Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sermon on Ephesians 6:10-20 for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, "The Whole Armor of God"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In today’s Epistle reading, we’re shown what our real spiritual warfare is about, and how we arm ourselves to fight in this battle. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was in high school and college, there was this fun video game where your character sat at the controls of a giant robotic suit. A small person at the seat of the controls was enclosed in a giant walking robot, heavily armored and loaded with powerful weapons. The robotic “suit” made it’s wearer incredibly strong and ready for battle with a host of nasty enemies. Paul describes the armor of God using the language of Roman military armor, which was lighter and more flexible than the bulky medieval armor that we often think of worn by “knights in shining armor”. But the armor Paul describes is not just inanimate armor plating that we lug around. The spiritual armor Paul describes is a powered-suit, because it’s God’s armor. This armor makes its wearer incredible strong and ready for battle with a host of nasty enemies, because God is the one who lives and moves in us. He gives the strength and power to the armor and weapons that we carry.

But this isn’t a battle with guns and missiles, with swords and spears, and it isn’t waged against flesh and blood. Sometimes we make the mistake of seeing other humans as our enemies. Maybe antagonists who’re militantly opposed to Christianity, and are doing everything in their power to silence our voice or remove our influence. Maybe political leaders who don’t hold the same high regard for human life and dignity that the Bible teaches. Maybe just people who we’ve treated as enemies because of the petty, manini conflicts that we run into in daily life. Co-workers that we don’t like or a person who just rubs us the wrong way. “Some people make enemies instead of friends because it’s less trouble.” Building friendship is hard work. From governments and nations to our personal lives, there are all sorts of people that are at enmity with each other. But we aren’t each other’s real enemy! Our battle shouldn’t be with each other. And the church’s ultimate enemy is not those people we see opposed to the church, even if they’re unknowingly acting in the service of our real enemy (and their own enemy as well!).

The real battle and the real enemy is a spiritual battle against the “rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” And it doesn’t mean earthly rulers or authorities, because again “flesh and blood” aren’t our enemies; there’re far more deadly, spiritual forces at work. So when we make flesh & blood our enemy, we’re aiming at the wrong targets. Of course the devil will use humans to accomplish his evil in the world, but they’re enslaved to his deception. Jesus calls the devil the “ruler of this world” who’s judged (John 16:11). The devil has much power in this world, but it’s limited by God. Earlier in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about out condition before God made us alive in Christ. He wrote: “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:1-2). The devil’s called the “prince” in this world, & he leads the sons of disobedience—all who are opposed to God’s Word.

Together with the devil, there are evil angels or demons that are at his disposal, those who together with Satan rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven (Rev. 12:4,9). These are the cosmic powers over this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. We must acknowledge and be aware of the presence of evil in this world, and of the spiritual forces behind it. C.S. Lewis warned that there can be two opposite errors we humans can fall into concerning the devil and demons. The first error is to deny their existence or that evil exists, which allows the devil to continue his work unnoticed and unhampered. This happens easily when people deny that there’s anything supernatural in the world, that what we see with our eyes is all there is. The devil doesn’t have to convince anyone of his existence to succeed; all his work is bent toward undermining and unraveling faith in God. His job is made easier when he can deceive and mislead through subtle cunning rather than open attacks. Notice that the passage says we put on the armor of God to stand against the devil’s schemes. Schemes because he doesn’t often engage in an open and obvious fight. Trickery and falsehood are his tools.

The second error about the devil that C.S. Lewis warned of, is to believe in the existence of the devil and demons, but to become so overly focused on them, that it draws your attention away from God. This can happen in the most crude form, when people actually worship the devil or practice evil knowingly. But an excessive fascination with the demonic doesn’t only come from cults and weird religions, it can also happen in the Christian church. We’re supposed to be aware of the spiritual battle that is going on in life, but sometimes we can overreact and see a demon behind everything. We can blame all our problems or any evil words or actions around us on demons. In this way we become controlled by fear of the devil and his spiritual forces of darkness, rather than being strong in the Lord and standing against the devil’s schemes. This error works to the devil’s advantage in that the more attention he draws to himself, the less our attention is focused on God. And it can also be a way of escaping blame or responsibility for our own actions, as
in “the devil made me do it” kind of thinking.

This is also becoming an unhealthy fascination in just our media culture. All sorts of programs about ghosts and haunting, and paranormal activities are on television. Things with aliens and UFO’s and abductions, movies that focus on dark and sinister spiritual forces and possession. A renewed interest in wicca and pagan earth worship. All of these things are growing in popularity and seem to offer some connection with the supernatural, or some answers about the spiritual world. But all of these come from the devil’s deception, and are clearly not the spirituality of Christ and His Word and Spirit. But it draws our fascination.

So instead of falling into either of these two errors, we should be watchfully aware of the devil and his schemes, but not become so engrossed and fascinated by them that we’re distracted from our faith in God. So with eyes open to our enemies plots, but with our faith directed to and focused on God, we can be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. So when we put on the armor of God for spiritual battle, we’re clothing ourselves with God’s strength. We’re told to wear the “whole armor of God” so that we can withstand [the devil] in the evil day. We wear the whole armor, because no soldier with any common sense goes into battle half-dressed, with a sword but no shield; a breastplate but no helmet. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. So we wear the whole armor so that we don’t leave ourselves vulnerable or exposed.

