Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
PAUL TELLS THE CHRISTIAN SOLDIER TO STAND FIRM ON THE PLACE WHICH GOD ASSIGNS.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 128:1 (baptism: Psalm 121:1,4)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Lord has privileged us this morning by letting us witness the sacrament of baptism, this time not only to an infant, but also to an adult. It's particularly this adult baptism that we find exciting, for this baptism signifies and seals to us that the Lord has taken a person raised in unbelief and worked faith in her heart, Yes, God has made His gracious covenant also with sr Anna so that she too may belong to God in Jesus Christ. We find that very exciting, and it makes us deeply thankful.
There is one most unhappy with today's developments. The Lord has told us that Satan hates with a hellish violence all those whom God rescues from his evil clutches. Such is his hatred that the evil one and his hosts do all they can imagine to trip up the new believer, to bring back to the ground the fragile repentant. For that reason, I want to open the Scripture with you, sr Anna, yes, and with all of us - I want to open the Scripture to hear the Lord's encouragement to His people in the face of Satan's attacks. This is the promise of God to which we need to cling: those belonging to Jesus Christ are on the winning team, no matter how strong the foe's assault.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
PAUL TELLS THE CHRISTIAN SOLDIER TO STAND FIRM ON THE PLACE WHICH GOD ASSIGNS.
1. the whole world is controlled by Christ.
2. the devil opposes Christ.
3. the saints are protected by Christ.
1. The words I have chosen from our Scripture reading to be our text for this morning are remarkable, surprising. Of all things, Paul tells the saints of Ephesus to "stand". What makes this instruction so surprising is that throughout the vss 10-20 the apostle pictures the Christian as being a soldier, as being dressed up in military uniform, as being attacked by a most cunning and crafty enemy. He speaks in vs 16 of "the fiery darts of the wicked one" - we would speak today of enemy sniper fire. It's in that particular setting that the apostle comes with his instruction: "stand". Nor is this the only time the apostle tell the saints of Ephesus to stand; in the vss 11-14 the instruction to "stand" appears four times. Vs 11: "put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand." In vs 13 the word appears twice: "that you may be able to withstand (in Greek it's the same root) in the evil day, and having done all to stand." And there's our text: "Stand therefore."
Yes, that's surprising. We'd expect the apostle to tell his soldiers to run for cover in the face of the devil's sniper fire, and at the same time to try to gain advances on the enemy, to rout him, to gain territory from him, even to claim the world for Christ. But there's nothing of the sort, there's no instruction to go on the offensive, there's no instruction to flatten yourself on the ground, no command to retreat from Satan's fiery darts and tackle his stronghold from a different angle; there's simply an emphatic instruction to stand. Stand, the full six foot of you, stand and don't move, never mind the enemy's sniper fire. Yes, we're surprised. And baffled.
That, brothers and sisters, brings us directly into the heart of our first point: why might it be that the apostle tells the saints of Ephesus, though they be under such crafty attacks from the devil, to stand? I've tried to formulate the answer in the first point mentioned for this sermon: Christ controls the whole world.
From Eph 6 we read together the first 20 verses. The actual context in which our text appears, though, is the vss 10-20; in those verses the apostle describes the warfare of the Christian. The apostle opens that section with an instruction to the saints of Ephesus to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." You will notice that here Paul piles up word upon word to describe God's muscle; he speaks of being "strong in the Lord" (in other words, of taking on board the Lord's strength), he speaks of "power", he speaks of "might". With these characterisations of the Lord, Paul reminds his readers of what he had earlier written about the Lord. Specifically, Paul builds here on what he had written in that passage we read from Eph 1.
Eph 1. There the apostle told the Ephesians of his prayer for these saints, his prayer that the Lord might cause the Ephesians "to know" "the hope of His calling", to know too "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints", to know also -vs 19- "the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe." That's what he asks God to grant to the Ephesians: knowledge of "the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe." And what's Paul mean with "the exceeding greatness of His power toward us"? Well, Paul works that out. It's a power, says Paul, which God
"worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come."
Yes, and so great is this power of Christ in heaven that -Paul adds- God has "put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church...."
