Sunday morning's sermon on Ephesians 6:10-13. Audio here
You walk out of church, across the carpark and into the Arndale centre. Before you even arrive, easy listening music wafts out of the loud speakers. You know… the kind of music that sounds like Kylie Minogue played at half speed by a string ensemble on valium. The kind of music that sounds how nausea feels. You enter the heated shopping mall, bright lights, shiny floor, everyone ambling, dead-eyed. All lost in wonder at the brightly coloured offers. 70% off. 2 for 1. Exclusive deals. A safer, fitter, happier, healthier you. Be more fashionable, more in control, more up to date, more, more, more. Oh it’s exhausting so you sit down and have a cup of tea, surrounded by shopping bags, sipping your tea, staring into the middle distance, listening to the valium music.
And the bible says: Wake up! Wake up! O Zion – O people of God. Clothe yourselves with strength. Isaiah 52:1. We sing the song don’t we? Awake, awake O Zion and clothe yourselves with strength. It’s a nice song isn’t it – but what’s the emotion behind it? It’s about being roused from your coma of comfort to realize you’re in a battle. When the world around us is soporific and sedating and stupefying – the bible says WAKE UP.
So… we get home from our comfort shopping. Indulge in some comfort eating. Then we open up the glossy Sunday supplements and read about who is more intelligent: dog owners or cat owners. It’s official – it’s cat owners. A fact so important it was front page news in several newspapers last week. And we read all about our holiday destinations and cosy cottages in the country and yet another in-depth profile of the complicated mystery that is Simon Cowell.
And the bible says: Wake up! “Wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. Put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. (Rom 13:11-12)
Wake up. (Clothe yourself with strength). Put your armour on. Don’t you realize we’re in a battle? You are sleep-walking through a war zone in your dressing gown. Wake up.
So… you put down the paper, turn on the tv to watch the latest ‘I’m a celebrity give me a make-over so I can dance with the stars and look good naked on a desert island filled with tv chefs.’ Or whatever other light entertainment fills our vision. We turn it off, check our Facebook page to discover that a “Friend” we’ve never even met has advanced to level 683 of Dungeon Quest and needs your help to slay the monkey trolls of Quandong 5.
And the bible says: "Wake up!” “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead” (Ephesians 5:14). Or 1 Thessalonians 5: You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep… Let us be alert… since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.”
Wake up! You are sleep-walking through a battle-field in your pyjamas. Wake up!
In the bible, it seems whenever there’s a call to put on armour, there’s a call to wake up. Because we’re not naturally alert and battle-ready. The natural state of you and I is to sleep-walk through a war-zone.
Look down with me at Paul’s wake up call. Ephesians 6 from verse 10:
10 Finally, says Paul – here’s the thing I want to leave with you. Here’s my parting shot, this is what I want ringing in your ears– Finally, be strong – or “be strengthened” is a better translation. Allow yourself to BE strengthened. HOW? – in the Lord – in the LORD Jesus Christ there is strengthening - in His mighty power. Naturally we are weak, we have no strength of our own, but in Jesus there is strengthening.
How will that come to us? Verse 11: 11 Put on the full armour of God – the full armour. We are not just on high alert, we can’t just walk around in civilian clothing and keep our weapons handy somewhere. Paul says, THIS IS IT, take up your sword right now, clothe yourself in ALL the armour of God, this is not a drill, do it RIGHT NOW. Why? So that (v11) you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.
The devil’s schemes. We have a diabolical, personal, incredibly powerful enemy.
And this enemy has schemes. He has battle plans, he knows all the judo holds, he’s a master of military strategy, he’s full of ways and means and methods and schemes to seek and destroy you.
So get the armour on. Because…
12 [For] our struggle is not against flesh and blood.
