i am a member of a congregation in kearney, missouri. i found the sermon this sunday to be the most interesting. and i’d like your feedback. i print the entire sermon as it was given to the congregation. many thanks to my friend mike coglan. ..
Retired General Fred Franks was the subject of and the co-author of a book with the late Tom Clancy called, Into The Storm: A Study of Command. Not to be confused with General Tommy Franks, Fred Franks was the commander of ground forces in the first Gulf War. His leadership is given much credit for the sweeping and overwhelming victory of coalition forces had in the 1991 conflict.
Clancy focused on Fred Franks as an unlikely hero. He is a short man with a mild temperament. He lost a leg to a land mine in Viet Nam. He’s one of only a very few men who were able to continue to serve as commanders after having a limb amputated. But he is a genius in the strategies of warfare.
Two of his distinguishing characteristics are his ability to prepare his forces for battle and his ability to know and understand his enemy. When his armies took the field, they were supplied perfectly with back-up systems in place so that they were never allowed to run out of critical ammunition, fuel and equipment. He was a logistical genius who could foresee breakdowns in supply lines and vulnerabilities to troops being cut off. Franks also worked hard to make sure that there was a special camaraderie in his troops —he wanted them to know and care for each other because he knew that friends watch each other’s backs. When these men took the battlefield, they were mentally prepared; they were a team and they had all the equipment they could need.
But perhaps Franks’ most distinguishing ability was to know his enemy. He drilled it into the men that their enemy was ruthless and cruel and would use every opportunity to kill them. He insisted that his men make themselves believe that the enemy was resourceful, prepared, deceptive and merciless. They will not hesitate to make orphans of your children. They will not miss the opportunity to widow your spouse. They will not fight according to any rules of fairness and they seek nothing but to destroy you.
He told his men that the goal of war was to win as quickly and overwhelmingly as possible. They could not afford to be sensitive to the enemy, nor allow the enemy to regroup and regather their confidence. Once the bullets were flying the most merciful thing that could be done was to win quickly. Any additional time on the clock means more lost lives. When it’s life and death, it’s not a game.
Franks drilled this into his men until he was sure that they believed it. In this final section of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives us the same message. Please turn to Ephesians 6. In this short letter, Paul has explained the mystery of the church and responsibilities of each follower of Christ. Now he underlines his teaching with a warning on the nature of war.
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For 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. 13Therefore 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. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And 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.
19Pray 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,20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Paul begins with a call to duty:
Be Strong and Stand Your Ground (6:10-13)
Paul warns of an ongoing struggle throughout life. “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” he says in v. 10. Life is not easy; in fact we are going to face the “devil’s schemes” (v. 11). In order for believers to “stand,” or hold their post against the waves of diabolical attacks, he commands us to “put on the full armor of God.”
We will “struggle” says Paul in v. 12. He uses a word that means hand-to-hand combat. But this combat is not hand-to-hand. It is “not against flesh and blood.” Human beings are not the ultimate enemy of the gospel and the church. Humans may be the instruments of battle, but the enemy is spiritual in nature.
Paul assumes that his readers have some understanding of the enemy. Many or most of the Ephesians are former pagans, and they don’t have a background in the Old Testament. But he doesn’t have to convince them that there are spiritual beings in the world. They’ve seen black magic. They’ve seen the supernatural. When they came to Christ, they realized that the gods they formerly worshiped were really spiritual beings called angels.
They learned that God created angels, but a long time ago some of them rebelled against God. The scriptures describe the leader of the rebellion as an angel named Satan, or the devil. He is a real being who fought a real war in heaven according to Revelation 12. Jesus called him a murderer and the father of lies in John 8. He deceived some of God’s angels to follow him, and together they deceive humans today.
These spiritual foes are strategic and organized. Paul said there are “rulers,” there are “authorities,” and there are “powers,” and they’re all coming for us. These “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” are disciplined and they want to kill us. They will not hesitate to destroy your home, your marriage, your children and your career. They will entice you to sin, and then use your sin to destroy your reputation. They will bring famine to your fields, they will bring recession to your industry, and they will impoverish you if they can.
