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Be Strong in the Lord

Back to all sermons Ephesians

Date: February 23, 2020

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: Ephesians

Category: Biblical

Scripture: Ephesians 6:10–6:23

Big Idea:  If you want to see Christ's kingdom advance then you must stand firm in God's power.

Outline: 3 Ways to Stand Firm in the Lord

1) Know your enemy (10–12)

2) Visit the divine armory (13–17)

3) Call for help (18–20)

 

INTRODUCTION

There is a memorable scene in Tolkein’s book, The Return of the King. Merry, a hobbit wants to ride into battle at Minas Tirith. But Theoden, the king, won’t allow it. Merry is simply too small and ill-equipped for battle.

But the hobbit persists, asking Eowyn to help him. After examining the armory, she says, “No mail have we to fit you nor any time to forge some.” Reluctantly she gives him some strong leather to serve as mail, a belt, and a knife. And off into battle, he goes.

If you have read the books or watched the movies you know that Hobbits would not be your first pick if you were going into battle. For starters, they’re small, untrained, and not keen to take long journeys that don’t involve many breaks. Whatever may be said about his eager and loyal service to the king, he can’t do very much.

I think sometimes Christians feel like spiritual hobbits. Desiring to eagerly serve their king but in reality, feel very ill-equipped to do much of anything. Perhaps they fear that like Merry, they would just be getting in the way.

Here at the end of Ephesians, we see that there is likewise a battle. And unlike the example from Lord of the Rings, you have the proper equipment and the King is not resisting your service but insisting upon it. 

But nevertheless, war has come and Merry is in service of the king. Therefore, his desire to fight regardless of his limitation is noble.

Let me frame up the book of Ephesians as we begin. The book takes place in the period between Christ’s victory and the consumption of his kingdom. Ephesians is telling us to live in light of the truth of Christ’s victory and in the power, he has secured.

However, we live in the interim period between victory and consummation. The kingdom has not finally and fully come. The enemy is still occupying land and terrorizing its subjects. The war is not over. It’s still raging.

So the King, he outfits his people as an army to advance his kingdom, even against opposition.

How is it done?

Here’s the bottom line: If you want to see Christ’s kingdom advance then you must stand in his power.

How do we do that? How do we stand firm in God’s power?

Outline: Three daily resolutions for standing firm in the Lord. First, in verses 1–12, Know your Enemy, second, Put not he armor of God in 13-17, and finally in verses 18-20, call for help.

(1) Know your enemy                                    (10–12)

 

It’s easier to have a wartime mentality when you feel the presence of war. I know that some of you come from countries where war was real and personal. To deny war was to deny reality; it was right in our face.

In the US war is distant. It’s reserved for history books or for fights in foreign lands. War is not close.

Christians can sometimes mistake geopolitical peace for spiritual peace. The experience of relatively peaceful lives means that things are going quite well for us. 

It’s interesting to me that as Paul writes to the first-century church he jumps in and tells them about their enemy in this great battle. I think if the Apostle were to write to the church today he would spend a few lines convincing Christians that they actually are in a battle. We mistake peace and prosperity for a lack of war.

But this assumes that the war would be visible. The Bible shows us that it is invisible and tricky. 

Be sure to note this: the Bible shows us that there is a battle. The commander of the enemy of God, is a dark lord who operates deceptively. He is content to play the long game of covert ops that steadily erodes the presence of joy and the perception of power among God’s people. He wants to render the church ineffective in the mission of the gospel.

What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half-century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached. (Michael Horton)

This is the reason why we need to stand firm in the power of God. Look in verse 11, we are to “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Satan, the devil, is the general in the army of opposition. He is the dark lord. Formerly an angel, but since has rebelled. He is called Lucifer, the accuser, the father of lies, and the adversary of God’s people. He is and remains militantly opposed to all that God is and is doing. He is the spiritual insurgent who aims to tear down all that God has built and done. And he hates Christians. He is deceptive in his craft. Disguising himself as an angel of light he works in the dark magic of spiritual forces. He’s relentless.

