|THE VICTORIOUS LIFE
Series: A Letter of Grace and Life - Part Twelve
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 17, 2020
Let me read for us this morning’s passage - Ephesians 6:10-24.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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.
Therefore 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.
Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
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, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.
There was a man driving a truck - one of those delivery trucks where the back end is enclosed. This man - at every intersection where he’d have to stop at a signal or stop sign - this man would get out of the truck and run around the outside of the truck banging on the sides.
There was policeman who was following the man and watching all this.
Finally the policeman couldn’t stand it anymore. So, he pulled the man over and asked him, “Why, when you stop, are you running around your truck banging on the sides?”
The man said, “Well, I’m driving a truck with a one ton capacity and I’ve got 2 tons of canaries in the back. If I don’t keep at least half of them flying the truck will break.”
Some of you have heard that. Thank you for the obligatory laugh.
Do you ever feel like that? Overloaded and struggling to keep going?
Paul began Ephesians by writing about who we are in Christ because of God’s grace. Then Paul opened up about what that looks like in the real time drama of our lives. How we do that together. Which isn’t always easy.
Especially in the midst of what’s around us - in these days of isolation and uncertainty and concern and fear and anger - and while we’re also dealing with the issues in our own lives and families.
But in the midst of all the drama of our lives, in Christ that life is not only doable, but God desires to empower us and strengthen us to live lives of victory in Christ by His grace.
What we’re looking at this morning is Paul opening up what that looks like and how we can go there.
Paul begins in verse 10: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Emphasis: HIS might.
We need to be strong in God’s strength - His strength - not ours.
In Joshua, chapters 3 to 5, there’s a courage building - faith strengthening - recounting of how God has delivered His people from Egypt - brought them through the Red Sea - provided for them through 40 years of wandering in the desert.
Then - as a sign of God’s promises to His people - the covenant between God and His people - the men are circumcised. All of this to remind the people - on the eve of entering the Promised Land - to remind them of God’s presence and power and the importance of obeying Him. God saying, “Trust Me. Move forward in My strength.”
The first battle is at Jericho. Which is familiar. Yes?
Jericho - the major fortified city in the region. How did God tell the people to conquer the city? For six days take the army and 7 priests with rams horns and walk around the city - once each day - in silence. On the seventh day - everybody gets to march - walk around the city 7 times and then the priests get to blow the horns and the people are going to shout. (Joshua 6)
The wall falls and God’s people are victorious.
Since we know what happened that doesn’t seem all that strange. But, imagine looking up at the walls of Jericho for the first time and hearing God say, “Trust Me. Move forward in My strength.”
We know that feeling. With all that God has done for us - looking at the walls we face in our own lives - as we’re trying to keep the canaries flying - and wondering if they really got the instructions right.
This is hard for us. Because we wrestle with our natural inclination to struggle through things - focused on our issues and ideas and fears - and all the things happening around us - struggling to respond to all that with our own wisdom and to muddle through with our own shear determination. Struggling as God never intended for His children to struggle.
And while we’re doing that we’re just opening ourselves up to more discouragement and probable defeat.
Which is a huge reason why - over and over in Scripture - account after account - life after life - circumstance after circumstance - God is reminding His people - us - that victory comes as God’s people trust God and follow His directions.
If we’re to live in God’s strength then when God says, “Trust Me” we need to trust Him - to put our entire lives into His hands. Same God. Same strength. Same victory.
We need to be strong in God’s strength - His strength - not ours.
Paul goes on in verse 11 - we need to be clear on who the real enemy is.
Paul writes: Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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.
More than just armed conflict - what’s lawless is at war with what’s lawful. Deceit and duplicity verses truth and integrity. Dishonesty in conflict with honesty. Lust and pleasure are in conflict with what’s moral and pure. Disorder is at war with decency and order. Godliness at odds with righteousness. Sin on a rampage. The schemes of the devil in the real time of our lives.
In 1 Peter 5:8, the Apostle Peter writes, “Your adversary - Satan - prowls around like a roaring lion, - scheming - plotting - deceiving - seeking someone to devour.”
Behind the scenes of life is Satan who is looking for people he can place under his power - to ruin - to destroy - a malicious enemy who is looking for any opportunity to lead us away from God and to destruction.
The demonic army arrayed against us is powerful. It has authority. It’s wicked. It’s cunning. It seeks to distort truth and lead us into darkness.
