"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 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. 13 Therefore 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And 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.
EPH 6:19 Pray 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should". The bible
Most generations like to think that their generation is having a particularly rough time of it!
And that is no different for us today. People talk about moral decline, about the fear of terrorism; or of resurgent Islam, or the implications of global warming, or of environmental catastrophe.
And we talk of the decline of the church of God. One of the Sunday papers last week was talking about church attendance. The latest attendance statistics have been published, and the article was saying that at the current rate of decline (in all churches), the church will be a tiny rump by 2040.
And as Christians we can feel pressurised. Not, in this country by persecution. Rather, the pressure for us comes from a different angle. It is, in fact, the pressure the attractiveness of 'the world'. And when I talk about 'the world', I am not talking about the world as God's creation - which can be astonishingly varied and beautiful (10000 species of birds, 112000 species of butterflies and moths, 103000 species of ants, 98500 species of flies and a whacking great 290000 species of beetles). I'm talking about the world set up against God, the world that thinks that it can live without reference to God, without relationship with God. The world that tells you that your deepest desires can be met by the world: money, drugs, holidays, houses, cars, gardens, eating, education, music, pleasurable experiences, status and possessions.
The world tells us, that if you wish to find fulfillment and satisfaction, then you can get it here. You can either buy it, or experience it. And if you don't get it, then you have to try harder or someone else is stopping you. And the pressure is the pressure to conform, to direct our lives if not to the pursuit of money, then certainly to the pursuit of pleasure or of comfort and ease.
And of course, we all face times of personal pressure: times of hardship, of worry, of sickness, bereavement, of conflict, of decision making.
And if, as a church in this country, we are not persecuted, then certainly individuals can experience persecution and opposition: whether from colleagues or family. "What are you doing Monday evening?" "I'm going along to the Alpha course". Why? Isn't that Christian? Are you going to become some sort of bible basher? Why don't you do something normal?"
One well known footballer tells of how, when he was drinking, if he was involved in a brawl or broke up a restaurant, the sort of attitude was, "He's being normal. He's a bloke having a good time". He said, "Now that I have stopped drinking and sometimes like to go into a church to sit and be still, they tell me that I am mad, that I am a religious fanatic".
Or one man who was asked by his colleague what he was doing on Sunday, said, "I'm going to church". The colleague answered, "I thought better of you than that Dave", and walked away.
So how should we cope? How should we cope with the predictions of the imminent doom of the church, with the pressure of the world, with personal pressure or when we get stick for being Christians?
Turn to our passage in Ephesians 6:10-20
Because it is about coping with pressure
It is the call to STAND FIRM.
The verb 'stand' comes 4 times (v10,11,13,14)
The picture that we are given here is of a Roman soldier, under pressure, tempted to give up and to turn and to run. And Paul writes, "No. Don't run. It might seem rough. But stand".
To the people of God, it is the call not to lose nerve. The situation for the church when Paul was writing was much harder than it is for us today. They were a tiny and seriously insignificant minority; many of them were of very low social status, some were even slaves. They were, in places, viciously persecuted.
But Paul is urging them, and he is urging us to stand firm. The world might seem to be against you, but don't lose your nerve.
And he gives us three very useful pieces of advice.
1. KNOW WHO YOUR ENEMY IS.
It is not people. It is not the terrorist. It is not the advertisers. It is not people who work in the media. It is not the politicians or the civil servants or the city or the lawyers.
V13: "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"
We're fighting a spiritual enemy. And that means that we are not going to find the answer in the weapons of this world: whether that is literal weapons (guns, missiles) or in things like money, technology, media, legislation or whatever.
We are fighting a spiritual enemy. We need spiritual weapons
2. KNOW YOUR WEAPONS
What are these spiritual weapons? Look at verses 14-17.
A sermon could be preached on each of these. The vicar of Lavenham, one of the puritans, in 1655 published a book on these verses, "The Christian in complete Armour". It runs to three volumes, has 261 chapters and 1472 pages. I will be slightly shorter.
1. 'Belt of truth': It is significant that this is the first of the weapons that is listed.
The reason that we are Christians is because it is true
I am told that Michael Ramsay, a former archbishop was chairing a meeting, at which two panelists were trying to answer the question, "What is the gospel?" The first was saying that it was about liberation. The second was saying that it was about love. Ramsay apparently got more and more frustrated, and finally interrupted. "The gospel is this: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, he was buried, he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures". That is the gospel. All the rest is interpretation."