Just like General Franks, Paul said know your enemy. And Peter said the same thing:
Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
(1 Peter 5:8)
Your enemy is invisible, resourceful, seductive and bloodthirsty. Don’t be lulled into thinking he’s not there. When your guard is down is when you are most vulnerable. Paul wanted us to believe that the devil will exploit any weakness to neutralize us and destroy us. Ephesians has been called the handbook on spiritual warfare. Take it seriously.
Our battle is not against flesh and blood. When a home is attacked; when a marriage fails; when children rebel against their parents – we are not fighting against a human enemy. Know the real enemy and be prepared.
A second time Paul warns to put on “full armor” in v. 13 so that “when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground”—that is, to successfully resist the enemy and maintain your territory. So he says check your equipment.
Check Your Equipment (6:14-18)
In verse 14-18, Paul describes in detail the equipment needed for the battle. Paul was in prison under a Roman guard when he wrote these words. Every day he observed the weapons and armor worn by a trained professional soldier. They became an appropriate metaphor for tools of a spiritual war.
As we study this passage, note the connection between the type of armor listed and the nature of the spiritual warfare. Six specific pieces of armor are listed, including both offensive and defensive weapons. He lists them in the order that a soldier would actually put them on. With each of these securely in place the believer is to “stand firm”:
The first weapon is the “belt of truth.” This belt wrapped the first layer of a soldier’s garments. Both the breastplate and the sword were attached to this belt, which also protected the soldier’s heart and vital organs. A soldier at ease might move about with his belt lose for comfort, but then the belt “buckled” it meant that the soldier was ready to fight.
Paul said that our “belt” is the “truth” which is found in the gospel of Christ. The foundation of all our armor is knowledge of and belief in the Word of God. If you aren’t confident and growing in the truth, then the rest of the armor won’t be much use. Truth supports all the other weapons and withstands the lies of the devil that are always aimed at the heart of the follower of Christ.
The second weapon is the “breastplate,” a large vest that covered the body from the neck to the thighs and consisted of two principle parts. One shielded the front of the body and the other the back. The soldier in Christ’s army has a breastplate of “righteousness,” surrounding us on all sides by sound character and obedience to the God’s laws. This is a righteousness that belongs first to Christ, whose perfect obedience to God’s law is the basis for our forgiveness and transformation. His sacrifice made it possible for us to become righteous.
The third weapon is the footwear. Roman soldier wore heavy shoes specially designed for battle. To have them “fitted” meant to strap them on tightly so as to guarantee sure footing. Some soldiers would drive nails through the soles of their shoes to increase traction. To fall in battle meant death. Our shoes are “the gospel of peace.” We stand firm in the midst of chaos because of the peace of the gospel.
This peace is the experience of a deep union with God and a confidence in His plans. No soldier is more dangerous than when he is not afraid to die. This is only the case when he or she is at peace with God and eternity.
The fourth weapon is the shield. The soldier’s shield was an oblong piece of wood measuring 4 x 2 ½ feet. It was designed to protect the vital organs of the body. To make it more impenetrable, it was covered with thick leather and soaked with water so even flaming arrows would be extinguished. Romans learned that soldiers abandoned their shields when hit with fire
Ours is a “shield of faith,” and it too can withstand flaming arrows. This faith is a complete dependence upon God. A believer must find his or her security in the power and trustworthiness of God. The enemy will send figurative “arrows” that flame with doubts and fears, temptations and tribulation, and a host of other such attacks. When we get hit we cannot put down our shield.
The fifth weapon is the helmet. Romans constructed helmets of bronze and leather flaps to cover the cheeks and lower side of the face. Inside, the helmet was lined with sponge so that its heavy weight would be more bearable. The helmet was so sturdy that nothing short of an axe could penetrate its outer surface.
Our helmet is “salvation.” It’s the gift of eternal life from God. No matter what happens in any given battle we face, no matter what the short term outcome is, we are secure in God’s eternal love and protection. The victory is already won and our destiny is set. With this helmet we face only those who can harm our body.
