Sunday, May 24, 2015

Prepare for Battle

It seems that we are constantly being barraged with images of battles being fought around the world.  There hardly seems to be an evening that goes by without the news telling us of an armed conflict that is being fought over real estate, religion or resources. 

And we hear about it so much that we have almost become immune to the reports.  After all it’s over there and not over here. 

But there is a battle being fought today, not in Iraq, not in Ukraine and not in the Middle East, but right here in Hammonds Plains, and in Dartmouth and in Halifax and in Sackville. And it has nothing to do with the Taliban or ISSI or Al-Qaeda. 

It is a battle that every Christian will have to fight with evil. You know we’ve become pretty sophisticated in 2015 and the concept that there is a battle between good and evil seems, well it seems quaint and old fashioned.  Maybe for an old episode of the Twilight Zone of the X-files, but not in real life. 

But that is what Paul was talking about in the scripture that was read earlier.    If you have your Bibles with you this morning why don’t you turn to Ephesians chapter 6, that’s about ¾ the way through the New Testament. 

Putting things into perspective here, the Author of the book of Ephesians is Paul and he has been arrested for preaching about Jesus and is now languishing under house arrest in Rome while he awaits his appeal to Caesar to be heard.  And so it was during this imprisonment that he wrote a series of letters, this being one of them.

Through the previous chapter and for the first nine verses of chapter six Paul has been advising the Christians in the Ephesian church how to relate to one another and now he takes an abrupt turn and begins to talk about a conflict that is happening in the lives of the people he is writing to.  Now if we were honest it is a conflict which we have all encountered from time to time.

And so Paul begins by telling us exactly what it is that’s happening in our lives.  Ephesians 6:12  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

And so the very first thing that 1) We Need to understand There is a Battle.  It’s unfortunate that somewhere along the path Christianity has become seen as, a walk in the park, a stroll in a rose garden or a canoe ride down a gently frolicking river, anything but a battel.  But that wasn’t the way Paul saw it, it wasn’t that way Peter saw it and it surely wasn’t the way Christ saw it.  Listen to what Jesus says Matthew 5:11  “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Sure sounds like a battle.

Notice that Jesus didn’t say “If people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things” He seemed pretty sure that it was going to happen because he says “When.”  It may not be as direct as the early Christians being thrown to the lions in Rome, or the persecution that happens to Christians in places like Indonesia and India and but trust me when I say that there is a battle going on. 

It may be an issue of integrity, or it may be a sexual temptation, or it may simply be the need to identify yourself with Christ in a society where the norm is anything but Christian, but there is a battle that is raging. 

Marjorie Holmes wrote “You don't always win your battles, but it's good to know you fought.”  But there are some battle that are imperative to win, and so Paul starts by telling us Ephesians 6:12  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies . . .

 2) We Need to Know Who The Enemy Isn’t.  There are two types of people who are not our enemies; the first is other believers.  We can become so caught up in taking pot-shots at other churches and other Christians that the world thinks there must be some type of holy war being waged between denominations. 

There’s a story told about a battle that happened during the time of the French-English wars.  It seems that one of the English frigates was anchored off of Quebec City waiting to reinforce the infantry when they arrived.  To keep the sailors from getting bored the captain, an Admiral by the name of Phipps decided that a little target practice would be order so the cannons were trained on one of the many Cathedrals that overlook the Saint Lawrence River.  For the rest of the day the ship fired at the statues that stood on the roofline and along the walls of the church.  Alas when the ship was called into battle it was discovered that, and here’s the line people, “They had used up all their ammunition shooting at the Saints.”

You know don’t you that sometimes as Christians we use up all of our ammunition shooting at the saints.  Full Gospel, and Immanuel Baptist and Stoneridge are not the enemy.  And Saint Johns, Saint James and Saint Nicholas aren’t the enemy and we need to keep that in mind.

The other group that is not the enemy are non-believers.  Somewhere along the line we’ve developed an “Us versus them” mentality.  And maybe that is why the Church as a whole has lost its focus on reaching the lost, I mean after all if’n they are the enemy why should we rescue them?  But it’s like in those old war movies where the bad guys in the submarines torpedoed the good guy’s ship and then watched as the survivors drowned.  And we knew that was just plain wrong.  And it’s still wrong.  When Jesus saw the lost he didn’t see them as the enemy instead he wept over their predicament. 

So now that we know who the enemy isn’t listen to what Paul says next: Ephesians 6:11-12  Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.  For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 3) We Need to Know Who The Enemy Is In Luke 10:19 Jesus called Satan “Our Enemy” and that is echoed by his friend Peter who wrote 1 Peter 5:8  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

One of the smartest things that the devil ever did was to allow himself to be portrayed as a harmless doofus in a red suit, with a horns and a tail and a pitchfork.  By allowing himself to be portrayed as a comical character he has removed the menace, the threat, the sense of danger.  Oh people today may be afraid of a multitude of characters and situations portrayed by the media, but they aren’t afraid of the Devil. Friends, as scary as the Walking Dead might be, they ain’t got nothing on Lucifer.

As Christians we often make one of two mistake, either we ignore Satan and pretend that he has no power and is nothing more than a myth or a past problem, or we dwell on him and give him credit for everything that goes wrong in our lives.  Two things you need to know 1) the Devil is real and 2) I’ve read the back of the book and we win.