We stand on the truth of the Christian faith. The truth of who Jesus is and the truth of what he has done: his death for our sins and his resurrection.
It has got nothing to do with fashion. It has got nothing to do with how we are feeling. It has everything to do with what happened 2000 years ago, and with what is today.
Don't lose your nerve. It is true
2. The second spiritual weapon that we have is the breastplate of 'righteousness'.
- The righteousness that is the gift of God to us. Before God we are forgiven and accepted and treated as righteous because of Jesus
- The righteousness that is the authentication of what it is that we believe. This is not about some external imposed moral code that we now think that we have to obey. This is about those wonderful fruits of the Spirit that begin growing in our lives, as we allow God to take control. Elsewhere Paul writes of the "weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left" (1 Corinthians 6:7); and in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul talks about "the breastplate of faith and love"
We stand firm as forgiven sinners. We stand firm by living good, Godly lives. Peter writes, "Live such good lives among the pagans, that though they may accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us" (1 Peter 2:13)
Don't lose your nerve. It works.
3. The third spiritual weapon listed is the 'gospel': the good news: "the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace".
This could mean, "Let your shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you a firm footing", in other words, "Stand firm on the gospel". But I think that probably what it is more likely to be saying is, "Be prepared to shared the gospel".
And it actually works. When the church, believers in the past, have faced persecution, the best weapon that they have is not silence, but proclamation. Look at the early church. Time and again, the first Christians are brought before the courts and ordered to be silent. Time and again, they walk out and preach Christ. And if they can't preach in one place, they move on to another place where they can preach Christ.
And look at what Paul asks the Ephesians to pray for him. He is probably in prison, and yet he does not get them to pray for his release, or for his protection. Instead he asks them to pray that he will continue to have the courage to tell others about Jesus.
Now, I am aware that we are not all St Paul and we are not all evangelists. I am not really sure that I am an evangelist. But we are all called "to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have". And we can all invite a friend along to say, a special service at church, the carol service, or even a course like the Alpha group.
4. Fourthly, if we are not to lose our nerve, we are to take up the shield of faith
Again this could have different meanings:
- It could mean 'the faith': our shared faith in Jesus Christ. I do not depend on my own very weak faith, but on the faith of the people of God.
- It could mean the principle of faith: 'the fact that we are forgiven and accepted by God not because we do anything, but because we have put our trust in Jesus': in other words, 'take up the principle that God works when we trust him'.
- It could mean our personal faith.
In the context, I would probably go for this one
We have been given faith. I guess that is why we are here. But we are still called to take faith up.
To grow in faith, to exercise our faith, to take small steps of trust in God, so that when the hard times come, when the 'darts of the evil one' start to fly, we know that he is trustworthy.
5. The helmet of salvation (v17)
The helmet of salvation is both a present reality, but it is also our future hope. Yes, we are already saved, by faith in Christ.
But we are also looking to be fully set free, to live as God made us to live.
And we are looking to our future salvation in heaven: We recognize that here it is only half time: and "this is a game of two halves".
This is the game that sees the team crucified, dead and buried at half time. But exalted and glorious at full time: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2.9)
And we do not lose our nerve. We place this hope on our head: the hope that Christ will come again and transform our bodies into the likeness of his glorious resurrection body
6. The sword of the Spirit, which is Word of God (v17)
It is often pointed out that this is the one offensive weapon that we have. However, in the context, we are told to take up the word of God in order to stand firm.
In other words we use the bible to help us stand. We use the bible to teach us the way of God, to remind us of the promises of God, to give us examples of people who followed God, to give us hope and encouragement.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
So if we are to stand firm, then we need to know our weapons: the truth of the gospel, authentic Christian lives, willingness to tell, growing in our faith, our Christian hope, and the word of God
3. KNOW YOUR COMMANDER
"Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests" (v18)
Seek God. In the end he is the one who will help us to stand when it gets tough.
I wish that I could tell you that when the pressure comes I stand firm. If I did, I would not be being completely truthful! It is only too easy to conform, to go with the flow, to allow ourselves to be deceived by the lies of the world.
But Jesus longs to change us - to change us on the inside - so that we don't give in to the world. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul has urged his readers to be 'go on being filled with the Spirit'. And it is the Spirit who allows us to stand.
It really is the difference between submarines and fishes. Submarines cope with the underwater pressure by having a thick solid hull. Fish cope with the underwater pressure, by matching it with an internal pressure.
As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so we will be able to stand firm, knowing our enemy, knowing our weapons, and above all, knowing our commander. And "having done all, to stand".