The Armour of God Ephesians 6 v10-18
I am thrilled at being the person to start this sermon series of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Why thrilled? Because although written to the Ephesians it has such a relevance to us and our church today. I want you to be encouraged and also to be aware and avoid the dangers and pitfalls that lurk around the corner, such as the one I recently fell down! The major part of my sermon will be based on the final chapter, spiritual warfare and the amour of God but I just want to give you an introduction to the series based on the letter and set the scene so to speak.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, written whilst he was in prison, is one of both encouragement, which many of us need, and one of instruction. Giving advice how to live the lives that God would have us live. He starts the letter giving thanks to God for their faith and love for Christ and each other. Although sadly we read in Revelations Ch2 written about 20 - 30 years latter through John’s apocalyptic word, this love, their first love as John puts it, had waned, even though they were still working hard and persevering in very difficult circumstances. Paul encourages them to be imitators of God, to follow Christ’s example. To live in the light, no sexual immorality, he even warns about rude jokes (ch5) He gives sound advice on marriage and parenthood. I can remember when Maggie and I did a short marriage preparation course prior to our wedding, I must have a good memory! Although I can’t remember all that was said and certainly haven’t in nearly 40 years of marriage stuck to all the advice, I remember the vicar quoting from Ephesians 4 v26 “In you anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold”. Implying get it sorted before you go off to bed!
Maggie & I have been very blessed in as much that we have been able to travel the world fairly extensively. Including many places mentioned in the Bible. Not only have we been to the Holy Lands but also followed most of the route Paul took on his second missionary journey, including Ephesus the homeland of the Ephesians. This has been helpful at times in appreciating and understanding certain readings when places we have visited are mentioned. Sadly time this morning doesn’t allow me to give you the opportunity to view Ephesus on the screen. But before I go on to preach on the amour of God I think it’s important to give you a little information about Ephesus and the environment the Ephesians were living in.
Ephesus was the most important city in the Roman province of Asia, on the west coast of what is now known as Turkey. It was situated at the mouth of the river Cayster then about 3 miles from the sea. A magnificent 11 meter (for olden’s like me that’s about 36 foot) wide road lined with ornate columns ran down through the city to the fine harbour, which served both as a great export centre at the end of theAsian caravan route and also a natural landing point from Rome. It was an emporium that had few equals anywhere in the world. In it’s day it contained many great and grand buildings, many of which have been discovered and been partly rebuilt by archaeologists, well worth a visit if you get the chance. There were civic centres, a massive library, bath houses and public conveniences and the most prominently placed building The Temple of Artemis (Diana) the Roman godess, so grand and massive it was one of the 7 wonders of the world. Even standing amongst the ruins and part restructured buildings as a tourist you get a sense of the vibrancy of the place. Oh boy what a place to start a church plant. What a challenge! Pagan gods, magical cults, drunken sailors, numerous brothels, a hive of industry! Paul never shirked from his passion to spread the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, even though it would eventually result in his execution. In Acts ch.19 v23 -41 we read that it was in Ephesus because of his preaching Paul caused rioting amongst the silversmiths, who were losing a fortune as people stopped buying silver temple tokens and silver idols of Artemis and other pagan God’s. Yet the Ephesian Church was called to be a light in the darkness. No wonder that Paul concludes his letter with words of wisdom about wearing the armour of God to fight the spiritual battle that all Christians including you and me will face! So after this brief and I hope interesting introduction, let’s look at putting on the armour of God.
Sadly we will always be fighting the enemy till we go to be in Glory. Even more sadly sometimes the enemy is not always outside the city or even church walls. The enemy within can be even more dangerous.
Before we proceed to look at the six items of armour and their implications, let’s clear up what might to some seem a contradiction in terms. V 10 - 12 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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”. Over many years I have read many books, commentaries, heard sermons that caused me some confusion on this passage. Many better theologians than I, in their interpretation, placed a heavy emphasis that the spiritual war somehow doesn’t take place here on earth but just in the heavenly realms through prayer. Although prayer warfare is vital, I think the enemy is here below as well. It can be seen and is tangible, I know through my own experience. As one of my Bible study notes points out on these verses, Paul is giving out a caution against lashing out against human opponents as though they alone were the real enemy and also assuming that the battle can be fought using merely human resources. We must be strong in The Lord and do things in his mighty power!
Many including some Christians refuse to accept there is an evil force we battle with. Centuries ago healing of body mind and spirit were integral and a vital part of church worship and liturgy. Sadly over the years the teaching and ministry of such things as the laying on of hands for healing and spiritual warfare went into decline. No wonder the world is in such a state! In his book, Fuzzy Memories, Jack Handey writes, “There used to be this bully who would demand my lunch money every day. Since I was smaller, I would give it to him. “Then I decided to fight back. I started taking karate lessons, but the instructor wanted $5 a lesson. That was a lot of money. I found that it was cheaper to pay the bully, so I gave up karate.”
Too many Christians believe it’s easier to pay the bully than learn how to defeat him.
Might I add that many Christians, don’t realize they are living on a BATTLEFIELD and not a PLAYGROUND!