So now that we know there is a battle going on and who the enemy isn’t and who the enemy is, we need to figure out how to fight the battle and a good part of  our success will depend on our preparation, which is why Paul goes on to tell us 4) We Need to Dress for Battle

I’m sure that Paul being the preacher that he was, was always on the lookout for new ways to communicate age-old truths. As he looked at the man who guarded him, and eyed his armour and weapons that an idea germinated in his mind and he thought to himself, “That’ll preach”

Let us realize that the armour that Paul uses here is purely an illustrative device.  He reached out and used the common to communicate the divine.  We can go to all kinds of extremes here and talk about the armour that the Roman guards wore and what was special about it and how it related to the different concepts that Paul spoke of, we could do that but we won’t.  Paul wasn’t teaching about Roman armour, the reason that he used that as an illustration was that everyone knew what he was talking about.  If he were teaching this same lesson today he probably wouldn’t use the same analogy because it is irrelevant in 2015. 

But while the illustration may not be relevant today the truth that he was trying to convey is.   Paul was teaching about the characteristics that will keep us as Christians safe in the spiritual battle that is being waged for our soul.   And he says that there are two times that we are going to need this spiritual protection.  First in Ephesians 6:11 Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. So first of all these characteristics will protect you today, that is the immediate.  We will chose to either use the armour that God has prepared for us or not to use it and it will be our decision.  But it is there for us, and if you don’t use it and as a result mess up your life then it is your own fault, don’t blame God.  But as well as for the immediate it is also available for the ultimate if we were to keep reading in Ephesians 6:13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armour so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. There are a couple of things that this could mean, the first is that Christianity was coming under intense persecution at the time and Paul could very well be preparing the Christians in the city of Ephesus to prepare for the inevitable.  But the bible is also quite clear that there will come a time that we will see a show down between good and evil. When that happens we need to be prepared, and Paul is telling us not to sweat it, that the qualities that will protect us today are the same qualities that will protect us in that grand finale. 

And so Paul goes on to speak of several characteristics and qualities,  Ephesians 6:14-17  Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armour of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.  In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.  Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. So what have we got here, we have Truth, God’s Righteousness, the good news, faith, salvation and there’s a knowledge of God’s word, which is the Bible.

The mistake that is so easy to fall into here is thinking that this is armour for very special occasions.  You know “Oh, today I am going to be involved in spiritual warfare and so I should don my spiritual warfare armour.  Today I will rely on truth, righteousness, faith, salvation and God’s word.”  That isn’t what Paul is saying.  If we are going to get our heads wrapped around this one we need to move back to the original analogy about the Roman soldier. 

You gotta understand a couple of concepts here; the first is that there was no such thing as an off duty Roman Soldier or an Undercover Roman Soldier.  These guys were the occupying force in conquered country.  They were on duty and in uniform 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  If you saw a guy who looked like this the first thing that you knew was that he was a Roman Soldier.  And the second thing you knew was that he was ready for battle.

The things that Paul is talking about here are not the characteristics of some special type of Christian warrior they are not things that we put on for special occasions.  Just as the armour of the Roman Soldier identified him as a soldier of Rome there are certain things which identify us as soldiers of Christ.  There are certain characteristics that we need to exhibit in our lives by which people know who we are and who we serve.  Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Galatians 5:22-23  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  If you are a Christian, a follower of Christ then every morning when you get up you’d better make sure that those things that Paul speaks of are going to be a part of your day and your life.  You can’t just put them on and take them off as it’s convenient.  They aren’t just your Sunday go to meeting clothes.

The reason that the Roman Soldier was always in his armour was because he was living in a country that wasn’t his.  He was in a country that was hostile to him and all he stood for.  And you realize of course that this is not a Christian country that we live in.

Take a look around, our culture reflects the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches us that we should be and how we should live as believers.  Every time you turn on television, every time you read the paper, every time you step into a movie theatre doesn’t it scream at you “You don’t belong, you are different”?  If it doesn’t you’ve got a problem.  Listen to the words of Jesus John 15:19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. If you don’t think he meant it, listen to what he said in his prayer just before he was arrested John 17:14  I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. And again in John 17:16  They do not belong to this world any more than I do.

And just as the Roman soldier got up every morning and dressed in a uniform that identified him as different than those around him you’d best put on all the armour that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devils tricks.

We are going to come back here and park for a while next week and take a deeper look into how we are supposed to dress for success.

Ephesians 6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

 And then finally Paul says 5) We Need to Remember Our Secret Weapon.  Every army needs a secret weapon. 

You won’t ever win this battle on your own.  Satan is more powerful then you will ever be by yourself.  And if you think that you can win this one all by yourself then you are in for a whooping.  Face it if you enter into battle with the forces of evil without supplication and intercession then the ruler of darkness will prevail.  Let’s see if I can make that a little more spiritual, “if you try to take on the devil without prayer you gonna get your butt kicked.” 

Let’s go back up to Ephesians 6:10  A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  So, what is it that makes you strong?  You ever see the cop show with the bad guy tells the cop, “Oh yeah, take off the badge and we’ll see whose toughest” or when the defendant tells the Judge, “If you didn’t have that robe on.”? 

Does the badge emit a force field?  Does the robe give the judge some superhuman strength.  No it’s the authority they represent. 

A Roman soldier could walk almost anywhere in occupied Roman Territory and as long as he was in his armour he was safe.  Was it because of the armour, no it was because of what the armour represented and that was the power of Rome, it was saying: mess with me and you’re going to have all of Rome all over you. 

And the power of prayer is that it gives us the power of God, and the only way that you can come out on top of this one will be with the help of God.  And that’s one of the reasons why Satan tries to keep God’s people from praying, listen to what William Cowper a British poet in the 1700’s wrote “And Satan trembles when he sees, The weakest saint upon his knees.”  It has nothing to do with the one praying and everything to do with the one we are praying to.  And that’s why when we find it hardest to pray, that we should pray the hardest. 

It was George Bernard Shaw who wrote, “In a battle all you need to make you fight is a little hot blood and the knowledge that it's more dangerous to lose than to win.”  And in the battle against evil in our lives, we will need to be passionate and understand that it is eternally more dangerous to lose than to win. 

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