“The Armed Services”
June 12, 2016
Put on the armor of God that you may stand and serve.
I. The Need for Armor (Ephesians 6:10-13)
II. The Armor Supplied (Ephesians 6:14-17)
III. The Offensive Weapon (Ephesians 6:18-20)
IV. Conclusion (Ephesians 6:21-24)
Armor, in Paul’s day, was what an individual soldier wore into the battle. Armor, in our day, is a front-line force of main battle tanks. If Paul wrote Ephesians today, he might compare the Christian’s warfare to the armor of an M1A1 Abrams Tank. The M1A1 is heavily armored, with “Chobam” type armor layers, containing high strength steel, depleted uranium and composites. During the Gulf War an abandoned M1 was attacked by an Iraqi T-72 which fired at point blank range. All the rounds were deflected by the M1's armor. The tank is powered by a 1500 horsepower Lycoming turbine engine, has a top speed of over 40 miles an hour and a 120mm stabilized main gun with computerized fire control and infra-red targeting. One Iraqi commander said he’d brought 39 T-72's into Kuwait. After four weeks of air war he still had 32 of those tanks. After twenty minutes against a troop of M1's he had none.
Armor is a key part of modern warfare, just as the individual armor of the Roman soldier was in Paul’s day. For the Christian too, armor is a key part of our warfare. This is pictured very practically in the final chapter of Ephesians, where Paul describes the awesome battle going on all around us in the spiritual realm, and encourages us to stand and serve in the armor that God provides. Even more remarkable to me, if we unpack the metaphor of the armor, look at what Paul is really calling for, we find it to be simply a committed Christian life of faith and prayer. Put on the armor of God that you may stand and serve.
Let’s begin with our need for this armor. Ephesians 6:10-13. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For 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. 13Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
The modern battlefield is a frightening place. Gone are the days when an armored knight or two galloped across the grass. Gone too is the invincible Roman phalanx. Now the battlefield is a place of smoke and light. Flares light up the night, concussions reverberate, tracers criss-cross the sky. Tanks that can see through the darkness blast away at ranges of two and three miles, high altitude aircraft rain bombs, smart weapons crash in to destroy bunkers and bridges. But this battlefield is no more awesome than the spiritual battle that rages around us. Paul is well aware of this when he begins this last section by saying “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
We’ve heard the three words ‘strong’, ‘mighty’, and ‘power’ before. In Chapter 1 Paul prayed “that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” Then in Ephesians 3: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” Now Paul presumes these prayers are answered, “have that strength in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Warfare on this battlefield is waged by God's power, not by man's, by dependence, not by might. This battle is the Lord’s.
Verse 11: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” “Stand” is a key word, used three times in four verses. In this battle we are to stand and defend the ground God claims, that is, our souls, and other people’s. Satan and his forces attack the people of God. Only those in God’s armor can stand against the devil's schemes, his methods.
What are his methods? We get some insight from the titles Satan wears in Scripture. In John Jesus calls him a liar, the father of lies, and a murderer. Paul says he is a schemer who masquerades as an angel of light. In 2nd Thessalonians he is said to work through counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders. In 1 Peter he is a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. In 2nd John he is the deceiver. In Revelation he is the accuser of the brethren. The schemes of Satan, then, are his deceptive plots and manipulations to get us to give in to despair, fall into sin, believe lies or abandon ministry. Kent Hughes says: “When it comes to human subversion, [Satan] is the ultimate manipulator. He specializes in mixing just enough truth with falsehood to make it seem plausible.”
The good news is that since Satan is finite, he can’t be every place at every time, he cannot personally take a hand in every temptation or manifestation of evil. The bad news is that like the CEO of some monopolistic corporation Satan is in charge of a whole spiritual world system devoted to his lies and schemes. Verse 12: “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.” Here are several key insights into the battlefield on which we stand. First, we this is a supernatural battle: not flesh and blood, but spiritual. Second, the enemies are many. Satan has a host of rulers, authorities and powers in his dark hierarchy. Third, the enemies are organized. They are an army, an evil chain of command in the spiritual realm. Fourth, they are powerful. Again, not powerful in a way to stand up to God, but still having major influence over evil in our world system, and manipulating circumstances to tempt even God’s people.
