Psalm 27, Ephesians 6:10-20
October 12, 2014
“Stand Strong!” That’s what our VBS kids sang a couple of years ago. Do you remember that? I can’t remember all the words, but I sure can hear the tune! It was all about standing strong in the faith, no matter what the “ups and downs” of life might bring. That’s the song that came to mind for me when I read this passage from Ephesians.
This is a familiar passage. It’s the one about “the full armor of God.” Anybody never heard this one before? I didn’t want to assume. But I also didn’t want to miss the opportunity to talk about it before we left Ephesians, because this is some of Paul’s best stuff! He told the people of that church – and us – that he wanted them to “Stand Strong.” From Prison (From Prison!) he wrote, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might!”
Think about that. We really need that kind of strength from God, don’t we? I know I do! As I said a few weeks ago, life is good, but it’s not always easy! We all face difficulties in this life. And maybe they’re not as bad as Paul had, being in prison! But we all have them. We all have our version of trials and tribulations. And we need to be “Strong in the Lord” at such times, don’t we. We need to “Stand Strong through the ups and downs!” as the kids sang.
If you look back at the bulletin for a moment, we said – you said, in the “Call to Worship,” these words from Psalm 118, “The Lord is my strength and my song.” By the way, that’s an interesting combination, if you think about it. “The Lord is our strength and our song. And he has become our salvation.” That’s good, isn’t it? But is he? Look a little further. In our “Prayer of Confession,” we said something we often say in those prayers. We said, “God, we know that we can look to you for our strength. Yet there are times we doubt your power in our lives.”
That’s it, isn’t it? We know God has power, we know that “he has done marvelous things,” as the psalmist often wrote. We say he is our “strength and our song.” And we want to “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might!” But the fact is, there are times that we doubt he can do anything in our lives. That’s the thing we all have to deal with, isn’t it! God’s infinite power in all creation is one thing, but our problems, well, that’s something else entirely!
Am I right about that? Do you ever feel you need God’s power, but you can’t seem to get that “figured out.” And so you live in fear, or at least you’re resolved that things will never change? Does anybody ever feel like that? I know there are times I do. I’ve always been one who believed I can get through anything on my own. And there are times when it’s hard for me to trust God’s power, instead of mine. And there are times I’m not sure. Like I’ve said before, there are times when it’s hard for God to get through to me! There are times the Holy Spirit “nudges me.” And then there are times he has to hit me with a big old sledge hammer – and even then, sometimes he still doesn’t get through! And I’ll bet it’s the same for you, too.
That’s why very I’m glad for passages like this one! They do remind us – no matter how hard it is to remind us – to “Stand strong!” That’s what Paul wanted the Ephesians to do. But more than that, he wanted them to recognized what was happening. He wanted them to recognize the “darkness” in the world around them, and to put that in perspective with the power and the light of God. The Bible has a lot to say about that contrast, the contrast between the darkness in the world and the light of God. Remember that Jesus said, not only “I am the light of the world,” but “You are the light of the world!” John told the people in the famous “Prologue” to his Gospel, “In him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it!”
We see that contrast in the world around us, don’t we. I have to admit there are times I don’t keep up very well with the news. And part of that is because I’m not sure I want to know what’s happening in the world. It’s a scary world out there! And there are times I’m content with being in my own little sheltered world!
Sometimes I wonder which was worse, our world or theirs? What do you think? I suspect that we think ours is worse. But think about it. Think about the things they had to deal with in Bible times, things like warfare, exile, disease, and famine. And somebody was always trying to conquer Israel. I think of Israel’s history as one of those number counters in a deli. “Ok whose next? Whose next to conquer Israel?” So whether their world was worse than ours or not, it was still pretty tough! Just think about how many of the psalms in the Bible have that theme of the “Protection of God.”
Those are good to read from time to time, because we also see the darkness around us, don’t we. And we find it in our lives, as well. We face our own personal darkness. And we need to know that God’s light shines there, too!
So, we too can choose to “Stand strong,” like our VBS kids! And we can know that it’s a matter of standing strong in the strength of God, rather than our own. And we can take the “full armor of God,” as Paul says here. Because if you think about it, there aren’t many of us who can stand before the enemy like David did – without armor. Do you remember that story? When he, among all the Israelites, said he would fight Goliath, it wasn’t just that he was small. He also had no armor, no protection. And do you remember that King Saul offered him his armor. And David actually put it on. But then he said “forget it.” It was too cumbersome, and he wasn’t used to it. But of course, the idea was that he had the “armor of God.”
So Paul tells us to take the “armor of God,” too. And remember that this was something familiar to the people who read this letter. They were under Roman occupation, as was most of the known world. So there were soldiers all around. And the people would have seen them, and they would be familiar with all of these various parts of a soldier’s gear. So this was a good example for Paul to use. And it was an interesting example, too, because those soldiers were actually part of the darkness he was describing!
Look at how he sets this up. He describes the darkness in their world. “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, and against the spiritual hose of wickedness in the heavenly places!” “It’s not just about the Romans!” “It’s bigger than that!” “Therefore,” he says, “take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand – to “stand strong – in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
The other thing I want you to keep in mind here is one of my favorite things. This statement is in the imperative mood. Paul is telling us to do something. He’s saying “take the armor.” “Put on the armor.” He doesn’t say, “You have the armor of God.” He’s saying “You need to choose to put it on!” “You need to choose to use it!” We need to do that, too. There’s that word again! The armor of God is not something we automatically have. We have to choose these things – righteousness, peace, faith, etc… Think about it. We either have to choose to put on those things. We need to choose to use them.
So think about the darkness and the light. There’s a lot of darkness in our world. Think about the protection of God. Think about being “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Think about how you have and how you choose to use these various parts of the “armor of God.” And “Stand Strong!”
Eternal God, we thank you that you are our strength and our song. Help us to know your strength. Help us to look to your strength beyond our own. Help us to grow in our trust in you and in your power in our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.