On the program Wipeout, people enter into a contest in which they are required to go through a series of obstacles. The person who is able to do it the quickest wins the contest. The point of the show is to watch people in the most awkward situations trying to stay upright, but wiping out all the time. They throw things at them, they place slippery obstacles in their way and make it as difficult as possible to get to the finish line. In the game it is all in fun and the people have a good time doing it.
The same cannot be said about our enemy Satan who is doing the same thing. He puts distractions in our way, places obstacles in our way but has the malicious intent of trying to cause us to stumble in any way he can. He wants to prevent us from making it to the finish line. How can we make it? Paul answers that question in Ephesians 6:10-20. Let us read the text and hear what God has to say to us today.
A. Until He Returns
As I was planning the preaching, I realized that the day would come when I would preach the last message as your pastor and that day has come. In the end I didn’t target a particular theme or passage, but chose one of the passages from the Scripture readings intended for this day. But then as I began to prepare, I noticed that the first word in the text was “finally” and I thought that was appropriate.
But then as I did some more study on the passage, I discovered that “finally” although it is the translation used by most Bibles, may not convey exactly what is intended. A better translation might be “from now on” or “for the rest of the time.” The intention is not so much to be the final thing which Paul says in this letter, but much more importantly he is telling the people that there is something important to remember as they face the future. We are in the in between time. Jesus has come, has died and risen again and has defeated the enemy. But the final victory is still something that we are looking forward to. We are between these times. We are in the last days, but not on the last day. The message Paul has for the Ephesians and for us is a message which is relevant during this time. He is saying, for the remainder of the days until Jesus returns, this is the reality in which you live and these are the things which you must do. As I started to write this message, I thought that it was indeed a good word for the last message I will preach as your pastor and a great word of encouragement for all of us.
B. Because Of the Struggle
Why is such a warning needed? We sometimes live our lives as if everything is fine. We are cruising along easily, the sun is shining, cruise control is working and the traffic is light. But that is not the reality of our lives!
Paul says that we “struggle” or “wrestle.” He uses sports imagery to indicate that the game is on. We are in a contest of epic proportions and the stakes are extremely high. Grey Cup, Stanley Cup or Super bowl have nothing on this stakes of this contest. He also uses military imagery to say that we are in a battle. Both images help us remember that life is not a day at the beach, but a difficult contest with much at stake, a conflict in which we need to be constantly alert.
The nature of the struggle and the intensity of it exist because the struggle we are in is not against an opponent whom we can see. Paul is very explicit and warns us that “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” The enemies we encounter sometimes seem to be the neighbor who creates problems, the business deal that we are trying to accomplish or the people we need to relate to. These can be difficult challenges in life, but the battle we are in is much more difficult and much more insidious than that. The battle we are in is a spiritual contest.
In verse 12, Paul describes this enemy by using the word “against” four times to identify different things about the enemy. The enemy has authority and is a ruler, but the realm of his reign is darkness and he is over the spiritual forces of evil. If we are wrestling against a human foe, we have some hope that we can help them see reason. But when our enemy is evil to the core and the only intent of his is to bring us into darkness that is a scary thing. When we see that his opposition is in the whole world, we understand that we are in a battle that is very serious. This fall, I experienced an attack of the enemy that came with an intensity I had not previously experienced. Someone had told me that it would happen and so when it happened, I was not surprised, but it was still difficult. It appeared from the outside to be simply an attack of worry, but the intensity of it and the way in which my faith was challenged made me understand that it was more and was in fact a spiritual battle.
Sometimes the enemy shows himself in obvious ways, but often the attacks are much more subtle. We need to be aware that it is game day and we all play. The battle is on and it is serious and it is difficult.
II. Be Strong in the Lord
How will we win?
A. In the Lord
Paul’s opening word is “be strong.” If we think of sports imagery we might suggest that now is the time to put on our rally caps. That imagery implies that we dig deep and bring out the resources that we have to win the game. But that is definitely not what Paul is saying here. He is not saying, try harder, dig deep, do all you can. The strength that we are to rely on is the strength of the Lord. Please be very careful to note that we are to “be strong in the Lord” and that “in the Lord” is the really important part of this sentence. We will not win in our strength. The verb “be strong” is a present passive imperative which means we need to let it be done now. Present means it must be done now. Imperative means that we need to make decisions and be involved. Passive means that we are to do it in dependence on God. He is the one who gives us the power to win!
