Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ephesians 6:10-20 Pentecost 15

“Be strong in the Lord, and in his mighty power.”  You’re going to have to be strong, because being a Christian isn’t easy.  We’ve seen that in past weeks, it isn’t easy to control your anger, to make the most of every opportunity, or to be a model of Christian love and submission in your marriage.  Our sinful nature resists Christian life at every step.  We would have enough of a struggle on our hands just with our own sinful nature, but our struggle is not just with ourselves.  We struggle against the devil and the demons—those spiritual forces of evil that are always trying to tear us away from God.
It’s a spiritual version of David and Goliath, and that means you need God’s strength.  When David went out to fight Goliath, he did not rely on his own strength.  He didn’t rely on the armor that Saul wanted to give him either.  None of that would help him against this 9 foot tall giant warrior who carried a spear that had a 15 pound head.  Do you realize that’s like fighting with a sledgehammer?  Now David was a strong and fearless person himself, but if David had relied on his own strength and courage, he would have been crushed.  David’s strength and confidence came from God.  As he marched out to meet the giant, David said, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.”  You know the rest of the story.  God gave David the victory.  With one shot from David’s sling, the mighty giant fell.
We have an enemy more powerful than Goliath.  The most dangerous part is that you don’t even see him.  Most of the time you don’t notice his attacks.  Then, all of the sudden, there he is with all of his horrible power to ruin your life, and he intends to crush your faith too.  He is Satan, the devil.  As strong as you may be, you are not strong enough for this enemy.  That means we need God’s strength even more. But all too often, God is the last one we look to for strength.  We are tempted to leave God’s Word for a different day.  On the other hand, like the Pharisees in the Gospel, we are tempted to become so caught up in the traditions of our religion that we forget how true religion is a matter of the heart, a matter of sin and forgiveness.  We might become proud of ourselves as God’s soldiers, and forgetful of the battle.
Listen again to these words of our God from the apostle Paul:
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.
19 Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Ephesians 6:10-20

