Archive for the ‘Ephesians’ Category

On The Armor of God

Posted: September 2, 2012 in Ephesians, Sermon Manuscripts

Much of the New Testament, to include Ephesians, was written by a man named Paul. This would no doubt shock you if you were around during the first century AD, because earlier in his life Paul was known as Saul, and he grew increasingly famous for his persecution of Christians, those blaspheming, God-hating, Scripture denouncing heretics who had the audacity to claim that Jesus of Nazareth, this simple carpenter, was the long-awaited Messiah.

It wasn’t that Paul hated God, per se…he just had an extremely distorted view of who God was. You could say he was a devout follower of the god of his own making. Born a Jew, he later became a Pharisee who prided himself on achieving his own self-righteousness by keeping the Law…the same Law he would later proclaim served to save no one, but rather revealed to all men their condemnation before God.

Paul reached a point in his life where he hated the Church so much that he wanted official governmental authority to continue his persecution of  Christ-followers. While traveling to Damascus to receive the papers allowing him to humiliate, beat, and transport the Christians he encountered back to Jerusalem, he was encountered by Christ- the risen Savior, the Son of God.

It became apparent to Paul that he had it all wrong. God graciously granted him repentance, that change in reality that leads to a change in thought, belief, and behavior, and all Paul could do was act in faith and follow Christ’s commands. Paul then spent the next three decades planting churches, strengthening congregations, and writing the majority of the books in the New Testament.

Along the way he made enemies with his former compatriots, with the civil authorities, with a host of other people. Eventually he was arrested and invoked his rights to a Roman trial as a Roman citizen. This landed him in a two-year house arrest- not his first imprisonment. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 11 that during his years of ministry and service to Christ, that he was whipped five times- totaling some 195 stripes across his back. He was beaten with rods three times…three times he was stoned, beaten with rocks so severely that on one occasion those beating him thought he was dead and dragged him outside of the city. Paul also experienced three shipwrecks and a host of other hardships.

It was no easy life, and as he wrote this letter to the Ephesians he’s under house arrest and beneath the watchful eye of a Roman soldier. That makes it all the more amazing as Paul began this letter, as he began them all, by saying “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Seemingly odd, yet Paul knew too well of a higher reality, that our peace and happiness wasn’t to be tied into this world around us.

As so as Paul wrote this letter he flooded the first half of it with doctrinal richness. He explained that our salvation was settled in eternity past, that God had purposed before He created us that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. He explained that we are saved solely and exclusively by God’s grace, a salvation that becomes real and applied when we are joined to Christ by faith.

Then after establishing our position in Christ he moves on to the practical aspect of our salvation, how our lives are to look as children of God, how we’re to imitate God and walk as children of light, full of the Holy Spirit. And then last week we began to look at Paul’s concluding thoughts. As he’s sitting in house arrest, after he’s lived some thirty years under persecution for his faith, after enduring all of the sin and evil of those who hate him, Paul still tells us that “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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Paul first mentioned this idea of “standing” in verse eleven, then iterates it in verse thirteen, and then reiterates the idea in verse fourteen with the command to: “Stand” yet again. Paul isn’t simply telling us to stand on our spiritual feet so that we’re not caught off guard. The idea that he’s communicating is one in which we are continuing to stand against the onslaught of the enemy. It’s this idea that even in the midst of the strongest of attacks by the enemy, we are to stand firm, pressing back.

But how many of us feel like we accomplished that this week? How often were we defeated in our battle for holiness? How effective were we in loving our spouses, in being the mom and dad that God has called us to be? How effective were we in working our hardest, treating our employees with love and fairness? How much did we grow this week in our walk with God? How much of our failure wasn’t simply a result of our fallen flesh, but was unbeknown to us a spiritual attack in which we failed to utilize the armor that God extends to us? Victory is ours…if we’ll fight like we could. If we use the right weapons. If we rely upon God’s strength and not our own.

Paul says “stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” There are two ways in which this can be understood. We know that Satan is a liar, that he is the very father of lies. Perhaps Paul is saying that we need to have the belt of truth on, as opposed to falsehood…but there’s another, perhaps a more accurate idea of what Paul is saying, and that is this: the first aspect of our spiritual armor, this “belt” that we need, is representative of the need we have to not be hypocrites, to not let our words and actions contradict, but that as we have the Word of God to guide us, so should our lives reflect the Truth within.

Let me explain why Paul makes reference of the belt here. Belts are important. Without a belt Batman would just be an angry young man with a cape and mask on! But seriously, the belt was a vital part of the soldiers armor, and no doubt Paul was gleaning from the appearance of the soldier who was guarding him as he wrote this letter.

Back then soldiers didn’t have custom-fitted uniforms. In today’s military, uniforms come in a variety of sizes- small, medium, large, as well as short, regular, and long variations of all three. This  allows our soldiers to wear a comfortable uniform that has flexibility of movement, yet isn’t baggy or bulky.

Not the soldiers of Paul’s day, though. Back then they wore a simple tunic that was more or less a square or rectangular piece of cloth with arm openings and a head hole cut into it. Left alone, it would become distracting as it flopped around. It could obscure one’s vision. It could become a means by which the enemy could grab your tunic and wrestle you from your horse, or tackle you to the ground.

