruptcy and need apart from Him, You would show them that Jesus is a perfect Savior for them, and then would You draw them to Him. Work by Your Word in all our hearts to equip us to live for Your glory now, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Before we read the passage we’re going to be thinking about, verses 10 through the end of the chapter, before we read the passage let me offer a few comments to help orient your thinking. First of all, in verse 10, you will see there Paul gives us a sort of heading that he will go on to explain in the remainder of the chapter. It is his concluding exhortation. “Finally,” he says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” We’re going to see why we will need to be strong. But isn’t it helpful to notice as he exhorts us to be strong he also tells us that the provision of grace that we might be strong is readily to hand. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” You remember Augustine’s famous prayer, “Lord, command what You will and give what You command.” As we’re exhorted to be strong Paul also says, to those who are in Christ, the strength you need is available to you in Jesus. And then having told us that, he goes on to expound what it means to be strong and why we need to be strong. And so in verses 10 through 13 we are given the reason to be strong. The reason is we are at war. Then 14 to 17, the resources that we will need in order to help us stay strong in the midst of the battle. We are to put on the armor of God. And then in 18 through the end of the chapter, the reinforcements that are available to us to help us and strengthen us as the battle rages. The reason, resources, and reinforcements. That is our outline; that is where we are going. With that in view then, let’s turn our attention to the reading of God’s holy Word.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor 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 armor or 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, ant 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.


So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.


Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”


Amen, and we thank God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.


The Inevitability of Spiritual Battle


Let’s think about verses 10 through 13 first of all – the reason to be strong in the Lord. I was reflecting recently on that extraordinary moment, September 30, 1938, when Neville Chamberlain stepped from the airplane after a visit to Germany with a piece of paper in his hand that he held aloft for the crowd to see. On it were his signature and the signature of Adolf Hitler promising that despite Nazi aggression that was threatening to shatter the peace of Europe, Britain and Germany would never go to war with one another ever again. It reassured the populace. The newspapers lauded Chamberlain without hesitation. The king declared him heroic in pursuit of peace. But not everybody saw it that way. Winston Churchill believed that though Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler provided the electorate with what they wanted, the appearance of a guarantee of peace, that nevertheless failed to adequately prepare the populace for what Churchill believed was an inevitable conflict.


And in some ways the Apostle Paul is doing exactly the same thing. He is seeking to prepare the people of God for the inevitability of spiritual warfare. We may wish that it were different, that we could have, as Chamberlain famously put it, “Peace for our time.” But the fact is, we are at war. We are at war. There is a spiritual battle. “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes, the stratagems of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against ruler, authorities, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Paul wants us to be ready for the combat zone, the warzone that is the everyday life of a Christian.


I. The Nature of the Enemy: Spiritual


I want you to notice a couple of things in particular about the conflict in which every one of us is engaged if we are followers of Jesus. First of all, notice the nature of the enemy; the nature of the enemy. Paul says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood.” Progress in the Christian life is not made by the strength of our arm or for that matter the sharpness of our tongue. Our warfare is neither military nor economic nor political. No, he says we wrestle “against the rulers, the authorities, the spiritual powers of evil in the heavenly places.” He’s talking about demonic, Satanic powers, fearful, malevolent, dark, implacable. It’s a terrifying reality that Paul is alerting us to. He wants us to be on our guard and ready for the conflict. And yet, we’re not to be overcome with fear. As we’re going to see, there are a number of connections between this concluding section of Ephesians and the opening section of Ephesians in chapter 1. This is one of them. The language that he uses to describe our spiritual enemy, he has already used back in chapter 1 verse 21 to talk about the victory of King Jesus. Christ was raised from the dead and seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named. All things have been placed under his feet.” So yes, be aware, be alert. We are at war. But be bold to press on in the combat knowing that our Commander in Chief, King Jesus, has already triumphed. Our enemy is a defeated enemy.