But we can know that they are already defeated if we think about this heavenly realm in which they operate. Paul has already told us about this spiritual reality. He began by saying that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” So this realm isn’t fully evil. For us, it is a place of blessing. In fact, according to chapter 1, God “raised [Jesus] from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.” Christ is sovereign over every being in that realm, good or evil. As the redeemed, saved by grace, we are no longer under the dominion of Satan and his evil cohort. Rather, “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms,” sharing his victory.
So Ephesians shows spiritual reality. There are evil as well as good powers. It’s an unseen reality, a battle that goes on around us, profoundly impacts our daily lives. Yet we have the assurance that Christ is ultimately in charge and we are with him, not with them. Many years ago I enjoyed Frank Perreti’s bestseller “This Present Darkness.” But it made me uncomfortable, because for dramatic reasons Perreti said more about these demonic forces than Scripture says. And his speculation, or other people’s, can come to seem like reality. But this one general verse is most of what we’re told about that evil hierarchy.
Paul, in fact, as soon as he opens this window into the spiritual world, begins to shift the focus to our tasks, the normal responsibilities of Christian life, by which stand and serve. Verse 13: “Therefore put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” When the day of evil comes: the day of temptation, the day of doubt, the day of fear, the day of anger, the day of hurt, the day of despair, the day when the evil abroad in the world weighs upon your soul, even in that day, in the armor of God you can stand, finding his grace sufficient, his strength made perfect in your weakness. Paul describes this armor in verses 14-17: Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
An M1 Tank is the most formidable thing on the battlefield. But what is it made of? A lot of it is pretty ordinary. It’s just iron and carbon, plastics and composites. It’s the same thing a bicycle is made of, just arranged differently. It’s normal stuff carefully designed to form treads and turrets and ammunition. The thing that strikes me about the armor in which we stand as believers, is that it’s just the normal stuff of the Christian life. The daily walk of a believer is designed by God out of basic truths to provide perfect armor against Satan's attacks.
So stand firm, having fastened on the belt of truth. In ancient time a belt was used to tie the robe up above your knees, so you would be ready to work, run, or do battle. This was called girding your loins. In the same way we are to be ready to do battle, prepared by the truth. What truth is this? The truth of who God is and what he’s done, that he’s rescued us from sin and punishment, that he loves us with an everlasting love, that we can trust him with our very lives. Satan hates this truth. The father of lies does his work by deception, falsehood and wrong thinking. For more than a decade now I’ve been saying to those in doubt and depression, shame and self-loathing “Tell yourself the truth.” Tell yourself these truths from Scripture, and the lies of the enemy won't stick.
Second, we have the breastplate of righteousness. The metal armor of the Roman soldier extended up to the shoulders, below the waist, and around the sides. Some have said that the Christian in this armor has no protection for his back, and thus must not flee. But the Roman armor did cover the back, and though we are told in Scripture to resist the devil and he will flee from you, we are also told to flee from idolatry, flee from the love of money, flee the evil desires of youth, and to find the way of escape from all temptation. We shouldn’t get the idea that standing against Satan requires us to stay in places of evil and personal temptation. We’ll have enough warfare even if we flee those places.
What then is the righteousness that protects us like a breastplate? It is, first of all, the righteousness we have been given, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. Stott says: “to be clothed with a righteousness which is not one’s own, but Christ’s, to stand before God not condemned but accepted - this is an essential defense against an accusing conscience and against the slanderous attacks of the evil one.” As Zac Hick’s song says “My sin is cast into the sea of God’s forgotten memories. And though the vile accuser roar of sins that I have done, I know them well, and thousands more, my God he knoweth none.”
But we’re defended also by practicing righteousness. Daily living in Christ, in purity, in the spiritual disciplines of word and prayer is critically important. As you walk with Jesus through this storm of life and enemies attack, you cling to the promise that he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it and that there is substantial victory, righteousness from God in daily life.
