Equipped By God to Stand Firm in These Evil Days (Ephesians 6:10-20)
The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (August 29, 2021)
What is the greatest threat you and I face today? Is it radical Islamic terrorism from such groups as the Taliban or Isis? Is it drugs and gangs pouring in to our country through our southern border? Is it the aggressive and expansionistic actions of China? Is it the Deep State or a feckless and incompetent President? Or, as the ever present environmental alarmists continue to insist, is the gravest threat to the world’s population today global warming, or climate change, or whatever the latest term being employed to refer to the environmental Armageddon they insist we are heading for?
I do not want to engage today in the polemics of crying wolf and sounding the alarm against all these supposed evil threats we face. That is for the political pundits to do and to debate. But I am here today to add my voice to that of the apostle Paul and sound the alarm against the most sinister of all dangers we face. The terrors of 9-11 or even a worldwide ecological disaster pale in comparison to this grave threat. This real, and truly grave threat, is to have our faith in Jesus Christ destroyed to the end that we lose our God and Savior, as well as, our eternal salvation! This indeed would be the greatest evil we could ever experience!
The stakes are too high for you and me to be in any way apathetic, ignorant, or indifferent to this threat. The consequences are eternal. It is imperative that you and I know and comprehend the diabolical power and plan of the enemy that has declared war on us, lest we underestimate him. It is also crucial to our defense to know where our power to fight this enemy stems from.
In order to be successful in any battle, one must first recognize who the enemy truly is and, then, have a deep-seated awareness and appreciation for the enemy’s capabilities.
If you and I are to win the eternal struggle we face with the ultimate enemy, then we need to realistically size up his ability, resolve and resourcefulness.
First, who is our enemy? He is not mere flesh and blood. He is not like you and me. He has no human limitations or weaknesses for he is not human! He is Diabolos, the devil, the ancient serpent, the very one who duped our first parents into rebellion against God … the same one who was bold enough to even tempt Jesus to do his biding and turn from God. He is rightly called Satan, which means enemy. He is God’s enemy and as a consequence, the enemy of all who are born of God.
Accordingly, Paul warns his readers that we must stand against the devil’s schemes. The devil is not simply ambivalent toward you and me. He schemes to do you and me in. The Greek word translated schemes stems from a root word that forms the basis of our English word methodologies. The devil has developed methods to carry out his goal with regard to us. And dear friend, know this, the devil has one goal and one goal only. It is that you and I fall away from faith, turn way from God and His truth, and turn to serve him by serving ourselves. Jesus warned the apostle Peter concerning the devil’s intentions toward him, saying, “He has designed your fall.”
Many in our world today are playing a dangerous game. They operate as though the devil is simply a figment of human imagination, or a concoction of religious zealots to scare people into believing in God. Even those who do acknowledge that the devil is a real entity of evil, seem to think they are some how immune to his evil power and influence. They play with his fiery flames of temptation, thinking they are strong enough to resist them and not get burned. So they continue to place themselves in those situations that tempt them to indulge their fleshly lusts or play around with the Satanic arts.
How foolish, naïve and reckless we sometimes can be! We actually think that by our own intelligence, resourcefulness and strength we can overcome this one, who was originally created as an archangel of God… who has no qualms about challenging God, or even, as we see several times in Holy Scripture, is bold enough to come into the very presence of God!
But especially as Christians, it is time to wake up and smell the coffee! As baptized children of God, members of the body of Christ, we are public enemy number 1 to the devil. He is like the terrorist leaders who make no qualms about their intentions.
We are literally in hand-to-hand combat all the time with this one who has designed our fall. To carry out his schemes the devil also employs his minions, rulers, authorities, worldly powers, and even spiritual entities of wickedness in the heavenly places. We have no cause to be naïve. If our battle was against flesh and blood we could employ human, physical, weapons against our enemy. The devil’s tentacles extend everywhere. He uses people of influence and power… worldly rulers…the forces of nature… demons in the spiritual realm… even godly, churchly, people all to do his bidding.
