Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 6: 10-24 The Armour of God

Have you ever seen the old TV programme ‘Dad’s Army’? It’s set in the second world war, in the town of Walmington-on-Sea and follows the exploits of the Home Guard as they await the invasion of Britain by the Germans. Alongside the main characters of Captain Mainwaring, Wilson, Jones and Pike, one of the minor characters is Hodges, the ARP warden, watching out for air raids. He’s very fussy, making sure there are no lights during a blackout, nothing to guide the bombers. Very often, he comes out with his catchphrase: Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Those same words could be addressed to us today: Don’t you know there’s a war on? But we’re not talking about the ongoing wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. We’re not thinking about the other places where there is conflict in the world. Rather, it’s a war that has been raging from the start of creation. Verse 12, Paul says that it’s not a struggle against blood and flesh - we don’t take up arms like in the crusades of old, we’re not fighting for territory - ‘but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ The enemies of God are our enemies. As we join God’s team, we’re in the firing line for God’s enemies. Don’t you know there’s a war on?

Now immediately when we speak of spiritual forces of evil or the devil you might think that it’s all nonsense. But the Bible tells us about the devil, his life’s work is to steal and kill and destroy; he stands in opposition to God and his work. The devil has almost convinced the western world that he doesn’t exist (or at least is only to be thought of as a cartoon figure of fun) - this is just one of the ‘wiles of the devil’ (11). He doesn’t want to see churches grow; people saved; lives turned around. He’s out to oppose us. He knows his time is short, and so wants to do as much damage as he can.

His time is short because of what the Lord Jesus has already done. In World War Two, the decisive battle was the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. Once the British and American army gained a foothold on the continent, Hitler’s army was sure to be defeated. Yet there was almost another full year before the war ended (6th June 1944 - 8th May 1945). The battle was won, but the war continued. In a similar way, Jesus has already won the war. The cross was the decisive battle. Victory is sure - we saw this in 1:20 - ‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion...’ Satan knows he is defeated, and so is out to do as much as he can before the end.

You might even be thinking, well, it’s ok for Jesus - he’s in heaven, but it’s us that has to face Satan. Are we helpless or hopeless? Not at all. Paul tells us what we need to do, and what we have to do it.

‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,’ Our strength comes not from ourselves, but from God. That same power we’ve seen throughout Ephesians is the power that God gives us to be strong. But more than that, we are to ‘Put on the whole armour of God...’

Paul was writing this letter in prison, probably in Rome. He was constantly in the company of soldiers, chained to them, so he had plenty of time to think about their armour. But in the Old Testament, we find some of these pieces - the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation (Is 59:17). Each piece of the armour is for protection - God’s truth wrapped around you; the righteousness of Christ guarding your heart; God’s salvation protecting your head; ready to go with the good news; faith as a shield against the flaming arrows of the evil one. The whole armour represents all that God provides for us in salvation, and is God’s protection for us in life.

Alongside all these defensive pieces, though, there is just one weapon: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. We don’t take up physical weapons against the enemy, but the word of God, the Bible, is what we wield.

Perhaps you’re attacked by a flaming arrow shot by the enemy. “You’re not good enough for God. Just look at your heart, how sinful your thoughts.” The flames are quenched by the shield of faith - we know we’re not good enough, but we believe in the Lord Jesus, his death on the cross, where he took our sin and gave us his righteousness - the arrow is stopped, we can attack with the sword as we believe God’s word and stand on it.

God gives us his own armour, and in a passage like this, it’s probably the thing that we want to focus on - maybe that’s just a little boy thing, thinking about soldiers and armour and weapons. But it’s important to see that God has given us something else as well - as vital as the armour - something we neglect at our peril.

You see, when we think about the armour of God, it’s almost always thinking about it on our own. You imagine yourself, as you awake, maybe in the shower, maybe as you’re pulling on your clothes, thinking about the armour of God, asking God to be with you in the day, to guard your heart and your mind. It’s mostly as an individual we think of the armour.

But the other thing God gives us reminds us that we’re not in the battle alone. We’re not the lone ranger, having to fight on our own. We’re not even the gallant prince in a fairy story having to rescue the princess on our own. We’re soldiers in a battle together in an army; don’t you know there’s a war on, and the church is fighting together. Here’s what Paul says: ‘Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me... that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.’

It’s the furthest thing from just me and my God, isn’t it? Pray at ALL times in EVERY prayer for ALL the saints - we’re in this together. It was seen in the contrast between Holland and Spain in the European Championship - Holland had, on paper, a good team (they put 6 past Northern Ireland in the warm up). Great players, but they were all individuals, they didn’t play together as a team. Spain, on the other hand are a team in their total football pass-a-thon.

Sometimes we forget that Ephesians is a letter, written from Paul to the church in Ephesus. Right at the end, we have the personal bit that we sometimes don’t know what to do with it. Here, it’s another reminder that we’re in this together - one church connected to another, encouraging each other in their faith as they stand together.

We’re called to stand firm, to stand on God’s word, in the armour God has provided. Our task is to pray - for ourselves, for our church family, for all Christians. I really appreciate your prayers too - please do pray for me as I study God’s word and speak his word.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 8th July 2012.

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