What do you think the biggest struggle is for Christians today? What’s the enemy of the church? It’s so easy to think our enemy is “Secularism, or Consumerism, or Islam or Atheism, or any other human-ism.” No – that’s not Christianity’s real struggle. And what do you think is your own personal struggle? Flesh and blood family or neighbours or friends or colleagues? No – flesh and blood is not your ultimate struggle in life. Verse 12 – our struggle is
against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Do you see the nature of our enemy? There’s one commanding officer, the devil. And beneath him there is a vast and well organized army with command structures – rulers, authorities, powers, forces. And none of us can, even for a minute, take on a single member of this opposing army in our own strength. The rulers, authorities, powers and forces are bigger, stronger, cleverer and more determined than you and I. Therefore…
13 Therefore put on the full armour 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.
Do you see the nature of the problem? We are sleep-walking through a war-zone, Paul says wake up, put your armour on – you have an enemy more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
In the North African campaigns of World War 2, Lord Montgomery used to carry around with him a photo of Rommel – his German opposite number. He would remind himself he had an enemy, a powerful enemy, a wise and crafty enemy – Rommel was known as the Desert Fox. Montgomery always kept a picture of him close.
Passages like these are just like that photo. They’re saying: Remember Christians – you have a powerful, personal, intelligent, scheming enemy whose mission is to seek and destroy you.
Or let me give you a more modern example. Kurt Westergaard is the Danish cartoonist whose depictions of Muhammed earned him a fatwah from a Pakistani cleric. Last month a Muslim man broke into his well defended home with an axe to kill him. Kurt scrambled to a specially created fortress within his home and escaped.
Imagine being Kurt Westergaard, living under a fatwah. What would it be like to be so hated? What would it be like to be so under threat? What would it be like to have to think about your personal security all the time? To have to keep close to your personal fortress? What would that be like?
Well verse 11 says you and I ARE hated. We ARE threatened. We have a personal enemy who is HELL BENT on our destruction and we need to get the armour on.
I hope you feel the seriousness of all this.
But maybe you’ve got a question. If we’re in a life-and-death, heaven-and-hell battle – where is it? What does it look like? What is the nature of this war – because I don’t see any hobgoblins swooping down to carry me off. I don’t see monsters and ghouls and headless hosrsemen. What is this battle like? What’s the nature of this spiritual warfare?
Well to answer that, we’ll ask two questions. What’s our enemy trying to do? And what should we do? What are his schemes and what are ours? And as we answer those two questions I think we’ll see that while spiritual warfare is life-and-death, heaven-and-hell – it is also very, very ordinary. Crucial, urgent, life-threatening – but exceptionally ordinary.
So let’s think first – what are the devil’s schemes? Verse 11 says he’s got schemes, what are they? Well they are not what Hollywood portray. The devil is not trying to make your head spin around and your eyes roll back, he’s not trying to make you a fan of heavy metal music or bite the heads off chickens or cast voodoo spells or any of that nonsense. Those things are a side show. His real schemes are devilishly ordinary. Ephesians will teach us two main schemes of the devil. And I think probably every scheme of the devil’s is a combination of one or other of these basic schemes.
The first scheme can be seen plainly in Ephesians 2. Turn back a page to chapter 2, verses 1-3.
Here Paul is describing the natural state of the human race. He’s not just talking about witch doctors and a few demon possessed people – he’s talking about humanity. Naturally the whole human race is under the power of the devil. Read with me from v1:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, [that is Satan] the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, [get this] gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.
All of us naturally follow the devil. And that’s a problem because the devil is headed only one place – hell. In Matthew 25(v41) Jesus says heaven is prepared for people, hell is prepared for the devil and his angels. That’s what hell is for – the devil and his angels. The trouble is, rather than following Jesus into heaven, people naturally follow the devil into hell. Which is why v3 ends like that – by nature we are under God’s wrath as we follow the devil.
And how does the devil entice people along his road to destruction? It’s so insidious and so simple. Verse 3 – he just gets us to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature – to follow our selfish desires and thoughts.
We have an itch and we scratch it. We have hunger we feed ourselves. We have a selfish desire and we gratify it. This is the way of the devil. It’s not about grotesque, overt evil – Here’s what is so diabolical about the devil’s schemes: they are so ordinary. No chickens need be harmed in the destruction of a human soul, no voodoo dolls, no overt immorality – just simple self-centredness.
When is a person most under the control of the devil? Answer: When they are pleasing themselves.
We know that the way of Jesus is the way that says “I give my life for you.” The way of the devil is the opposite: “You give your life for me.” Christ’s way is the way of other-centredness. Satan’s way is the way of self-centredness.