The devil’s greatest power, however, is not sheer strength. Oh, yes, he possesses the ability through his minions to torture our bodies, destroy our health, and even kill our bodies, if God so allows him. But the greatest weapon in the devil’s arsenal is falsehood. He is, after all, the father of lies…the deceiver. If he were to come to us looking like some grotesque figure, with horns on his head and carrying a pitchfork, as he is so often portrayed, we would instinctively recoil from him and flee.
But, no, the devil’s modus operandi is that he comes to us as an angel of light. He comes as a beautiful woman… a kindly grandmother…a wise and gentle old man…an innocently looking child…a person of public stature and respect…a scientist with a whole room full of degrees… a distinguished churchman or theologian. Through their mouths he spews out his lies to seduce us into doubt and disbelief. He came to Adam and Eve not as a slithering, forked-tongued, dirt eating snake. That is what the serpent became after the devil used it to deceive our first parents in paradise. Originally, the serpent was a beautiful creature of the garden, one Adam and Eve had no fear of. And through this creature the devil duped them into doubting God’s Word… to question God’s sincerity and integrity…and to trust their own reason rather than the clear word of God.
Yet, despite the diabolical intent and power of our enemy, Paul exhorts us to stand firm.
But how can we do that, after all, we are only flesh and blood, aren’t we? We are only weak mortals. Yes, but we have the most powerful force in the universe on our side. Literally, Paul says, “be empowered in the Lord…and in the power of His Strength.”
You see, the devil is a diabolical schemer… He is a being of great power. But the truth is he is but a mere creature, a lying creature at that. The truth is, even though the devil was able to deceive our primordial parents into disobedience and make their lives a living hell, he was not able to destroy their souls. The truth is God in His grace gave to Adam and Eve, as well as all of us, their descendants, a full and eternal rescue from our sin and all its consequences. The truth is God’s eternal truth became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ to defeat the devil. This Seed of the woman, who is also God’s own Son, suffered the righteous punishment due all sinners. He atoned for Adam and Eve’s sin, as well as the sins of the whole world.
The truth is that even when the devil does succeed in duping us into temptation and sin, where and when there is repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, God extends His forgiveness to the sinner that he may not die in his unrighteousness and unholiness but live in righteous and purity forever.
When we fail to listen to God’s Word or heed the truth it tells us, then we are sitting ducks for the devil. But when we hold on in faith to God’s Word, the truth does more than set us free. It enables us to defeat the evil one. Even Jesus, the very Son of God, did not depend on His own strength to defend Himself against the devil. When He was tempted, time and time again, He would remind the devil of what God said. He did not let how things appeared to be, nor His human perceptions or desires, nor even the diabolical twisting of the words of God the devil threw at him, to deceive and manipulate Him. Instead, He clung tenaciously to the Word of God and power of its truth.
Without the Word of God and the power of its truth, you and I would stand no chance against falsehood and the methodologies of the devil. But with the Word of God, God has enabled us to not only stand in the face of the devil’s attacks, but to actually defeat him, force him to retreat from us. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” the apostle says (James 4:7). This is because through the Word of God we are outfitted with the armor and weapon of God to be successful in battle.
Not surprisingly then, the very first piece of this armor of God that Paul mentions is the belt of truth which is girded literally around the loins. It is this part of our anatomy that most pictures our vulnerabilities… our subjection to temptation and sin. So we see with Adam and Eve. Their first reaction to their sin, was to feel shame and cover their loins with fig leaves. God would very soon cover them with the skins of an animal, telling them the truth that by a sacrifice their shame, their guilt, their sins would be covered.
Indeed, it is the Word of God, most notably the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that assures us of the Good News that Jesus has atoned for sins and has by His sacrificial blood covered our shame… made us presentable in the eyes of God. No amount of the devil’s pointing to our sins can change the truth that in Jesus Christ our sins stand forgiven and we stand fully clothed in His righteousness.
