10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our* struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these,* take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,*20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus will tell you everything. He is a dear brother and a faithful minister in the Lord. 22I am sending him to you for this very purpose, to let you know how we are, and to encourage your hearts.
As the new school year begins, and as I begin my internship here at Wallace UMC for the next year, I think it’s safe to say, for me and for this congregation, for you parents and grandparents out there, and for your kids out there, that we need to get ready. We need to start coming up with lists, so that we can go out and get all the things we need. We need to prepare our minds, go over the notes we’ve made last year, go out on the band field and practice for this year’s show, go out on the football field, the volleyball court, and everywhere else so that we can start out the year with a bang. We need to be prepared, and ready for anything.
If you guys are anything like me, the last weeks of summer are always a time of sweat and dread. Sweat, because usually it’s 100 bajillion degrees out here in Texas, and dread, because of the daunting and seemingly-overwhelming tasks that are set before us in the next year. But that’s just usually the way it goes, isn’t it? Before you’ve started something, it always looks harder than it actually is.
It’s like a roller coaster. When you’re in line, you look forward to how much you’re going to have. The anticipation builds, the tension mounts, and you’re excited. People are buzzing around you in line, all for a chance to try something new and exhilarating. And finally you get to the front, and you have to get in the car. You strap yourself in, and the harness comes down in front of you to hold you in. And then you hear that last click. You can’t move. You’ve committed. Ain’t no going back now, is there? There’s a sudden jerk forward in the car, and you slowly move forward, and you turn a corner, and there it is: the first and biggest drop off the ride. You hear a few woo’s and screams of excitement around you, a little nervous laughter, perhaps you let one out yourself. But then you start going up, and if there is no scarier noise then a roller coaster slowly clicking up the side of the hill, I don’t know it. You look from side to side. The wind picks up the higher you go. Your heart pounds faster. And faster. And faster. You keep telling yourself to not look down, not to be afraid, but you can’t help it. Suddenly, this ride looks a lot taller than you previously imagined it would be. You reach almost the top of the hill, and you pray to God you don’t die. You take the plunge, and the speed picks up to outrageous levels, you turn and twist, you go upside down, around and around, up and down so fast all the colors around you blur together, and you’re loving every second of it because it’s so intense, so exciting, and so scary you’re adrenaline goes into overdrive and then… things even out… and the ride comes to a slow… leisurely… stop. And you get out. And you walk outside the ride. And then you get right back in line to do the whole thing over again.
So it is with ministry, in service. There’s a lot of work to be done, so much that it seems overwhelming, but once you get going, you realize how good it is, how fulfilling it is, and how exciting it is to really be the body of Christ. But before you get going, before you go out there, you need to get ready. You need to be prepared for anything, because the best part about ministry is that anything can, and will, happen. That’s a good thing though. That’s the way God works. God can make anything possible, and God can work through you to do anything. But you need to be ready for anything, because that’s what’s going to happen.
This is the last week in our study in Ephesians on how to be the Body of Christ. We’ve come to the grand finale, the great closing chapter in the letter, and it’s one of my favorites. Before we look at it though, we need to look back a bit and see where we’ve gone to better understand how we got here. We started with 3 essential claims about the theological and spiritual vision of what the Body of Christ is: it’s a body chosen for holiness, chosen by love so that we can be holy as God is holy. It’s a body saved by grace, saved not for the future but for the present, so that we can better live out the will of God here and now. It’s a body empowered by the Spirit, given the strength, encouragement, and wisdom necessary for the work of the kingdom. Then, we’ve gone on to the next essential question, that being what does the body of Christ do? We’ve been called for ministry and service to the gospel for the transformation of the world. We’ve been called to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in anything we do, so that in everything God may be glorified. If we’re going to do the work of the Gospel though, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard of living, because we can’t go back to the way things were. We have to be accountable to each other, and in everything be respectful to each other for the benefit of the community. We have to do this so that we can build each other up in love, to truly become the body of Christ. This week, we end it with the exhortation to be prepared for anything. Life comes at us fast, and we have to be ready.
We’re given this image of the full armor of God, because if we’re going to be the body called for holiness, the body’s going to need tools and equipment to get the job done. Ephesians speaks in terms of warfare, but not in the way you would think. There is much talk out there of spiritual warfare, of fighting the battles and winning victories in the name of God—as if God had competition. There are songs out there trumpeting the armies of God, the victories in Jesus, marching to war, to Zion, and the like. There’s even an organization called the Salvation Army, and perhaps you’ve heard of it. And that’s not a bad thing; they have their faults, but they also do some good work too. There’s militaristic language out there in the name of God, and honestly? I think we put a bit too much emphasis on the war language, and not enough on the God language. And you may say, “But Grant, it’s right there in the bible! You just read that we need to put on the full armor of God!” And that would be the truth. But if you listened closely, you would have realized that the armor of God really isn’t armor at all, in the way we think of it, nor is the battle we’re preparing for the kind of battle we’re used to. The Ephesians writer is being incredibly subversive, and turning military language, war language, on its head and making it peace language, truth language. He’s taking it from being all about us, the warriors, and making it all about God, the peacemaker, the Prince of Peace.
To illustrate: Less of this…
And more of this:
Verse 10 sets us up for this: Don’t put your faith in your strength, but in God’s strength, God’s power, because God’s power is not like our power. Who did God come as into the world, a victorious military warrior king? Or a simple teacher, a construction worker, a good shepherd, and a lamb for the slaughter? God did not come into this world guns a-blazing, but rather with words, with liberation, with healing, and with truth. God’s power is not like our power, and we need to not put our faith in our strength, but God’s strength. God’s weapons aren’t weapons. We put our faith in God, and in doing that we put our faith in the power of love, justice, and truth, not in weapons, strength and power. God turns everything upside down, reverses the direction of things; he lifts up the lowly, and casts down princes from their thrones. We need to put our faith in that God, the one who can truly defeat power, not by using power against power, but by replacing destruction with healing, injustice with divine justice, and physical death with spiritual life.
Secondly, pay attention to who the writer says we are to fight. Here’s a hint: it’s not other people. The writer straight up says our enemies are not people. Evil’s not going to have a face. Our so-called enemies on earth are not other people, despite whatever propaganda, misinformation and general prejudice says. It’s not going to be people, because God created all people. Our true enemies are not people who have different ideas from us. Our true enemies are not going to be people who have a different religion from us. Our true enemies are not the other, the different, and the foreigner. Our true enemies are not the people in the other political party, and no matter what the TV tells you, it’s not. Our true enemies, according to the writer of Ephesians, is none other than the rulers, authorities and powers of darkness, the spiritual forces of evil. Our true enemies are not people, but the evil itself, and how does the evil work? Through ideas. Ideas like hate. Ideas like fear. Ideas like greed, pride, and envy. Our true enemies are not people. It’s ideas. And the only way to counteract it is not with more of the same ideas. You can’t defeat hate with more hate; only love can do that. You can’t defeat fear with more fear; only truth can do that. You can’t defeat injustice with more injustice in the opposite way, but with true, divine justice. Christ taught us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us; guess what? Those are the only things you need to overcome hate, fear, and injustice. Love. Compassion. Truth. That’s real power.
So look again at the full armor of God. The big thing you should notice is that it’s not physical armor. It’s not really armor at all. It’s ideas. It’s values. It’s the fruit of the Spirit. How are we, the body of Christ, going to stand against true evil? How are you going to get ready? How are you going to be prepared? Surround yourself with the truth, and don’t be persuaded by false teachers playing on your fears. Protect yourself with righteousness, so that you will be blameless. Give yourself every opportunity to give the good news, the gospel of peace, to everyone. Shield yourself with faith, so that you can have something to give you the power to wrestle with doubt. Remember the fact that you have been saved, and never forget that the greatest weapon you have is not a weapon at all, but the word of God, and that word is nothing less than love.
That is how we are to get ready. If we come clothed in that armor, if we come clothed in truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and love, we will be prepared for anything life, and for that matter the forces of evil, can throw at us. God has chosen us. God has saved us. God has empowered us. God has equipped us. God has held us to a higher standard. And now we know that God has made us ready for anything.
I’m going to leave you with this final word of wisdom. The days ahead are going to be difficult. They’re going to test us, but we are ready. However, we still need to pray. Pray in the Spirit. Pray for perseverance in the face of adversity. Pray for boldness, in the face of fear. Pray for peace, in the face of violence. Pray for the strength to love, in the face of hate. Pray for wisdom in the face of ignorance. Pray for faith in the face of doubt. Pray for healing. Pray for comfort. And pray always for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Pray without ceasing. Pray for the body of Christ. You are a part of it. We are all a part of the body of Christ. Pray, and you will be ready for anything.