That's Paul's prayer for the saints of Ephesus; he reaches back to the work of God on Easter Sunday when God raised His triumphant Son from the dead and so demonstrated His victory over death and the cause of death (which is sin), demonstrated His victory too over the evil forces that instigated sin in the first place. More, Paul reminds the Ephesians of what God did on the day of Ascension when He not just transported Jesus Christ from earth through the heavens into His presence but also gave to Christ a throne on His right hand and so put under Christ's feet every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth. The apostle speaks of principalities, of powers, of mights, and of dominions, and says that these too have been placed under Christ's control.
Principalities, powers, mights, dominions: the words denote the
power of Satan and his demons, they denote the influence and the
strength of those fallen angels in this broken world. Why these
hosts of demons are characterised here with words as "principalities",
"powers", "mights", "dominions"
may be best explained by a reference to Dan 10. You will recall
that Daniel received a very troubling vision from the Lord, a
vision that required further explanation from one of the angels
of God. But it took three weeks for the angel to reach Daniel
with the explanation -why?- because -says the angel to Daniel-
"the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days" (vs 13; cf vs 20).
The point is that Satan and his demons had power, so much so that they could hinder angels, yes, so much power that in Daniel 10 they are called "princes".
But, says the apostle Paul in Eph 1: Christ has received a throne "far above all principality and power and might and dominion". Every prince, every power, every might has been placed under the feet of the exalted Christ. In a word: as was promised in the OT, Jesus Christ has been made Lord of all (Ps 110) so that even demons are subject to the Lord of the universe. So it is that in chap 4 the apostle can say of Christ's ascension that "He led captives in His train" (vs 8) and the point is that the powers of darkness are Christ's prisoners of war. Sovereign is Christ, and the principalities and powers and mights and dominions -the whole world of demons- is broken, defeated.
That, brothers and sisters, is what Paul had made clear to his readers earlier in his letter, and it's now this instruction on which Paul builds in chapter 6. He wants the saints to "be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." Given what the apostle could write in chap 1 about the triumph of Christ on Calvary and its results at His ascension, it's more than obvious that the strength of the Lord, the power of His might, is most great, far beyond any muscle in this world. For Christ has conquered all, He is Lord of all, every creature in this world -demons included- are subject to this Christ.
And because that is so, beloved, is there actually no need to be surprised about the emphatic instruction of our text. Should the saints of Ephesus retreat under the attacks of the enemy? Should they duck for cover under the barrage of his sniper fire? Should they go on the offensive in an effort to win territory for their Captain? It's clear: go on the offensive makes no sense, because Christ has already triumphed, has won all the world; there is no more territory for Christ to win. Retreat in the face of the attacks that be? That won't do either, for Christ has been triumphant, Satan is bound, the hosts of darkness are Christ's prisoners of war. So, then, says Paul to the Ephesian Christians: "stand firm". Your conduct in battle is not to be one of trying to win new territory for Christ, for all is His already. Nor is it to be one of retreat and fear for -again- all is His. He's already fought the fight and won the battle; now it's for God's people to live out of the work He accomplished for them.
From this reality of Christ's sovereignty, brothers and sisters, there flows a consequence that touches our way of thinking. We tend to think in terms of the world being enemy terrain, terrain which actually we should try to capture for Christ. So we hear things like: we need to claim the world for Christ, need to claim today's music and arts and culture for Christ; and so on. The point is: it's enemy territory, we have to go on the offensive and win it for the Lord. The flip side of the same coin is that we're fearful of the world around us; after all, it's enemy turf, and so we take a defensive position, sneaking around this barricade, hiding in yonder trench, ever prepared to duck enemy fire.
But you've understood now, beloved, that Paul does not think in these terms. He doesn't see the world as enemy territory, as an area under the control of the devil which we should try to win for Christ. He rather sees the world distinctly as Christ's domain, under His feet. The kitchen, the factory, the university: according to Paul all is Christ's. And since that's how Paul sees the world, that's also how we ought to see the world in which we live today. By baptism we're grafted into the Christian church, belong to Christ, and our Saviour is Lord not just of the church, but is Lord of all we see around us. Truly, it's a privilege to belong to such a Saviour! We've got every reason in the world to stand, with no need to go on the offensive, and no reason to retreat either.
2 Such is Christ's power that all are subject to Him. Yet that does not mean that there are in the world no enemies; the apostle makes it very clear that the Christian is confronted with very real enemies - second point. For to this command to "stand" there is another aspect. It is true that Christ has won the battle so that even principalities and powers are subject to Him, but that reality does not mean that Christ's soldiers can sit down, can relax, can go on a holiday. The reality is rather such that there remains need for Christ's soldiers to continue to "stand", still to be dressed in the armour of God, to be soldiers.
