Title: Staying Close – Part 2 (Ephesians 6: 10-20)
By: Bert Amsing (1990)
A young woman has said, “yes, she will marry the man of her dreams.” Through all the preparation and excitement, a nagging doubt clings to the back of her mind. Am I doing the right thing? Will he be a good husband? How will he act with the kids we will someday have? The divorce rate being what it is, what kind of insurance does she really have that this relationship will last? What responsibilities and decisions there are when one gets married. God’s word of encouragement to her in the midst of her decisions and doubt is – BE STRONG.
An older couple contemplating a move to the nursing home is a little worried about the changes that need to be made. The man is thinking of his wife who is crippled up with arthritis and he believes this is the best move for her. But she doesn’t want to go. God’s word of encouragement to them is – BE STRONG.
A woman lies on her bed crying softly. The mental and emotional anguish her husband has put her through hurts deeply. She cries out to her God because her husband has emotionally divorced her, and she doesn’t know what to do. God’s word of encouragement to her is – BE STRONG.
A man scuffs at the dirt while he walks through the park. Unable to concentrate on his work, he took some time off. He feels dead inside and doesn’t know what went wrong. His relationship with God is a mess. Life doesn’t seem to have much meaning anymore. God’s word of encouragement to him in the midst of his spiritual struggle is – BE STRONG.
For all of us who suffer from spiritual depression or deadness, who fall to the same old temptations time and again, for those who have decisions to make or who simply desire something more, to have a deeper relationship with their God, God’s word of encouragement comes to us from our text “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Stay close to the source of strength.
How shall we do this? How do we stay close to the source of strength?
Paul tells us in our text three things. First of all, we must know our enemy. We must know what we are up against. Second, we must know our armor. We must know how we are to be protected and thirdly, we must know our position. We must take a stand.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, surrounded by guards. He was in the capital of the greatest war machine of his age – Rome. He had every reason to think of Rome as the enemy, but Paul knew that his true enemy was behind the scenes. The great manipulator was at work. Paul knew who his enemy was.
Verse 11 of our text identifies him as the devil and verse 12 makes it clear that this is no ordinary flesh-and-blood adversary. I would like to emphasize first that the Christian must know that he has an enemy. Secondly, that this enemy is a spiritual being, and thirdly, that he is a deceptive being.
To say that a Christian must know that he has an enemy seem so basic many of us may be wondering why I mention it at all. Paul himself simply assumes this to be the case. But I submit to you today that one of the main reasons that the devil has been advancing in his campaigns against the church is that too many Christians don’t realize or don’t care that they are in a war and that they have an enemy that they must fight.
There are so many people in our churches today that are uncertain about their faith, who find no vitality and life in their relationship with God, that have very little meaning in their life beyond the desire to make something of themselves in their jobs or their families. So many of us have strayed from the source of our strength. God’s word of encouragement to us is – BE STRONG.
But in order to be strong, we must first of all realize that we are in a fight.
It is well documented that in moments of crisis there is a tendency in humans to deny the reality of the danger. Many movies and novels are based on this human weakness and the question always is, will they come to their senses on time?
We cannot wish it away. The word of God states very clearly that we are involved in a battle whether we like it or not. Many of us are unprepared and undisciplined and this is Satan’s greatest ally.
But we are not all indifferent. Some of us do believe there is a devilish mind behind our temptations and spiritual depression. Some of us want to fight but feel helpless because of all this spiritual talk. It’s so hard to pin down sometimes. We want something concrete to fight against. Spiritual enemies don’t seem real.
This leads us to the second thing we must know about our enemy. He is a spiritual being.
This truth is seen in the very name Paul gives him, the devil, the slanderer, the accuser. He has a long history of interference in the plans of God. He is the number one hater of God and seeks to destroy whatever God has made. He is a corrupted Angel, fallen through pride from his high position. He is of another order, another dimension so to speak, for he is a spiritual being.