II. The Location of the Battlefield: Heavenly Places


Notice also the location of the battlefield. Not just the nature of the enemy; the location of the battlefield. We wrestle spiritual forces of evil, where? “In the heavenly places.” Another phrase Paul has used in the opening words of the whole letter. Ephesians 1 verse 3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ Jesus with every spiritual blessing” – where? “In the heavenly places.” You see the connection that he’s making? You’ve come to Christ and in Christ you have been blessed with every blessing in heavenly places but the place of blessing in union with Christ is also the same place, the place of conflict, the place of battle. Spiritual blessing and spiritual battle go together. This is the normal Christian life. To be in Christ is to be in a warzone. Sometimes Christians are surprised. They come to know Jesus and they think, “Now temptation will be easy to triumph over and gain the victory over,” and actually the contrary is true. Now that they follow Jesus and the closer after Him they follow, the more ferocious and fierce and strong temptation becomes. Here’s why. When you were an enemy of Christ and a stranger to the grace of God in the Gospel, you were no concern of Satan’s, no problem for the devil and his angels. But now that you know Jesus Christ, now that you seek to follow Him and fight in His cause, you are a target. And so now as part of the ordinary Christian life, your regular experience, you will face supernatural spiritual opposition. And Paul wants us to be ready.


The Reality of Spiritual Conflict

And allow me to add one final caveat about the nature of the conflict we are engaged in before we move on. Don’t think that for a moment that because Paul frames the discussion in terms of combat in the heavenly places that he has some abstract, ethereal, supernatural realm that has no connection with the details of our lives in mind, as though there were all unknown to us swarms of angels and demons locked in a dogfight above our heads while we are oblivious. That’s not the picture at all. Remember Paul moves directly into this discussion of spiritual warfare from his prior discussion of parenting and life in the workplace and marriage. Where will the conflict come? Where will temptation besiege you most of all? It will be precisely here won’t it? In your marriage, driving a wedge between you and your spouse, normalizing the adulterous glance, provoking you to anger, eroding your patience, helping you justify your self-righteousness while you condemn your partner’s failures. Isn’t your marriage the battleground? Won’t it be here in your parenting that the conflict will rage most hotly filling you with perhaps panic so that you overreact and end up pushing your child away? Or lulling you into moral indifferent, making a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy as you parent your teen seem suddenly very reasonable and wise? Won’t the attack come in the context of your daily vocation, telling you to keep your Christian ethics out of your business life if you hope to make a few bucks? Inducing you to cut corners since, after all, there’s no one noticing, no one to see? Capturing your interest in the latest office gossip and then enticing you to pass it on? Isn’t that exactly where the battle rages, in the details of your daily life – in your home, in your marriage, with your children, with your parents, in your workplace?Here’s the reason we need to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” We are at war. The Westminster Confession, in a different connection, uses language that really could be applied here to describe the whole Christian life. It says that we are involved in “a continuous and irreconcilable war.” That is the Christian life. And Paul wants us to be ready. The reason to be strong in the Lord.


III. Our Weapons of Warfare


Then secondly notice the resources we’ve been given to keep us strong in the midst of the battle. Verses 14 to 17 describe for us the armor of God. We are exhorted twice, verse 11 and verse 13, to “put on the panoplean, the whole armor of God.” You have perhaps seen, maybe even starred in, a Vacation Bible School skit. You know the one about the armor of God where someone has lovingly crafted each piece of cardboard armor and covered it with tin foil. Paul isn’t really thinking here about the Roman soldier, the centurion of course, that always features in those Vacation Bible School dramas. He’s thinking actually about Isaiah 59:17 which is a description of God Himself who fights for His people. Isaiah 59:17, “The LORD put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head. He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.” He will be, as Isaiah goes on to say, a Redeemer who will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression. He will be ultimately a perfect and sufficient Savior. It’s really talking to us about the Lord Jesus Christ who entered the lists and came and engaged in supernatural conflict with Satan and triumphed in obedience to God and secured our deliverance. This is His armor and He shares it with us. It’s ours in Him.


