August 24, 2003
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
While he was Prime Minister, I wasn’t particularly impressed by Malcolm Fraser. In fact, I was delighted to be able to use one of his quotations tongue-in-cheek and derisively. I’d been asked to speak at the Sunshine West High School Speech Night and chose to centre what I had to say on Malcolm Fraser’s quotable quote: “Life wasn’t meant to be easy!”
Since then, maybe I’ve rethought my derision. Maybe I’ve become more realistic. Certainly, even if I still question the implication that life’s meant to be hard for the battlers and the bums, I’d agree that life has never been as easy as we’d like it to be. In fact, life can be more of a battle than any of us like. We need all the strength of character we can muster and all the power we can garner.
And it’s always been that way.
In fact, that’s the Christian life! The writer of the letter to the Ephesians knew it. He knew we need all the strength of character we can muster and all the power we can garner.
But the imagery that he uses is strange to us. It smacks of a different era, when people were terrified of demons, devils, and evil spirits, that haunted every part of their world. Their whole universe was a battle ground.
Yet just how strange is the notion that terror stalks our world today?
Our modern western world-view denies evil any personal reality. Angels may exist, but evil spirits don’t. God may exist, but the Devil doesn’t. If you want to be taken seriously, talk about evil, but don’t talk about demonic spirits and the Devil,
But evil does exist, and seems to have a personality of its own.
Maybe on September 10th, 2001, we might have been able to pretend evil had no name, but bombings of the World Trade Centre and Bali have changed the way we look at life.
We know evil exists. Devilment and devilry have always existed. But suddenly evil has a name – and a whole range of personalities. Evil lives in the hearts and minds and souls of men and women and children around the world.
We may kid ourselves evil exists elsewhere than in our lives. But we can’t kid ourselves that we, somehow, have the inherent abilities, strengths and powers to resist evil’s blandishments and charms. We are as susceptible to evil as anyone else – and we know it. Maybe the difference between those totally infected with evil and us is that we haven’t the courage to commit outrageous public sins! Ours are much more personal and petty. We harbour grudges and say things about our enemies behind their backs. We do things to each other in families we wouldn’t do to our best friends. We cut corners that keep us as close to the legal as we can, but are just as illegal in spirit as those who cheat blatantly and criminally.
We didn’t need news of Idi Amin’s death to remind us of how demonic some can be. Over the last 100 years of civilisation there have been all too many who showed him the way and others to whom he’s shown the way.
We didn’t need scenes of carnage in Jerusalem or Baghdad to remind us of how the demonic runs riot in our world. World war, wars between nations, civil wars, terrorism in many guises – all remind us just how far we are from the reign of all that is good, and true and beautiful.
Is it any wonder that “when the evening TV news glaringly reminds us of the dark abyss on the edge of which we are perilously balanced,” our children ask us “to stay with [them] as [they] go to bed”? It’s almost inconceivable that “in the dark of night before sleep comes we [don’t find ourselves talking] of the future, of war, of death, of evil on the heart of men, of hope, of God, and of heaven.”
So, while once we might have allowed our eyes to slide uneasily over the phrase, where the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians talks in earlier translations of wrestling “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places,” we can do so no longer.
We know evil is rampant in our world, there are evil forces in our world, in our own innermost worlds, ready to force us not just toward evil, unthinkable thoughts, but towards evil, unforgivable words and actions. This Evil One wants us to destroy the world and ourselves – while he stands back and laughs at the way we think evil neither exists nor has its own personality.
That’s why we must be “strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
Earlier in his letter the writer prayed that the readers would come to know the power of God shown in the resurrection of Jesus and in their conversion to Christ, itself a resurrection from the deadness of sin to life in Christ and deliverance from the power of evil.
Now at the end of his letter he reminds his first readers and us that throughout our lives we will need to rely on that same resurrection power. Maybe they were – and certainly we are – tempted to think that our enemies are human and that all we need to do is fight in our own strength and with worldly weapons. He reminded them, as he reminds us, that evil forces stand behind human institutions and seek to control the lives of persons and nations.
If the writer of the Letter to the Ephesians was Paul, he may well have written his advice from prison, under the watchful eye of Roman soldiers. They may have provided him with the imagery of belt, breastplate, sandals, shield, helmet and sword.
We could spend time on talking about the significance of each item – how all but the sword are used to defend from attack – how important are truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Spirit, and the Word of God for the Christian life. But what the writer wanted to emphasise was the absolute necessity of relying not on ourselves, our character, our strength, but on the character imparted to us when we follow Christ, and the strength we are given as we follow day by day.
And he boldly states that the way to ensure both character and strength is through praying “in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
Evil was defeated at Calvary: that’s our assured confession as followers of Jesus. Yet the battle between good and evil, darkness and light, hate and love, death and life goes on.
We’re involved in that battle. For good to overcome evil within our lives; for light to overcome the darkness within our souls; for love to overcome hate within our minds; for life to overcome death within us, we need to be sustained by the strength we find only in Jesus, and the power we know only through a constant relationship with him.
That applies in our personal lives, in our personal relationships. It applies in our struggle to achieve social righteousness, and social justice. It applies at every level of our life as Jesus’ People and as his church.
We have begun well as a congregation with one prayer day. That needs to continue.
We equally, if not more importantly, need daily seek strength and power from the Lord, so we can stand firm against the subtle and wily power of evil. If that’s not already your daily habit, do yourself and the church a service and be in prayer against the Devil and all his works.
Write these words on your heart and mind and soul:
Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.
Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armor. Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.
Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people.
 C.f. Maxie D. Dunnam, The Communicator’s Commentary. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Word Books, Publisher: Waco, Texas. 1982. p. 239.
 Ephesians 6:12b.
 Ephesians 6:10.
American Bible Society. 1995. Holy Bible : Contemporary English Version. Includes indexes. Thomas Nelson: Nashville