So the Roman soldier wore a belt that not only connected various pieces of armor together, not only held the sword to be used in combat, but it gave them the ability to run, leap, fight. So as Paul sees this belt as a vital element of the soldier’s armor, the thing needed to created mobility and ease of movement, this thing needed to go from passive observer to active warrior, he tells us have on your own belt of truth. He can’t put it on us- we have to. We have to purpose to dig so deeply into the truths of God’s Word that they transform us and lead us into a life of truth. It means taking this fight serious, not being content to learn a bit of God’s Word here and there and never letting it change us.

Paul continues, “having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” He’s actually drawing a reference from the prophet Isaiah here, where we are told that the coming Messiah would have righteousness as his breastplate. Breastplates are important for obvious reasons- they protect your vital organs. When my reserve unit deployed for Iraq in the first rotation of the war, we weren’t yet equipped with bullet-proof vests. Instead we had flak-jackets. I mean, they were good for protecting your organs from shrapnel, but these vests were not designed to stop bullets. In fact, with the right knife you could stab through them.

The symbology isn’t lost on Paul as he observes this breastplate that covers the heart and bowels of a man. In Jewish thinking, the heart is the where the mind and will reside, and the bowels, or stomach serve as the seat of emotion. If you can control the way a person thinks and feels, you can control the way they act. Therefore it becomes vitally important that a Christian defend themselves from allowing Satan to make them feel and think wrongly.

But what does Paul mean by “righteousness”? Surely he doesn’t mean our own, because God said that our own attempts at right living are an offense to him. The best things we do, apart from His grace in our lives, is like a filthy rag. I’ll spare you the details of what all that entails. Trust me, though- it ain’t pretty. So it’s not a self-righteousness that Paul speaks of. It could be an allusion to our imputed righteousness of Christ, which is certainly important. After all, if you’re not covered by the atoning work of Christ, which we join to by faith, you’re not yet a child of God and therefore certainly incapable of any sort of spiritual victory.

But Paul speaks elsewhere in Philippians of our producing “fruits of righteousness, which come from Jesus Christ.” What he’s referencing is the ongoing holiness that is produced within us as not just as God conforms us to Christ, but also as we dwell on what it means to have Christ’s righteousness imputed to us, and the way we live in response.

What Paul is saying is that as we live in the reality of who we are in Christ, as we see and know and experience the love God shows us, that Jesus demonstrated by His death on our behalf, we in turn are motivated by loving gratefulness to live lives worthy of this calling, and as we continue to do that Satan will be hopeless in his attempts to change the way we think and feel. We have got to be Gospel-centered people.

This leads us to this next piece that we’re to arm ourselves with, as Paul says “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” It’s amazing how important our feet are. More than once I’ve quit ice-skating too early because of a little teeny, tiny blister that brings excruciating pain when I try to continue skating.

The Romans were no dummies, either. Part of their battle strategy included sharpening little sticks and then burying them in the road, leaving just a small, razor sharp tip protruding through the soil. They knew if they could injure an enemy soldier’s foot, he’d be out of the fight. You gotta protect the feet. There were a lot of soldiers taken from the fight in Vietnam due to trench foot from having wet, cold, dirty feet. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and first commander officer of the elite Delta Force, said in his book that one man, after marching 18 miles with full battle-rattle, removed his boots only to find that the soles of his feet stayed in them. Gotta protect the feet, and protect them the right way.

The Romans knew how important this was, so they devised these half boot, half sandal shoes known as a caligae, which had a thick, hobnailed sole designed to protect their feet from any puncture, and it would also allow them to gain traction from the short spikes or pieces of metal that would protrude from the bottom of the sole. They were able to stand their ground, grab traction, even kick with these combat shoes.

What Paul is doing, then, is reminding us that a firm grasp and intimate knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a necessity for us to be able to withstand the attacks of Satan and push back. Knowledge of the Gospel brings us the peace needed when Satan lies to us, when he tells us that we’re unloved, that God has rejected us.

And so, this is what this looks like. We’re saved. We’re excited. We’re boldly pressing into the battle, we’re pressing into Jesus, and then we mess up. Perhaps a sin that we’re continually struggling with. Maybe something you never saw coming, and boy did you mess it up. And there is Satan, or one of his angels, or a human messenger, whatever it looks like, telling you that you’ve failed. God hates you. You’ll never make God happy. Or maybe you’re being told that God’s never been happy with you. That you have to do more good deeds before He’ll look at you. That if the good outweighs the bad you might get into Heaven- you might not.

This is why a proper understanding of the Gospel is vital to standing firm in the face of spiritual warfare. ‘Cause too many pastors now, even evangelical pastors, don’t get the Gospel. They know it. They can articulate it. But they don’t get it. Here’s the Gospel: God saves sinners. Period. It’s all His doing. From start to finish. He began it, He will complete it. We cannot earn it, deserve it, or demand it. It’s God’s salvation to bestow, and He’s the one to bestow it. Pretty simple, right? Some of you are squirming now, perhaps thinking to yourself “well I had to believe!” True. No one is justified apart from saving faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But where’d your faith come from? According to Paul it’s a gift. Who’s the gift giver? God. That’s what we mean when we say we are saved by grace through faith. Yes…we must repent and believe. But even God is the source of that.

Imagine the comfort that brings when Satan tells us we’re not good enough for God. I know I’m not. You failed today. Yeah…I did. You’re not perfect. I know. And God loves me. He saved me in spite of me, not because of me.