So indeed we are in a battle. A spiritual war. Look at what Paul says as he gives an intel briefing about the enemy.

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. (Ephesians 6:12)

Our opponents, the enemies are invisible, spiritual, powerful, supernatural, organized, and committed to this battle. 

This is a battle against Satan and all of his demonic forces. It is all of the forces of wickedness and rebellion in the world today.

I have two things to say about this enemy:

This is the greatest and most dangerous enemy in the history of the world. Every single evil actor gets his orders from this command. Abortion, murder, suicide, gossip, neglect, moral revolution, the content of films, music, etc. He is the one behind the curtain. He is evil. Unprecedentedly so.

And you and I, are called to wrestle this enemy. This is intimate and if we’re honest, a bit intimidating. You might feel a bit like an overmatched hobbit at this point. Looking at what is picked out for you in the armory. How can I fight such an enemy like this? What can I do? 

Victory is certain. Jesus Christ defeated his enemy when he came to earth. Remember in his life he was tempted by him? Then upon the cross, he was crucified, died and was buried?! But, on the third day, he rose again!

In the context of talking about the cross of Christ, listen to Colossians 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Jesus won the battle. On the cross, he defeated sin, Satan, and death. The devil and his minions are subject to Christ.

But they still parade about attempting to undermine God’s agenda and unsettle God’s people.

How then are Christians to live?

You have to be aware that you are in a battle. So, you need to know your enemy.

And now you need to know what to do.

 

(2) Put on the armor of God                          (13–17)

 

Once we’ve sized up our enemy, we need to get into the business of gathering our weapons for warfare.

Modern warfare is advanced. Today if we want to strike an appointment we can use a drone. Someone in a shed in California can control a plane on the other side of the world as it drops its payload with precision. We can also launch long-range mussels from the other side of the world or from a plane outside of the theater of conflict.

As a result of technology, military personal don’t have to look into the eyes of their opponents. The close-range combat that characterized much of history is now replaced by precision-guided mussels from a great distance.

The types of weapons prescribed in Ephesians 6 are the kind that characterizes close range fighting. We might wish that we could call in a long-range strike. But we can’t. We need to do the hard but disciplined work of putting on the tools for warfare.

Before we think about the details of the armor of God, I want to make two observations that I think will serve us as think about this.

 

First, it is God’s armor.

Remember that this is God’s battle and it’s his means to accomplish his intended result. There may be ways that you and I think would work better, but to use them and ignore his way only displays our ignorance.

Also, remember that this enemy is not like regular adversaries. The opponent is not, says Paul, flesh and blood, therefore we cannot fight them with the normal weapons of warfare. It won’t work.

 

Second, God has worn it already. Some of you may have seen this language in other parts of Scripture. In Isaiah 52 and 59 we see the prophet talking about these same items. But there is a difference: the one who is wearing the armor is the divine warrior sent to save God’s people from the tyranny and oppression of their enemy. He put on the breastplate and the sword. God wore the armor and prevailed. And now, the divine warrior tells his followers to do the same. This is a tremendous encouragement to us.

 

Third, the result of wearing it. The result is perseverance. Look at verse 10, “Be strong in the Lord in the strength of his might” and verse. 11, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” and then verse 13, “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Then verse 14, “stand therefore” you see the point is to stand. It’s to finish. Don’t you want to finish as a Christian? Then you need to stand. This standing implies opposition. In order to persevere, one must have something opposing them to press through. 

Now, let’s think in detail about it in verses 14-17:

First, there is the belt of truth.

The belt of truth is the Scripture, the Word of God. The belt would have been the first thing the soldier would have put on, and so it shows the priority of the Word of God.

If you are going to stand, if you are going to persevere in this battle then you need to have your mind and heart shaped by the Word of God. To update the picture, you can’t imagine running into battle and worrying about your pants falling down. You need to make sure you are ready to go. The belt of truth holds everything together. 

This is why it is so important for Christians to give attention to the Bible. You need to be in the Word of God, personally and communally. You need to be in the Word every day as a Christian. And you need the Lord’s Day gathering with God’s people.

