I Kings 8:22-30, Ephesians 6:10-20
August 20, 2006
For a number of weeks now, we’ve been looking at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And at several places in that letter, Paul uses the human body as an analogy for the Body of Christ. By the way, if you want to review any of those messages – or any of my sermons since I’ve come here – you can find them all on the website. (Look on the bottom of your bulletin.) We have a great website!
This passage for today makes the human body analogy complete. Paul says “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Paul wanted this Church to be unified as one body, and then he wanted them to be strong in the Lord. So what do you think? Are we strong in the Lord here? I hope we are. And I hope we’re growing stronger every day. But as we think about that, I’d like to have us think of that question as individuals. It’s important to be strong as a Church. But each one of us needs to be strong in the Lord as well. So, I’d like to ask each of us. “Are you strong in the Lord?”
I wonder what kind of results I would get if I sent around a survey for you to fill out, which asked only one question. “On a scale of one to ten, ten being strongest, how strong are you in the Lord?” I suppose it might depend on what day I did the survey. I know there are days when I don’t feel all that strong in the Lord. But over all, what number would you say you were. Think about it. Would you be a six? A nine? How about a three? How important is it to you to be strong in the Lord? Sometimes I’m not so sure that all of God’s people think it’s all that important. Do you?
Think of it this way. Imagine an army where they inducted recruits, handed them their equipment, and sent them right into battle? “Here’s your rifle, here’s your helmet, there’s the battle. Go fight!” No army would do that! That would be foolish, wouldn’t it? Some of you have been in the service, you know what happens. You go through training, don’t you? Why? So you can be a good soldier. So you can be a strong soldier.
Isn’t it the same thing when we are God’s people? We need, not just to believe, but to grow strong in the Lord. Otherwise, we can just skip this 6th chapter of Ephesians. Hey, there was a lot of good stuff up to this point. Maybe we can just go on to Philippians. That’s a great book too!
While you’re thinking about all that, let me give you Paul’s answer. He recognized that there was a need for strength in the Lord. He said, “We’re not fighting against flesh and blood…” Actually they were, and they knew that. This was not yet the time of the greatest Roman persecution. They only had an inkling of how bad it would be in the next couple of hundred years. But that time was definitely coming. Life would be very difficult under some of the emperors like Caligula and Domitian. Even so, Paul told them it was beyond all that. “We’re fighting against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Really? Is that true? Yeah, we know they believed in demons in those days. We know from the scriptures that many of Jesus’ miracles were exorcisms. He cast out a lot of demons. But some of those conditions which they explained as being demonic could be explained by modern medicine. Epilepsy could easily account for some of the things Jesus cured. (Of course isn’t it amazing that he could cure epilepsy?!) But what does that mean for us modern day Christians. How do you feel about the “spiritual realm” Paul is describing here? Do you believe there is an being called Satan? That would be another interesting question on a survey.
Mind you, when we ask such questions, we need to be seeking the truth, not simply describing what we are comfortable believing. Think about it. When a person says they “don’t believe in something” that doesn’t change the truth of things, does it? A person who says there is no God does not make God not exist by their saying so. The truth is the truth. And we need to be careful that we are seeking the truth, not projecting upon the truth what we want the truth to be!
So what about this spiritual realm? What do you think about that? While my son was here we went down the shore. And one of the things we did was to take the “Ghost Tour of Ocean City.” It was kind of fun, and we learned a bunch of history. But the whole time we went around to the various sites and listened to the stories, I was being looked at as if I were the skeptic in the crowd. Finally later on I said, “No. It’s all very interesting. It’s even entertaining. But I’m not a skeptic.” It doesn’t say anywhere that Christians don’t believe in spirits and things like that. In fact, we Christians are always talking about the spiritual realm. We acknowledge that God is spirit, and that we are spiritual beings. We say we believe in angels and archangels, and cherubim and seraphim and all those things. And those are all part of this spiritual realm.
Remember what we said about angels. Despite the popular notions that people have had over the years, the Bible never says angels are people who have died and been given their wings and harps and halos. Angels are part of a higher order of spiritual beings. They’ve “been around” a lot longer than human beings. And if we believe in that spiritual realm, I believe it would be inconsistent not to believe in the negative part of that realm.
