Be Strong in the Lord

This week we finished our Bible study of Joshua and Ephesians, Living the Promises. Our final lesson covered a passage that for me, as for many, has been shrouded in layers of shallow misunderstanding and misapplication. As a recovered Charismatic, I have been both hesitant and eager to dig into the “Armor of God.” Allowing the metaphorical language of the armor to fade a bit into the background revealed that these “weapons of our warfare” are the gifts of God, given to us by his grace through our Savior Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, about which Paul has been teaching from chapter one. Now that we are finished, the shroud has fallen away and this passage, as with the rest of the book of Ephesians, shines with new glory to my eyes, as I hope it also does for yours.

 We began by reading through Ephesians 6:10-20. In order to fight an enemy effectively, you have to know your enemy. What do we learn about our enemy from verses 11 and 12?

 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 We learn that the devil is a schemer. Our enemy is not flesh-and-blood, and there are rulers and authorities and cosmic powers over this present dark world, and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. While this doesn’t mean, as some believe, that there are demons hiding around every corner and under every shrub waiting to pounce on us if we don’t have the right talisman or incantation ready, it does mean that the spiritual world is real. And, as Rick Phillips reminds us in his commentary:

This means that spiritual warfare is real. … Paul assures us of the reality of an organized spiritual presence that relishes and inspires all that is perverse, harmful, and ungodly in this dark world.

 It is remarkable that even as Satan’s influence on our society has become more overt, with the open spread of the occult and other forms of Satanism and perverse evils widely accepted, people still deny that Satan exists. But the Scriptures present the devil as a real, personal angelic being of great power and consummate evil. Jesus referred to him in a matter of fact way. It is impossible to accept the Bible at face value without accepting its teaching that there is a menacing, evil spiritual power known as the devil. [Richard D. Phillips, Ephesians, a Mentor Expository Commentary, (Christian Focus Publications; 2016), p. 430]

 What difference does it make to read verses 10-12 in light of Ephesians 1:19-22 (and, I might add, 3:10, ‘that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places’)? It makes an immense difference! The exalted Lord Jesus Christ is seated at God’s right hand, far above every spiritual force of evil and every cosmic power of darkness, and these rulers and authorities are under his feet! He has already won the war! He reigns victorious—though there are still skirmishes to fight until all the final day. We therefore, who are in Christ, have been raised up with him and are seated with him in the heavenly places, so we too are victorious in his victory—even though we will still be fighting while we yet live, our end is secured by the immeasurably great power that our Father exercises toward us.

 We learned in Joshua that God has a part to play in our battles and we have a part to play. According to Paul, what is God’s part and what is our part? God’s part is to supply the strength, and the rest of his means of grace, by which we perform our part, which is to stand. Paul has been teaching us from the beginning of this letter that God’s supply of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word are immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. He has also been imploring us to understand the difference between God’s means of holiness in our lives, and the means by which the enemy tries to lure us back into our former manner of life. Rick Phillips reminds us of these means when he writes:

 [Paul] says in Ephesians 2:1-3 that ‘the course of this world’ follows after the devil’s methods. Satan snares mankind through ‘the passions of our flesh…the desires of the body and the mind.’ The threat facing us is not mainly that some demon will come along and possess us, but that we, ‘like the rest of mankind’ (Eph. 2:3), will be lured by temptations geared to the mind and the body, falling like mice in the devil’s traps. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11, ‘We are not ignorant of [Satan’s] designs,’ and believers today should not be either. It is through his methods and programs that Satan’s warfare never relents, so that we live, work, and play amidst the scenery of war; every night we lie down and go to sleep on the battlefield. [Phillips, p. 431]

 Rick later quotes John MacArthur, who writes, “Dealing with demons in one’s Christian life is not a matter of finding the technique to send them away, but of being committed to the spiritual means of grace that purifies the soul, so that there is no unclean place that demons could occupy or by which they might gain advantage.” To which Rick adds, “We must resist the devil not by devising our own schemes of battle, but by using the humble, ordinary means of grace that God provides and through which his own power strengthens us with spiritual might.” [Phillips, p. 434]

 And so, having done all (that is our part to do), we stand firm. As the writer of Hebrews put it:

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

 ARM YOURSELF!