And Satan hates this. He stands opposed to it. Have you ever wondered how suddenly your quiet time becomes a very noisy time? Suddenly your mind is filled with distractions of things to do or think about? It’s time to read and pray but you suddenly need to do everything else? Satan’s fingerprints are all over this. Or not attending church? The belt of truth is not something neglected by one who knows they are in a battle.

Next, we have the breastplate of righteousness.

The breastplate would guard the vital organs of the soldier. It’s crucial. What is he talking about here? It’s the righteousness that God gives Christians in Christ. It’s not our own righteousness, our moral actions that accrue righteousness. But it’s Jesus’ own righteousness that he earned on our behalf. And it’s given to us when we become a Christian (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus’ record becomes our record. God sees us in light of the righteousness of Christ.

Why might this be important to put on?

There are some temptations from Satan in this regard that do serious injury to the Christian on the battlefield.

  • Satan tempts you to cling to your own goodness. Instead of seeing your neediness and desperation for Christ, you might begin to think you’re not that bad and actually kinda good. So Christ’s righteousness becomes small as yours increases. Be very careful o putting on the armor of your own perceived righteousness. Humility evaporates and pride swells. If you put on the breastplate of Christ’s righteousness every day then you will remember that you are desperate and stand armed in his righteousness.
  • Satan tempts you to think that God doesn’t love you. When you sin you will begin to hear the hissing fork-tongued lies of Satan telling you that God doesn’t love you. But you just need to remember earlier that very day when you put on the breastplate of righteousness. God does indeed love you and he has stitched his righteousness together and fastened it to you.
  • Satan tempts you to think that sin isn’t that bad. The deceiver loves to relativize sin. It’s not that bad. You deserve this. Nobody’s perfect. But as you put on the righteousness of Christ you recall that it came with the steep price tag of the death of Christ. Dear friends, listen, you can’t don the righteousness of Christ and be indifferent to sin.

Then, in verse 15, there are the shoes of the gospel of peace.

We have a great variety of footwear. We have shoes for running, walking, basketball, soccer, baseball, football, golf. We have fashion-wear and we have functional wear like rain boots and winter boots. There’s a great variety for whatever we need to be doing. But here, the Christian soldier is to put on a particular pair of boots every day. They are the boots of the gospel. 

This means that as Christians we are to bring the gospel to those around us who do not know Jesus. One of our jobs as Christian tells people the gospel.

An effective strategy for war would be to tempt Christians to leave their shoes at home. To tempt you to forget your job with the gospel. If he could get all of us to just keep our mouths shut then he could basically shut down the church.

How are you doing with evangelism?

When was the last time you told someone about Jesus?

Friends, we are in a battle. To neglect this is to neglect our job.

Perhaps this spiritual warfare of the enemy has a tighter grip on us then we think. Many Christians neglect their Bible reading, fall into doubt and despair -forgetting the righteousness of Christ, and rarely talk about Jesus to unbelievers.

If we want to stand we need to stand in the strength of his might. We need to put on the whole armor of God. This includes evangelism.

Fourth, we read in verse 16, we’re to take up the shield of faith.

We should be clear that the shield of faith is not what is so powerful in warfare. It’s what faith lays ahold of. Faith is how we access and cling to God. So the one who defends us is God himself. Faith is how we cling to and hide behind him.

To retreat to God in the midst of the battle you need to know three things.

You need to know that God is sovereign, he is all-powerful.

You need to know that God is good, he will always do what is right.

You need to know that God loves you, he is your friend.

Then you will continue to trust him and run to him for refuge.

You can see how Satan could tempt and separate you from this great resource of defense.

Fifth, in verse 17, we are to take the helmet of salvation

The helmet provides protection. We remember that we are saved by God and for God. Salvation is a truth that must continually be applied. We have the hope of glory in Christ Jesus. 

But the helmet also encourages boldness. Because it protects you it allows you to walk with confidence through the spiritual battlefield. You know where you will spend eternity and you know who is for you.

Sixth, again in verse 17, we have the sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God).

