This is the third week of a mini-series on the reality of spiritual struggle.
We started in 1 Peter 5 with these three realities:
You’re being watched.
You must be ready.
You can resist.
Last week we looked at James 4 and saw that to resist the devil, you submit to God.
To submit to God requires a total commitment and when we surrender to God we become victorious in the spiritual struggle.
Today we are going to turn to Ephesians 6.
This week I learned something interesting. I’ve known for a long time about people who dress up as medieval knights and Roman praetorians and go to Renaissance fairs, sort of as cosplay.
What I didn’t know is that there is a whole world of medieval combat. These guys dress up and then go full combat with swords and axes and hammers.
There’s a group called the International Medieval Combat Federation that has a world championship tournament. Competitions range from 3 vs 3. to 16 vs 16. Countries align to form alliances of hundreds of people in a field fighting.
Some of these guys get into rings and fight one on one. There’s a tournament called M1 Medieval. Two guys in full armor swinging swords at each other’s heads. It’s crazy.
Now here is the question for you: how much would I have to pay you to step into that ring in your street clothes? You wouldn’t do it, would you?
You can opt out of full contact medieval combat tournaments. You can’t opt out of the cosmic war of the spirit.
You have an enemy who knows you and hates you and wants to discourage, defeat and destroy you.
If you are not ready, there won’t even be a fight.
If you are not armed, you will be easily defeated.
Let’s turn to Ephesians 6:10-20.
The first thing we see in this passage is the Christian call to strength. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Be strong. Stand. God’s desire for you is strength. Firmness. Stability. The Christian life is a life of power.
Notice where the strength comes from – be strong in the Lord. The Christian message is never a call to self-sufficiency. It is not a life dependent on our own inner resources. It is a call for those who are weak to come and dip into the infinite resources of God for strength.
“When Paul urges us to draw upon the power, might and strength of the Lord Jesus (verse 10), he uses exactly the same trio of words which he has used in 1:19 (dynamis, kratos and ischus) in relation to God’s work of raising Jesus from the dead” -John Stott
Be strong in the Lord, Paul says. Why?
So that you can take your stand against your enemies. Our enemies aren’t flesh and blood. They are spiritual. They are subversive. We don’t have time to get into the details of the enemy this morning. The powers Paul describes are strong (powers), evil (darkness/evil) and they are crafty (schemes).
One writer described them like this: “Terrifying and deadly they are, sometimes sprawling across the earth in some gigantic despotism, at times narrowed down to one single impulse in the mind of one individual man.”
They come in the form of systemic forces and structures: social, political, judicial and economic powers – like the Nazis or Stalinists.
They come in the form of false religion: LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Cults.
They come in the form of philosophical works and ideas: Karl Marx and the sexual revolution.
They come in the form of impulses and temptations directed at the individual heart.
‘I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his “fiery darts” -Martyn Lloyd-Jones
We must be strong because we have enemies. We need to stand.
By standing you keep the enemy in front of you.
By standing you maintain the line of battle.
Roman legions standing shoulder to shoulder, shields linked were virtually invincible as long as each stood their ground together.
There is a responsibility for every member of the church to take up arms. It’s not just your life. It’s not just your faith, your heart at stake. It’s your marriage. It’s your kids. It’s the person you will share the gospel with. It’s the brother who stumbles a year from now and will need your shield.
Men. Are you fighting? Are you armored? Are you standing?
‘It is a stirring call to battle … Do you not hear the bugle, and the trumpet?… We are being roused, we are being stimulated, we are being set upon our feet; we are told to be men. The whole tone is martial, it is manly, it is strong’ -MLJ
The Armor of God
Take on the whole armor of God. Notice Paul repeats the word ‘whole’. A soldier with all the armor but missing a helmet is compromised. We must be complete.
Paul was very familiar with the sight of the Roman soldier. He saw many throughout his life. He met many in his missionary journeys. He was chained to one while he dictated the epistle of Ephesians.