And yet, if a stranger would walk in off the street and hear what I just said, he would think I was crazy. For the world, there is no spiritual dimension to life. The only reality is the one we can see and feel and touch and the scientists can dissect with their instruments.
But we say, by faith, there is more. There is a spirit world. There are such beings as Angels and Demons. There is more going on between Heaven and Earth than scientists can detect.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that spiritual things are somehow not quite real. The devil delights in the fact that many in the world do not believe in him and that leaves them wide open to his influence. Remember this, the devil is just as real as we are, but he is also different and so must be fought in a different way.
What is this different way? How will he attack us? What kinds of weapons does he use? What do we have to look out for? To answer this, we must know that our enemy is a deceptive being.
Verse 11 tells us that we must stand against the “wiles” or the “schemes” of the devil. This word implies a subtle, deceptive manner of attack. Jesus said of him that “he is the father of lies.” He seeks to deceive us as he deceived Adam and Eve in the garden.
Perhaps the greatest deception that he has been able to get Christians to believe is that we can go it alone, that we can coast along without a close relationship with God, not worrying much about obedience unless it’s something big, getting used to drab devotions and meaningless prayers. And then we wonder why we fall again and again into temptation and spiritual depression. As the old saying goes “if you feel far from God, guess who moved?”
We can do nothing apart from a personal and disciplined relationship with our Lord. We should sacrifice everything, go to any lengths, and protect with all our energy and resources our relationship with our Lord. Allow no sin to compromise you. Allow no interference with your prayers. Allow no other desire to take hold of you than the desire to please God and everything you do for you are in the midst of a spiritual struggle. This is no tea party. This is no part-time war.
We ought to have a little more anger in our Christian lives at the Devil who seems to have his way with us so easily. We ought to be angry that he can get away with what he does in our lives as if we were a bunch of pushovers.
If we are in fact in a battle, our spiritual disciplines, and our ability to fight should take priority over everything else, jobs, school, and family. We can’t go it alone; we need to be close to the source of strength. We need the armor of God.
This is the second thing that Paul points out to us.
But what is this Armor of God? Paul is using picture language to get his point across. The interesting thing is that Paul gets it from the Old Testament Messianic prophecies about Christ in the book of Isaiah. The belt of Truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of salvation, the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, the sword of the spirit, all of these come from Isaiah and they all refer to Christ.
Not just that Christ has all these things, but that Christ is these things. When we put on the belt of Truth we put on Christ and his truthfulness. When we put on the breastplate of righteousness or the helmet of salvation, we are putting on Christ.
One of the major themes of this letter to the Ephesians can be summed up in two words, “in Christ.” Paul is emphasizing in this book a close, intimate, relationship with Christ as the source of our strength. In the first two chapters alone, you will find the words “in Christ” or “in him” more than twenty times.
Here in chapter 6:10 we also find those same words “be strong in the Lord.” How do you do this? By putting on the armor of God.
Paul says the same thing in Romans 13: 12-14 “the night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul equates the two – putting on the armor of light and clothing ourselves with Jesus Christ.
But what in the world does it mean to put on Jesus Christ?
It means to be so close to Jesus Christ that you are like a hand in a glove with him. Be as close to Jesus Christ as clothes are to your body or as armor is to your body. Putting on Jesus Christ means cultivating and living in his presence day by day.
But this is not done haphazardly or partially. Our armor must be complete.
In JRR Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit, there is a great and mighty Dragon who seems invincible. He is incredibly strong, with terrible claws and a fiery breath. His only flaw is a small chink in his armor-like skin. A well-placed arrow finally causes his downfall.
“Put on the full armor of God,” Paul says. A soldier doesn’t go to war half-dressed and neither can a Christian expect to be fully protected if he forgets or neglects a part of his armor. We may be good at devotions but terrible at obedience or good at talking about Christ even though our prayer life is a mess. Every piece has a purpose and cannot be neglected.
