Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost based on Ephesians 6:10-20
Dear fellow soldiers: grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
We are at war.
Usually, when we think of war, we think of something far away, distant from us on the other side of the world; or distant from us in time, something that took place many decades ago. This is also how we often think of spiritual warfare; that it takes place far from us; that there is warfare going on in some other dimension, far removed from us; that God’s mighty angels fight this cosmic battle against the angels of darkness on our behalf, far away. We look at ourselves as civilians, not soldiers, and we don’t see ourselves as part of the battle.
But be warned – the enemy has declared war on you. Satan has declared war against your soul, and his spiritual attacks against you take place every day. Every Christian is in the war. You may be inclined to ask, “When was I recruited to be a soldier?” or “When did I sign up for this?” The answer may surprise you – it was in your Baptism.
Usually when we think of Baptism, we think of the white robe of righteousness we receive. What should not be forgotten is that we also receive a soldier’s uniform. You see, in your Baptism, you were brought into communion with God, and were united in Christ’s death [Rom. 6:3, 5]. You were therefore brought to God’s side of the battle, against the enemy.
The next question is with whom are we battling? Who is the enemy? In our eyes, terrorists and those who seek to hurt us are our enemies. Our neighbour who did something against us seems to be our enemy. Our family member who is fighting over the inheritance. A fellow church member who is being selfish. But our Epistle says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood [v. 12].”
In a battle, a horrific disaster that can happen is confusing who the enemy is. This confusion results in so-called “friendly fire”. We start to assault those on our own side. We should see that other people are not the enemy. Not even the person who just sinned against you. No, we have a common enemy, and that enemy has attacked you through this person.
If someone sins against you, it is an injury to himself, he is the one with the sin, he is the one who was hit by the enemy’s arrow. Fighting him is turning against your own side. With fellow Christians you hold shields together on the front line. If you start to fight with your fellow soldiers, you are helping the enemy. Instead, stand with them against the schemes of the devil [v.11].
This is exactly what the enemy does not want you to do. He does not want you to stand against his schemes. He does not want you to put up a fight. He wants you to take sin lightly. He wants you to give up the fight.
When the enemy manages to injure you, perhaps yet again in that same place where he always injures you: you again get angry and sin; you again speak poorly of a person behind their back; you again lust and covet; you again have too much to drink; you again act selfishly. His arrow hits you again in that spot which is already raw and in pain. The enemy wants you to give up. He wants you to drop your shield and say that you cannot take any more battle. He wants your fatigue to take over. He wants your sin to overwhelm you, so that you will doubt that God will still forgive you. Once the enemy has knocked you down, he wants you to stay down and despair.
But when the battle ends, we have either fallen away from the faith or we are in heaven. As long as we still have our sinful flesh, we are either at war with it, or have surrendered to it. Once surrendered, we are spiritually dead, and thus the battle ends, for no one attacks dead soldiers.
Being at war is the normal situation for the Christian. We should not be surprised that arrows are flying and swords are swinging, because we are in battle. And injuries happen. Burning arrows, or flaming darts, are especially dangerous [v. 16]. Not only is there danger from the arrow, but once it strikes, the fire can spread and cause more damage. Even if the arrow does not strike you, but only near you, it can still hurt you. And this in fact is the strategy of the enemy.
He wants to graze you with his fiery arrows. He wants you to see that you are not badly injured, and there is just a tiny little flame left behind. Not so bad, you can leave it alone. The enemy wants you to take his attacks lightly. He wants you to take your sin lightly. The devil wants you to believe that God forgives you so you can sin all you want without consequence. So you justify your sins to yourself and excuse them. You know what God’s Word says, but in this case it’s just not practical to follow, so you defend your sin. In this case you will just let it slide. You feel you do what God wants in so many other ways that you can allow this one sin to remain in your life. After all it is just a little flame.
But as the proverb goes, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned [Prov. 6:27]”? Every sin, no matter how small, is worthy of eternal death [Gal. 3:10]. And leaving the fire burning not only hurts you, but it also hurts those soldiers standing with you. Do not allow even a little flame to remain. It must be extinguished. Even little things must be resolved. Confess your sins and douse the flame. The longer you leave the flame alone, the larger the fire will get, and soon it cannot so easily be extinguished anymore. So, yes, stand firm in the fight. Do not give up.
So that you do not despair because the battle is so great, know that all that is required of you is that you stand firm [v. 11, 13, 14]. Nowhere are you commanded to attack the enemy – that is not your task. You need only to stand firm. And note what it says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might [v. 10].” Stand in the Lord’s might. You don’t need to rely on your might. When you fall, He picks you up. And He doesn’t count how many times He picks you up. Each time is the first time He picks you up, because He forgives you [Ps. 32:5], and removes your sins from you as far as the east is from the west [Ps. 103:12], and He has promised to remember your sins no more [Jer. 31:34, Heb. 8:12].
So what is required of us for the battle? We need only to stand firm and be strengthened in the Lord and in His might. God equips us and gives us everything we need. Note that all of the equipment is armour; it is defensive: the belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, and helmet. Even the sword is primarily a defensive weapon. It is not a great big broadsword for attacking, but a short sword used to parry the attacks of the enemy.
And we do not need to fear that our equipment is inadequate, for it is not ours, but God’s. God gives it to us and strengthens us to stand firm in it. The belt of truth is first. The devil, the father of lies, tries to trick you in every way – to make you believe that there is no war; that the small fire from his arrow won’t hurt you; that your fellow soldiers are your enemy. God’s truth alone can counter the devil’s lies.
The breastplate of righteousness is next. It is Christ’s righteousness with which He has covered you. His righteousness will protect you through the battle to heavenly peace after the battle is done.
The shoes of the Gospel of peace make you stand firm, so you don’t slip. It is the Gospel which “is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes [Rom. 1:16].” It is the Gospel which gives us our confidence in the battle.
Faith is your shield. This is the shield that protects you from the flaming arrows of the enemy.
The helmet is the hope of our salvation [cf. also 1 Thess. 5:8]. The hope that the war will soon be ended, and we will be in our peaceful, heavenly home. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us [Rom. 5:5].”
Finally, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, is our sword of defence. We cannot defend ourselves with weapons of the flesh, since we are not waging war according to the flesh [2 Cor. 10:3]. Through God’s Word, He does the work. His Word will not return empty [Is. 55:11] and is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword [Heb. 4:12]. Immerse yourself in Scripture daily so that you are armed. Memorize Scripture so that you will have it at hand when the devil attacks.
Above all, we must remember that the battle is the Lord’s [1 Sam. 17:47, 2 Ch. 20:15], and He has already won the battle. Our Saviour, Christ Jesus, abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through His death and resurrection [2 Tim. 1:10].
Our Saviour did not take our sin lightly. He took the weight of it on Himself to the cross and left it buried in the tomb. Jesus has bound Satan [Mk. 3:27] and defeated him and the power of death by His own death [Heb. 2:14-15]. Christ won the battle on the cross. So, while the spiritual battle in our lives is very real, the enemy has been destroyed. And destroyed, the devil has nothing except last-minute schemes into which he tries to mislead us, before he is thrown into the eternal fire prepared for him and his angels [Mt. 25:41]. These are the schemes God has equipped us to stand firm against in His armour, until, on that great Day, He raises us from the dead and we say with all the saints, “’Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting [1 Cor. 15:54-55]?’”
“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ [1 Cor. 15:57].” Amen.
The peace of God given to us through Christ’s victory on the cross, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.