We end where we began, with the Word of God. Like a soldier, with a sword, the Christian needs the Bible. 

Why? How does this sword work?

The Bible is compared to a two-edged sword, cutting deep and discerning our thoughts and intentions (Hebrews 4:12-13).

We need the sword to function with a surgeon’s precision to cut deep into our hearts to bring conviction of sin, to cut away the unhealthy disease of sin and destructiveness. 

And we need the sword to defend ourselves from the enemy. Who can forget Jesus, when tempted by the evil one deploy his sword?

It is written, he said, three times (Matthew 4:1-11). Then he bid the serpent to be gone. So too must we take up the sword if we want to stand in the evil day.

What is this evil day in verse 13? In one sense the days we live in are evil, yes.

But it seems here that the focus is upon a particularly intense period of spiritual trial. The evil day is that time when you are particularly vulnerable to sin and its lure.

Be on guard and quick to deploy the Word of God when you have three things at once: temptation, opportunity, and desire. You may have one without the other two, but if you have all three, there is a great storm in the soul. And the only way to stand there is to have the sword close at hand and to be able to quickly and faithfully deploy it.

If you want to stand, to endure, you must stand in God’s power. How do you do this? 

Put on: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit.

 

(3) Call for help                                      (18–20)

John Piper calls prayer the war-time walk-in talkie. By using it we call to the general and ask for help and support in the midst of the battle. It makes sense then that we would be properly outfitted and instructed in the use of prayer. 

You’ll notice a few things briefly about this call for help: 

It’s Comprehensive: Look at 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” 

Coupled with Evangelism: Look at verse 19-20 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

You probably wouldn’t think of Paul as someone who needed prayer for boldness. But if Paul needed it, then so do you and I!!

You know it’s very likely that Paul wrote this while imprisoned in Rome. I wonder if you remember how the Book of Acts ends, we just read this passage in our family Bible reading and it’s striking.

Acts 28:30–31 (ESV): He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

We might be tempted to think when reading Acts that Paul was a spiritual giant. But, what if Luke put this in there to show the continuity with Ephesians 6? What if he’s making the point here that Paul’s faithfulness comes as a result of his humility and these early Christians's willingness to pray for him? 

The battle advances as we call for help.

 

Conclusion

 

  • If you were in charge of a war there is a strategy that would be very effective. The only problem is it’s also quite unlikely to work. The strategy would be this: convince your opponent to put down their weapons and not fight. I think you’d agree that this would work pretty well. Here’s the deal: if we are not putting on the armor and engaging in the battle—as our Captain and Lord has commanded us to–then we are doing his very thing. To believe that there is no battle is evidence itself of the battle–and our enemies effectiveness.

 

  • Second, the charge throughout is to stand. In a recent dedication of the Revolutionary War Memorial of the battle of Lexington and Concord it was said, “These brave and noble men stood when many fled.“ This is the memory: standing. They stayed on the battlefield, even while others fled.
    • You stand strong in the Lord when you put on his armor.
    • The goal is simple: to stay on the battlefield until the end. It’s to persevere until the hour of death. It’s to be able to look back at a life that displays God’s faithfulness to you. It’s to be able to say each day, “Christ is worth it” and at the end, “Christ remains worth it!” Brothers and sisters, our culture puts so little attention on standing and persevering. But it is a beautfiul thing.

 

  • Finally, when we conclude letters or part ways we typically sign off with something that reflects the level of relationship. How is Paul signing off from his letter? He is escorting his friends, by means of exhortation, to the daily rhythm of going to God himself. He is commending them to God and his grace. He knows that if they heed his advice. They will fare well.
    • And so it reflects his burden for Christians like us to stand firm in his power and watch the gospel advance.
    • Have you thought much about this? (Romans 8:31-38) Did you see that in verse 31?
    • He is as like Eowyn in her parting words to the eager but overmatched hobbit: “Farewell, now Master Meriadoc! Yet maybe we shall meet again, you and I.

Indeed we shall farewell when standing firm in his power. Even seeing his kingdom advance and his glory displayed in our weakness and his power.