The language of the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation comes right out of a prophecy in Isaiah (52:17), about how God saw there was no justice on earth and no one to intercede. So He dressed Himself in righteousness as a breastplate, and put a helmet of salvation on His head, and God intervened for us. This is a prophecy about Christ coming as God’s agent to bring justice to earth. He wore the same armor of God that we’re given to wear in spiritual battle! And it’s Christ’s righteousness that we wear as a breastplate. He’s righteous or innocent because of His perfect life. There is no guilt in Christ, and God’s holiness filled all His life. And this breastplate of Jesus’ righteousness shields us against the accusations of the devil. The blood of Jesus covers our sins so that no accusation of the devil can stand against us. We’re forgiven under Jesus’ righteousness.

The belt of truth is fastened on our waist, so that we’re encircled with the truth. Because the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), his deceptions will always threaten us. The truth is an important part of how we interact with humans around us who are enslaved by the deception of the devil. How do we set them free from that enslavement? Jesus said that if you know the truth, the truth will set you free, and if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:31-38)! If we surround ourselves with the truth of God’s Word, and speak it and read it often, then we will have the best defense against the devil’s lies, and the best offense against their spread. And Jesus, who is the Truth (John 14:6), will set us free from the sinful powers of darkness.

Why do we wear as shoes, the readiness of the gospel of peace? Because every day we spend in spiritual battle, there will be no shortage of conflict and strife. The devil is a master of stirring up petty jealousies, disagreements, and resentment. Major disagreements also. But with the readiness of the gospel of peace, we’ll anticipate division, and be ready with a quick word of kindness, patience, or peacefulness. Because Jesus is the giver of peace, we can practice that peace with each other, and speak it as His powerful word to heal.

The Roman soldiers had large shields about 4 x 2 feet, which they could use to form a continuous wall of shields, guarding against arrows. The leather cover of the shield was soaked in water before battle to extinguish flaming arrows. The shield of faith that we carry is our guard against the devil’s flaming arrows. He tries to attack us with all sorts of evil, suffering, and doubts. But by faith in Christ, and standing together in a uniform line with other Christians, we resist those flaming arrows. We’re stronger when we stand together. If our shields are down, which is to say if our faith is down or left behind, then we will be a ripe target for Satan’s flaming arrows and attacks.

Wearing the helmet of salvation we protect our head from anything that would risk or assault the promises of salvation that God has given to us. Any thoughts or doubts that the devil would use to cast fear into us or try to get us to disbelieve God’s promises. The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God is our offensive weapon against the devil. The devil backs down from and fears God’s Word. The Word of God has the power to cut through the bonds of deception and enslavement. It has power because it’s Jesus’ Word of Gospel that sets us free, but also His Word of power that sets the devil running. With the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, we invade the realms of the devil, and can drive away the devil and conquer him (Stoeckhardt, 263). By using God’s Word in places where the devil holds sway, we can set captives free, as it is all over the mission field. The last but not least thing that we’re called to do in spiritual battle, is to pray. Pray at all times in the Spirit: always being alert to pray when there is need; praying for all the saints; and also praying for our pastors that they may open their mouths with boldness and that words would be given to us to speak. Paul prayed for the boldness he needed to speak the Gospel, even as he was imprisoned for the Gospel itself.

We often forget just how powerful prayer is! Someone once said: “Satan trembles when he sees, the weakest saint upon his knees.” Even the weakest saint, who has fears and doubts, but still trusts in the Lord, is a feared enemy of Satan when they’re on their knees in prayer. Think about the frustration of Satan every time we pray! He fears our prayer because he knows we’re calling on One who’s mightier than both us and him. When we join together in prayer, it’s like all the saints rain heavy blows and a mighty storm against evil! Satan trembles and flees at the name of Jesus, the one little word that can fell him. So let the name of Jesus be on our tongue often, so that the devil is the one in fear and the one on the run!

Dressed in all this armor of God, and with the weapons of God’s Word and prayer, we really can be strong in the Lord. Because it’s His armor we wear, and this armor is powerful in itself, and gives strength to the wearer. We don’t stand alone in our spiritual battles, but have fellow Christians at our side. Many commentators on this passage point out that it describes no back-plate or armor for our back, because we’re never to turn our back on the devil, but stand firm against him and be alert. We don’t turn our back on the enemy, leaving ourselves open to surprise, but our safety is in resisting him constantly.

In all of these things, we are to surround ourselves with God’s Word and clothe ourselves in His power. For it’s in the Lord that we have these new spiritual powers as believers. If we depended on ourselves alone, we’d be going into battle unarmed. The only reason we can stand against these powers is because Christ has sealed His victory over them by His death on the cross. We march on a battlefield where the decisive battle has already been won by Christ on the cross, and the devil is on the run. His kingdom of darkness is crumbling, though his powerful weapon is the deception that makes it seem as though this isn’t the case. But to those who are set free by the Gospel in Christ Jesus, and who are armed against the devil’s schemes, we can stand firm on the evil day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.


Sermon Talking Points:
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1. What is the source of power for the “armor of God” that we wear? How does the text tell us this?

2. Who or what is our real enemy? What kind of battle are we constantly engaged in, even though life may seem calm and peaceful? Who or what is not our real enemy? How do we sometimes mistakenly war against the wrong enemy?

3. What are the two opposite errors about the existence of the devil that we can fall into, according to C.S. Lewis?

4. How is it to the devil’s advantage when people deny his existence? Or when they’re too fascinated with demons, etc? What are examples of either thing happening?

5. Whose armor do we wear, and how does each implement of armor protect us? Why should a Christian never enter battle half-dressed? Why wear the whole armor?

6. What are some of our offensive weapons against Satan? How do we keep the devil on the run?

7. What is the sole reason that we can face down the spiritual powers of darkness at all? How do we have assurance of victory?

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