The reason? The devil, though defeated and bound, is not willing to admit defeat. Even today he struggles on to regain the world he lost to Jesus Christ, and so remains a formidable foe for the people of God. The wicked one casts his fiery darts (vs 17) at the soldiers of Jesus Christ; yes, with tactics that can be thought up only in hell the devil seeks to win for himself those ransomed by the blood of the Son. Just how formidable this enemy is is pointed up by the apostle in the way he put vs 12 together. Paul uses some loaded names for the devil and his demons, and he accents each one in turn. Listen to the verse:
"...we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
Principalities and powers: we've heard those words already in Eph 1. That same body of demons is now further described in terms that would make one shake in his boots: "the rulers of the darkness of this age", the "spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Daunting terms they are, and with those words we are instructed in no uncertain terms never to take Satan and his hosts lightly.
The same sort of message is portrayed in that other word Paul uses to describe how the devil operates. Paul speaks in vs 11 of "the wiles of the devil", and the word "wiles" denotes scheming, craftiness, deceit. The reference is to the cunningness, to highly refined techniques the devil uses to lure people into his trap.
Now, one can try to flesh out just what we ought to think of as we consider how the "spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" might use refined trickery to draw Christ's people away from the Lord. Instead of looking first into the world of today -it's occult, it's music, it's anti-authoritarianism- we shall do well to listen -again- to what Paul has written elsewhere in his letter. It's not without importance that the section on the battle of the Christian follows immediately on Paul's instructions about marriage, family life, and work relationships.
From our own experience, we all know that marriage -though so rich and beautiful- has many negative moments. It happens in all our homes that husband and wife feel alienated from each other, squabble over insignificant things, feel irritated by each other. It happens in all our homes too that children feel misunderstood by their parents, parents feel distant from their children; parents and children don't talk openly as ought, do not trust each other. It happens in the work place that there is tension between employer and employee, the one feels the other is out to feather his own nest without regard for the rights of others. And to reach back into chapter 4 of Paul's letter: we all struggle with evil desires, greed, anger, struggle to speak only the truth, to be kind to one another, to be filled with the Spirit of Christ. This life has so much brokenness, and what we do day by day on the concrete place where God has put us displays that brokenness so very much; there is so much friction in our inter-personal relations, so much hurt, so much pain. Then it's true that the apostle tells us how we are to live in our marriages, how to act towards our children, our parents, tells us too what attitude to have to the boss and to our labourers. But, says Paul in vs 12 of chap 6: when all is said and done, "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood", the enemy isn't the boss or the spouse or the daughter. In those concrete struggles of daily life, those points of friction that cost so much energy, the enemy at bottom is none other than the devil and his demons, the hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. So crafty, so cunning is the devil in his efforts to shoot down the soldiers of Christ that he presents the enemy as being the spouse, the boss, the government, the officebearer. But Paul says No, Paul reminds us that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood." One enemy we have, and that enemy is not the wife, is not the neighbour; the one enemy we have is the devil and his evil hosts. That crafty devil shoots his "fiery darts" at us, and would have our eyes stay closed to the exact origin of that sniper fire.
Shall the Christian soldier in Christ's army sit down, lay aside his armour since Christ has already triumphed? No, says Paul, the Christian soldier can't do that exactly because the devil refuses to acknowledge defeat; he still goes around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. "Stand" is what the Christian has to do; he can't lay down his arms.
But turn tail the soldier of Christ's army may not do either. Yes, Satan is a formidable foe, and in the daily grind of life -in our bedrooms and in our family rooms, at work and on the train- this foe shoots his arrows to kill us. But the command of Christ remains: STAND! Run away from the place where Christ has put us, flee our marriages, desert our contrary children, abandon the world, avoid the university?? No, beloved, no! Christ has triumphed, and so it's for us to stand, never to run, to stand always in the place where the Lord in wisdom has placed us.
3 And then? Shall we not get shot down by Satan's sniper fire? Will the fiery darts of the devil not hurt, not kill the soldiers of Jesus Christ?