And on our own against all that we’ve failed miserably - as people and as peoples.
So we need to be clear on who the real enemy is. The real conflict we’re in. Because we’re never going to have victory if we’re fighting the wrong battle.
Our conflict - the battle we’re in is against Satan and his minions.
So Paul writes in verse 13: Therefore - because of the enemy - in order to be victorious - therefore 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.
The armor of God is what God supplies that we need in order to stand firm in God’s strength against the schemes of the devil - to withstand - to stand firm - in the evil day.
Those days when circumstances and ongoing events in our lives stagger us - threaten to knock us off our feet. Days when it takes everything just to get out of bed - to hope in God and stand where we are - to maintain the simplest faith.
Days when we get distracted from following after God or we’ve let down our guard against temptation and we’re wandering into sin. Days when our attitude and pride and self-focus get the better of us and we’re acting pretty ungodly towards others.
Days when Satan is just leading us farther into darkness and disaster.
Paul writes in Colossians 2 that Jesus Christ on the cross has taken on Satan and all that Satan throws up against us and nailed it to the cross, disarming it, making a mockery of it, triumphing over it. (Colossians 2:13-15)
To “put on” or to “take up” is a choice. To not stand in our own weaknesses and get creamed… again. Instead to choose to take up what God supplies to us so that we can stand up against all of that by standing in God’s strength - in Christ’s victory. To take up God’s armor - what God supplies to us as we trust Him in the battle.
Beginning in verse 14 - Paul goes on to describe the pieces of God’s armor.
Verse 14: Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth,
The belt was essential to a soldiers uniform. It held everything else together - breastplate, sword, tunic… whatever.
With the belt on the soldier was confident - inwardly prepared to fight in the battle. So it is with us. Our armor - our preparation - for spiritual battle begins with the belt of truth.
Paul writes, “Put on the belt of truth.”
We know that this world has been deluded by Satan into thinking that truth is whatever we think truth is. That delusion leaves people vulnerable to Satan leading people endlessly and hopelessly into all kinds of destructive ideas and ways of doing life.
Earlier - in 4:21 - Paul told the Ephesians that God’s truth is what you’ve heard and been taught about Jesus. Who He is and who we are in Him.
Let that truth inform our decisions and how we respond to life - to give meaning and purpose and value and boundaries to what we do.
Choose to fasten on that truth. Choose to let that truth hold everything else in your life together.
Paul goes on in verse 14: and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
A soldier’s breastplate was a chain metal shirt that covered his upper body - both front and back - from the neck down to the waist. The whole purpose was to guard - to protect - his vital organs. Paul’s point is that, as the soldier’s breastplate guarded his vital organs, so righteousness guards the core of who we are from the assaults of Satan.
Being made right with God - being righteous - is what God has done for us through Christ’s work on the cross. A made right relationship with God which only God can bring us into. Which He does as we receive by faith what He’s done for us.
When we’re tempted to doubt that God really does forgive our sins or to struggle with God’s grace may not be sufficient. When Satan plants seeds of shame and condemnation aimed at our faith. Accept what God has done for you in Jesus Christ. Stand behind it.
When we let go of our pride and efforts at living rightly before God and simply receive what He’s done for us - trusting in Him alone - that’s putting on the breastplate of righteousness.
Then Paul writes - verse 15: and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
Imagine a Roman foot soldier wearing armor from head to foot - but no shoes. The ground would tear his feet to shreds. Pretty much all of his armor becomes worthless because he’d be unable to keep fighting. These shoes are crucial.
The genius of the shoes was in their design. They were a kind of 1/2 boot with open toes. On the soles of the shoes were these spikes - cleats - that gave the soldier a solid stance - that prevented his foot from slipping in battle. The soldier would just dig in - with such confidence - that he could trust his sure footing - that he could face any enemy. Stability in the midst of the battle.
What robs us of peace? Social distance stand for a few minutes and watch most people these days. Especially in stores. Behind the masks, people are afraid - stressed.
No amount of checking web sites and looking at charts and graphs and news reports listening to conflicting ideas of what people think about all that is every going to bring someone to peace.
Even it wasn’t for Covid-19 as people we trend towards pretty hectic lifestyles filled with worry, anxiety, and drama.