But what about when the God who saves you doesn’t seem to be there anymore? Or worse yet, seems to be against you, because everything is crashing down around you? Your family is falling apart. You’ve lost your job. Loved ones have died. Nothing’s fair, and everywhere you turn there is confusion and misery. In those moments Satan will attack you and try to get you to doubt everything you thought you knew about God, which is why Paul tells us “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Flaming darts. Technology 2000 years ago was just a little behind where we are. Back then some of the more sophisticated means of fighting included putting combustible substances on arrows and javelins so that you could not only wound, but you could also burn. Powerful stuff there. If Paul were talking to us today he’d say we could shield ourselves from Satan’s incendiary rounds and hand grenades. The point that he’s making is that if we fully rely on God and trust Him, believe His Word, even in the hardest of times, Satan will never be successful in shooting us when our defenses are down.

Perhaps the worst attack Satan can launch upon a person is in causing them to doubt their salvation. There is no more miserable feeling in the world than the feeling that God has rejected you, that you do not have that relationship for Christ that you’re desperate for. Yeah, the idea of Hell terrifies you, but the thought of being without God is far worse.

Paul implores us to “take the helmet of salvation” so that Satan can’t get a foot into our mind. Having a complete and total assurance of one’s salvation will mentally prepare us to defend ourselves against Satan’s lies. The question is, how do I attain this assurance, this confidence that I am indeed “in Christ”? How do I know that my faith is real, that it is indeed saving faith?

Short answer to that question is this: we can know that we’ve been born again by the change that God is working in our lives. John says in 1 John 5 that his reason for writing that book was so that we could compare ourselves against Scripture, so that we could see how God describes the lives of His children, look at our own lives, and see if who we are is indicative of a supernatural change.

I love the logical progression of Paul’s thought here. He tells us to prepare ourselves for battle, live lives of holiness by immersing ourselves in the Gospel, trust God in all things, be assured of our salvation, and now he presents the only truly offensive piece of our armor, which is the sword of the Spirit, identified by Paul as the Word of God. We will never be able to effectively defeat the thoughts and temptations of Satan if we are not geared with truth from God’s word.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” It’s vital that we know what God has said. You’ll never meet a victorious Christian who has no Bible study somewhere in their life. Whether it’s by meditating on one verse a day or reading for hours, we have got to have a steady diet of God’s Word, so that it becomes a reality in our life.

And then lastly, in addition to taking on and keeping on this armor of God, Paul reminds his readers to pray at all times in the spirit, for all the saints. Specifically, he asks them to pray for him to remain a bold prisoner of the Gospel. The principal behind that is this- my prayers to God will help me defeat Satan. My prayers to God will help you defeat Satan. Your prayers for me can help me in my spiritual battles. Are you praying in all things?

The thought I want to leave you with is this: you’ll never defeat the right enemy by using the wrong weapons. God has assured us spiritual victory as long as we’re equipped with the armor He offers. Where are you weakest? Are you too wrapped up in appearances, in playing “Church Christian” on Sundays and living like Hell the rest of the week? Perhaps you need to confess this to God and ask Him to make you serious about this thing called Christ-following.

Maybe you’re holding on to some pets sins, things that you know are impeding your walk with Christ, yet you still want them. Will you ask God today to help you live a life of righteousness? Will you ask Him to help you fall in love with Jesus?

Perhaps your understanding of the Gospel is so shallow that it’s become powerless in your life. Your prayer should be for God to give you a grace-awakening, a better, more intimate understanding of your position in Christ, what it really means to be saved by grace.

Maybe your battle is in trusting in God’s goodness and sovereignty in the face of evil and hardship. You might be fighting for assurance of salvation- will you pray your way through 1 John and allow the Spirit to show you the Truth? Will you spend more time in the Word this week, more time in prayer? What will you do with this armor that God offers you?

I found a story on the ‘net last week that read like this: “It was late autumn of 1944 and Germany had been beaten back behind its borders. The Nazi war machine was nearly destroyed. The repeated bombing raids of the Allies all but assured that Hitler’s forces would never rise again. Around the perimeter of Germany’s borders, the Allies spread a thin line of forces. One person observed that Allied forces were so scattered that a man could slip between its lines without being observed.

All across Europe, there was celebration rejoicing in Germany’s defeat. The war was effectively over. The only problem was . . . somebody forgot to tell Germany. Even as his forces were being shattered and driven back, Hitler was devising a plan for one last onslaught. Underground factories churned out more weapons, armament and ammunition. More of Germany’s young and old men were conscripted and trained for war. And as Europe rejoiced, Hitler planned. Hitler’s goal was not to drive back the Allies into the sea, as much as it was to divide the British to the North and Americans to the South, so demoralizing them that they would seek peace on his terms and not theirs.

On Dec. 16, 1944 Hitler’s army began The Ardennes Offensive, also known as The Battle of the Bulge. Over 1,000,000 men fought along an 85 mile front; when the fighting ended Jan. 25, 1945 over 186,000 men died because we forgot that the enemy still lived and that the war was NOT over.”

A powerful story, and a powerful reminder that one of the things we as Christ followers need to recognize is this: though Satan has been defeated and the victory over sin and evil has been won at the Cross, our battle against evil will not be over until one of two things happens- Jesus returns for His bride, which He will one day, or we pass from this life into eternity by way of death. But until one of those happens, the war still rages.