Theme: Be Strong

1.     Not in yourself
2.     Not in the world
3.     But in the Lord

1.     Not in yourself
What if David would have taken Saul’s armor and marched out to fight the giant?  Or what if he would have used his sling without putting his trust in God?  He would have been crushed.
What if you march out to fight the devil on your own strength?  You might think you’re strong enough to avoid murder and adultery and theft, but the devil isn’t going to attack you where you are strong.  He fights dirty.  He gets you where you are weak.  He is tricky.  He attacks you with things that you want to do.  He tempts you most with the sins that come easy to you.  He is going to take you down.
In those areas where we try hardest to be good, the devil attacks.  When you are trying to be a loving and patient person, the devil may stir up the other person to be critical and harsh.  Your love and patience wear away and your anger boils over—the devil has brought you down.
If you are trying to be a helpful person, the devil may bring an endless line of needy people with all their demands.  He whispers in your ear that no one stops to care about your needs.  Your helpfulness weakens and you react selfishly. The devil has brought you down.
You can feel strong as ever, but all it takes is the right trigger.  The devil knows what it is, and he takes you down so you fall into your sin—into your anger or your selfishness perhaps.  He can push you back into the bottle of booze that you worked so hard to crawl out of.  Then he will push your face down into the mud of your sin, and ask you how God could ever love a piece of scum like you.
As you fall to temptations, you may become discouraged, and distance yourself from the Word of God because of the shame you feel for not living up to God’s standard.  You will soon be all alone with your great enemy.
The devil wants to have you all alone, separated from God, and then he will bring the day of evil that Paul wrote about.  He may afflict you with a series of horrible tragedies like he did to Job, and that tell you that this is happening because God doesn’t love you.  Or, he might afflict you with a series of successes, so that you forget your faith and your God.  In either case, when you are on your own relying on your own strength, the devil wins and you go to hell.
2.     Not in the world’s strength
When you notice how the devil is tearing apart your life, you might turn to the help that the world can give you to fix your problems.  You might tell yourself that the self-help books can give you a stable, successful life, a stronger marriage, or make you a better parent, and then you will be able to stand up to the devil’s attacks.  But be careful—those books may be useful, but don’t put your confidence in them to protect you from the devil’s attacks.  The devil can use self-help books too!
The devil can attack by making those books successful, because the devil may see that you are relying on strength that you have apart from God, and he may encourage you by stopping the troubles.  After all, he has led you away from God.   He has you right where he wants you, alone, where he can bring the real attack on your faith.  He whispers in your ear that you don’t need God at all.  Many a person has fallen away because they found strength in a self-help book instead of God.
Or, the devil might attack by making sure those books don’t work for you. He knows how to find a new trigger for your anger or your addiction.  He can send all your grand plans for wealth into a stock market train wreck.  He might take away all hope for you to improve yourself, and bring you down into a depression.  Then he brings the real attack; he whispers in your ear that God isn’t helping you.  Many have fallen away from God because they figured he wasn’t helping them.  The truth is that the devil had tricked them, so that they weren’t using God.
3.     Be strong in the Lord.
God has given you armor.  When Paul wrote about this protection that God has given you, he was probably in prison in Rome.  In prison he saw the Roman soldiers, probably every day, and admired the strength of their armor.  In that Roman soldiers armor, he found a comparison with the armor God has given you for your battle against the devil.  God has given you a belt, like the one that protected the Roman soldier’s midsection.  Paul called it the belt of truth.   Because your enemy the devil is a liar and the father of lies, God has given you the truth in his Word, the Bible.  Know it well so that you will recognize the devil’s temptations.
God has given you a breastplate.   The devil is going to wear you down and tempt you to sin, and then stab for your heart with the accusation that God can’t love you.  God has given you a breastplate to deflect that stab—He has given you righteousness.  Not the kind of perfection that comes from you doing everything right, but the kind of perfection that comes to you with Christ, because Christ was perfect for you.  Christ’s righteousness covers you, and the devil’s accusations bounce off.
God has given you shoes.  A soldier needs good shoes, so that he will be able to run quickly into battle.  God has given you shoes—he has given you the peace of knowing that your sins are forgiven, so that you will be strong and swift to meet the devil’s temptations.
God has given you a shield.  Now the shield Paul was talking about is the large Roman shield—when the enemy’s archers fired a volley of arrows, the soldier could hide his whole body behind this shield.  This shield for you is the faith God has given you.  God has given you the mind to believe everything he has said in Scripture, and when you believe everything in Scripture, it forms a full body shield around you.  There is no gap for the devil’s arrows to reach you.
God has given you a helmet in the salvation Christ has won for you.  Even if the devil would find a way to strike a blow, your salvation prevents him from striking a fatal blow.   You have heaven.  You have been saved from your sins by Jesus’ death.  You will live forever with God.
God has also given you a weapon to take on the attack against the devil.  Your sword is the Bible.  With the words of the Bible you wield the power of the Holy Spirit against the devil’s lies and accusations.  You can come to the defense of others who are being attacked. 
Finally, like a soldier under attack who calls for reinforcements, pray to God.  Christ is the commander of this army.  He will strengthen your armor.  He will give you courage.  “He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways,” says Psalm 91.  He will send other Christians to stand by you and fight with you too.

Like David facing Goliath, God’s strength is the only armor that will help you.  You don’t have the strength within yourself to stand alone and face the devil.  You won’t find that strength in the world, either.  To face these spiritual forces of evil, you need spiritual armor, which only God can give.  Especially you men,, who consider yourselves the protectors of your family and leaders of the congregation.  Don’t let the women be the only ones who read and study their Bibles.  Are you going to defend your wife and children when the devil attacks or not?   Arm yourself with what God has done in Christ, and what God has said in his Word.  When the battle is fierce, be like a soldier calling for reinforcements, and pray to God.  Be strong in the Lord.  Amen.