A sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-18
Sunday, September 17th, 2017 – Pentecost 15B
A professional football player wouldn't go into the game without wearing his uniform; his helmet and pads. A firefighter wouldn't dream of going into a blazing fire without his protective fire-proof gear. A cop wouldn't go into a shootout without his gun and his bulletproof vest. And a soldier wouldn't go into battle without his helmet or armor, without his gear. All of the above professions rely on the uniform they wear to stay safe and would be foolish if they were to leave it off as they got to work.
Friends, God has given us his Word to protects us not from linebackers, fires, bullets, but from enemies far more dangerous. God gives us his armor to keep us safe from the devil and his powerful allies. And we'd be fools not to use it. In our text for this morning, God, through the Apostle Paul, urges us to put on the full armor of God, and to suit up, as we engage in the spiritual battle that we're in. Our portion of God's Word for consideration this morning is taken from Ephesians 6:10-20…
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Are you strong enough? Are you strong enough to stand in the face of temptation? To serve God daily as he's created you to do? To withstand the evils of materialism, narcissism, commercialism? The Lord calls on us to be strong. But at the same time it's he who makes us strong through his powerful Word.
Just as the toughest NFL linebacker would get crushed without his protective gear, as the toughest firefighter would burn without his uniform, as the bravest cop or soldier would struggle mightily without his gear… you and I are bound to lose if we try to go it alone in our spiritual battles without the protection God gives.
And make no mistake. The battle is very real. The enemy is real. And the enemy is tough. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
So what can we possibly do to fight against the demonic forces that we can neither see nor match in power? We have no strength of our own to fight satan! We're not like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly Stalone, or Bruce Willis in the movies. We're no Jack Bauer who can single handedly take down hell's terrorist forces on our own. If we were to fight the devil on our own, it would be like putting a 5 year old kid up against 100 ISIS terrorists. We wouldn't stand a chance.
And yet, so often we try to face the enemy on our own. We take off our armor as we leave our Bibles on the shelf collecting dust. We think, "I'll be just fine. I know the basics. I took the BIC. I took a confirmation class… well… it may have been a long time since, but I did take it!" And in refusing the help that Jesus gives we show how weak we really are as we fall into sin again and again.
We deserve to be left to face the enemy on our own. And we deserve to lose not just the battle but the war for the times we've deserted and gone spiritually AWOL. Jesus warned us how little strength we have on our own and the disastrous results when we try: "Apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned." (John 15:5-6) We deserve to lose at life and end up as satan's prisoners in hell.
But thank God that we're not on our own. We have a hero who fought and won for us. He crushed the devil's head on the cross when he took our sin on himself and, paying the penalty our sin earned, took our sin away.
And having won the war, he still continues to fight by our side and help us in every battle. Paul said, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…" But in the Greek "be strong" is "be strengthened." That is, it's entirely passive. Not "buck up and be stouthearted, men!" as if we could produce this strength in ourselves. But let God strengthen you. He does it for us by his mighty power.
And his mighty power is his Word; his Gospel that assures us we are forgiven for thinking we can fight on our own without him, for trying to do anything without him. His mighty power protects us. His mighty Word gives us armor. So let's use it! Let's suit up!
"Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes… put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…"
So let's take a quick look at each piece of our suit of armor and see how God protects us. First he mentions our belt: "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist…" But the belt Paul had in mind was a waist belt, much wider than the belts we wear to hold up our pants. It protected the most vulnerable parts of the body as a sword swung upward into groin would drop you in a hurry. It also kept the armor in place and held the sword.
The truth of God's Word—the objective truth of God's grace to you in Christ, revealed in the pages of your Bible—guards your sensitive parts spiritually speaking. Satan knows where you're most vulnerable and that's where he's going to attack. But you know the truth! You know how deceptive satan's lies are. And you know they're lies. He never delivers on what he promises. You know what God wants. But most of all, you know what God has done for you in Christ. Don't believe satan's lies, but cling to that truth and be safe!
Next Paul mentions your breastplate: "Stand firm… with the breastplate of righteousness in place…" Of course, this piece of armor would guard a soldier's heart. And the righteousness which you have—and not your own righteousness, for that would be a breastplate of cardboard!—but the righteousness of Jesus, given to you, that righteousness from God, which is ours by faith, apart from works—that righteousness guards our hearts. In Jesus' righteousness we find peace with God and peace from a guilty conscience. Our hearts are safe.
Paul continues, alluding to the soldier's sandals: "Stand firm… with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace." It's hard to fight a battle barefoot. A sharp rock could send you to the ground. And in the middle of battle, you can't be tiptoeing around! You need to be ready to move on a moment's notice, ready to dodge an attack. We are ready to move by the Gospel that gives us peace. We're ready to dodge the temptations that come our way because we know that no sin—nothing!—can satisfy us like the Gospel does.
"In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith," says Paul, "with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."
A Roman soldier didn't have a small round shields that hung on his arm, but a huge shield, called a scutum, which was four feet tall and two and a half feet wide. When a soldier was in battle formation, his entire body was protected. And when soldiers knew a battle was coming they would soak their shields in water overnight so the burning arrows of the enemy would go out when they struck the shield instead of burning it up.
The devil won't give up on you. He will keep launching accusations against you like flaming arrows. But your faith in Jesus and in what he's done to take away your sin silences satan's accusations with a steaming hiss. Tssssssss! And they're out!
Of course, the warrior was not to hide his head behind the shield. He needed to look over it to face his opponent. So Paul continued, "Take the helmet of salvation…" On the Christian's helmet is written, "Salvation." Knowing the salvation you have in Jesus helps you to hold up your head with confidence and joy. It guards your mind and helps you keep your head when you might otherwise lose your cool.
You are protected from head to toe by this armor of God. What a foolish soldier he would be who would only wear his helmet and nothing else, or who would only take his shield, but not his armor. Likewise, we use it all—the full armor of God as we grow in our faith by regular use of God's Word. And when we suit up we remain well protected.
But how foolish it would be if a soldier was all decked out in his armor, but took no weapon into battle. But we have a weapon, Christian soldiers! "Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." We have the Word of God which can knock down any barrier set up against God's grace. So learn it. Study it. Read it. Know it. Use it—the mighty Word of God—as we go on the attack against satan and his allies to strike them down and win more souls for our side!
Yes, the enemy is real. Yes, the enemy is tough. Yes, the enemy is strong. But we are stronger—not on our own or by our strength, but with the bulletproof armor that God has given us. The war is already won! The victory is ours! Now let's keep fighting the battles we face each day. But don't do it without getting dressed first. Suit up, dear friends, and always wear the armor of God that he gives to you! And then, in the end, we will prevail, in the strength of the Lord and in his mighty power, amen!