It doesn’t take much effort as we look around us to realize that we live in a hostile and increasingly anti-God environment. Some thirty percent of the internet, almost 1/3, consists of pornography. In 2010 in this country alone there were almost 15,000 murders, 85,000 rape assaults, and 368,000 robberies. Since the legalization of abortion in 1973, we’ve lost over 55 million babies in this country. Worldwide, there are an estimated 84 abortions every second.

Suffering exists. Evil is real. The creation is fallen and will remain to be until Jesus remakes it, until He reconciles it all back to Himself and fixes it. Until then, life will not be perfect. We will not live on easy street. Have we been saved from the penalty of sin? Yes! Have we been saved from the power of sin? Absolutely! But we are not yet saved from the total presence of sin, and you need to know today that we are in a battle!

We’re in a battle for our marriages, for our families. We’re in a battle in our education system, in our governments. We’re in a battle today for the youth of this nation, for the freedoms that we once enjoyed. We’re in a battle for our minds, for our hearts. This is why Paul’s closing exhortation in this letter to the Church in Ephesus, after he’s explained our position in Christ, after he’s urged us to imitate God as beloved children, is this in chapter six, verse ten: “finally, be strong.”

Be strong, because you still have obstacles. Be strong, because too many times last week we failed to live in the reality that we are sons and daughters of God. A passive verb in the Greek, what Paul is saying is not “strengthen yourself.” He isn’t saying “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and stay strong.” He isn’t saying “You’re on your own with this one- good luck!” In fact, any idea that we’re capable of anything on our own goes against the grain of everything that Paul has said so far in this letter, because we know that we’re completely and totally reliant upon grace for everything, from believing in Christ as Savior to walking worthy of this calling.

But Paul knows that there are obstacles to our imitation of God. He knows there are obstacles to our walking as beloved children, to living as light. He knows that there are obstacles to our walking in wisdom,walking in the fullness of the spirit. He knows that we’re going to encounter hardships as we seek to love our wives and submit to our husbands. He knows that we’re going to hit snags in our obedience to our parents, in the godly raising of our children. He knows we’re going to mess up and encounter difficulties in our employer/employee relationships, and he knows that we cannot of our own strength overcome these obstacles, and so Paul isn’t saying strengthen yourself, but rather “be strengthened, be made strong.” And then to clarify the source of this strength, he tells us that we are to be strong in Christ, and in the power of His might.

We need to unpack this a little, because if you’re like me, it’s entirely way too easy to let little phrases like this slide across the radar without really understanding them. What Paul is doing is not only telling us to be strong, but he’s reminding us that we can only do so in recognition of our position in Christ.

“In Christ,” is a phrase that Paul used prolifically in the earlier parts of this book.  In fact, Paul alludes to us being in Christ about 8 times in the first 11 verses of this book alone. Perhaps the best verse in which to sum it up is chapter one, verse eleven, which says “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Let’s walk backwards through that. Paul reminds us, as we see throughout all of Scripture, that God works all things according to the counsel of His will. The Prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 14:27, “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?” The Psalmist said in Psalm 135:6, “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.’’

This is what we mean by the sovereignty of God. Nothing holds Him back, nothing limits Him, when our will and God’s will butt heads, God’s will will always win. And the amazing thing is that God willed to obtain for Himself a people, a bride for His Son. Before God breathed creation into existence, He predestined this people to be adopted as sons, as daughters, to receive eternal life with Christ as our inheritance. My salvation, your salvation, the salvation of all who will believe, was settled in eternity past, guaranteed at the Cross, and then applied to us when we trust in Jesus as our Savior.

We are in Christ. He has borne our sins and placed His righteousness upon us. Not because we’ve earned it. Not because we deserve it, but only because God chose to lavish His grace, love, and mercy upon us. Only because Jesus willingly went to the Cross in the place of His people. Only because the Spirit made us alive in Christ.

Paul tells us be strong…but to realize that we can only be strong through Christ. Have strength, but don’t rely upon your own strength, but rather in the strength of the One who died for you. Don’t trust in your own ability to be who God has called you to be. Rather trust that the God who has saved you will strengthen you, protect you, guide you, and lead you.

Right now as you read this we’re on a ball of dirt and water and rock that hangs weightless in space and yet weighs an estimated 6 sextillion pounds, or 6 trillion pounds, one trillion times. Yeah- it’s a crazy heavy mass of earth that’s rotating at just over a thousand miles an hour, traveling at over 66,000 miles an hour in a 585 million mile orbit around the sun, a 11,000 degree star almost a million times larger the earth. Yeah. And the God who spoke this into existence is on your side, if you are in Christ. He is fighting with you- not against you. So stop fighting on your own. Stop living as though you’re alone in this battle, because you’re not.

But we’re in a battle. Make no mistake about that. Paul couldn’t be any more clear as he urges us to “put on the whole armor of God.” Now he’s not saying “take God’s armor off of God and put it on yourself.” Instead he’s telling us that this armor that we need comes from God and God only. Anything you fabricate yourself will only fail you. Yet the interesting thing is that Paul is giving us an imperative command. Quite clearly we are told to put on this armor. Yes, it’s from God. Yes, it’s nothing we can do for ourselves. Yes, our strength can come only from God, but still we have a responsibility before God to put our armor on.