The same vicar I mentioned earlier who married Maggie & I was someone very special. Although I attended his church till I left at 13 thinking this is all rubbish, he never gave up on me. No, he didn’t force me back to church or even put pressure on me. If I saw him in the street he would always say hello and ask how things were. Although when I asked him to marry me, opps I’ll rephrase that! Marry us Maggie & I, he was pleased to do so even though I hadn’t been near his church for 9 years. He was a lovely man, a goodly man yet on two occasions he became infamous. Twice he was featured in the scandal rag, The News of The World paper! Why? On the first occasion because he had decided to be the first vicar to have a vasectomy as he already had 4 daughters and couldn’t afford to keep trying for a son he so badly desired! In them days it was considered outrageous that a man could do such a thing, especially a vicar! The second sensation was that he dared lay hands on people for spiritual healing in an Anglican Church. Hey Guys! This was in the 60’s not the dark ages. The gifts of the spirit and spiritual warfare is nothing new, something those weird charismatics or Pentecostals have introduced, they have been given for us to use since the church first began!
The devil is a master tactician in warfare. He has an amazing armoury and battle plans at his disposal. A typical battle plan is to divide and conquer. One of my roles when I was in the police was being trained in public disorder and we used it when dealing with serious rioting! Very effective! This is why Paul in so many of his letters urges Christians to have love and unity, we need to stand firm in the Lord together! How many churches over time have been split over the very things that should united us? The movement and power of the Holy Spirit, our worship to God, even in some cases minor issues such as the choice of curtains in a church hall! How God must weep! St. Chad’s is no different to any other church. Yes it’s warm and welcoming, something Maggie & I noticed when we first walked through it’s doors 10 years ago. But I wonder if some of us have become like the church at Ephesus. Maybe we have become battle weary, maybe we too have lost our first love. Are we really as united as we would want to believe? I have to say although I applaud Martin’s efforts to accommodate all expressions of worship, I pray that it will never lead to a them and us situation!
My dear brother’s and sister’s in Christ, satan is real and we need to recognise our enemy, we need to know how to overcome him. You know God loves the overcomers! We will face many battles, some of which satan will win, but he never has the final victory, I know, I have been in a heavy battle for a number of years, although I still feel battle weary at times, what a joy to know I am still loved by God. Regardless to our sin, our pitfalls, Rev 2 v7 says this “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”. My friends, do you want to be an under achiever, just a church goer an inactive Christian, or someone who stuck their neck out for Christ, came under attack but overcame and was given a special privilege by God!
One bit of advice and a warning I want to give is this. Be an under achiever for God and the chances are the devil will leave you alone. I think this is important, especially as Martin leads us closer to God, we as individuals and as a church will come under attack. I was at the pinnacle of my 22 year preaching ministry when I fell, I was about to say from grace, but I don’t think you ever fall from God’s grace once you know him, I should say when I fell down my pitfall. I was being used by CVM speaking at many men’s events, a number of churches were using me on a regular basis to help out on their preaching rota. I felt fulfilled in my ministry, I even had a multi millionaire wanting to fund my ministry amongst men. The closer you get to God, the more effective you are for him, the more vulnerable we become. My armour was not firmly in place, is yours? We also need to make sure we wear it all not just bits! Thankfully through God’s Grace and Mercy and Martin’s support and encouragement, I and my ministry have been restored.
Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist! It would have to be a pretty big belt to fit around my waist! But seriously, we must hold on to all that is true, all that is good. You know we can never get away with a lie to God, he knows the truth in all situations. How have you felt once you discover someone lied to you? Respect is lost, often never fully returning. Although none of us will ever be perfect till we go to glory, God hasn’t finished with us yet, but we should try to be Christlike. We need to have the breastplate of righteousness in place. Have you ever noticed how shiny breastplates are, often I have been on duty at Royal events and you could use a guards breastplate as a mirror! I wonder what, in reality, our lives reflect to those around us and more importantly to God. How sad when we give others the opportunity to rightly call us hypocrites. None of us are perfect especially me, but I pray our lives reflect the beauty of Jesus. Do we wear and walk with the shoes of the Gospel? These shoes are not only to be worn to give us a good foothold to stop us falling but also that we should be willing to walk with and for Christ. We are not all called to be evangelists but we are all called to evangelise, to spread the good news of Jesus. In addition we are told to take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Although a flaming arrow got me in the end, for 22 years it was my faith and love for Christ that managed to repel the endless swarm coming my way over the years! None of us want to hurt the one we love, but sadly so often we do! Then finally Paul speaks of putting on the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. Although last on the list neither are any less important. In the original Greek the words to put on also implied to ‘garrison your mind’. A garrison, a fort to protect from the enemy. Not only is the helmet of salvation to remind us why we have salvation, not through deeds but love and acceptance of Christ, but it’s also to protect our minds from attack. The tongue is mightier than a sword we are told in the Bible. Proverbs 12 v18 “ Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of a wise person brings healing” How many of us have ever started to doubt ourselves when things are said about us? “You couldn’t possibly do it” “You are useless” “You are too old” “your fat or ugly” just to mention a few. When I was preaching out in the states a few years ago a young kid who was about 20 stone 5’ tall and yes, in some people eyes would be classed as ugly, told me “Mister I don’t care what people say about me, God don’t make no junk.” It should also guard our minds against lies and gossip. Finally the sword of the spirit, God’s word. Use God’s word as a user guide, an instruction manual to stop us falling in battle and let us pray with passion and expectancy for God’s victory in all our lives and the life of this church. That we will move forward with love and unity, as we rely on His strength and wisdom, and not our own. My friends being an under achiever, non active may be an easier option but I would rather be an overcomer any day and claim the reward promised in Rev 2 v7 to eat from the tree of life a special place in God’s paradise. Amen