 Paul stresses twice the need to put on the full armor of God. The armor that he describes looks nothing like the world’s methods of warfare. He lists the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the readiness given by the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

 The “belt of truth” expresses the importance of knowing the truth as well as being truthful. Why is truth so important when it comes to fighting our enemy? Jesus said, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:44-45).

 When Jesus had been in the wilderness for the 40 days of temptation, the devil came to tempt him with fleshly desires, an earthly throne, and finally personal glory by an open demonstration of his Deity. This last temptation was presented by way of twisting the Word of God: And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, / to guard you,’ / and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, / lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Luke 4:9-12).

 If we attempt to fight our enemy with his own best weapon he will surely disarm and turn upon us and we will find ourselves outmaneuvered and defeated. He even tried to be clever with the Word of God as he tempted the Author of that Word by twisting it to his own devious schemes. For every temptation, Jesus met him with the Word and beat him back with the truth rightly wielded. We cannot hope to out-lie the devil; we must hold fast to God’s truth.

 To wield the truth, we must know it.

 James Boice writes: “Without truth, without the doctrines, without the knowledge of who God is, who we are, what we have become in Christ, and what we have been called to do (precisely the kinds of things Paul has been teaching in the earlier chapters of Ephesians)—without this we really do not know what kinds of activity in which to engage, and we will be vulnerable to Satan’s onslaughts and wiles.” [James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, An Expositional Commentary, (Baker: Grand Rapids; 1988) 244-245]

 We come next to the breastplate of righteousness, described by Paul elsewhere as the breastplate of faith and love (1 Thess. 5:8). In a suit of armor, the breastplate protects the vital organs which are otherwise vulnerable to an attacker’s weapons. Without the breastplate, when under attack, a soldier would need to defend himself by doubling over to cover himself and/or leaving the battle.

 Where are you vulnerable? Fear, worry, covetousness, anger, pride? What is your particular besetting sin; what are your own ‘deceitful desires’ (Eph. 4:22)? This text tells us that our defense is the very righteousness of God Almighty. When Satan accuses us before the bar of God’s justice, our plea is the righteousness of our Judge and the faith he has given us through Christ because of his great love for us. Because God is righteous, he will not condemn us for sins—any sin—because they have already been paid in full on the Cross of Christ (Rom. 8:1).

 The next weapon in our arsenal is the gospel of peace. Because of what Christ has done, we are at peace with God, with others, and with our own consciences. This reality helps us to withstand the enemy’s attack by banishing our fears that he may be right in his accusations, in reminding us of our past, and in tempting us to despair, because in Christ our redemption is secure. And when—not if—we fall, and the devil colors his indictment with the hues of legitimacy, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

 What does the shield of faith enable us to do? What exactly are “the flaming darts of the evil one?” To answer these, we are sent to two passages in the Old Testament where our adversary makes an appearance.

 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. (Genesis 3:1-6)

 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by. (Zechariah 3:1-5)

 In these passages, we see again the craftiness of the devil’s deceptions. In Genesis, he makes his appeal to pride by twisting God’s Words, questioning God’s goodness and provision, suggesting that God is withholding something better. Suddenly, paradise itself is not enough, and Adam and Eve step boldly into Satan’s snare. Instead of questioning the motives of the serpent, they question the motives of their Creator and ally themselves with the enemy. In Zechariah, he accuses Joshua the high priest. His accusations may be founded in truth, but in Christ, they are old news. Here we see the Lord himself rebuking Satan. And then, in a tender picture of our redemption, Joshua’s filthy garments are removed and he is clothed in “pure vestments” and a “clean turban.”

 When the enemy hurls his flaming darts of deception, which would cause us to question our Father who is the source of all that is good and right and true, we need not rebuke him ourselves, because our Lord does that. We need only remember that, “by grace [we] have been saved through faith. And this is not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). In this faith we stand.

 The helmet of salvation is next. David describes this in Psalm 140:7.

 O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation, / you have covered my head in the day of battle. 

In verses 9 and 10 of the same Psalm, David suggests what might happen to those who do not possess this helmet.