The Greek communicates an idea of finality, a once and for all thing. It’s not like a football game that requires defensive gear for four quarters and then you’re done. It’s a 24/7 way of life. Equally important to having it on constantly is the idea of having all of it. To carry to football analogy a bit further, in 2010 the National Football League recognized the importance of having all of your protective gear on and therefore created a rule that called all plays dead the moment the ball runner loses their helmet. Total protection is vital in our Christian life. We must put on the whole armor.

Why? Because only in doing so are we able to “stand against the schemes of the devil.” You know, there are two extremes in Christianity- there are some who believe that everything in this life that’s evil is a direct result of Satan. “I stubbed my toe and then got mugged. Satan really has it in for me.” And then there are those who feel as though Satan and his angels are powerless, that they have no bearing on our present life as New Testament Christians.  Research conducted by the Barna Group reveals that 40% of self-described Christians agree that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.”

Now it’s true that some evilness or bad things happen as a result of living among fallen, sinful people. We were all like that once. And yes, it’s true that even as new creatures in Christ we still have a fallen flesh about us, that we are inwardly tempted to ignore our position in Christ and foolishly pursue things not of God…but it’s also a reality that Satan is still powerful insofar as God allows him to be, and that he and his fellow fallen angels are actively seeking to destroy the Church. As I said before, I don’t think he got the memo that his defeat is a certainty.

Until then, we wage a war not against those around us, not against this fallen world with it’s storms, sicknesses, sorrows, and selfishness, 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.” It’s enough that we have a fallen flesh to contend with. It’s worse that there are those in this world who would do evil against us…but on top of that, perhaps driving that, and terrifyingly more difficult, is the reality that Satan and his angels are in opposition to us who have been redeemed by the Son.

I want to be careful not to exceed what the Bible teaches us about our enemy, because quite honestly there’s much I don’t know and sheer conjecture comes too easily. What I do know is that here in Ephesians Paul is describing a host of angelic beings that are numerous. They have control over this evil world in which we live, of which we were once part. They are crafty. There is nothing but grace to stop them right now from whispering thoughts of evilness into your inner ear in a way so subtle that you’d never think the thought came from anywhere but within your own mind. Satan brings accusations against us to God…and he can just as easily bring accusations against God to us. They can make us feel things, to dwell on unhealthy thoughts.

Some demons have powers that others do not. Some are higher ranking than others. Some, if not most, fly and have the power to travel in ways that we cannot. There could be thousands of them, there could be billions. They hate you, and they hate the Lord and Savior you belong to. Don’t think they’re the things of Hollywood that can be defeated by recitation of a prayer or through holy water.

So exactly how is Satan fighting against us? According to Colossians 2:8, by false philosophies, false ideas about Christ. Paul warns us against false ministers in 2 Corinthians 11. There are also false disciples among us wreaking havoc in the church, says Jude. Satan and his angels are active in directing governments, in deceiving us, in persecuting the saints, in keeping us from the work of the ministry, by creating divisions among believers, by planting doubt, by inducing pride, and by creating cults and false religions that will lead souls to Hell.
But it’s not hopeless. We’re not powerless. God is for us. He’s with us. He’s protecting and equipping us. That’s why Paul can offer this simple repetition of verse ten: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

To stand firm. Victorious. Conquerors, through the one who gives us strength. If we have the mindset that God calls us to, we will stand strong through the most vicious of spiritual attacks. In my next post we’re going to see how we can never defeat the right enemy using the wrong weapons, but what we need to wrap our minds around this week is this idea right here that we are all engaged in spiritual warfare, whether we know it or not. And my guess would be that if you don’t know when you’re fighting a battle, you’re probably going to lose it.

I really don’t know what spiritual battles you’re facing right now in your life, but I do know this- successful is guaranteed, but only by using the armor that God provides for us. Envision this with me…imagine what it would look like if we spent the rest of this week seeking God and asking Him to awaken us to the spiritual battle around us. How much different would our marriages look if we quit looking at our spouses as the enemy? What would God do through us if we all begged Him to mold us into soldiers in this fight, rather than passive Christians accomplishing little for the Kingdom? Are you willing to ask God to show you this week your need for His armor? Satan will continue his attacks against the Church. Will you fight against him or sit back and watch?

It’s been the coolest thing here in Crozet, jumping full-speed into the book of Ephesians that Walt has been preaching through on Sundays. As we both share the conviction that God’s Word is indeed God’s Word, and that it makes most sense preached from the beginning of each book through the end of that book, what we’re doing as we lead together is that each of us will pick up where the other leaves off from the previous sermon. Walking through Scripture this way gives us all a unified understanding of what the writer is saying, so let me very quickly catch you up to speed before I pick up Paul’s line of thought in Ephesians chapter five.

Paul here is addressing the Christ-followers in Ephesus, a wealthy port city in Asia that was under the rule of the Roman Empire. Paul’s writing this letter while under house arrest in 62 AD, about 30 years after the resurrection of Christ and Paul’s conversion shortly thereafter.

If you’re unfamiliar with the letter of Ephesians, Paul neatly divides this letter into two halves- what has been done for us in Christ, and how we are to live in response to this grace. You might could say it’s the gospel behind the scenes and the gospel on stage. I love how Matt Chandler phrases it in his book The Explicit Gospel; we see the gospel from the air and from the ground.

