2016-5-08 Our Spiritual Battle

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          May 8, 2016

“Our Spiritual Battle”
Text: Ephesians 6:10-20

One week, during the summer of 2010, my family joined others in a great big family vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains above Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  We agreed to attend Sunday morning worship at Pigeon Forge United Methodist Church, where the incumbent pastor (himself with Presbyterian roots) declared among other things, “There’s nothing like being a preacher on Sunday.”  I agreed with him then, and I still do.

Often on the Lord’s Day in the American South—whether in mountains, or piedmont, or coastal plain—we enjoy a beautiful day.  No matter the day’s physical beauty, the day brings extra blessing via opportunity to worship the Lord and opportunity to enjoy the presence of Christ’s people.  God’s often raises our joy in these spiritual blessings by providing an extra measure of His beauty in creation in our part of the world.

Yet it is too easy, on halcyon days like many a southern Sunday, to forget that we are at war.  We sense this fact, and react to it, but our reactions often are but occasional and slow.  It is true that the war, in one sense, and that a very real sense, is over—and we win, because He wins.  In another sense, though, the battle is both ongoing and fierce.  We need fortification for this conflict, and we find it today in God’s Word to the believing Christian households at Ephesus.  Let us hear God’s Word to us, and may the Spirit speak His Word deep within our souls.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Our text has three heads within it.  First, to restate a portion of our opening remarks, we are engaged in warfare (6:10-13).  Note first who is not our foe: flesh and blood.  The world wars against one another as if one another is the sole opponent.  We know better.  Our fundamental foe lies far behind—or, if you will, far below—the opponent our eyes see.  Though often we must resist evil men and women, let us not wage war against them per se.  Let us wage war against the fundamental foe.

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but we fight against an evil spiritual host.  We fight the devil and his schemes.  We fight the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers over this present darkness.  We fight the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places.  These, taken together, are the evil one and his horde.  Against these, we fight.

We fight the evil host not in our own power (this is ludicrous), but we fight by being strong in the Lord.  We fight by withstanding in the evil day and all it brings—and, after all, by standing firm.  Again, we cannot do these in our strength—and we cannot do it with any panoply we bring.  We fight by putting on the whole armor of God—and this armor effects our strengthening and our standing firm.  Let’s take a closer look at this armor.

The look at this armor constitutes the second head of our text (6:14-17)[1].  We see first three integuments (or “skins,” or coverings).  We see the belt of truth listed first.  This is the armament that holds many of the others together.  Let truth—the truth that is God, that is His Word, and true things in our world—be part and parcel of who we are, in order that we be well armed to contest the foe.  Next is the breastplate of righteousness.  Our right standing before God, and our right conduct before God and humanity, will protect the vital parts of our being against the onslaught of our enemy.  After these are the shoes that comes from the readiness given by the Gospel of peace.  God’s Good News about Jesus announces peace between God and His redeemed.  It also speaks peace to our troubled souls.  It also fosters peace between people—especially between fellow Christians.  This peace enables us to run far and wide proclaiming His Good News, and it protects us from the sharp stubble lain underfoot by the evil one—by which he would cripple our spreading the Gospel.

After these skins, if you will, the Holy Spirit, through Paul, lists two defenses.  We see here the shield of faith, by which we extinguish the fiery (and sticky) darts of the evil one.  Faith in Christ, that is, complete reliance upon Him for rescue from sin’s penalty, power, and (one day) presence, is powerful protection indeed against the evil one in the heat of battle.  Also, we see here the helmet of salvation.  Our salvation—our rescue from hell and our rescue unto Heaven—indeed protects us at the innermost part of our thinking and reasoning.  Though the knocks in the battle be hard—and perhaps inflicted high upon our frames—nevertheless we are protected by so great a salvation, not to mention the One Who effects it and offers it.

All of the weapons listed so far may be thought of as being defensive in nature.  Now we come to the one offensive weapon in the panoply: the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  This Word, sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12), both cuts the believer (or those who become so in time) in healthy, life-giving ways, and cuts the legions of doom to utter eternal misery.  We do well to take this Word into our souls via reading, hearing preaching and teaching, and the like.  We do well to meditate upon it.  We do well to do this over the major course of our lives.  Then not only do we have an offensive weapon, but we become an offensive weapon in the hand of God.

Note that of all the body, only one area lies unprotected: the back.  Therefore, let us ever face the foe: even if in temporarily retreat (forced or tactical).  Remember Who is for us, and we will not shrink before him who exalts himself against us.

Third, with the fact and armaments of our warfare now established and described, we now come to the realm of our warfare: prayer (6:18-20).  We do not fight the evil one with gunpowder and the like.  We fight him on our knees.  We do this with all prayers and pleas—with urgent heat because of our great need.  We do this in the Spirit, that is, in the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit—God with us in this age.  We pray and plead at every opportune time.  We cannot pray constantly, and we ought not pray never.  Yet at every critical or significant opportunity, we are to pray and to plead with God.  We are to do this with alertness.  So often our prayers, and our praying, are sluggish.  We need, as the disciples needed at Gethsemane, to be roused to greater alertness and fervency in prayer.  Finally, we pray for the bold, clear proclamation of the Gospel.  The evil one would silence the Gospel preacher, but, should that fail, he will make every effort to confuse the hearer.  Let us pray for bold, clear Gospel presentation—and let us pray for favorable response to that presentation.

Today is Mother’s Day—a Sunday filled with fond affection for our mothers and the mothers in our lives.  This is, for most of us most years, a peaceful day.  Yet remember, even on this peaceful day, we are yet at war.  We are in a war whose outcome is decided—and that decisively in our favor—yet that war continues to rage.  Let us be properly engaged in that war, then–standing firm, wearing and using the whole armor of God, and praying always in the Spirit.

AMEN.

[1] The grouping of these armaments rises from the commentary on Ephesians 6:16 in Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (1871. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961).

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