The final weapon is the sword. The only offensive weapon in the soldier’s possession was the famous Roman sword. Perfected by centuries of experience, the Roman sword was shorter than enemy swords, but more mobile and deadly in the hands of a trained soldier.
Our “sword” is “of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit supplies and empowers this weapon, but Paul states that the weapon specifically is the “word of God.” This is a great symbol for using the Bible. We don’t fight like the enemies of Rome with brute force. We rely on the power of the Spirit. We don’t use blunt instruments like axes and clubs. The word of God is a double-edged sword that requires study and practice to be used effectively.
When the devil attacked Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4, he used the Bible to tempt Jesus. Only Jesus’ knowledge of Scripture was able to turn aside the blows. But he didn’t strike the devil back. That day will come as predicted in repeatedly in the New Testament. This war is going to end someday. When it does, Jesus will be the conqueror.
Each of these weapons represents an essential truth of the gospel itself. Spiritual warfare is a battle for truth; it begins with truth and ends with the source of truth. Satan’s most powerful weapon is the lie, more specifically, false doctrine. He used in the Garden of Eden. He used it in the desert against Jesus. He uses it in churches that abandon the Word of God. He will use it against anyone who does not take care to practice and train with the sword.
In the next section, Paul implores us that as soldiers, we need to watch each other’s backs. He says we must pray for each other.
Pray for Others (6:18-20)
In verses 18-20, Paul calls the church to continual, consistent, and fervent prayer. We are to “pray in the Spirit,” that is, to pray under the prompting, leadership, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
We are to pray, “at all times.” Pray morning, noon and night; pray while you’re driving, pray in the shower, pray while you jog. When you hear an ambulance siren, stop and pray. When you get a prayer request, stop now and pray, not later. Pray continually, Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
Pray “with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Don’t stop and wonder if your prayer is too small. God won’t be bothered. Pray for the big things and the small things. Pray for things near and far. Pray for the future and the present. Don’t be frugal with prayer. God loves the voices of his children, so just pray.
Paul said, “be alert;” be watchful for every opportunity to pray. Paul said prayer is always urgent. He was echoing the master’s instructions from Luke 21:36,
36Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Again, the war will end someday and we’ll all see Christ return. When he does, he wants to find us fighting and praying for the Kingdom. So, “always keep on praying for all the saints.” One of the great signs of a healthy church is that members pray for each other.
Finally Paul says pray for me too. Pray that words may be given to me. Pray that I can witness even to this big sweaty soldier that brings me my food. I’m an ambassador in chains, you know.
Paul’s request here is very touching. Even in prison he was looking for a chance to win someone to Christ. And he was utterly dependant on God for the success of his teaching and evangelistic ministry. Clearly, his confidence was not in his knowledge, strength, or strategy, but in the sovereign God who called him to apostleship.
Paul wanted to speak in ways that brought glory to God and clearly communicated the message of salvation. Twice he says he wants to speak, “fearlessly.” Why would Paul pray for courage? This man was imprisoned three times, beaten by mobs, stoned and shipwrecked. Few men ever showed so much courage.
I picture a man who knows he is going to die. Paul is in his 60s now, and he’s beginning to think maybe I’m too old for this. He probably knew that Rome wasn’t going to let him go a fourth time. Soon he’ll be writing his last words to his favorite disciple Timothy: “I fought the good fight, I finished the race, I kept the faith. … The time has come for my departure.”
He knows the axe is coming. He knows that sooner or later, he’ll be led out to a courtyard and beheaded. But this is the way of war, and Paul wants to go down swinging.
Having finished the instructions of the letter, Paul turns to some final important details. First he makes an introduction of the man named Tychicus who is to deliver the letter, and he concludes this letter with a blessing for all his readers.
As we move to communion, let this blessing be your meditation as you examine your life. Please bow your heads and receive this blessing. After a moment of silence, I will invite you to the table of grace.
23Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.