There is a serious disease in our churches that many of us struggle with. It is the disease of half-heartedness. Too often we try to have the best of both worlds. Are we living a double life of devotion to God in the morning while we open our hearts and minds throughout the day to the influence of the devil through inappropriate TV shows or movies? Have we thrown aside the breastplate of righteousness by living in unconfessed sin? Are we willing and ready, even more, do we confess Christ’s name before men, sharing the good news of peace even if it’s embarrassing or awkward? Take up the shield of Faith to protect you from the accusations of the Father of Lies! Take up the helmet of salvation to protect your minds from the doubts of unbelief. And wield the sword of the spirit as workmen worthy of his wages rightly dividing and understanding the word of Truth. And pray, always, on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers for all the saints. For prayer is our confession of need and dependence on Christ for his strength. Only in the context of war does the need for prayer make any sense.
But how many of us realize the importance of our spiritual disciplines and how many of us realize that it is our spiritual disciplines, willingly done out of devotion to our God, that keep us close to the source of our strength, Jesus Christ.
One final point Paul makes concerning the Christian’s warfare. The Christian must not only know his enemy and know his armor, but he must also know where he stands. This is the purpose of all the preparation. Paul says in verse 11 “so that you can take your stand.”
Let’s put it all in perspective.
Paul just gave some practical advice in the chapter proceeding our text about living a new life in Christ. He knows that Satan would try to dissuade and prevent many of us from living this new life. So, he encourages us to stand firm.
He knows that our deepest desire is to have a lasting and deep relationship with our God. He knows that we are tired of being weak and undisciplined and so he encourages us, he commands us, exhorts us to stand firm. To block out every contrary thought and simply do what we now know to be the way to victory.
And yet we cry out, “willpower is not enough, I don’t have the strength,” and we feel defeated before we start. But it is not a matter of willpower and our strength at all. We forget that we have a source of strength. We forget that as we stay close and tap into Jesus Christ, he will be our strength.
God promises that as we step out in faith each morning, as we struggle and sweat as an indication of our desire for fellowship with God, he will be there to give us strength. It is when we are at our weakest that we must know that God is ready to give us strength and be our strength. Just step out in the right direction and see if God will not be there to keep you going.
But we must struggle and very few of us really know what that means. We are not used to struggling, we give up too easily. And yet, as we succeed and fail, and as we succeed some more and fail some more, as we continue to struggle, we will see over the years how the Lord has let us from strength to strength.
Stand firm in the Lord. Cultivate that relationship with God. Do not neglect to spend time with him. Know that he loves you and wants you to confess once again those same old sins so that you can know that he forgives you and is working in you to overcome. Obey his urging throughout the day no matter how embarrassing and make yourself available to testify about his presence in your life. These are the irreducible of the Christian life. This is where the rubber hits the road. This is the stand we are called to make – a stand in the presence of God.
Finally, let me conclude with a few words to those who are still reluctant to start trying again, those who are tired of trying and failing, those who are tired of asking for forgiveness when they know that in a moment of weakness, they will do it again. God’s word of encouragement to you is “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength.”
Let us not forget that often God’s strength comes to us from our fellow Christians. Let us not neglect the fellowship of the saints. And when we are tired, go to someone and confess that tiredness and receive help and encouragement and rest in the Lord and in his church. I know that it’s a little embarrassing but it’s also vitally important since we are at war.
And if you are tempted to give up altogether or are paralyzed by a sin that seems to have a stranglehold on your life, remember that the greater sin is to stop fighting because by so doing you are saying that God is no longer at work in your life and that his promise to present you spotless before his throne doesn’t apply to you.
We must stay close to the source of our strength because we know who we are up against.
We must stay close to the source of our strength, Jesus Christ the armor of God.
We must stay close to the source of our strength because a secure stand in his presence is the key to victory.
Beloved of God – “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”