He thought of these soldiers when he described the armor of God. Why is the armor of God? It is fashioned by God. It carries the power of God.
How much importance should we place on the analogous? Does truth need to be a belt? Or did Paul just pick something?
The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation weren’t his idea. He’s drawing form Isaiah.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
Some imagery is repeated, but Paul swaps qualities with the same imagery in 1 Thessalonians.
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
1 Thessalonians 5:8
We shouldn’t get too hung up trying to establish a dogmatic interpretation.
1. The Belt of Truth
The belt of the Roman soldier was either the leather apron cinching up the clothing under the armor or a metal belt protecting the lower abdomen. The word is belt isn’t actually used in Ephesians. It reads literally, “having girded your loins with truth.”
The belt was necessary for freedom of movement. The standard garment was a loose fitting tunic which would be very baggy and awkward for physical activity.
The main interpretations of the truth are The Truth as in Scripture or truth as in honesty and integrity.
You can’t have one without the other.
When know the truth about the universe revealed in Scripture you walk in the light. You have freedom of movement. You understand why you are here. You understand what you are and where you are going. You understand the nature of the universe and it’s creator.
Truth brings freedom.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
We must know the truth and we must live in truth.
When you lack integrity your life becomes complicated. Your mind is encumbered with the burden of keeping track of the truth and the lie. The real you and the mask. Truth brings clarity. It brings simplicity.
So the first step in our arming is to know the truth and to live the truth.
Action point 1 – Resolve that the Bible is the Word of God.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
2 Timothy 3:16
Have you come to a conclusion about the Bible? Have you resolved that it is God-breathed and the highest authority in your life? There are many good resources that contain truth in the world. Good works of philosophy, psychology and the sciences. But only the Scriptures are God-breathed. Only the Scriptures offer us the final word on morality, humanity, gender, marriage, sexuality, parenting, finances and the human spirit.
Action point 2: Take off the mask.
If any area of the person you present to the world is not true, you are not walking in the freedom of truth. Resolve to take off the mask and speak truthfully.
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness
The Roman breastplate was leather overlaid with metal to protect the chest and the vital organs.
Righteousness for Paul most often refers to the righteousness that God credits his people – justification by faith.
Again, this is two-fold: knowing that you are right with God and living out that rightness.
Satan is the accuser of the brothers.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night.
But his voice is not the only one.
33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Jesus is the defender of the brothers.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
It’s a wonderful thing to know that we are righteous in Jesus. It’s a great encouragement to know that Jesus is our great defender. Knowing this righteousness is like having armor over our hearts – protecting us from the thrusts of guilt and shame.
The experience of Martin Luther is a great example of this. Luther often heard a voice in his head telling him what a great sinner he was. When he learned about the righteousness that comes from faith, he learned to battle that voice.
“Tell me something new, Devil! I already knew that perfectly well; I have committed many a solid and real sin. Indeed there must be good honest sins–not fabricated and invented ones–for God to forgive for His beloved Son’s sake, who took all my sins upon Him so that now the sins I have committed are no longer mine but belong to Christ.”
Tell me something new! I am a great sinner, but that’s not the point. I am a great sinner, but Christ is a greater Savior!
Paul uses the word righteousness in another sense.
in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left;
2 Corinthians 6:7
John Stott sees this as the “righteousness of character and conduct”.
The righteousness of Ephesians 6 is ‘The completeness of pardon for past offence and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life . . . woven together into an impenetrable mail.’ -G G Findlay
Action point: Personalize & memorize the gospel of righteousness by faith.
It’s hard work to memorize things. It’s hard, but it’s harder to be on your back in the grip of the evil one. It’s harder to watch your marriage teeter on the brink of failure. It’s harder to watch your kids enticed into the trap of the evil one.
We are not talking about optional practices for those who want to level up their Christianity. We are talking about matters that are deadly serious.
3. The Gospel of Peace
The 1st century Ephesian pictured the Roman half boot, protecting the bottom of the feet to ensure free mobility.