 As for the head of those who surround me, / let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them! / Let burning coals fall upon them! / Let them be cast into fire, / into miry pits, no more to rise!

 God himself covers his children with salvation, without which we would be overwhelmed by our own “mischief” and “burning coals,” and “cast into fire” and “miry pits, no more to rise!” Sounds a lot like Dante’s Inferno, doesn’t it? It also sounds like the lost, the unredeemed, unregenerate, the unsaved. Read verse 7 again and see who it is who covers us, who does the saving: it is all the work of the Lord and not ours! Sisters, let us sing with Isaiah,

 “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation!” (Isaiah 61:10a)

 Finally, we look at how Paul describes the Word of God and we ask, why is it important that the Word be linked with the Spirit?

 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

 These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

 By the Holy Spirit the human authors of the Word wrote the books of the Bible; by the Spirit the Word is illuminated to our hearts, revealing the very thoughts of God, ‘interpreting spiritual truths” to us; and by the Spirit the Word is given life that, like a scalpel, cuts through to our hearts, revealing and convicting us of sin. To be filled with the Word is to be filled with the Spirit. Thus, by the Spirit, we wield the Word of God, understanding the truth rather than the distortions of the enemy; and we are convicted of sin for the purpose not of condemnation, but for repentance and life.

 Let us also remember that it is the Spirit who is building us up into a “holy temple in the Lord,” a “dwelling place for God.” We are not interpreting the Word on our own, but in the fellowship of the body, with the help of the “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers” who have been given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:11-13).

 PRAY!

 In verses 18-20 Paul wraps up his discussion of spiritual armor with prayer, not as a weapon, but as resource to fuel us for spiritual battle. As we take hold of the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, we are also to be, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”

 Paul gives emphatic and comprehensive instructions as to how we should pray. Looking at the various aspects he stresses, it is clear that he considers prayer to be vitally important because he has dedicated more ink to it than to each piece of the spiritual armor. Prayer is a means which we all have in Christ, “in whom we have boldness and access, with confidence, through our faith in him” (Eph. 3:12). I love how James Boice explains this. “And what makes it important is that the weakest Christian can at any period of his life at any moment of the day and in any circumstance cry out to God for help and instantly have the resources of the infinite, sovereign God at his disposal.” [Boice, p. 259)

 Why this emphasis on prayer, isn’t the armor of God enough? “Paul himself wished to show that you and I can be clothed in God’s armor—having the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet shod with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit—and yet fail to triumph because we do not call upon God.” [Boice, p. 260]

 Prayer goes under the category of “our part” which we discussed earlier. Granted, we need the Spirit for our prayers to be heard, yet this is a means given to us which we can use, as Paul says, “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication… with all perseverance, … for all the saints” (vs. 18).

 “How important is prayer? Paul lets us know by repeating the word “all” four times in this passage, as if to say that there is nothing that cannot be prayed for and that there is no situation in which prayer is unavailing. He says that we should pray “on all occasions,” “with all kinds of prayer and requests,” “always,” and finally, “for all the saints.”” [Boice, p. 260]

 Does this mean that we should join a convent and spend all hours of the day and night in prayer? By no means! All occasions means in good times and bad; all prayer and supplication means the many varieties of prayer, from adoration, to confession, thanksgiving, and supplication; with all perseverance means that prayer is a natural part of our life and we turn to it even when it is difficult. Boice gives a clear definition of what it means to pray for all the saints, which in the times we now live seems particularly urgent.

 “There are millions of saints in hundreds of this world’s countries… how are we to pray for all these people?

 We obviously cannot pray for all these Christians by name. But we can pray generally (in cases where we do not know who they are), and we can pray specifically (where we do know who the saints are). To pray even generally will mean more work in preparation for prayer and in prayer than most of us are accustomed to. How about Christians in China? If we are to pray for them, we must know something about the state of Christianity in that country and something about the problems and opportunities they face. How about Christians in North Africa? There is quite a different situation there. We must know what it is if we are to pray intelligently and effectively.