We see in the first part of this book how we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the universe. Before this earth was even formed, God chose of his own grace to save for himself a people, a bride whom He would give to His Son. He predestined us for adoption as sons, to be redeemed through the sacrificial death of His Son who died in the place not just of me, not just of the believers in Life Journey Church, but for anyone and everyone who will trust Him as their only means of salvation. And we see that even this faith in Christ is impossible apart from an act of grace from God, that it’s not simply something that we generate of our own will. Apart from grace, our only will is to do evil. We were dead in our sins, yet quickened, or made alive, in Christ.

Paul, writing in light of the glorious grace of God’s Gospel, then transitions into what could be called the do’s and dont’s, though now we can see the “done” of the cross. He urges us as we move into chapter five to “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” Not children walking in fear. Not children trying to earn the approval of their father by their actions, but as beloved children. Our acceptance has already been secured!

As we follow the God that we love in return, we will begin to see our lives become ever increasingly like Christ’s. We don’t make ourselves look like Jesus to gain His acceptance- we chase after him and begin to look like him. Let me give you an example of this. After the blizzard of ’87 hit, I remember following my dad outside in the snowfall. I thought the best way (really, the only way) to do this was by walking where he walked, but as you can imagine there was quite a difference between his stride and my own! As I tried my best to put my feet into the holes left by his steps, I found myself being stretched and uncomfortable, going way slower than what he had. But here’s the thing- as I was trying to imitate my dad, to walk where he walked, I found myself putting footprints over his own in a way I could never do had I tried walking my own way.

In that same way, Paul tells us that as we imitate God our lives will begin to show a difference from who we were to who God is shaping us to be. We will walk in love. We will walk as children of light. We will walk in wisdom, making the most of the time given to us by God. Instead of wasting our time, whether by foolish habits or drunken stupors, Paul encourages us to be filled, or controlled, or led, by the Spirit, and as we do that Paul says that we will, among other things, “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Submission does not mean “I’ll massage your ego if you massage mine.” Nor does it mean “I’ll submit to you if there’s some way in which I can benefit from it.” The word here submission, or to submit, is from the Greek hypotasso, which is a military term that means “to arrange troop divisions in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” When I was promoted to Staff Sergeant in the Army Reserves, one of my new responsibilities was to lead our platoon in formation. It was the neatest thing, being able to yell “Fall in!” and seeing the soldiers scurrying into their place within the formation. But here’s the thing…not everyone in a uniform is going to get the same result. You don’t submit to the authority of just anyone, but rather to someone with genuine authority. Just as I was able to have my platoon fall into place under my authority, I myself in turn submitted to the commanding authority of my company First Sergeant and Commander.

So when Paul says “submitting yourself to one another out of reverence for Christ,” what he is saying is “place yourself under subjection to each other according to the order and authority established by God.” As we are to “render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar,” we’re also to render unto each other that which we’re called to, not begrudgingly or out of sheer obligation, but out of reverence, love, and appreciation to the One who died for us.

Paul then gives three examples of such orders, or institutions: the covenant bond of marriage, the family, and the workplace. Today I’m covering the first one as we’ve now landed on one of the hottest theological potatoes currently being tossed around in Christian circles- that is, the idea of egalitarianism and complementarianism.

Simply put, Egalitarianism is the idea that both men and women, across the board, share equal roles. Neither gender is superior to the other, and both are perfectly suited to fill any role they chose. Absolutely nothing is gender-specific. The opposing idea, that of complementarianism, holds that there are roles given to both men and women that will never overlap. This does not mean that one is better than the other or of a higher esteem in God’s eyes. It simply asserts that in some areas of life, not all, God has created specific roles for men and specific roles for women. These roles complement each other, like that of a broom and dustpan. Together they fulfill each other, they help the other to achieve their maximal potential.

Complementarianism is not en vogue these days because of the implied submission of one role to the other, yet Paul said that as we walk in love, filled by the spirit, that we will in turn submit to each other in the roles that God has given us. Specifically, husbands and wives are called to submit, yet in different ways.

Paul says in verse 22, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Now, I have to unpack that simple phrase. It does not mean wives, let yourselves be trampled over by your over-bearing and unloving husband. It does not mean wives, become the physical, emotional, or even sexual slave your husband forces you to be, meeting his every selfish and perhaps hateful need. It does not mean wives, lose your identity and live in the shadow of your husband because you count for nothing. None of these negative ideas of submission come remotely close to what God had designed marriage to look like. Let me explain what this looks like:

For starters, Paul isn’t addressing a woman/man dynamic, but rather a wives/husbands thing, which we willingly agree to enter into. Paul says that for the woman who has chosen to join themselves to a man in a covenant promise of marriage before God, she is to submit, not to men in general, or to husbands in particular, but singularly and exclusively to her own husband. He is hers. She shares him with no one. So even in this phrase we see that husbands do not own their wife as a piece of property, but that as they have pledged their lives to one another, they now belong, in a sense, to each other.

Wives, submit yourselves to the authority, leadership, and governance of your husband, as to the Lord. Not as your husband may sinfully demand, not in the meeting of unbiblical and unrealistic requirements, but insomuch as your husband leads as God would lead, you are to submit to him your husband as you would God.