The apostle, beloved, knows so well that Satan's attacks are very real. Not for nothing does Paul speak in vs 12 of "wrestling", and not for nothing does he pile up those fearful descriptions of the hosts of wickedness; the enemy is real, his attacks dinkum. And yet, beloved, yet the apostle does not tell the saints to run! Despite the horrid reality of the enemy and his refined and hideous sniper fire, the apostle yet maintains the command of our text: Stand!! How he can be so insistent that the child of God must continue to stand, should never turn tail and run? That, beloved, is because the apostle works with the reality of Christ's triumph. Satan may be unwilling to concede defeat, but Paul knows very well that Yes, Satan has been defeated and Jesus Christ has been made Lord of all. More, so fully has Christ become Lord of all that it is He Himself who defends His people from Satan's shots!
Repeatedly in the verses around our text Paul tells the saints of Ephesus to get dressed, to "put on the whole armour of God" (vs 11), to "take up the whole armor of God" (vs 13). But notice what else Paul does. He tells his readers not only that they need to put on God's armour; he tells them too that they already have God's armour on. Notice vs 14: stand therefore, "having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness," etc. Those words express a present reality, and the point is this: God Himself dresses His people with the needed armour.
And what's the armour? One could say much about the function of the breastplate, of shod feet, of a shield, and so on. Two aspects about this armour, however, will suffice. In the first place, all the pieces of armour mentioned by the apostle in Eph 6 have a role to play in defensive warfare. That's to be expected; given what Paul had earlier written about the victory of Christ, the Christian need not claim territory from Satan anymore. In the second place, it needs to be noted that the entire armour mentioned here is God's armour, that is, is the armour which the Christian receives from God. Paul speaks about girding your waist with truth, about putting on the breastplate of righteousness, etc. This "truth", this "righteousness", the "gospel of peace", etc, are not items that we can make; these are rather distinctly gifts of God, given in Christ. It is God Himself who dresses His soldiers in the "truth" of Christ's victory, God Himself who applies to the Christian the "righteousness" of Christ, God Himself who places under the feet of His soldiers the comfortable shoes of the "gospel of peace" He prepared in Christ, etc.
And that's the reason, beloved, why the "fiery darts of the wicked one" cannot hurt the soldiers of Christ. Those soldiers need not seek to escape Satan's sniper fire, simply because God Himself has dressed His people in armour made on the cross of Calvary. Salvation is ours, by God's grace in Christ; faith is ours, by God's grace in Christ; the truth is ours, by God's grace in Christ; righteousness is ours, by God's grace in Christ, and that's why no cunning barb of the evil one can snatch us out of Christ's sovereign hands. So, without fear, we can stand, firm, in the place God has given to us. In the kitchen, in the factory, at the university: we can stand because the Lord God has coated us with armour prepared in heaven.
Certainly, we have a responsibility also; God's actions imply need for our response. God in Christ has prepared for us a armour protecting us from the arrows of the devil, has dressed us in that armour also. Our responsibility now is that we keep ourselves dressed in that armour, putting it on day by day. That requires effort, and that requires prayer (vs 18). But the point of the passage remains this: we can and we must stand because the Lord Himself has prepared armour for us and dressed us in it.
Satan knows, brothers and sisters, that we have been conscripted into God's army. And Satan knows it of you too, Anna, knows very well the meaning of your baptism. The devil and his hosts are far from content with your place in God's army, and will certainly do what he can to shoot you down. Yes, Anna, you too will find yourself under continued attack, be it at home, be it at work, whatever you're busy doing. But fear not, beloved in the Lord: stand where God has placed you, wherever that may be in God's big world. Stand, and do not run, stand, for Christ has triumphed long ago. Stand, and so be abiding testimony to all the world, and to the forces of hell also, that Christ has conquered. Stand, and so declare to all the world that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth are all subject to Christ, and all must one day soon -when Christ returns on heaven's clouds- must one day soon consciously bow the knee to the King of kings.
Soon He returns, that King of kings and Lord of lords. When He comes back, Satan and his demons -those principalities and powers and mights and dominions- will all be swept into the bottomless pit. That's when for us the battle will be over.
Is it worth being baptised, set apart from the world around us, conscripted into God's army? Is Satan's power not too strong for our weak and sinful selves? We know it, we believe it: to belong to Christ puts us squarely on the winning team. For Calvary is history. AMEN