The reason we have strength in the Lord is because of what He has already accomplished. In the resurrection of Jesus God has demonstrated His power over death and it is that power on which we rely. In the death of Jesus on the cross God defeated the enemy not by smashing him, but by taking away all power by defeating death. Through death, Jesus has conquered the enemy and he has no power left and it is in the victory of Jesus which He accomplished in His death that we have victory. Because Jesus died and rose again, God has sent the Holy Spirit to accompany everyone who belongs to Jesus and it is in the presence of the Holy Spirit that we are strong in the Lord.
Matthew Henry says, “We have no sufficient strength of our own. Our natural courage is as perfect cowardice, and our natural strength as perfect weakness; but all our sufficiency is of God. In his strength we must go forth and go on.
Marcus Barth writes that to become strong in this text means that we have “…a power which comes to man from outside…” He also says, that “…no strength other than God’s own can fortify the saints.”
B. Put On the Armor
Our part in the victory is to put on the armor which God has provided. This armor will protect us from the wiles of the devil and will help us overcome.
At the time of this writing Paul was in prison. Standing before him were soldiers with their armor on and the imagery of armor presented itself readily to him. He tells us, using the picture language of armor, what protection we have in the face of the tricks of the devil.
The first piece of armor to put on is the belt of truth. There were a number of different belts used by soldiers. One was a leather belt protecting the lower abdomen, another was a sword belt and another was a special belt designating an officer. I imagine Paul intended the first here, the protective belt. Truth is a great protection for us. We know that Satan is a deceiver for that is one of his names. I doubt if we could think of one of the areas in which Satan tries to tempt us where some lie is not involved. If we are willing to recognize the truth then it can prevent us from getting into trouble. Therefore we need to fill ourselves with the truth of God.
The second piece of armor is the breastplate. The breastplate was a piece that fit over the chest to protect the vital organs. It was often heavy, made of chain male or beaten metal. Depending on its quality, it was effective in stopping the arrows that came. Today we might think of a flak jacket or bullet proof vest. Righteousness is our bullet-proof vest. When Satan accuses us before God, it is the righteousness of Christ that God sees and so does not listen to him. It is the righteousness of Christ in us that prevents us from considering sin and entering into it. Sometimes when sinful thoughts come into my head, it is the thought that I belong to God and have been made righteous in Christ that reminds me who I am and helps me say `no.’
A further important piece of equipment was shoes. Shoes are also for protection. We don’t recognize how much they protect us because we wear them all the time. In that day not everyone had shoes and not even all the soldiers had shoes. A soldier who had shoes was well protected on his feet and feet are very important to a soldier. The gospel of peace, that is the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace, is our footwear. In Luke 10:18 it is the proclamation of the gospel which causes the fall of Satan. Gospel proclamation is also an important protection for us because when we make Jesus known, we put our reputation on the line that we belong to Christ and it helps us to walk in Christ.
The shields used by the soldiers of that day were constructed out of different materials. Some of wood, others of metal and some covered with leather. In order to put out fiery arrows they would soak them in water and then if a fiery arrow came it was extinguished. Perhaps this is the picture Paul has in mind here. Faith is our shield. Satan will try all kinds of ways to throw us off. With doubt, illness, difficulty, evil, he may try to get us to deny our faith. If we cling in faith to God, always believing that God loves us and will help us, then Satan can only try but will not succeed. We need to remember II Thessalonians 3:3, "The Lord is faithful and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one."
The helmet of the soldier was of course to protect the most vital organ of all, the head. It was made of metal and was effective in protecting from the arrows of the enemy. Salvation is our helmet. When we recognize that in Christ we belong to God we know that although Satan can try he is never able to overcome us. I John 4:4 assures us that "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world."
Most soldiers carried a short sword with them. Some would also have a longer sword. Our sword is the Word of God with which we can both defend ourselves from the wiles of the devil and, by speaking it, fight the enemy. The Word of God is powerful and will have an effect. When Jesus was tempted, He spoke the Word of God and that was part of the reason for his victory against Satan. As we fill ourselves with the Word of God we will also be victorious in the battle against Satan.