Why should wives submit to their husbands? Paul seemingly anticipates you asking, as he explains in verses 23-24. “For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”

Here emerges a parallel in Paul’s thinking. He draws a comparison between the way Christ is the head of the church and the way that men are the head of their wives. What does this mean? It means this: Christ, as head of the Church and as its Savior, provides for, nourishes, protects, leads, defends, and guides His people. In the same way, husbands are called to provide for their wives, to protect them, to lead them spiritually, to defend their honor, to guide them in their journey through life. As we husbands are to our wives as Christ is to the church, so are wives to be to their husbands as the church is to Christ: submissive, loving, and obedient.

Think of it this way- if husbands lead their wives the way we are called to, nothing but good can benefit from the wives submission as that obedience simply leads them closer to the joy that God has prepared for them.
This is one of the things that we need to keep in our minds as we explore the so called rules and commands in Scripture. After all, if we have been made alive in Christ, if we are new creations, if we are eternally forgiven and covered by the righteousness of Christ, why are there still do’s and don’ts? They’re there to enhance our joy. To showcase God’s kindness as He protects us from harm. It’s the same reason we establish rules for our own children. I don’t get after Gracelyn for chewing the computer cords simply because I don’t care for bite marks on them- I reprimand her because if she actually chews through one, she’s in for quite the shocking experience! In that same way, if we follow the guidelines that God has given us, they will only benefit us, increase our joy, and evoke even more worship from us towards the God we serve.

Now here’s the other side of the equation: wives aren’t simply called to action- husbands are called as well.

Paul says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Thank carefully about what Paul is saying here. This love that Christ has for his bride transcends anything we can fathom. Who were we prior to His grace? We were wicked at our very core. We were enslaved by our sinful desires. We were perverted in our way of thinking. We were unable and unwilling to change ourselves. We were separated from God and not looking for Him. At all. We were completely unable to please God, unable to respond positively to the Gospel which we thought foolish, and yet Paul tells us in Romans that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were sinners. When we hated Jesus and denied His truth, when we elevated ourselves above him, he died for us, so that now as we are justified by grace through faith, God does not see us as sinners. He does not see us as imperfect, flawed, fallen creatures. Through what Christ has done for us, the Father now sees only the beauty and righteousness of His Son as it’s been imputed to us, who never did anything to deserve it.

In that same way, husbands are called to love their wives. I love how John Gill says it: “This love consists in a strong and cordial affection for them; in a real delight and pleasure in them; in showing respect, and doing honour to them; in seeking their contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure; in a quiet, constant, and comfortable dwelling with them; in providing all things necessary for them; in protecting them from all injuries and abuses; in concealing their faults, and covering their infirmities; in entertaining the best opinion of their persons and actions; and in endeavouring to promote their spiritual good and welfare: this love ought to be hearty and sincere, and not feigned and selfish; it should be shown in private, as well as in public: it should be chaste and single, constant and perpetual; it should exceed that which is bore to neighbours, or even to parents, and should be equal to that a man bears to himself…
Husbands, this means overlooking your wife’s faults, those pet peeves which get under your skin. It means refusing to hold their mistakes against them. It means setting the spiritual example for them and lovingly guiding them along with you as you both grow closer to God.

As Paul continues in verse 28, love them as you love your own body. No one here is starving themselves or walking around shoeless or naked. In the same way in which we naturally consider and pursue our own well-being, so also we should be caring for our wives, meeting their needs, loving them even when they don’t meet our every condition.

So why should wives submit to their husbands? Why are husbands to love their wives unconditionally? Because marriage is an institution enacted by God, to his glory, that calls for actions and attitudes on both sides of the equation in our own demonstration of the relationship between Christ and His bride.

Paul takes it way back to Genesis 2:24 as he reminds us, ““Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” Paul says referencing this, “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Do you see that? Thousands of years before the birth of Christ, before sin even entered the world, God created this idea of marriage as a picture of the covenant relationship we would have with Jesus. Every day that we live as husbands and wives we are to be reminded in our actions of the Gospel and our submission to Christ as our loving and protecting Savior, which is why each of us are to “love our wife as ourself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Guys, it’s not about us. It never was. It never will be, and I think this is one of the primary reasons for failed marriages, relationships, and even friendships. Too often we focus exclusively on ourselves and our needs, and as we selfishly pursue our own wants we neglect the needs of the other person. As this week’s Journey Marker reminds us, “A Spirit-filled Marriage Means Less of ‘Me’ and More of ‘We’.”

So what do we do if we’re not submitting to our husbands? What can we do if we’re not loving our wives as Christ loves His bride? I want to be careful how I answer this, because the last thing I want to do is create a checklist, an artificial set of “do this” and “don’t do that.” At the same time, though, Paul clearly commands us to act. So perhaps the easiest and most immediate step we can take is this one- ask God to reveal to you the ways in which you can submit to your husband. Ask Him to reveal to you the areas of submission in which you most need His grace in. Husbands, think of the areas of your own lives where you are continually putting your own wants over those of your wife. Think of the places where your actions are selfish and unloving. Are you trying to love your wife sacrificially, to lead her spiritually, to nurture and protect her?

Perhaps it’s worse. Maybe as you’re reading this you lack any desire for such a change. For you, the immediate application is praying that God would give you the desire to want to change.

But let’s zoom out a little bit and remember that Paul says that loving our wife, submitting to our husband, these are actions that will come from being filled by the Spirit, and that this filling of the Spirit comes by way of our imitation of God, and that this imitation of God is going to be our worship in response to His grace as we continue to live in the reality of the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus came to this earth to bear the sins of His people, that He died and was buried, and the He rose the third day and now extends forgiveness to all who will receive Him as Savior. Are you living in this reality?