You remember his words to Adam and Eve. “Forbidden fruit? That’s the best one! God’s holding out on you. It’s good for food, it’s pleasing to the eye, it’s desirable for gaining wisdom – you know you want to. Well gratify your craving.”
Remember his words to Jesus in the wilderness. “Hungry Jesus? Well use your powers – not to serve others, use it to serve yourself. Go on turn these stones into bread. Don’t feed others, feed yourself. You know you want to. Gratify your craving.” That’s scheme number ONE. And it’s so effective, he rarely needs any other schemes.
Devilishly ordinary. But devilishly powerful. The way of Satan is simply the way of self. It enslaves multitudes and it takes them to hell. And shockingly my natural tendency is to go that way. You might have noticed the footnote in v3 next to the words “sinful nature”. The footnote says “flesh”. Another way of describing the sinful nature is to call it the flesh. Selfishness clings to me like skin to my bones. The devil’s schemes seem so attractive. Comfort eat, comfort shop, comfort everything.
Wherever we shrink back from sacrificial love and move towards comfort and cowardice and self – Satan’s schemes are winning.
Do you remember when Jesus first explains to His disciples that He has to suffer and die – do you remember Peter’s reaction? “No Lord, not that. Don’t go that way. Don’t go the way of sacrificial love. That sounds painful. Avoid the way of pain. Save yourself.” What does Jesus say to him? “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knows the devil’s schemes. The devil always wants us to avoid sacrificial love and serve ourselves. It’s very powerful. And very ordinary.
This week your spiritual battle will occur in the most ordinary places. In everyday parts of your life the way of Satan and the way of Jesus will lie before you. That simple act of service, that phone call, that visit, sacrificing time or money or energy to serve another in love – that is standing firm on the very frontline of the spiritual battle.
The second of the devil’s schemes that Ephesians shows us, you can figure out by looking at Ephesians 6 verse 16. Just look on to chapter 6 verse 16 and you’ll see what the devil’s up to.
[We’re going to study this more next week, but look at v16]
16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Ok this is a metaphor. The devil is shooting fiery arrows at you – and you combat those arrows by faith. So what’s the nature of flaming arrows? What do flaming arrows represent? Well they must be the opposite of faith, mustn’t they? So Satan tries to get you to disbelieve, to doubt, to mistrust God.
What were his first words to Eve? “Did God really say?” “Are you sure?” “Can you trust Him?” “Can you trust that you haven’t misheard Him?” Do you hear Satan sowing seeds of doubt.
Same thing in the wilderness with Jesus. His first line was “IF you are the Son of God…” “IF you are… Are you sure Jesus? Are you really the Son of God?”
And you see Satan will come and a shoot a flaming arrow at YOU – and he’ll say “Are YOU really a child of God? Do you really have a relationship with God? Are you really loved by Him, forgiven by Him, known by Him?” Satan wants you to disbelieve, to doubt, to mistrust, to be unsure of Jesus or your relationship to Him.
It’s diabolical, but it’s very ordinary isn’t it? There are no voodoo curses here – it’s just plain old doubt. All the devil has to do to conquer and enslave a person is to get them to doubt the truth of the gospel.
So do we see the devil’s schemes. So ordinary. So powerful. Serve yourself and doubt God. That is the beat of Satan’s drum and billions dance to it.
What are we to do in the face of this? Paul says to us – Stand. Stand up to this. Stand against this. Stand. Do you see how often he uses the word stand in verse 11, verse 13, verse 14 – he says it four times: stand, stand, stand, stand.
He doesn’t say “Retreat.” But, note well, neither does he say “Advance.” Too many people read about spiritual warfare here and conclude that we should advance into enemy territory on some kind of ghost-busting mission. They think of themselves as advancing into enemy territory trying to engage the powers and rulers and authorities. They might speak of naming and binding territorial spirits and all sorts of other nonsense that is never spoken of in the bible.
There are cases of demon possession – it’s not at all Satan’s main scheme, but it happens. And there’s a place for responding to these attacks with prayer and fasting in the name of Jesus. But these are responses. We don’t go out on seek and destroy missions. Paul doesn’t say “Advance.” He says “Stand.” Why? Because look where we are standing. Verse 10, we are IN the Lord Jesus. And IN the Lord Jesus we’ve got the high ground.