Peace - as the Bible describes peace - peace is a life stabilizing deep settledness within at the heart level even in the midst of life’s drama.
Paul ties peace with the Gospel. Peace comes from knowing Jesus. From trusting alone Him with our lives - now and forever. The peace we need only comes from God.
Jesus said, “My peace I give to you. Fear not.” Peace that comes as we place our lives and our fears into the hands of Jesus who has come for each one of us - triumphed over the worst of our fears.
In times when we can become overwhelmed - anxious - fearful - we need to remember who we are - what we are - whom we have - who’s we are - who is with us always. The sure footing of the Gospel. The Gospel of peace is our foundation.
Paul goes on adding armor parts - verse 16: In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
A shield was an essential part of the Roman soldier’s armor. Imagine a door - 2½ feet wide by 4 feet tall - made out of 2 pieces of solid wood glued together - wrapped in cloth - then covered over with layer to tough leather. Then whole shield was edged in iron.
These shields also could be locked together - linked together - to form a solid wall. The soldiers could also lock the shields over their heads to form a protective roof. Imagine a whole line of interlocked shields - a moving wall - a moving fortress - impenetrable - moving across a battlefield.
The Roman soldier could stand behind this big - heavy - formidable shield - turning it in any direction an attack would come from - and behind the shield the soldier was safe.
The second image Paul gives us is of flaming darts - literally arrows.
While this moving wall was coming towards them the opposing army would take arrows - wrap the ends in cloth - dip them in tar - set the arrow on fire - and fire them at the Romans.
Imagine, if a soldier was hit by one of these arrows - the arrow with burning tar would penetrate the body and literally burn the soldier from the inside out. That’s a hideous image. Something to fear.
A flaming arrow would hit the Roman shield - penetrate the first layer or so - and be extinguished. Harmless to the soldier.
The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:12,13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
As followers of Jesus we’re constantly under fire. Satan is constantly shooting his flaming arrows at us - arrows lit by the fires of hell - that seek to instill fear and to turn our hearts against God. Peter says, “Expect it.”
Paul says, take up the shield of faith and no flaming arrow of Satan will be able to harm you. Faith is always the answer to fear.
Paul goes on - verse 17: and take the helmet of salvation,
To the Roman Soldier the helmet was made of bronze or iron with leather attachments. There was some type of soft inner lining that cushioned the weight of the helmet on the soldier’s head. Many helmets had a hinged visor that came down and covered the face. The really ornate helmets had these decorative plumes - that looked like brushes - sticking out of the top.
The purpose of the helmet was to protect the head - the brains - of the soldier.
The Helmet of Salvation protects our minds - to preserve and guide our thinking through all the confusion and spiritual darkness of this world.
Maybe you’ve had this experience. I’ve been privileged to be with a number of believers just before their home going - just before their physical death.
That doesn’t mean that somehow they’re in denial. The reality of this world is very evident in physical pain and suffering.
But they understand that this life is a shadow of reality. A time that passes quickly. Their focus isn’t on death. It’s on life in Jesus - God’s strength for life now - God’s promise for life to come.
In light of eternity, Covid-19 is blimp - if that. So is everything else we go through.
Putting on the Helmet of Salvation means that we choose to set our minds on life in Jesus Christ rather than the death of this world. The Helmet of Salvation protects our minds - our ability to think and reason.
There is an invaluable confidence - a strength - that comes from having our minds set on God’s salvation - what He has for us now and forever.
Then - verse 17 - the last armor part: and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
The word that Paul uses for sword was a short - two-edged - dagger that the Roman soldier would attach to his belt. The kind of sword that was used for close one-on-one fighting.
The word Paul uses for “word” is “rema.” Not “logos.” Which might be more familiar.
“logos” refers to the whole of everything that God has said and revealed about Himself in Scripture. (John 1:1ff)
“Rema” is specific. God’s word applied to specific situations in our lives.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus counters Satan by saying that man lives by every “rema” - same Greek word. Every specific word that comes from the mouth of God.
What Paul is telling us - is that this dagger - this “rema” - is what we need when we’re under close personal attack.
Times when Satan comes after us and we’re tempted to compromise on our faith. Tempted to flirt with ungodly attitudes and desires that lead us away from what we know is right. Tempted to allow little sins that become the foundation of big failures and major problems.