Verse 15: “and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” The word readiness is both steadiness and preparedness. Stott says “the reference is to a certain firmness or steadfastness which the Gospel gives to those who believe it, like the firmness which strong boots give to those who wear them.” This is what gives peace in the midst of conflict or trial or doubt.
But the readiness with the Gospel also means we are ready to offer Good News to those who do not have the peace of God, who don’t know Jesus, his sacrifice, his love or his forgiveness. We have the opportunity to offer them the freedom we’ve found, true good news. As Scripture says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace.”
Verse 16: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” This shield is the large legionaries shield, which protected most of the body. Proverbs teaches us that “God himself is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” We take refuge by faith, dependence and trust in a God greater than any enemy. When we try to depend on ourselves, to defend ourselves by our own strength, Satan has no trouble getting at us with his fiery darts of accusation, guilt, discouragement, fear and temptation. But the shield of faith protects us as we trust in God alone.
Verse 17: “Take the helmet of salvation.” The helmet is a critical part of your armor. Even today soldiers in combat wear helmets. Kids on bicycles wear helmets. Paul tells the Thessalonians: “Since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” Salvation leads to hope. When we trust Christ we go from being victims of sin and Satan to those protected from his deceptions, his cruel manipulation of the world system and from evil circumstances. And we have confidence and hope in the future. We know that whatever the outcome of this battle we will spend eternity with God. That frees us to stand and fight. We can say with Paul “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The last item named is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. We need look no farther than the temptation of Jesus in the desert to see how the Word protects us from the evil one. Three times he quoted Scripture against Satan. Because the Word of God is the Spirit's sword. The Spirit holds the sword and does the fighting. As we meditate and memorize and apply God’s truth in our lives we hand the Spirit his sword so that he can accomplish God’s will, not only in us but in those around us. God’s living and active Word works in miraculous ways because it is the Spirit who uses it to penetrate hearts and minds, to reveal and correct not only the wayward thoughts and intentions of our hearts but to bring conviction and change to those around us. The Spirit alone has the power to use God’s word to rebuke Satan’s lying half truths. This is foundational to the Christian life. How many times have I said: “Spend time in the Word. It will strengthen you, cause you to grow.”
Your armor won’t work without the sword. You may be able to extinguish a few fiery darts, but you won’t be able to fight back. You won’t stand long without the Word of God. In practice the rest of your armor, whether salvation or truth or the Gospel or anything about faith is unknowable without the Bible And we take hold of the Word by the disciplines of reading, meditating, studying, and memorizing. Not by talking about these things or wishing we did them, but by committing time and mental energy. We can develop Godly habits, which is why I shared five ridiculously easy Bible habits and five ridiculously easy prayer habits. To develop a habit, start with something ridiculously easy. But do it, because the blessing of holding off Satan’s attacks, of battling temptation, doubt, depression, disappointment or circumstances is deeply dependent on having God’s Word in our minds and hearts.
So that's our armor, the normal stuff of the Christian life. Every believer gets to wear it. It's not magical or reserved. You can put it on daily by simple faith, by assurance of salvation, dependence on God, commitment to righteousness, and a desire for the truth of the Gospel, given by the Spirit as we hand him his sword, His Word. These things are intended to enable us to stand. But what are we standing there for? Certainly we stand against the schemes of Satan. Armored like this, we are safeguarded against his most common attacks, against temptation, against despair, against doubt, against trial and tribulation.
But there is one more thing we do in this armor. We pray. Paul doesn’t call this a weapon, but I call it a bow and arrow. It strikes at a distance. Verses 18-20: And pray at all times in the Spirit, with all kinds of prayer and supplication. With this in mind, be alert, and persevere in making supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth words may be given me to boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may I may declare it boldly, as I should.