C. So You Can Stand
Watchman Nee was a Chinese pastor who wrote a book on Ephesians called Sit, Walk, Stand. This book examines Ephesians and Nee divides the book into three sections. First of all, he says that we need to learn to sit. The early part of Ephesians tells us that we need to sit in the presence of Jesus and recognize the wonder of all that He has done for us in redeeming us and making us His children. The next section of the book talks about walking with Christ. This is the ethical section of the book and reminds us that those who sit in the presence of Christ must also walk in obedience to Him. The last part of the book talks about standing and that brings us to this passage. Nee says, “We must know how to sit with Christ in the heavenly places and we must know how to walk worthy of Him down here, but we must also know how to stand before the foe.” Nee points out that in order for us to be able to stand, we need to first of all sit and then walk. If we do that, and when we put on the full armor of God, we will be able to stand.
The word “stand” appears several times in this passage and reminds us of several important things. In verse 13 it talks about being able to “stand your ground.” Some translations put “withstand.” Marcus Barth says, “Stand firm…belongs to the language of war…and either means ‘to take over,’ ‘to hold a watch post’ or ‘to stand and hold out in a critical position on a battlefield.’” As we recognize that we are in a battle and when we put on the armor of God, we will be able to stand against all the schemes of Satan and we will be able to have victory against all the tricks he tries to play.
If we withstand Satan in this life in the strength of the Lord, then we will also stand in the end. I started out using the illustration of Wipeout to illustrate how it is sometimes difficult to remain standing. Even though we may stumble and struggle along the way, when we put on the armor and withstand Satan, in the end we will find ourselves standing on the podium victorious in the victory that God has given us. Praise be to Him!
A critical weapon in the battle is prayer and Paul ends this section by talking about prayer.
What is encouraging is the comprehensiveness of prayer. Notice the word “all” which appears numerous times in verse 18. We are called to pray on all occasions. When we are rejoicing, we should pray. When we are hurting, we should pray. When we are starting a new job, we should pray. When we are entering marriage, we should speak to God about it. When we send out a missionary or a Sunday School teacher, we should intercede. Every aspect of life is an occasion for prayer. May we learn to pray on all occasions!
We must also pray with all kinds of prayer. Prayer is not just asking and praise. We must pray intercessory prayers for others – thank you for all who have prayed for us. We must pray for our needs, we must pray prayers of thanksgiving and prayers in which we simply declare God’s goodness. We must pray listening prayers. Each prayer is important and must be a part of how we pray.
We must also pray for all the saints. How do we make that practical? Do we pray for our family? Probably! Do we pray for the church, our neighbors and the church’s missionaries? What about those we don’t like in the church? Who is excluded in “all the saints?” No one! We are called to pray “for all the saints.”
As we say farewell, we want to encourage you to continue to pray for each other. Thank you to those who have faithfully prayed through the weekly Prayer Letter. Thank you to those who meet here on Friday morning to pray. I would encourage you to continue to pray. Continue to meet at the school on Wednesday to pray. Continue to pray in each committee meeting and each small group. Keep on praying for each other. We will continue to pray for you and wish you God’s blessing as you search for another pastor. We will pray that God’s kingdom will be built and His people blessed in this place.
B. For Us
Paul concludes this section, and to all intents and purposes this letter by asking the Ephesians to pray for him. His prayer has one direction. He asks that he would be able to open his mouth and effectively and boldly make Jesus known. His specific prayer is for words and for boldness. This request is particularly relevant and shows us something of what was going on in his heart at this time because he was a prisoner, which could have discouraged him and given him fear. Yet his desire is that even in prison he will continue to be a bold witness and be able to say the right thing at the right time.
Although our situation is different, we would ask you to continue to pray for us as well. We ask you to pray that we will have wisdom and grace to enter our new assignment. We ask you to pray that God will give us the words which will bring people to Him and will glorify Him. We ask that you pray that we will be bold in proclaiming Jesus wherever we are.
Such prayer will bring us all to the end standing.
This is the Lord’s church and we appreciate so much the many years we have been here. God has been good and we have experienced His blessing and we know that He will continue to bless you, provide for you and make you a blessing far beyond this area. So my encouragement to you is to be strong in the Lord. May He be glorified!