Belt: Truth

And it consists, notice, first of all, of the belt of truth. That is, of sincerity, integrity, honesty, spiritual reality. If you are to hope to stand firm, strong in the Lord amidst the spiritual battle that is the ordinary Christian life, you must be the real deal. You must truly know Him. There must be spiritual authenticity. Then secondly, there’s the breastplate of righteousness. That could be a reference of course to the believer’s own righteousness – their obedience, their faithfulness to God. But what defense is that really against Satanic attack? When Satan begins to assail us and hurl his accusations against us, who here would say to him in response that all his claims are false, that we are not guilty, that our sin is not in fact damnable and destructive and a stench in the nostrils of God? Isn’t the truth rather that when Satan accuses us he scarcely ever needs to lie to us? He need merely only point out the facts of our case. Isn’t the truth that we would have to concede and say to him, “Everything that you say about me is true. My sin is real. Were I to stand at the judgment seat of Christ, now robed only with my own righteousness, I would be lost forever”?


Breastplate: Righteousness

But I have a righteousness that is not mine. It is an alien righteousness. It is the righteousness of Christ for a breastplate to protect my heart against Satan’s condemning schemes. Jesus’ obedience and blood is all the defense we need. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? Is it God who justifies; who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God who intercedes for us.” That’s our answer when Satan assails us. The righteousness of Christ for our breastplate. “Jesus my blood and righteousness my beauty are, my glorious dress; midst flaming worlds in these arrayed with joy shall I lift up my head. Bold shall I stand in thy great day, for who ought to my charge shall lay? Fully absolved through these I am, from sin and fear, from guilt and shame.” Can you make an argument like that when Satan accuses you and puts his finger on your sin and says, “Look at yourself! What a failure you are! Call yourself a Christian?” Can you say, “A failure, yes. A guilty sinner, yes. Hiding under the righteousness of Christ, yes. And there I am safe.”

Then next in verse 15 the shoes that are the readiness, derived from the Gospel of peace. The Gospel that gives us the righteousness that makes peace with God is a Gospel that in turn equips us to go to the world with an offer of peace for them also. Isn’t it interesting that for Paul to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand requires more than a defensive posture, more than protective armor? It also requires a willingness to go to others, to advance, to make forward progress with the same Gospel that has protected and preserved us and saved and rescued us that it may save and rescue others also. “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war.” That’s the message. If you know Jesus Christ you are called to move out into the world with the good news.


Shield: Faith

Then in verse 16, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, by which you can extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one.” That’s an apt description. Doesn’t it resonate with your own experience when temptation, when lies, when accusations begin to fly from Satan himself? They are flaming, burning, searing, sore wounds. And should they penetrate and cause us to fall, like flaming arrows they have a way of spreading, we may often induce others to fall with us. And how are we going to defend ourselves against such a strategy? Well, Paul says you do it by exercising faith, day by day, moment by moment, in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ. It is a shield that will extinguish the fiery darts of Satanic hostility and opposition. There is more defense in one look of faith to Jesus than in all the wise counsel of a thousand friends. There is more defense for your soul in one believing glance to Christ than all your best efforts and strongest resolutions to turn over a new leaf. Look in faith to Christ. Hide there. Cling to Him there. Stay close to Jesus.


And Paul says we are to “take the helmet of salvation,” verse 17. Listen to Charles Hodge. He says on this verse, “That which adorns and protects the Christian, that which enables him to hold up his head with confidence and joy, is the great fact that he is saved.” The thing that enables the Christian when the battle rages to hold his head high with confidence and joy is the fact that he is saved. Have you been saved? Does Jesus hold your heart? Are you His? Is He yours? Has He been your Rescuer and Savior? Are you safe in His hands? Have you taken the helmet of salvation by faith in Christ? There is no other security for your soul but there.