On the modern battlefield, the man in armor, the one in the tank is never alone. In particular, the modern joint forces battlefield integrates aircraft with armor. So if a tank commander, probing the battlefield, sees a concentration of enemy tanks, or artillery or infantry, he’s not helpless until they come into range. Rather, he uses the most powerful weapon on the battlefield, a radio. He calls in the A-10's with high speed cannons, the fast movers with cluster munitions and smart bombs, his own troop of Apaches with Hellfire missiles. These assets will demoralize, disable or destroy the enemy at a distance.
The same is true in the Christian life. When we are standing there in our armor we are not helpless against the enemy though he is attacking another part of the body. We can’t call in air strikes, but we can call in prayer strikes.
Verse 18: “And pray at all times in the Spirit, with all kinds of prayer and supplication. With this in mind, be alert, and persevere in making supplication for all the saints.” We talked about taking up the sword of the Spirit, and now we’re called to pray in the Spirit. Just as the Word is used by the Spirit, so too our prayers unleash his power to do his work. It’s the long distance weapon.
So, Paul says, we are to pray at all times, in an ongoing conversation with God, with no circumstance too large, and none too small. Steven Curtis Chapman has it right in his song: “Let us pray, let us pray everywhere in every way, every moment of the day it is the right time. Let us pray without end and when we finish, start again, like breathing out and breathing in, let us pray.” We are to pray with all kinds of prayers and requests. Don't be shy about what you pray for, but extend your prayers, from praise to petition, from the person and work of God to the needs of the saints, to the evangelism of the lost, From the physical to the medical to the spiritual to the political. From the church to the community to the nation, to the world. Breathe prayer. About everything.
And be focused, intentional, thoughtful. You can start with something ridiculously easy, but don’t end there. I just finished Tim Keller’s book on prayer and I really enjoyed it, partially because he’s not afraid to point out the intense prayer habits of our forefathers, to call us to things like morning and evening prayer or a discipline of praise, confession and supplication. Paul says pray with perseverance for all the saints. As the song we sang earlier said “Fight on your knees.” Someone said: “the life and strife of the saints is to be one great prayer to God.” This is spiritual warfare, by which we stand and serve.
Paul recognizes the importance of prayer to his own standing and serving: Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth words may be given me to boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may I may declare it boldly, as I should. Paul who is a bold and anointed apostle asks for prayer that he would be bold and anointed. He knows that none of us is strong in ourselves, even in things we recognize as God’s spiritual gifts to us. No, even in those things we need the prayers of others.
And we need to pray for others. Paul is asking the Ephesians to use the offensive weapon, to pray at a distance so that God the Holy Spirit will intervene in a situation and circumstance that the Ephesians didn’t know the details of or have a stake in. It’s okay to ask others to pray for you, even people far away or people who don’t know the details of a situation. Don’t let pride keep you from asking for prayer, and don’t let the remoteness of a situation or your lack of details keep you from prayer. There is nothing in your life more powerful.
Paul closes the letter with a summary and closing which I’ve chosen not to focus on. Verses 21-24 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. 23Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
We’ll leave these few verses as an exercise for the student. Who is Tychicus? Where is he from? How is he characterized? What is his mission in Ephesus? I’ll give you a clue, he’s also mentioned in Acts 20, and Colossians. And down at the end, Paul’s formal closing, why does he mention peace, love and faith? How are those words used throughout this letter? How does Paul pray for the Ephesians about these three things? And what about grace? I mean, we know he mentions grace in all his closings, but why is it especially suitable in this letter? And why is it poured out on those who love Christ, whose love is undying? These are the kinds of questions we’d ask of this closing if we had time. But you can study it for yourself.
So what have we seen? As believers we have the incredible privilege of putting on the armor of God, protection and power to stand against all our enemy’s schemes. This armor is the normal stuff of the Christian life, the truth we’ve heard, the righteousness we’ve been given, Good News that we can share, faith that strengthens us, salvation that assures us, and the word of God which the Spirit uses both in our hearts and the hearts of others. Thus dressed we can stand against the enemy’s schemes and we can use the long distance weapon of prayer to participate in the Spirit’s war, by praying for boldness and faith for ourselves and others in proclaiming the Gospel even in difficult times, and by praying for peace, love and faith for our brothers here and around the world through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.