Pentecost 14 – August 29, 2021

“Stand Firm” – Ephesians 6:10-20



Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our father and from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. My name is Mike; I have the privilege of sharing the message with you today. This is my first time preaching a sermon so I feel I should present to you my credentials.

This is a booklet I produced when I was in Sunday School, probably around age 9 or 10. We learned about the life of St. Paul, and each week we drew a picture from the story we heard. I recall two major themes in my pictures: I referred to Paul as “Mr. Tarsus”, since he was knownas Paul of Tarsus, and I gave him yellow socks, which seemed reasonable artistic license.

The epistle reading from Ephesians today is one that is often used for Sunday School exercises. We learn about the armour of God, and we draw or colour in a picture of a soldier with his various pieces of heavenly armour. It occurs to me that we can often gloss over these “Christianese” terms, and miss some of the significance of this metaphor that Paul writes about.

The big idea for today is that our struggle is not against people but against spiritual forces. God equips us with spiritual armour to stand against these attacks.
So let’s dive into the text.


Love your enemy

In verse 12, Paul writes “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood”. Whatever struggle or fight we’re in, it is not against other people. I have personally found this verse to be very important in my Christian walk. Whatever struggle we have as Christians, other people are not the enemy. For earthly enemies, Jesus already made our response clear.  In Matthew 5:43-45 Jesus says

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

I’m not sure how many of us today have literal enemies or nemeses; perhaps you do. But I think all of us can think about people who we know, or general people groups with whom we disagree. Perhaps there are people who we don’t respect, or people we think of with distain. Maybe it’s people who have a different political view or religious faith to you. I’ve been to soccer games in England where the opposing fans certainly consider one another as enemies.

But Jesus calls us to a counter-cultural, revolutionary way of living. His calling is to love our enemies, to pray for those who are against us. My favourite definition of this is from Greg Boyd, who defines love as “ascribing worth to another as cost to yourself”, in contrast to judgment, which is “ascribing worth to yourself at cost to another”. And Jesus says that when we practice this kind of enemy-love, that is what makes us children of God the Father.

Have you ever tried to pray for people who get under your skin? And I don’t mean “Lord smite them”-type prayers, but genuine prayers for their well-being? That discipline can really have an impact on how we come to see and treat other people who we don’t hold in high regard. Consider when Jesus talked about the second-greatest commandment, to “love your neighbour as yourself.” When the pharisees asked Jesus “who is my neighbour”, he told them the parable of the Good Samaritan”. God’s second-greatest commandment, after loving him, is to show love, kindness, and respect to those who our culture or tribe is telling us to hate.


Our true battle

Let’s return to verse 12 from Ephesians: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil”. Paul is talking here about spiritual enemies. This is who our struggle is against, both individually, and collectively as a church.

We are engaged in a spiritual struggle, not a physical one. We can’t see our enemy, which makes it feel all the more daunting or fearful. But Paul reminds us that we are not defenceless; God gives us spiritual armour for this spiritual battle.

I mentioned earlier how we can gloss over terms we’re familiar with, especially when we’ve been Christians for a long time. Similarly, if you are new to Christian faith you might hear terms and not know what they mean. It can be daunting to ask because there’s an assumption that everyone knows what sanctification and propitiation mean. So today is Glossary Sunday, where we’ll take some time to look at these elements of God’s armour, allowing us to metaphorically
put them on correctly. It would be embarrassing to attach the breastplate of righteousness backwards. I had to throw a dad-joke in there in honour of Pastor Laverne.

Paul starts with the belt of truth. Truth is a term that we think we know how to define; as in, the an obvious or accepted fact, a verified proposition. But I think there is a depth to the understanding of truth, especially in Christian tradition. NT Wright says

“truth, as the gospel defines it, is a reality, a unique reality somehow wrapped up in the
person of Jesus”

When the disciple Thomas said to Jesus “we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus embodies truth. The way of Jesus is an eternal truth that is more substantive than our own individual truths, limited as they are.

Next we have the breastplate of righteousness. Righteousness is the right-ordering of relationships, which the bible also calls justice. We can think of righteousness as a gift of God where we who believe in Christ are brought into right relationship with him. It is a free gift of grace — we can’t earn this, either by merit or by following a set of rules. In 2 Cor 5:21 Scripture says “God made him who had no sin [Jesus] to be sin, so that in him we might become the
righteousness of God.” Because of Jesus, this is how God sees us; not as evil or worthless beings, but as those who are transformed. In Christ, we become all that God requires us to be; all that we could never be on our own.

Now the next part of the text says “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” I’m going to call that ‘shoes of peace’. It does evoke the idea that we are always ready to share God’s good news; always prepared to give an answer for the reason of the hope that we have. We ought not to think of peace as just an absence of conflict. The Hebrew word for peace is “shalom”, which encompasses a wide range of meanings: “peace, completeness, welfare, health, wholeness, harmony, reconciliation, being at ease both internally and externally.” The gospel of peace is the good news of wholeness, of harmony, of reconciliation with God.