Paul tells us about the high ground in chapter 1 verse 20. He says:
God raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.
That’s the high ground. God’s right hand – the throne of the universe. But then astonishingly, Paul says in chapter 2 verse 6:
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
Do you realize where we are? Raised with Christ and seated with Him at God’s right hand, the place of honour and power and blessing. That’s where we are. We have the high ground.
So do you have the battle-field in your mind? At the bottom – there’s us in our natural state. Without Christ – we are dead in transgressions and sins.
Above us are, v12, the evil powers – they are in the heavenly realms.
But above them is Christ – He is in the highest place at God’s right hand.
So it goes: us-without-Jesus; evil powers; Jesus. And if we are IN Jesus, if we are united to Him, then we hold the high ground.
If you’re in a battle and you hold the high ground and if all you want is the high ground, you don’t retreat and you don’t advance. All you have to do is stand.
So what is our part in spiritual warfare? Occupy the high ground, stand IN Jesus, clothed in the armour He gives.
We’ll look at the armour more next week. We’ll see that this armour is just the basics of the Christian life. It’s about wrapping the gospel around you. Things like (v14) the breastplate of righteousness or (v17) the helmet of salvation. Paul’s basically saying: You know how you are righteous in God’s eyes. You know how even though you’re a selfish so-and-so Christ has made you righteous through His death and resurrection – put that truth over your heart to protect you.
Or think about the helmet of salvation: Do you know the wonder of how Christ has saved you – wrap that truth around your head. Stand IN the armour God has given you. He’s given you truth and righteousness and the gospel of peace and the bible. Surround yourselves with these things. Do you know how to put on this armour? Do you know how to clothe yourselves in gospel truth? Come back next week to find out more. But it’s not rocket science this. If you keep reading Ephesians 6 he’s only going to tell you to read you bible, pray, wrap the truths of the gospel around you and tell the gospel to others. There are no special spells to cast or special techniques for demon-busting. You know how you stand against the devil?
You realize that you already hold the high ground, you clothe yourselves in the gospel promises and stand IN Jesus.
I’ll just close with that little phrase: “In Jesus.” Do you know what that truth means? A Christian is someone who is IN Jesus. In fact, maybe that’s the most basic description of a Christian. We are united to Him like a branch to a vine , like a bride to a bridegroom, like a body to a head. We are united, one. We are ‘in Jesus’. Paul says it 24 times in Ephesians. 24 times he tells them “you are IN Jesus.” And you can’t get closer than ‘in’. If you don’t know Jesus – you’re as far from God as it’s possible to be. But if you do trust Jesus, you could not be closer, you are in Him.
As Ephesians 2 says, you are seated with Christ at God’s right hand. And as Ephesians 1 says there is a fountain, a flood, a torrent of love and blessing flowing from God the Father to His Son Jesus. And you are in Jesus. And in Him you have the Father’s love and blessing and forgiveness and grace and inheritance and His very own Spirit. It’s all yours – read all about it this week. Do you read the bible during the week? If you don’t or if you’ve stopped, it’s time to wake up and put your armour on. Why not read Ephesians chapter 1 every day this week, and let it sink in. All the Father’s love and mercy and delight showers upon you because you are IN Christ. If you know Jesus, you don’t have to move an inch to the left or an inch to the right, an inch forwards or an inch backwards. Here, now and forevermore you are IN the love of God.
And do you see how if you stand IN Jesus, wrapped up in this gospel truth, the devil’s schemes are thwarted. How can the petty comforts of this world compare to standing IN Christ? How can serving self entice when everything’s already given to you in Jesus? And how can you doubt your identity or Christ’s when you are clothed in gospel promises?
There’s more to be said about the armour. We’ll find out next week more about how to wrap these gospel promises around us. But for now, let’s remember the lessons:
Don’t sleep-walk through this war-zone in your pyjamas. Wake up. You have a personal and powerful enemy with schemes. He wants you to serve yourself and doubt your God. He wants you to reject the way of Jesus and the grace of Jesus. Resist him. Clothe yourselves in the strong gospel promises of God, occupy the high ground, stand IN Christ.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand,
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the love of Christ, I stand.