August 26, 2018
Today we read the closing part of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus. And I’m not sure if this is so much a grand conclusion, something he’s been leading up to for the previous 5 chapters, or if it’s simply some closing thoughts, sort of like our final words to someone as they’re leaving. “Take care!” “Be careful on the way home.” I suspect it’s the latter. I think it’s, “Here are some final things I want you to keep in mind.”
At any rate, this chapter starts out with some intensity. “Finally, be strong in the Lord,” he says, “and in the strength of his might.” And then, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” That sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It almost sounds like the evening news! It does make us want to “put on the whole armor of God,” doesn’t it?
That’s all well, and good. But let me tell you what bothers me about this passage. What bothers me is that it could lead us to think that we can “protect” ourselves against the evil one – if we just take certain steps. We could think that we can protect ourselves by learning all we can about how the devil operates, and then learning affective strategies to fight him.
I’ve known people who have thought just like that. I’ve heard people say, “We have to learn all we can about Satan, and how he works, so that we can defend ourselves against him!”
That’s always bothered me. It’s like we’re saying that we can avoid the evil on our own, if we just learn how to fight it. And it’s almost like God doesn’t have to be in the picture! And that’s the part that bothers me! But some people want it that way. Because it can be uncomfortable for “us people” to have a God in the picture and a God whose in control of our lives. We feel like we need to be in control.
Well, my feeling on this has always been that “God being in the picture” is the best place to start when dealing with the evil in the world around us. If we want to protect ourselves, we need to concentrate on God and his ways, not on Satan and his ways!
Do you get that? I remember a story I once heard about a man who worked for the Treasury Department. His job was to find and identify counterfeit money. And someone once said to him, “You must have to study every kind of counterfeit there is in order to find the fakes.” And I love the response! He said, “No.” “The way we detect the counterfeit money is to study and to know the real thing as much as we possibly can! Then the counterfeits stand out!” I always remember that when I heard people talking about how do “deal with the devil!” We need to know God, and grow as close to him as we possibly can. That’s our best defense against evil!
Then we can do all these things Paul talks about here. And we should! We can “gird our self with truth.” We can “shield ourselves with righteousness.” We can put on “the gospel of peace.” We can do all those things. But all of those things are all about having God “in the picture!” Paul would never advocate fighting evil “on our own!” The biggest, most important thing to do is to know God. We need to stay in touch with God. We need to rely on his protection. We need to “Be strong in the Lord!”
Think about the evil in the world. There’s a big push right now about everybody being involved in fighting back against the bad people who would harm us. I saw a poster just the other day about this. I’ve seen the TV commercials. You’ve seen them, too. “Be aware.” “Be engaged.” “If something looks suspicious, tell someone.” Those things are important in dealing with things like domestic terrorism. It’s important that we are all aware. But we must also recognize that there are people working “in the background,” every day, using all manner of intelligence in dealing with threats against us. And that is a huge part of our “protection.”
That’s the God part of this passage from Ephesians. I sleep better at night knowing that there are good, smart, well informed people working to protect us. And I feel better spiritually knowing that God is there protecting me. It’s not up to me to defeat Satan! That’s God’s job! It’s my job to rely on him! It’s my job to know him and to be as much like him as I can. That’s what the “full armor of God” is about! We put on those things so we can be “protected.” But it is still God who ultimately protects us. That’s why Paul starts this by saying, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might!”
So as you think about this chapter, know that we are part of this struggle – this struggle against “against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” And that does sound ominous, doesn’t it? Well it is! We are in that struggle. We can do certain things to do our part – and we should! But above all, we must “trust in the Lord.” We must “be strong in the Lord.” Me must rely on the who has won the ultimate victory over those forces.
Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, we thank you that we live our lives in your kingdom. We thank you that we can rely on your strength and on your might. Help us, above all things, to grow closer to you, that we may stand firm in our faith, that we may uphold your kingdom, and that we may live in the love you first gave to us. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.