Accordingly, the next piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness; that is, Christ’s righteousness, which protects us from any and every accusation of the devil. Sure, the devil can and will still try to accuse us. He can find plenty of sins and guilt in our lives to throw back at us. But the Word of Jesus speaks louder, “I have atoned for their sin. Be gone Satan!” As the holy apostle proclaims, “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Ro. 8:33,34).
Now, no matter how good a soldier’s protective armor is, if he is not swift on his feet, he will be easy prey for an enemy who is nimble and quick. There is no denying that the devil in his deviousness is very agile. He can catch up with us anywhere and at any time. But God takes care of that, too, through His Word. He outfits our feet with the readiness of the Gospel of peace. Nothing can get us away from the onslaught of the devil faster than the Good News that in Jesus Christ we have true peace with God. In the blood of Jesus we have no reason to fear His wrath. Where the Gospel is preached and believed the devil must flee.
The truth of God as it is given to us in His Holy, revealed Word, is of no good to us if we don’t trust in it. Righteousness will not protect our heart and life unless faith holds on to Christ’s righteousness. The Gospel is only a coffee table centerpiece unless we stand on it with conviction.
So, God in His grace and through His Word also gives us a shield. That shield is faith in His Word. We are saved by God’s grace through faith alone. Like the old Roman shields of old which were covered with an asbestos like material, so faith smothers out all of the devil’s fiery arrows. And that faith also is a gift God gives us through the power of the Gospel. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Gospel of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
The final piece of armor God gives us through His Word is the helmet of salvation. The helmet is the very symbol of ultimate victory that God grants to those who trust in Him. Their heads are adorned with His victory. Again, it is the Gospel that is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16).
Now, lest you think that God equips us only with defensive armor, think again. Actually, Paul is issuing a call to arms. After all, God has given to you the most powerful arm; that is, weapon, in the universe. It is that very Word of God that clothes you with truth, righteousness, faith, and salvation. The Word of God, most specifically the Word concerning Jesus Christ, Who is the Word Made flesh, is also the very weapon He gives you to wage war against the devil… to cut off his lying tongue and ultimately destroy him. The word of God, as Paul says, is the very Sword of the Spirit… “the power of God unto salvation” (Ro. 11:17). Through that Word the Holy Spirit Himself does battle with the ancient enemy and his evil legions. As Luther taught us in his marvelous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” “one little word can fell him!” That little word of Christ, that is!
As equipped soldiers of Christ, therefore, how ought we be spending our time? Living dangerously exposing ourselves to temptation or by cavorting with those who malign the truth of God? Far be it from us to be so foolish. We ought to be occupied constantly with God’s Word, reading, hearing, studying, meditating and trusting in it, for in it we are equipped in God’s armor and armed with the Sword of the Spirit to wage effective war.
Given all this, therefore, it’s inconceivable to me that so many of us are walking daily into battle all the while leaving our sword on the coffee table, locked up in our smart phone, or tucked away somewhere for safe keeping. Listening to the public reading and preaching of God’s Word is considered by many to be nothing but an occasional extra. Regular attendance at the Divine Service is viewed as unnecessary. If you were walking the streets of Kabul right now would you leave your AR-15 rifle or 9 millimeter pistol at home? Why leave the powerful, divine, Sword of the Spirit behind? How do you expect to stand firm against the assaults of the evil one without the weapon God gave you?
Then, too, a most important companion to God’s Word, is prayer. Prayer is our reliance on God. Jesus told His disciples in the garden, “Be watching and praying.” Prayer is our full acknowledgment of faith that only in God is our strength… our hope… our victory. Vigilance means taking advantage of every opportunity to pray, petitioning God for ourselves and all the saints, who are locked into this struggle for our salvation. And yes, we ought to be praying daily for those on the front line, our public preachers and teachers of the Word… that they might keep the Word straight and be bold in their testimony of it. True victory depends upon it. Jesus chastened His disciples: “Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41)
In these evil days and present darkness we pray in all earnestness of faith, “God keep us in Your Word that we might obtain the victory!”