Sword: Spirit

Then finally there’s the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, the Bible. It’s the only piece of the equipment here, famously, that is both defensive and offensive. You remember how even the Lord Jesus wields the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, in His own combat with Satan. Matthew chapter 4, during His own time of temptation in the wilderness, He quotes the book of Deuteronomy and fends off Satanic attack. But it’s also offensive, isn’t it? We make forward progress in the combat for the kingdom of God by the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, as we proclaim Christ to the world. The kingdom of Satan crumbles, the gates of hell do not prevail, and Christ Jesus builds His Church. No soldier, I suppose, would ever willingly enter a combat zone, no matter how sturdy his armor, without a weapon both to defend himself and to make forward progress in the conflict. Brothers and sisters, we, if we are Christians, we are locked in a terrible spiritual battle every single day, and yet I suspect there are many of us who are regularly on the battlefield without the only great weapon the Lord has given us both for our own defense and for forward progress. We have neglected and neglect the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. It is not safe to fight the Christian warfare with a closed Bible.


Reinforcements during battle: Prayer and People

The reason to be strong in the Lord – we are locked in a spiritual conflict. The resources for the Bible the Lord has given us – the whole armor of God. Then finally and briefly, the reinforcements. Look at verses 18 to 24. There are two reinforcements Paul mentions, prayer and people – two reinforcements that are deployed to support us in the midst of the combat. Verses 18 to 20, the focus of prayer. Notice the four “alls” of prayer in verse 18. “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.” All kinds of prayer, all the time, for all kinds of people. Pray always. And then Paul gets even more specific, doesn’t he? Verses 23 and 24; sorry, verses 19 and 20. “Pile up prayer,” he’s been saying. “Pray for all sorts of things and for all sorts of people but pray especially for me. I’m preaching. Pray for the words and pray for boldness that I may make known, that I may proclaim the mystery of the Gospel boldly as I ought to speak.” Do you pray for your preachers? I know many of you do. I’m so grateful for it. Please, please don’t stop. Pray for the preaching of the Word. Pray for words, Bible words, faithful words, Gospel words, words of wisdom, words that penetrate, words that go deep, words that wound and heal. And pray for the boldness to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ that every preacher really needs. Preaching is God’s ordained means to save sinners and sanctify saints. It is the primary tool the Lord deploys for the good of your soul. Pray for preaching. When we pray we are calling on the Commander in Chief to deploy the resources of grace to help us in battle.


And often He answers, doesn’t He, He answers when we cry by sending us people. In this case He sends Tychicus, verses 21 and 22. Paul sends Tychicus to the Ephesians. Here’s why, verse 22, “I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts.” That’s why we need each other, isn’t it? Aren’t there times when the battle is hot and sore and we are weary and ready to fall and then some dear brother or sister comes and stands with us in the trenches and fights beside us and encourages our hearts? I need you. You need one another. The Lord, as we cry to Him for reinforcements in the battle, often answers by sending us one another, the people of God, the Church of Jesus Christ, to fight a good warfare.


The reason we must be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might is because we are locked in a ferocious spiritual battle. Praise the Lord that Jesus Christ has already won the victory. The resources that we need have been given to us in Him – the whole armor of God. May God give you grace daily to clothe yourself in them. And the reinforcements we’ve been provided – prayer to call on the Commander in Chief for the reinforcements of grace and people, one another, to help us in the conflict. May the Lord bless to you the ministry of His holy Word. Let’s pray together.


Father, we thank You that You have already in Christ triumphed over the principalities and powers and forces of evil in the heavenly places, that the heavenly places, though they are a battle zone for us are also the sphere of our every spiritual blessing in Christ. Help us to stay in the fight, resourced by the armor of God and reinforced by supplies of grace given in answer to prayer and by the fellowship and encouragement of God’s people, for Your glory and honor we pray, amen.

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