Our next piece of armour is the shield of faith. Again, this is a word that we use a lot but often have a loose definition for. In recent times some prominent atheists have defined faith as “believing in something that isn’t true.” I prefer to think of faith as something which we put our trust in. Faith is not just casual belief, like holding an opinion without necessarily providing any evidence of proof. Rather, faith is personal surrender, and conduct inspired by such surrender.
Our faith in Christ causes us to change the way we live.

We demonstrate faith all the time. When we board a plane we have faith that the pilot will complete the journey successfully. When we drive a car we have faith that other drivers on the road will drive with care and attention. In our spiritual walk, we put our trust in Jesus, in his message, in his character, and in his promises.

Now we move to the helmet of salvation. Salvation is defined as deliverance, preservation, or liberation. Here in Ephesians in particular it is the object of our confident hope, the future deliverance of believers. It’s not hard to imagine what a powerful and encouraging message this is for first century jews and greeks that were oppressed by the Romans. And just like Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God is at hand, we don’t have to wait until some future day to realize this deliverance — our liberation begins here and now as we follow in the way of Christ.

And finally we have the sword of the Spirit, which Paul further defines as the word of God. We often think of the “word of God” as the Bible, but it might be better defined as the message of God. Remember that in John’s Gospel Jesus was called the “Word of God”, so we have God’s word, God’s message to us in written form, in human form, and in spiritual form through the Holy Spirit. Here in Ephesians this reference to the word of God is more about individual scripture which the Holy Spirit brings to mind in times of need. It calls to mind when Jesus was in the wilderness and he was tempted by the devil. Each time, Jesus referenced scripture to ward off the accuser.


The best offence is a good defence

So we have looked at all six elements of God’s spiritual armour. It occurs to me that many of these terms have a weak, loose, or sometimes lazy definition that is often reinforced in our modern culture; as if this heavenly armour is made of tin foil or paper. But I think as we’ve seen, there are better, nuanced, deeper understandings of these spiritual terms that gives this armour much more robust heft and strength. Now, how we do apply these ideas to our lives?

It’s interesting to note that with Paul’s spiritual armour analogy, almost all of the armour is defensive; it protects us. Even the sword, which could be used to attack, is referenced in a defensive way, just like Christ did in the wilderness.

And notice the goal here, from verse 13: “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Paul says it twice; our goal is to stand firm, and be secure. We face attacks. We are in a spiritual struggle, and God gives us this armour so that we can defend these attacks, ward them off, and stand firm.

And what might these spiritual attacks look like? From today’s Gospel reading Jesus talks about how evil rises from within us. Mark 7:21 “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness,
envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

It’s not just thoughts that would bring about evil if we act on them, but also thoughts that speak untruths to ourselves. The enemy attacks us from the inside. I suspect many of us do not speak as unkindly to anyone else as we do to ourselves. Perhaps we beat ourselves down, reinforcing shame, unworthiness, or insignificance. Or perhaps we puff ourselves up, reinforcing pride, selfishness, or entitlement. When we misrepresent and misunderstand the way that God sees
us, the way we are made in his image and the way he loves us, that is the spiritual battle we fight in our hearts.

God’s armour — his truth, peace, salvation, and righteousness — these give us the tools and the strength to stand, to stand firm. God’s armour protects us from ourselves.


Arming the Church

Now I mentioned that we also face this spiritual struggle collectively as a church. For the entire book of Ephesians, Paul talks about God’s plan for the church more here. Our reading today is the culmination of Paul’s letter, so we ought to see this armour metaphor not only in the individual sense, but also in the collective sense.

We as a church use God’s armour to stand against spiritual attacks. Those attacks can come from within as well as from without. But even so, remember that our enemy is not each other. We sometimes think of unity as conformity, that we all believe the same things. But I think this is false. Unity is when we show love and respect for one another in spite of our differences. What a wonderful opportunity the church has in this modern age to reflect the kingdom of God by
loving one another despite the fact that we don’t always agree. It is why I am such a strong supporter of the Big Eight initiative, where we tackle the hot potato issues of our modern culture. Not to try and resolve them, but rather to learn and practice how we can disagree well.

On foundational matters of Christian faith we have agreement, which is one of the reasons why we recite the ancient creeds of the church each week. But for matters of opinion, we can model a unified community even as we hold different views. Our goal is perfect union with God and with one another.

And we need one another, to encourage and to sharpen each other. A solitary soldier is not much of an army. But collectively, equipped with God’s armour, we are ready to stand against the attacks of the enemy, and when all is done, to stand.

Now, may the peace (the shalom) of God, which passes all understanding, be with you in Christ

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