So we are as spiritual as anyone, if not more spiritual! It’s just that we are called on to sort it all out. We are called to make determinations, to “test the spirits” as Paul said. We are to give thought as to what we should be involved in and what we should avoid. I believe we are to “keep our eyes opened” about all those things.
Now, let me ask you this. In recognizing this spiritual realm that Paul is talking about here, what do we do about it? What does it mean to be strong in the Lord so that we can “stand against the wiles of the devil”? Does that mean, for instance, that we are to “learn as much as we can about Satan?” Does it mean that we should be studying him and seeking to learn all the ways he works so we can defeat him and prevail against his attacks and thwart his temptations? I have known some Christians who believe exactly that! “We need to learn everything we can about Satan, so we can defeat him.” I don’t think so. Remember, he’s already been defeated! And even though there still may be “battles to be fought” on that front, I don’t think our purpose should be to concentrate on learning all about the enemy. Instead, we should concentrate, as Paul says here, in being strong in the Lord. That is our very best defense!
How do we do that? How do we become strong in the Lord? Paul says, We put on “the whole armor of God.” And this is where he completes this analogy of the human body. He gives us this wonderful description of the things we need to use to arm ourselves. And as we look at these things, I want you to see that these are not things we do all by ourselves, devoid of connection with God. At the heart of all these things is the state of being in intimate relationship with God! None of these things will help us all that much apart from that relationship.
Let’s look at the “Whole Armor of God” for a moment. First of all he talks about the belt of truth. As I said before, seeking the truth of God is so important. People today don’t care about the truth. They are only interested in talking about the truth they are comfortable believing. We could talk a long time about that! But let me just say this for today. Seek the truth, but always be open to the possibility that the truth could rock your world. As we learn more of God’s truth all the time, we may find that some things we have been comfortable with all along may need to be altered in light of the truth! That’s the tough part of being a “truth seeker.” Often self delusions are a lot easier than seeking the truth!
Then Paul says to put on the breastplate of righteousness. If we seek righteousness, if we seek to be holy in God’s eyes, that will be one of the greatest defenses we have. The breastplate was one of the most vital pieces of armor because it guarded the most vital of organs! Seek to be righteous and holy in God’s eyes. And mind you, I don’t mean “Self righteous” or “holier than thou.” Rather be righteous and holy with the lowliness and meekness and patience and forbearance we talked about in earlier chapters of this letter.
Put on your feet the equipment of the Gospel. Walk when you have sought first to learn what you need to know. And remember, such knowledge isn’t automatic. We need to seek that knowledge.
Then, he says, “take up the shield of faith.” And notice, that’s a deliberate thing. He doesn’t say, “Stick out your arm and just hope a shield appears there.” He says, “Take up the shield.” Deliberately equip yourself with your faith in God. Don’t expect that it’s there already, or that someone else will hold the shield of their faith in front of you. Make the effort to believe. Talk and act in faith. “That faith,” he says, “will stop the arrows of the evil one.”
Then he says to put on the “the helmet of salvation.” Your brain, your intellect, let it know of your salvation in God. Paul wants us to have an intellectual understanding of what God has done for us. That’s important. We are to let that knowledge protect our minds. And what goes along with that knowledge? The only offensive weapon he talks about here, the sword of the word of God. We are to know what God has revealed us. We are to be armed with the knowledge of his word.
And finally, as if he were “done” with the analogy, as though he wanted to drop the metaphor and hit the most important thing straight on – with no theoretical examples. He says this. “Pray at all times.” As I told you, the underlying thing in all this is to be strong in your relationship with God. Work on that the most. The armor references are wonderful. We need these all things. But without our relationship with God, they will be like a soldier being handed equipment he doesn’t know how to use, and being sent into battle with no leader, with no sense of how to fight, or with no real knowledge of what he’s fighting for.
Be strong in the Lord. Let that be the phrase you keep with you as you go today. God doesn’t just induct you, hand you your equipment, and then say, “There’s the battle. Go fight.” He wants you to be strong. He wants you to be in close relationship with him. He wants that relationship with you to be strong. He wants it to be the underlying framework of your life.
Eternal God, help us to be strong in you. Help us to know you better all the time, and to grow in our faith in you. Help us to feel your spirit within us, strengthening us for this life. Help us to know we are yours every day. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.