– Even though final victory in Jesus is assured, we still have to live in a world where evil still holds temporary authority. The armor of God represents preparation for this struggle so that we may come out victorious and add more glory to God’s name.
I love the action and excitement of dramatic combat scenes from movies such as “300”, “Troy”, and “Gladiator”. The movies present an overly dramatic vision of ancient combat that really gets my adrenaline going!
And that is what these combat images are designed to do… they are designed to engage your adrenaline. Battle, as represented by armor and swords, produces adrenaline because it is very important. It is literally a matter of life and death. No wonder we feel the excitement in our gut when we see dramatic images of combat.
I am here this morning to tell you that living the Christian life is very similar to living the life of a soldier in many ways. It’s easy to forget, but we are all soldiers in the epic army of Jesus Christ. The main message I want to discuss this morning is that we must be prepared to stand against evil, especially in the case of the unity that God intends for all believers in Christ.
The letter to the Ephesians that we read in our scripture this morning, uses dramatic combat imagery to make a point. The point is that preparing to meet the challenges of living the Christian life is even more vital than preparing for combat. Why? Because something even greater than life or death is at stake… The very Glory of God is at stake!
Maybe you are thinking, “What is this crazy pastor talking about? How can God’s glory be more important than people’s lives?”
That is a great question. Here is what I am thinking… Jesus, because of His sacrifice, conquered death. This fact is at the core of being a Christian. We read this about Jesus in the letter the Hebrews chapter 2, verses 14-15, “he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
So for us who believe in Jesus, the problem of death is handled. It is still scary, but we believe that death is not the end of our existence. And so, the things that last forever are the most valuable things. And when we consider eternity, what is important is how we increase or decrease God’s glory while we are alive. God’s glory is more important than our death, because our death is not the end of us.
And so now you see why Paul is willing to use imagery of combat to explain how important it is to be ready to face the schemes of the Devil as we live our daily lives. We are not in a literal war zone, but we are at war with the forces of evil. I believe the devil is most active in putting ideas into our subconscious in order to get people to do His dirty work. Sure, we read that demons can possess people, and the devil even shows up on earth a few times in scripture, but I don’t think the Devil wants to be out in plain sights for all to see. I think the Devil wants to tempt people by influence. To get people to think that neither the Devil or God exist, so that we are spiritually vulnerable to the spiritual forces of evil. None of this is directly related to physical conflicts. We don’t need to attack monsters in our streets.
So if I see any of you around town in the next few days wearing armor or carrying a sword, we are going to have a talk. Because the scripture is very clear that, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
This is a Spiritual struggle. If we don’t hold our ground, then God will lose glory. And that is not good because we know that God is the best thing in the universe. But would look like to lose glory, and how do we prepare to hold our ground?
We can answer these questions by exploring our scripture passage. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has two main focuses. One is Christian Unity. This Unity is the between all believers in Jesus. At the time the letter was wrote, the fact that Jews and gentiles were coming together as Christians, and worshipping together, was a huge victory for God’s Glory. The other focus of the letter to the Ephesians is on the purity of God’s people. In other words, Paul is commending the believers in the Church for accepting one another, no matter what their background, and urging them to walk in the ways of righteousness in their families and day to day lives in order to remain united together in Christ.
Paul lays out the main focus of his letter in Ephesians 4:1-5. Paul writes this, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
The author of the letter is concerned that the church would stand against the Devils plots to destroy their unity in Christ, and their unity between families. This would rob God of glory. Let me explain…
In the gospel of John 17:20-26, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
The glory of God is connected to the witness that the world sees when they look at Christians. And you might agree with me when I say that a lot of non-Christians think Christians are nuts. Why? Because people hear stories and watch news of Christians fighting, dividing, and generally being the opposite of peaceful. The devil schemes to ruin the witness of the church through dissention, false doctrines, factions, pride, and anything else that destroys the unity of God’s people in Christ. For a long time, lack of unity among Christians was a reason that I never really considered that Jesus was real… because the witness of Christians is so messed up in the public eye.
Ephesians is urging us to make the difference in our lives, with our witness. If people get to know us, and we are seeking the peace of God, then people will know that Jesus was sent from God and that God loves them.
We can gain three insights from the scripture this morning that will help us to stand and remain unified in Christ despite the evil in the world.
The first insight from Ephesians to help us stand against evil is for us to allow ourselves to be strengthened by God. The Greek word translated as “be strong” in verse 10 actually means to allow yourself to be made strong. This is something we do when we believe in Jesus. If we do this, the full armor of God will be given to us to wear. All the pieces of armor mentioned in the scripture: The Belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of Peace, the Shield of faith, Helmet of salvation, the Sword of the Word of God…. All these things are gifts that belong to God and are given to us. Our belief in Jesus is what gains us access to these supernatural gifts that will assist us in resisting the Devil’s attempts to drive us apart and away from God. Our belief is strengthened in many ways, but most definitely by worshipping God together often, and participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The second insight from Ephesians to help us stand against evil is to be constantly in praying in the Spirit for all things. Paul asks for prayers for his own witness as well. Prayer is important. But not just any old prayer will do. Paul instructs us to pray in the Spirit. But what does this mean? I think the best translation of praying in the Spirit, means that we should continue to pray in the power of the Spirit. That means that we should pray according to God’s will and not our own. This is a key point here that is also made clear in Romans 8:26 where we read, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
So we should continue to pray for things that God wants and even things that we want, but always knowing that we can’t understand God’s will all the time. I find it very helpful to add a short phrase to my prayers, “Lord, your will be done.” Just as Jesus models for us in the Lord’s Prayer. If God is, indeed, perfect, then even when our prayers go unanswered, it is safe to assume that God has something different and better in mind. In our scripture this morning, Paul writes that we should keep this in mind as we remain alert and continue to pray for all the Lord’s people.
The third insight from Ephesians that can help us stand against evil is that we should expect the forces of evil to try to attack our Christian unity and purity. Paul is commending us to remain vigilant, alert, and on our guard, just like the military. It might not seem like our spiritual practices of reading scripture, daily prayer, worship attendance, charity, and justice are all that mission critical. Especially when there are bills stacking up and the kids need to be driven to soccer practice or a doctor’s appointment. But these practices are essential if we are to be ready and fit to resist evil when we are confronted by it. After all, how much effort are we going to put into training and preparation for something that we don’t expect will happen? We can expect that the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms are trying to influence us all the time.
We must be prepared to stand against evil, especially in the case of the unity that God intends for all believers in to have in Christ. This is the take away message from this scripture passage in Ephesians. We must believe that our hearts and minds are always under attack by the evil forces of the devil… then we will make it a priority to be ready. It will be easier to justify the time and energy it takes to read scripture, pray, and worship God if we view it as essential training. We must constantly be praying, with the understanding that God is in charge, and that we must allow room in our prayers for God’s will to be done, not necessarily what we want to be done. We must also constantly allow ourselves to receive the armor of God by building ourselves and each other up in our belief in Jesus. With God’s armor on us, we will be able to resist evil, to maintain the unity and witness of Jesus Christ, and ultimately, add to God’s amazing glory in our lifetime.