The Armour of God

St Barnabas & St Michael’s, March 22nd 2015

Readings – Ephesians 6:10-24, Luke 22:1-13

Have you ever had to write an essay? At school, or on a course? I was taught more than once – nurse training, Reader training, college – that when you write an essay, you need an introduction, the essay itself and a conclusion, or in other words, in that well known saying, Tell them what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said! I suppose the idea is that you are constantly reinforcing the message you want to put across.

We have come to our final reading in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. And although he was writing a letter rather than an essay, still Paul uses that same technique of repetition. 6:1 …

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (6:1)

We heard a lot about power in Chapter 1 … in chapter 1 Paul says,

(18) I pray … that you may know … (19) his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength (20) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms …

So when we come to chapter 6:1, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, we understand what the power is that Paul is talking about … a power so great it raised Jesus from the tomb … and in chapter 1 Paul goes on to describe it as a power that is stronger than any other power in this world or the next. Read on in chapter 1 …

(19) That power is like the working of (God’s) mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion … (1:19-21)

So look back now at chapter 6:12

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.

So Paul’s conclusion is that the power that raised Jesus from the dead, is available to us … but not simply for our day to day existence.

If I were to ask you where you live out your faith as a Christian, I am sure you would say … everywhere!

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(c) Dave Walker

Wherever we are, Christ is at work in us and through us – reaching out to those around us.

But Paul tells us there is another dimension to our faith … and we’ve heard about it a couple of times already … look back again at 6:12,

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

We’ve already read that phrase this morning, back in chapter 1:20,

(19) That power is like the working of (God’s) mighty strength, (20) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion … (1:19-21)

But that’s not the first time Paul used that phrase in this letter … look at chapter 1:3 … after his opening greeting to the church, Paul’s first words are these …

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

As we live out our faith in our daily lives, Paul tells us that there is something else, something greater going on. And if you think that’s daunting, look at 6:11,

Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

This is not an optional battle we can choose to avoid. We cannot simply keep our heads down and our hands clean, not getting involved … at least, not if we want to experience all the blessings God has for us … for they too are in the heavenly realms as we read in 1:3 … so when Paul tells us to put on the armour of God, he is quite simply encouraging us to make use of the gifts God has already given us …

What are those gifts? As we read about the armour, we also learn about those things that God considers important in our lives … 6:14-17,

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Truth, righteousness, the gospel or good news of peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

These are all spiritual gifts from God, so let’s take a closer, if brief, look at each of them …

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The belt of truth … holds everything else together … it anchors the breastplate to stop it flapping around, holds up the kilt, and the sword sheath hangs from it. Truth is essential, central.

The breastplate of righteousness … protects the heart and all the vital organs. We are righteousness only through our relationship with God in Jesus.

Shoes fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. It’s a clumsy phrase, isn’t it? But it seems to me that the idea is about flexibility … the readiness we have to take the good news of Jesus anywhere it’s needed, to anyone that needs it. And while we are talking about warfare, the aim is peace … we are fighting in order to bring others to know how to find peace with God through the gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The shield of faith. Now, this is where it gets interesting … so far, the image has been of an individual soldier, putting on his armour piece by piece.

But you know how a Roman soldier used his shield … this shield was designed for use in battle. It is large and inflexible, unwieldy, of little use to a soldier on his own (that’s why there is another, smaller shield for use in the arena, where full armour isn’t usually worn) … but when the battle shield is used in formation …

Testudo_formation

This is the testudo, or tortoise! This formation was essential to Roman superiority in battle. It’s a mistake to think we can stand alone as a believer, or to imagine our own faith is enough to keep us strong, secure in our relationship with God.

The next item might surprise you, too … the helmet of salvation. What is the point of the helmet? Well, obviously to protect the head. But the plume on a helmet also tells everyone which cohort or regiment you belong to …

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A bit like the Foot Guards and Household Cavalry regiments today – when we see them at the Trooping of the Colour every year, we can tell which regiment is which by the distinctive plume on their helmet. So the helmet of salvation not only acts as protection, but also as identification … everybody can see that we belong to God – and that we also belong to each other.

And the final item, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The Holy Spirit has many roles, not least that of inspiring people across the centuries to write what we now call the Bible. And we believe the Bible is God’s word to believers in every age, that it speaks as clearly now as it did when it was written, and that it has power to change people’s lives. But Paul has already spoken about the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer back in chapter 1:14 …

Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, (14) who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance …

The Holy Spirit is God’s presence in our lives … he is our permanent link with God day by day. That’s why Paul asks us in 6:18 to pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests. It’s as if – in keeping with the analogy of being the army of God – it’s as if the Holy Spirit is our link to HQ … through him we receive orders,report victories and pass on all kinds of requests for help or supplies.

So far this morning, we’ve heard about …

– the power of God at work in us

– the enemy we face

– the heavenly battlefield

– the armour and weapons available to us

– the Holy Spirit who lives within us

But before we finish, there are a couple of other things to notice as we come to the end of this letter …

This imagery of a spiritual battle might appear daunting but for one thing. Look again at chapter 1:20, we’ve read it a couple of times already this morning …

(19) That power is like the working of (God’s) mighty strength, (20) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms … (1:19-21)

To be seated at God’s right hand tells us two things, that Christ’s work is done, finished, complete, and that he has the place of honour beside his Father. But look now at chapter 2:6 …

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms …

This is more than a promise for the future … even now, with all our faults and failings, God treats us like his precious, victorious Son … we are seated, in Christ, at God’s right hand, the place of honour. Of course, there is a future dimension to this truth, but it’s as if God is saying, It is certain! It is already done, in Christ!

Finally, and that is my finally, not Paul’s! Our last thought as we come to the end of our series in Ephesians is Paul’s aim throughout the letter. As in any essay, Paul has used repetition to emphasise his point … we have taken a close look today at chapters 1 and 6, but you can follow these themes throughout this Ephesian letter … in fact, you will find many of them in his other letters too.

Everything Paul wrote to the Ephesian church builds up to this one last instruction … chapter 6:11,

Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

And once again, Paul uses repetition to make his point … 6:13-14,

Therefore put on the full armour 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. Stand firm then …

Take your stand … stand your ground … stand … Stand firm. It couldn’t be more clear … all that is asked of us is that we stand firm in faith, in Christ. Our role is simply to declare Christ to all around us, wherever God has placed us, together with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are our Christian family, our unit if you like.

All the talk of spiritual warfare sounds so daunting … but we have been equipped by God with his own power through the Holy Spirit, we have everything we need to stand firm, our place in heaven is secure, we have each other to encourage and strengthen us, and all we are asked to do is stand firm in Christ.

Paul’s final request to the church is that they pray for him to stand firm, so we need to pray for each other, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world … click on the link below for resources …

Praying Around the World

 

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