Marcus Barth: Paul ‘has in mind the caliga (“half-boot”) of the Roman legionary which was made of leather, left the toes free, had heavy studded soles, and was tied to the ankles and shins with more or less ornamental straps’. These ‘equipped him for long marches and for a solid stance … While they did not impede his mobility, they prevented his foot from sliding.’
Again, there is a dual sense.
“If the former, the reference is to a certain firmness or steadfastness which the gospel gives to those who believe it, like the firmness which strong boots give to those who wear them.” -John Stott
The New English Bible translates the verse with that sense.
NEB: Let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you a firm footing.
To know and internalize the gospel is to gain momentum and movement in life.
The other sense of the readiness of the gospel of peace is the readiness to proclaim the gospel.
Here’s how the Good News Bible translates the verse:
GNB: readiness to announce the Good News of peace.
This sense of movement, of proclamation of the gospel of peace is a recurring theme in the Scriptures.
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
“In either case the devil fears and hates the gospel, because it is God’s power to rescue people from his tyranny, both us who have received it and those with whom we share it. So we need to keep our gospel boots strapped on.” -Stott
Action: learn a gospel presentation and a transition question by heart.
Every Christian should have a ready transition in hand to turn a conversation towards the gospel. Here’s mine: Has anyone ever explained the message of the Bible to you?
Just a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to lead two men to Christ because that question was ready at the right moment and created an opportunity.
4. The Shield of Faith
Paul has in mind a rectangular wooden shield, four feet high. This shield was used against enemies whose tactical warfare included arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire. Against enemies using this tactic, the shield was doused in water.
In the phalanx, the front row held shield vertically, rows behind them held shields horizontally over their heads.
Fiery darts are meant to pierce and then continue and magnify their destruction with a continued burning.
One of the great schemes of the enemy is to send fiery darts or arrows into our spirits – thoughts that simmer and burn slowly in our minds.
After a conversation, a thought comes to mind: what did they mean by that? That thought begins to burn. I can’t believe they said that to me. I don’t deserve that. What a jerk. The fire burns and grows into bitterness, then gossip and division.
“Other darts are unsought thoughts of doubt and disobedience, rebellion, lust, malice or fear.” -John Stott
Faith is a shield against these intrusions.
“Faith lays hold of the promises of God in times of doubt and depression, and faith lays hold of the power of God in times of temptation.” -Stott
Notice that faith requires a proactive effort. “Take up the shield” It must be held and upheld. It is a choice.
It’s easy for us to take a passive stance, to accept our feelings as our true reality.
Our feelings are unreliable guides. If you take your feelings or the latest thought in your head as true truth you are extremely vulnerable.
It is far too easy to mistake the fiery dart burning in our minds as our reality.
For we live by faith, not by sight
2 Corinthians 5:7
I might have a bad week. I feel that God is distant an unhappy with me. It feels like my life is hard because he is angry. I can’t trust him. I don’t feel like praying. When I pray it doesn’t feel like anything is happening. I don’t feel like opening my Bible. I don’t feel like going to church. I don’t feel like singing. These thought simmer and burn. And before long months have gone without opening my Bible or praying.
How many times has this kind of passive stance led to months of spiritual depression? It’s not necessary.
Take up the shield of faith. I don’t feel like reading the Bible, but I believe that the Word of God is nourishment for my soul. I don’t feel like praying it doesn’t feel like anything is happening, but I believe.
Action: take a step of faith.
Read the Bible even if you don’t feel like it. Pray, even when you don’t feel like it.
Take a risk and act on that impulse you have felt for years but not mustered the courage to follow.
5. The Helmet of Salvation
This helmet is a bronze headpiece with sideburns, protecting the brain. Barth: “An inside lining of felt or sponge made the weight bearable. Nothing short of an axe or hammer could pierce a heavy helmet, and in some cases a hinged vizor added frontal protection.”