Perhaps you’re reading this and you’ve been wrestling with God for some time now, and it’s time for you to submit yourself before a holy and righteous God as you ask His forgiveness and receive His salvation. How will you respond?

Ephesians Six: Oopsie….

Posted: January 6, 2012 in Ephesians

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise), that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.'”

– Paul

Paul shares here the secret to a long and happy life. It’s in our obedience to our parents. Oh, yes. Remember all the times you were told to clean your room, do the chores, be nice to your siblings, or take out the trash? Sad to say, we simply don’t have the option of honoring our parents’ wishes whenever it’s conveinent for us. Something to chew on.

Ephesians Five: Look What I Can Do!

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Ephesians

As I was blogging last night in Gracelyn’s nursery, my 2-year old son came in, climbed up on the crib to look over the rail, and then said “Hello Babygirl.” We didn’t teach him that phrase, but he’s heard me use it enough that he’s absorbed it into his vocabulary. He does this a lot- sometimes to my chagrin, lol. You gotta be careful what you say around a toddler; they like to play “parrot” sometimes. You can see kids doing the same while playing pretend. Whether it’s “baking” a cake or driving cars, we don’t have to look far to see children who are imitating their parents.

Paul uses this imagery in verse one of this chapter as he says, “be imitators of God, as beloved children.” I love seeing my son imitate me, but that is only a faith picture of how God delights in seeing us walk, talk, feel, and think as He does. Let’s try harder to make sure that the way we live is a reflection of how Jesus lived.

Ephesians Four: Growing Pains

Posted: January 1, 2012 in Ephesians

Not all Christian growth comes with warm, tingly, feel-good experiences, such as those that grip me when I hear Paul Washer expounding upon the Gospel, or Piper talking about God while using dozens of Jesus-exalting, glorious, wonderful, beautiful adjectives (lol), or the somewhat sassy, in your face delivery of Matt Chandler. Nor does it always inspire me to conquer the world (through God’s help, of course) as occurs when listening to Francis Chan, or David Platt. It doesn’t always leave me thinking, “Ok, this is helpful. Sweet!” as is often the case after Sunday morning worship.

Sometimes it hurts.

Sometimes Christian growth isn’t fun, and it isn’t fun because there are times when the reality of who we are versus who we’re supposed to be just plain sucks.

It’s been like that for me the past couple weeks, because I’ve been confronted with my complete lack of grace among the very people I’m supposed to be ministering to. I’ve learned firsthand that there is definitely a wrong way to be right- not that I’m always right, for that matter.

Paul tells us in this chapter something that I’m determined to work on this year, which is this:

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Let’s grow in grace together this year, huh?

Ephesians Three: Troublesome Theology

Posted: December 31, 2011 in Ephesians

Perhaps I’m an oddball, but I have to confess that I enjoy having my brain stretched. I like problem-solving, which unfortunately leads to a rotten attitude when confronted with a problem I can’t solve, lol. Regardless, I don’t typically set out to “fight” with someone’s understanding of the Bible so much as I simply want to test my own theology out to determine whether or not it’s strong enough to withstand scrutiny. Along the way I see the other side of the argument, and more than once I’ve had to make adjustments to my beliefs because of errors that I’ve been shown. Semper reformanda, I suppose.

I say all that to say that I found some quasi-troubling material in this chapter. Part troubling for me, part troubling for you, perhaps. The first part has to do with eschatology, or the doctrine of end times. Well, it affects more than that. It really has to do with how the Bible is interpreted and how the Church is understood.

Growing up in an Independent Baptist church that followed classic Dispensationalism, I was taught that the Church was God’s “parenthetical” with His real plan, which was the redemption of Israel. In other words, God pressed the pause button on His original plan and kinda inserted the Church age into human history. Two peoples of God, two plans, total disconnect between the two.

I’ve written elsewhere about my issues with this based upon Paul’s letter to the Romans, and I’ve found a similar problem here as Paul says, “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (emphasis mine). And then as if to put the finishing nail into the issue, Paul reminds us that “…this was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Or you could say, this was all part of God’s master plan. While I don’t have the time, resources, or energy (not to mention knowledge, ha!) to compare and contrast convenantal theology with dispensationalism, or even with progressive dispensationalism, I found this passage to be compelling evidence that God’s covenant people is the Church, comprised of both ethnic Jews and Gentiles. This doesn’t mean that God has discarded ethnic Israel totally, though.

To end on a humorous note, this chapter also revealed the source for sloppy evangelism in verse seventeen where Paul talks about “Jesus living in your heart.” Gasp! He said what?? But I thought we were waiting for Jesus to return- you didn’t tell me He was here already compressed into a one-inch figure living in our blood-pumping muscle!

Lol. The Bible actually speaks of our “heart” as being the residence of the Father, Son, and Spirit. And, since the Trinity is not dividable, there is truth to this, given the understanding that when the Bible says “heart,” it is referring to the place of reason, will, and emotion. The role of the Holy Spirit, which is indeed the spirit of Jesus, is to indwell believers and guide us in life. So take care to come to a Biblical understanding of salvation. It’s not about “asking Jesus into your heart,” ’cause He ain’t gonna fit. It’s about wholeheartedly trusting Christ as your Savior, wherein God will give you His Spirit to live within you. Big difference there.