To take up the “Sword of the Spirit” means we’re crying out to God to saturate our lives with His word - to examine our hearts - to change us - to prod us to spiritual alertness.
So that when Satan attacks we’re armed and ready to counter those attacks with the precision of God’s word - God’s truth - that cuts through the temptations and delusions of our enemy.
Pulling all that armor together.
As we, by faith, take up the armor of God - our lives will be held together by the truth of who we are in Christ by God’s grace. Being made right with God not by what we do but by what God has done through Christ. Being at peace, standing unafraid of whatever Satan tries to shoot at us as we stay focused on what God has for us in life now and forever. Being able to effectively use the word of God to counter the lies and deceptions of Satan, the great deceiver.
As much as we might be tempted to think that what Paul writes here is about the armor of God - which in part it is. But, what Paul is focusing on is what God supplies to us so that in the battle - we can stand firm against Satan and his minions - in God’s strength, not ours.
Then Paul goes in verse 18 - with the armor we need to be in prayer: 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, and also for me,
Praying at all times means prayer is a priority.
There are different types of prayer. “All prayer and supplication.” Prayer is… prayer. Prayer in general. Coming to God and seeking his grace and favor. Supplication is specific. Praying for specific needs.
Paul teaches that we are to pray in the Spirit. Meaning that prayer starts with God. God initiates our relationship with Him. God makes prayer possible. God desires for us to pray.
We are to be alert in prayer with all perseverance. Meaning we should never slack off of being in prayer. And we don’t give up if the answer isn’t something we see right away. Keep praying. Always.
Paul tells us that we need to pray for saints - each other. And, Paul asks that we pray for him - verse 19: that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Paul is a prisoner in Rome waiting for a hearing before the Emperor Nero - the great persecutor of Christians. Paul isn’t asking for a pardon. But boldness - freedom to speak - to proclaim the gospel even to Nero.
Because our battle isn’t against an empire or an emperor or government or a governor. We’re not here to win battles against people. That’s the wrong battle. The battle is against Satan and his forces of darkness. The battle is for the eternal destiny of the mankind.
Hang on to that. The reason we exist as a congregation is not to push back against whatever is coming at us from Sacramento or Washington. God hasn’t redeemed us to fight against the kingdoms of man. But to represent the kingdom of God and to boldly push back the gates of hell.
And for that we need God’s armor and prayer needs to be a priority - being alert in prayer - persevering in prayer - praying for each other to stay on task to live and declare the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Finally - verse 21 - Paul makes a plea for us to stand together.
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. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.
Tychicus first shows up in Acts 20 as part of Paul’s ministry team when they get to Troas - which was on the western shore of what’s now Turkey. Tychicus was probably with Paul on his journey to Rome. For sure he was with Paul in Rome during Paul’s imprisonment.
Tychicus was a beloved brother and a faithful minister. Someone Paul used to deliver his letters to Ephesus and to the Colossians. Which was more than just delivering mail.
Paul sent Tychicus to encourage and instruct and be Paul’s personal representative to the Ephesians and the Colossians. To fill them in about Paul and to encourage them.
Tychicus was a member of Paul’s team.
Paul’s ministry was always team ministry. Paul’s letters to churches end with greetings to those working with Paul. Some end with detailed lists of Paul’s fellow workers.
Paul’s final words come in verse 23: Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.
Paul’s blessing of peace and love and faith ties together what he’s been opening up. God by His grace made us to be in Christ and to live life in Christ and to be in this battle, not alone and isolated, but submitting to each other and standing with each other, in God’s strength and for His glory.
Processing all that...
It is significant the number of times that Paul reminds the Ephesians of God’s love for them and the number of times he encourages them to love each other. Ephesians averages more references to love per chapter than any other of Paul’s letters.
What’s concerning, is that about 35 years later, Jesus Himself through the apostle John - Jesus says this to the Church of Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had a first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.” (Revelation 2:4,5a)
With all the Ephesian church had going for it - including Paul’s personal instructions and discipling - they had caved in to the attack of Satan. And Satan had led them away from Jesus and from each other. And their ministry was miles way from the on fire works they had done before.
That should be a sobering warning for all of us.
God by His grace, God has given us life in Christ… together. We can’t take that lightly or for granted. But we need to guard and to prioritize and pursue our life together in Christ. We need each other if we are to live as God has created us to live in Christ - victorious in the battle - for His glory.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.