This salvation is the knowledge of what God has secured for us already: forgiveness of sins, a peace with God, a new nature, a family of brothers and sisters. These are wonderful for our confidence.
Paul references a particular aspect of our salvation in 1 Thessalonians.
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
1 Thessalonians 5:8
There is a future hope of salvation. Knowing the security of my salvation, the certainty of my hope gives me boldness. The Scriptures are filled with beautiful imagery and inspiring promises of the future state of the believer. Knowing these realities is like carrying a helmet – it gives us courage to take risks and dive into combat.
Countless brothers and sisters have leapt head first into the fray of missions, abandoning thoughts of personal safety because they knew where they were going.
Charles Hodge: “that which adorns and protects the Christian, which enables him to hold up his head with confidence and joy, is the fact that he is saved’ and, we might add, that he knows his salvation will be perfected in the end.”
Action: settle your salvation.
Do you know that you are saved? Are you certain of your future reward in heaven?
Many Christians are not. If that includes you, you are missing a vital component of your armor. Would you resolve to settle the question? Make a decision to seek God until you find a settled peace with Him.
You can start by praying for this from Romans:
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
6. The Word of God
The sword here is the gladius, a two foot long short-sword, used for close combat.
It’s the only item in the armory that is offensive as well as defensive.
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is a great demonstration for us of the use of the Sword of the Word in fighting the enemy. With each thrust of temptation from Satan, Jesus parried with the Word of God.
There is power in the Word of God. It is living and active.
That’s why we preach expository sermons at Vintage. Verses aren’t footnotes to our sermons. The verses are the sermons.
I remind everyone who preaches, “it’s not the preaching of the Word, it’s the Word preached that has power to change a soul for eternity.”
Action 1: Develop a plan for daily reading
Action 2: Memorize. (Take!)
I want to say it again, not to discourage you, but to inspire you. We are not talking about optional efforts for those who want to grow as Christians. We are talking about war.
The Christian at war does not read the Bible to check off the “Quiet Time” box on the good Christian list. They do it to arm themselves for war. They do it for their spouse. They do it for their children. They do it for the unbeliever next door.
There is such tremendous power to be gained from memorizing Scripture!
Bonus item: Prayer
Paul does not give us a piece of armor corresponding to prayer, but adds it to the list nonetheless.
Notice that this prayer is “in the Spirit”. It is prayer that is inspired by the Spirit. It is prayer that comes from an attitude of surrendering and listening to the Holy Spirit. It is the kind of prayer the Spirit steps in to offer when we are at the end of our own prayers.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
Paul gives us 4 qualities of prayer in the spirit: at all times, with all prayer and supplication, with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
All the time.
All types of prayer.
All perseverance – never quitting.
For all the saints.
This is the regular Christian life.
He’s talking to you Christian.
One reason your brother across the aisle over here hasn’t been delivered yet from addiction? You’re not praying for him. And when you start, your prayer may become the catalyst that sets him free.
I wonder if Paul had in mind the imagery of the Roman Phalanx – a group of soldiers aligned in a tight formation, with shields in front and shields overhead. Impenetrable to the assaults of the enemy.
What if a church looked like that? What if we stood together like that? What if we prayed for one another and fought for one another like that.
Action Point #1: Make a list of 5 people to pray for.
Action Point #2: Never ignore an impulse to pray.
You might be driving to the store this week and someone comes to mind. Pray for them. That may be the Spirit.
You may be at lunch with a friend who expresses a need or an opportunity. You may say, “I’ll pray for that.” Why not pray now?
Christian, we are at war.
Your heart is at stake. Your faith is at stake. Your marriage is at stake. Your kids are at stake. Your brothers and sisters are at stake. Your neighbor is at stake.
Be strong! Be strong! Stand firm.
You may feel inadequate. That’s not important. You may feel that you have dropped the ball. That’s not the point! Jesus stands in your defense.
Forget the past, rise up in His strength and fight!
Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown