The Armour of God: Ephesians 6

Ephesians 6: The Armour of God from Stephen Sizer on Vimeo.

The 18th July is an auspicious day in history. On 18th July 1925 Adolf Hitler published Mein Kampf (My Struggle) which he wrote in prison following the Nazi Party’s abortive coup against the Bavarian government. On 18th July 1936, the Spanish Civil War began which enabled Hitler to field test the weapons he would eventually use in 1938 against Czechoslovakia and Poland. But if those dates were too early for you, do you remember what you were doing in 1962? I was nine years old. I remember coming home from school one day and my mother calmly said, “the world nearly ended today”. It had begun on October 16, 1962, when John F. Kennedy called together his closest advisers at the White House. Late the night before, the CIA had produced detailed photo intelligence identifying Soviet nuclear missile installations under construction on the island of Cuba, ninety miles off the Florida coast.

Secretary of Defence Robert McNamara outlined 3 possible courses of action: 1. “the political course”. Openly approaching Castro, Khrushchev and allies to resolve the crisis diplomatically – an option unlikely to succeed; 2. “open surveillance” coupled with “a blockade against offensive weapons entering Cuba”; and 3. “military action directed against Cuba, starting with an air attack against the missiles.”[1] Thankfully, President Kennedy chose the second option and authorised a naval blockade in international waters against Soviet ships carrying missile equipment. In the brinkmanship that followed during the next tense 13 days as the ships carrying the missiles drew closer to Cuba, it was the Russians who blinked first and backed down.

Three decades later, Soviets, Cubans, and Americans learned how close the world had come to a nuclear Armageddon. A unique conference was held in Havana, in 1992. It was attended by former Kennedy administration members, Soviet participants in the crisis, and a Cuban delegation led by President Fidel Castro. Soviet General Anatoly Gribkov admitted that Soviet commanders in Cuba had been authorised to fire their tactical nuclear weapons without further direction from the Kremlin had they been attacked.

More worryingly, U.S. officials had mistaken a number of Soviet actions as deliberate “signals” from the Kremlin when, in fact, they had not been cleared by Khrushchev. And unbeknown to the White House, officials of the CIA and the U.S. military had also undertaken a number of unauthorised and aggressive operations such as dispatching covert sabotage teams into Cuba which were similarly misunderstood by the Soviets. To compound the misunderstanding, during those tense 13 days, a U.S. military aircraft accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace. This combination of unauthorized military actions, misinterpreted political signals, and significant failures in intelligence – all threatened – but for the grace of God – to hurl us into an apocalyptic Armageddon scenario – such as we would probably not be meeting today. It was the closest the world has come, so far, to nuclear war. With heightened anxiety over Iran’s aspirations and pre-emptive strikes by Israel and/or the USA, never before has the importance of diplomacy to solve international disputes been so critical. And yet, there is another war, a far more insidious, destructive war, that engulfs our world.

It is a war the Church appears as ill-prepared to respond to as our political leaders do in the Middle East. For this war has cosmic as well as eternal consequences.

“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.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Around the time of that reunion in Havana in 1992, I visited a friend serving with the US military on Lakenheath Airbase in Suffolk. As I left the base, before reaching the checkpoint, on the perimeter wall, hidden from the road and the gaze of the British civilians, I saw a large sign 40 feet long with lettering two feet high. Intended for US military personnel, it read “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” Although probably intended to improve survival rates on British roads, I’ve thought a lot about that message. “Danger – you are now entering a war zone.” I’ve even been tempted to place a similar sign over the entrance to Christ Church. I just couldn’t decide whether to put it on the inside for those leaving or the outside… For the truth is, which ever way we turn, we are indeed entering a war zone. (Repeat Ephesians 6:12).

My recommended reading book for the Summer holidays is Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. Reading 40 Days of Purpose will prepare and equip you for a life time of service. The 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai was intended to prepare him to lead God’s people into the Promised Land, not the real thing. He came down from his mountain top experience to find a golden calf and God’s people in apostasy.

The 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness was not the ultimate cosmic battle with Satan, it was merely the warm-up round. The 40 glorious days Jesus spent with his disciples after his resurrection were not an end in themselves. He used them to provide convincing proofs and spoke about the kingdom of God to equip them for their real mission – to reach the world for Jesus. Rick Warren’s book focuses on our 5 main purposes. And if you have already read the book and these are not yet burnt into your soul, please, re-read it, memorize the five key verses, and live them, for this is not a war-game. This is not an exercise. Its for real.

We were planned for God’s pleasure – Worship

We were formed for God’s family – Fellowship

We were created to become like Christ – Discipleship

We are shaped for service – Ministry

We were made for a mission – Evangelism

The 40 Days programme is designed to equip you to live out these purposes for the rest of your life. We were made for a mission in a world that is literally going to hell, a world that is occupied territory, a world that is under the influence of the evil one, a world that is a war zone. That is why we need to understand our purposes, live them and share them with others. That is your mission. This is not an exercise. Now it’s for real.

As Rick Warren says, “There are many ‘good’ things you can do with your life, but God’s essentials you must do.” Its vital therefore we remember at all times, we are living in a war zone. We have been commissioned with five purposes. How we think, how we act, how we live, will, humanly speaking, influence our part in this war and future destiny.

That is why we want to conclude this series with a look at the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians – chapter 6. I want us to consider, the enemy God tolerates (6:11-12); the armour God provides (6:13-20); the victory God assures (6:13)

1. The Enemy God Tolerates (Ephesians 6:11-12)

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour 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.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

The first step in warfare is to know and respect your enemy. When we demonise other people we make a tactical mistake. Islam is not the enemy. Just as Communism was not the real enemy. Or before that, the Germans, or before them the Irish, the Scots, the French or even our beloved Colonies who wanted their independence. Satan’s strategy is to deceive us into thinking that other people, people with different coloured skin, people with strange languages, people with different customs or religions or political systems are the real enemy. That’s the devil’s strategy. To deflect us from our real enemy.

“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.” (Ephesians 6:12)

But there’s worse. Far too many of our armed forces are killed or injured not by the enemy but by so-called ‘friendly fire’. What a misnomer that is – ‘friendly fire’. And if truth be told, far too many Christians are disabled in mission or defeated in ministry because of so called ‘friendly fire’ – snipped at and cut down by gossip or criticism from misguided Christians. Christians are not the enemy either. The Roman Catholic Church is not the enemy any more than the Church of England. That’s Satan’s strategy. To get us to attack other believers. To deflect us from our real enemy.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” least of all, against others in the Body of Christ. Our first purpose in life is that we were planned for God’s pleasure, not Satan’s pleasure. Paul; writes, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” (Ephesians 6:10)

The outcome of this war is not unknown. It is not undecided. Between the resurrection and the return of Christ, Satan is a defeated if still dangerous foe. We were planned for God’s pleasure. God’s pleasure is that we be strong in his mighty power and withstand the evil one. First recognize the enemy God tolerates. Second put on:

2. The Armour God Provides (Ephesians 6:13-20)

Therefore put on the full armour of God… Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 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. (Ephesians 6:13-17)

These verses mention implicitly, our four other purposes in life.

2nd – We were formed for God’s family = Fellowship (6:13)

How did the Roman army conquer most of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East? Superior weaponry? Stronger armour? No – from their strategy. They fought in legions of about 3000 soldiers but the fought as one man with rigid discipline and mechanical precision. That is the only way we can withstand the evil one. Together. That is why our fellowship together on Sundays and mid-week in our home groups and on First Wednesdays is so vital if we are to stand against the evil one.

We were formed for God’s family.

3rd – We were created to become like Christ = Discipleship (6:14-17)

Each part of the armour – the belt of truth – the breastplate of righteousness – the gospel of peace – the shield of faith – the helmet of salvation – the sword of the spirit – each of these is the armour of God. They describe Jesus Christ. Think about it.

He is our truth, He is our righteousness, He is our peace, He is our faith, He is our salvation, He is our Word of God. To consciously put on the armour of God is the same as to clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ. “For he has clothed me with garments of salvation.” (Isaiah 61:10). “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus” (Romans 13:14)

God’s will is that we become like Jesus Christ. Putting the armour on is what discipleship is all about. William Gurnall was the pastor of Lavenham in Suffolk, near where I was born. In 1655, he wrote a The Christian in Complete Armour. It became a best seller and was the 17th Century equivalent of The Purpose Driven Life.

In it he says this: “In heaven we shall appear not in armour but in robes of glory; but here they (the pieces of armour specified) are to be worn night and day; we must walk, work and sleep in them, or else we are not true soldiers of Christ.”

We were formed for God’s family, created to become like Christ.

4th – We were shaped for serving God = Ministry (6:18)

“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.” (Ephesians 6:18)

What do you pray for when you pray for the saints? Your brothers and sisters? Our mission partners? That together we will serve God’s purposes using our talents, giving our energy, investing our resources in His service. The Roman army won so many victories because they were disciplined and they were coordinated.

Our strength comes from serving one another with our various gifts and talents – deploying the armour God has provided to protect and cover one another. Formed for God’s family. Created to become like Christ. Shaped for serving God.

5th – We were made for mission = Evangelism (6:19-20)

“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, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Ephesians 6:19-20).

Paul models our fifth purpose. Elsewhere in the NT we are called to be ambassadors. (1 Peter 3:15) To “fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” How? By learning to love lost people the way God does. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us: God doesn’t want “anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.” [Rick Warren tells us] God never made a person he didn’t love… If you feel apathetic about your mission in the world spend some time thinking about what Jesus did for you on the cross.

We must care about unbelievers because God cares. Love leaves no choice… If you feel afraid to share the Good News with those around you, ask God to fill your heart with his love for them… Perfect love casts out fear. As long as you know one person who does not know Christ, keep praying for them, serving them in love, and share Jesus. As long as there is one person in our community who isn’t in the family of God, keep reaching out…” You know which sentence I found to be the most challenging in the book The Purpose Driven Life? “The church that doesn’t want to grow is saying to the world ‘You can go to hell.’” Here are some diagnostic questions: What are you willing to do so that the people you know can go to heaven? Share your story? Give them a Christian book? Give them a meal? Invite them to Church? Pray for them every day until they are saved?

Is anyone going to be in heaven because of you? Will anyone in heaven be able to say to you ‘I want to thank you. I’m here because you cared enough to share the Good News with me?” God made you to be a member of his family, a model of his character, a magnifier of his glory, a minister of his grace, and a messenger of his Good News to others. Of these five purposes, the first four you will keep doing in some way for eternity. Only the fifth can be done on earth. Leading people to Jesus Christ is the principle reason God has left us on earth. Discovering our purposes and sharing them with others. This is how we ultimately defeat Satan, by leading lost people out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light (1 Peter 2:9). We have considered the enemy God tolerates and the armour God provides. Lastly, notice,

3. The Victory God Assures (Ephesians 6:13)

“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.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose victorious that you can stand your ground so that in the day of evil, you might stand. Your share in Christ’s victory is assured if you recognize the enemy God tolerates; If you stand your ground in the armour God provides; If you fulfil your purpose as a “good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:3).

Last Tuesday I visited the Eagles Nest, near Obersalzberg in Bavaria. It was the Summer base for the Nazi regime during the 2nd World War. Most of it was flattened by Allied bombing but the Eagles Nest remains and you can use the same brass elevator up to the summit that Hitler and his inner circle used. When did the tide turn against the Third Reich? Tactically speaking, probably on June 6th 1944 on D-Day with the Normandy landings. But it might just have been three years earlier.

On October 29, 1941, Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Harrow to give a speech to the students. Lasting just 4 minutes and 12 seconds, he ended with those words:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy. We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished… and liquidated… But instead our country stood in the gap. There was no flinching and no thought of giving in; … we now find ourselves in a position where I say that we can be sure that we have only to persevere to conquer… Do not let us speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days–the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race.”[2]

The tide of war turned first in the hearts of those who resolved to stand their ground. Those who were willing to sacrifice their lives for a just and noble cause that would outlast them. God has privileged us to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our world. The Battle has been won, the victory is assured, but we must endure what the New Testament describes as “the Last Days” – the days between D-Day and VE Day – we must hold the line until Jesus returns and Satan is finally destroyed. In this concluding look at Ephesians, we’ve considered, the enemy God tolerates; the armour God provides and the victory God assures. While you still have breath, never give up, stand your ground, live out your purpose, complete your mission, fulfil your destiny, to the glory of God.

“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.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Lets pray.