Be Strong in the Lord
To introduce this message, use a monster of some sort chasing a guy in his pyjamas. Then stop the scene.
What is happening here is not just a picture which is amusing you this morning. It is a picture of a terrible and frightening reality. Every one of you is this poor fellow in the pyjamas. Everyone of us is in a fight with a terrible monster of an enemy. Read Ephesians 6:10-12.
This world is under Satan's dominion now. Those of us who belong to the kingdom of God are in enemy territory and we have a fight on our hands. In verse 12 we understand that the battle is a cosmic battle. God and his angels are fighting Satan and his angels. We experience that battle in numerous ways.
In the gospels we read about people whom Jesus released from demon possession. This still happens to those who dabble in the occult. Today, Satan is coming right out on the front lines and even has people starting churches in his name. They practise all manner of Satanic rituals.
In Mark 4:15 in the parable of the seed, Satan is the one who comes and snatches the word away from the person who has just heard. This is just one of many of Satan’s tricks to persuade people to ignore God. He destroys faith when people have just heard the word of God.
The devils schemes are much more familiar to us in the temptations we face every day. The evil is in our own heart and Satan tries to bring it to obedience by his temptations. We understand what temptation is for we experience it often. Through temptation Satan is trying to trip us up and cause us to deny our faith.
In some passages of the Bible illness is also attributed to the devil. In II Cor.12:7 Paul indicates that his thorn in the flesh was put there by Satan. Sometimes Satan tries to throw us off through difficulty.
Another one of Satan's devices is that he is the accuser of the brethren. In Zech. 3:1 we have an interesting account of this. Joshua the priest is accused by Satan before God. Satan stands in God's presence and accuses people of wrongdoing.
These are the schemes of the devil, this is the battle that we must wage while we are on this earth. At times the battle seems too much for us. When we think of the foe as the “principalities and powers of the air,” when we view our helplessness before spiritual enemies, when we recognize our own weakness in the face of temptation; then we begin to wonder, "will we ever be able to win this battle?"
At the time of this writing Paul was in prison. Standing before him were soldiers with their armour on and so the imagery of armour presented itself readily to him as we was thinking about this. He tells us, using the picture language of a soldier’s armour, what protection we have in the face of the tricks of the enemy. Listen to Ephesians 6:13-18. This morning, we will put the armour of God on our poor pyjama clad fellow and see what happens.
The first piece of armour 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 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. When a young person is tempted to try drugs or alcohol and the line is used, "A little won't hurt you," this is a lie. Just so in many temptations. The use of a ouija board may seem harmless in itself, but this too is a lie and the beginning of trouble. 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 of God, then it can prevent us from getting into trouble. Therefore we need to fill ourselves with the truth of God.
The second piece of armour is the breastplate. The breastplate was a piece that fit over the chest to protect the vital organs in that area. 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 speak of a flak jacket or bullet proof vest.
Righteousness is our bullet-proof vest. Here I think it is the righteousness of Jesus and the righteousness that we have in him. When Satan stands in the presence of God and accuses us before him, God sees the righteousness of Christ and does not listen to him.
Also in our lives 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 piece of equipment was the shoes. Shoes are also a 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. The gospel of peace, that is, the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace is our footwear.
Luke 10:18 says that the proclamation of the gospel causes the fall of Satan. When we tell others, then more people come to Christ and Satan's dominion is weakened.
The shields used by the soldiers of that day were constructed out of various materials. Some were 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 flaming arrow struck the shield, it would be 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 will 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.
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. As long as a person is in Christ, they are protected by their salvation from Satan. I John 4:4 says, "the one who is in you (the Holy Spirit) 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. Although we might see the sword as an offensive weapon, it is also a defensive weapon.
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. I am reminded of the story of Gilbert West and George Lyttleton. These two men were atheists and set out to disprove Christianity by disproving the resurrection and the conversion of Paul. As they studied the Bible instead of disproving it they were both converted. As we fill ourselves with the Word of God we will be victorious in the battle against Satan.
The final thing we notice is that this battle is fought not standing up, but on our knees. Paul tells us to pray. In Luke 22 we have the story of Peter going through temptation at the death of Jesus. Jesus predicted that Satan had asked permission to test Peter but promised Peter that he would pray for him. What an encouraging thing. We also need to pray for one another.
It is interesting to study the battles of the OT. Those that were most successful were those in which the people put on their armour and got ready and then watched God win the battle for them. Think of Gideon, who with three hundred men put to flight a large army. Think of Israel at Jericho when they simply marched around the city and God knocked down the walls. In the same way, we are not called to fight on our own. God is the one who fights for us. Remember, it says, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." It is not our truth, our faith that will save, it is the truth of God and the faithfulness of God. Sometimes when little boys play baseball they can not hit the ball and then the coach or the dad come and put their arms around the boy and, if the boy lets them, they do the swinging and get a much better hit than the boy would ever be able to make alone. The boy swings in the strength of his dad. When we pray, we fight in the strength of our dad.
Today is the last day of camp and you will go home. Many of you have been encouraged in your faith and have made decisions to follow God more closely. It will not be easy and I want to encourage you to keep on putting on the armour of God. That is the only way that you will be able to fight the battles that you will face.
I have a little poster for you here which I hope will encourage you to remain true.