 So it is with many other groupings of believers: suffering Christians, Christians in positions of power (with their special temptations), isolated Christians, Christians in the East and in the West, Christians of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Even in general terms the list is extensive.” [Boice, p. 263]

 We turn on the News and we see how to pray for our brothers and sisters in Mosul and Allepo. Reading World Magazine is an good source of information for our prayers as they report regularly on the condition of the persevering church as well as particular saints by name and situation, as does Voice of the Martyrs. I follow K. A. Ellis on Facebook and she links to many up-to-date articles on suffering and oppressed Christians everywhere. We have an abundance of resources to feed our prayers for all the saints, let us give an abundance of care to bringing them before our Father’s throne.

 Twice Paul has told the Ephesians how he prays for them (see 1:15ff, 3:16ff) and now he asks them to pray for him. He asks them to pray that he would be given words for the bold proclamation of the gospel. That he would be given words? This man who wrote much of the New Testament? That he would be bold? Who spoke before crowds and philosophers and Caesar? Paul seems to have been a gifted and bold wordsmith, and yet, for this he asks for prayer.

 “Paul was a great man, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet he believed his work would be ineffective unless Christians prayed for him… Think of the most fearless person you know, one who presents the gospel of Christ without hesitation in the most difficult circumstance, and then pray that he or she might remain fearless. In the same way, pray that the holy might remain holy, the visionary might remain visionary, the great prayer warriors might remain faithful in prayer.” [Boice, p. 264]

 IN CONCLUSION

Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians the same way he began—by offering them grace and peace. Our study of Ephesians, I hope, has increased our understanding both of grace and peace. We have learned that there is no other source of either in all the world but God. Only in Christ can we find true grace and true peace. The world holds out its counterfeits and the devil schemes to lure us away into bondage to false hope. But Christ came to preach peace to we who were far off, having no hope and without God in the world. By grace we have been saved, and this is not our own doing but is a gift. And we have learned that this gift is not a one-time offer, but one we need—and have access to— every minute of every day.

 It seems appropriate that the last passage of this year’s study should have the same theme as the first. We are asked to reread Ephesians 6:10-20 and Joshua 1:1-9, looking for the similarities and differences between the two, and comment on what effect this year’s study has had on our hearts and lives. For each of these blog posts I have drawn on many sources for quotes which answer more perfectly than I the questions put before us. For this final question, I will draw on the answer given by a dear friend who participated in our study, and whose answer sums it up beautifully.

 In Joshua, they face a physical battle to claim a land that God promised beforehand to give to Abraham and his descendants. In fact, God, says he has already given it to them, they only need to “be strong and courageous” relying on God and obedience to His Word for success in the battle. Verse 9 ends with this wonderful promise – “for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

 In Ephesians, the battle is spiritual, but the weapons for warfare are the same. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might”.  “Put on the whole armor of God” —truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word and prayer. In short, obedience and trust in the LORD.

 Joshua’s battle for a physical inheritance is a picture of the spiritual battle for the eternal inheritance spelled out to us in Ephesians.

 The physical inheritance was eventually lost by disobedience to God, but the eternal inheritance was won by the obedience of Christ and “sealed by the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (1:14).  Sisters, the battle has already been won. Go back with me to the beginning of the letter. After telling the Ephesians about every spiritual blessing that they have been blessed with in Christ, He prays for them.

 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked 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, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:16-23, emphasis mine)

 Do you see it?! Jesus Christ reigns far above all the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual evils that we wrestle against, (compare 6:12 with 1:21). He has won the battle! So, even though we battle, we fight with confidence because of what God in Jesus Christ has done for us and in us so that we might “be holy and blameless before Him.” And we fight according to the eternal purpose of God, that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. And this was all according to His eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. (3:10-12) We are to put on the whole armor of God and fight with confidence and faith in the knowledge of our Almighty Savior who loved us and gave himself up for us so that we would live with him forever. In my flesh, I was a child of wrath, but in Christ I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places! In Christ, I have forgiveness for my sins, In Christ I have a glorious inheritance, and in Christ I have been sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of my inheritance until I acquire possession of it. All glory and praise to God! [Jana Henry, Hope For The Battle, Women of Purpose]

 I cannot express the depth of my gratitude to all the women who have joined together for this trek through Joshua and Ephesians this year. The journey has been blessed indeed. Thank you all.

 “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen” (Eph. 3:20, 21)

 

 

 

 

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