Final Items

“Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Ephesians 6:17

So we come to the remaining items of armour from Paul’s analogy – the helmet and the sword. So far he has listed the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of peace, and the shield of faith. He looks at his soldier companions in his prison cell, and wonders for a few moments about what the helmet achieves. It protects the soldier’s head from a blow that would otherwise kill him. The head contains the brain and it is particularly vulnerable to an enemy’s attack. So it is with us – our brains are where battles are fought and won or lost. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we read, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ”. Paul had his finger on human thinking and behaviour when he wrote these words. He correctly noted that “human reasoning”, “false arguments” and “rebellious thoughts” are all strongholds. Places where our thinking can be trapped into an apparently indestructible state of falsehood. Our human minds can develop all sorts of tricks to tick all of Paul’s boxes. Consider the following scenario. A thought pops into our minds. But intuitively we know that what we are thinking is driven by our sinful natures, and in our minds we then go through thoughtful gyrations to try and rationalise that our resulting actions won’t be too bad, or that we can even repent of what we intend to do at a later time. Paul summed up our problem very well in Romans 7:23. “But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!”. Paul knew the value of the helmet of salvation. If we read on in Romans 7 and 8 we see how our salvation is essential to fending off these attacks. 

The second weapon in this verse is the “sword of the Spirit”. This is the only offensive weapon mentioned by Paul, and it is extremely effective in fighting off the devil’s schemes. Again this morning I am conscious that the devil doesn’t want me to write these words because he knows the power that we have at our finger tips – the Word of God. In His temptation in the wilderness Jesus used His knowledge of the Scriptures to frustrate the devil’s onslaught. Three times Jesus refuted the devil’s temptations with references to Scripture and we read that because of this the devil finally left Him, for another “opportune time”. The devil has no defence against the Word of God. None at all. The Bible we have access to, wherever it is, on paper or on our smart phones, tablets or on-line, is a powerful weapon that should not be underestimated. A Roman soldier, if under physical attack, would not dream of not using his sword in some way. He would not forget it and leave it strapped to his side. With his shield and his sword, protected by all the other items of armour, he would have been a fearsome opponent in hand to hand combat.

One thing we should note. Our Roman soldier didn’t one day put on all his armour and become a warrior. He would go through a period of training. With fellow soldiers, they would have trained together to develop the combat skills needed. The skills needed were not automatically available. I’m reminded this morning about young David, in the passage in 1 Samuel 17. “Then Saul gave David his own armour—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine“. David had never used the traditional armour and weapons of his day, so they were no good to him. However, he was equipped with a very effective weapon that he had trained himself to use. I can imagine that on many occasions he had taken his sling and lobbed stones at the equivalent of tin cans, in his days spent watching his father’s sheep. And we read that when wild animals turned up hoping for a tender, juicy, lamb steak, then they received some well-aimed missiles, hitting them in painful places, discouraging them from their endeavours. David’s response to King Saul was basically that he couldn’t fight the traditional way because he had not been trained. 

The illustration of David is crucial to our journey as a pilgrim. Without being trained in the right way, we will inevitably fall by the wayside and never reach our promised destination. So we must read the Word of God, absorbing the Scriptures into our minds, getting used to our armour. Our training in the university of life constantly improves our skills. But occasionally we will be knocked down by the devil’s onslaughts. We will be bruised and battered. Full of remorse for not having done better in the fight. And we find that our loving Heavenly Father is there for us. He picks us up, dusts us off, forgives us and helps us on our way, loved and healed and ready for the next steps in our journey. What an amazing Father we have!

Fiery Arrows

“In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.
Ephesians 6:16 NLT

So far we’re doing well, working through our defensive armour. Paul has suggested the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and the shoes of the Gospel. But he thinks we also need a shield. Now, the Roman soldiers were very skilled with their shields. Not only was the shield an essential part of their body armour, but it had a corporate purpose as well. The Roman soldiers on occasion formed a column of men with shields positioned above, at their sides and at their front and back. It became known as a testudo or tortoise formation. It was very difficult for an enemy to pick them off, because there was nowhere an arrow could penetrate.

But what form do these “fiery arrows” take. Don’t forget that our adversary the devil, is a master of telling lies. We saw that a couple of days ago.  So he will try and deceive us. A bit like the scammers who ring people up with an investment opportunity that sounds so good and plausible that, before they know it, they have committed their savings to a dodgy scheme. The devil will on occasion sound so plausible, twisting the meaning of Scriptures, or telling lies about all sorts of things that might be of interest to us, that we have to be on the ball, always aware of his schemes.

Why did Paul describe the enemy’s barbs as being “fiery“? Perhaps some of the “arrows” he fires at us are shameful memories. From a time before we came to faith in God. And they induce in us a red face, fired up and flushed with shame. A flaming arrow is also more destructive, achieving more damage than an ordinary arrow would. 

So two things about the shield of faith. Firstly, as Christians, we each have one. Even a new Christian will be equipped with such a piece of armour. After all, we came to God through faith, believing that Jesus is who He said He is, and that is sufficient to protect us even when the devil is doing his utmost to destroy us. Secondly, just as a troop of Roman soldiers, we can join together with other Christians to form our own tortoise formation, each of us using our faith to help protect us all. A Christian on his or her own, perhaps going through a wobbly patch, and susceptible to a whisper of deceit, is easily picked off by the devil. There is safety in numbers, in the church. So we must never stop joining with other Christians, as the writer to the Hebrews said in Hebrews 10:25, “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near“.

We’ll finish this morning’s blog with a scripture written by another Apostle in 1 Peter 5:8-9a,“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith…”. So listen out for a prowler and keep your shield handy, just in case.

Standing Firm

“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.”
Ephesians‬ ‭6:13‬ ‭NLT

Paul continues to develop his theme of standing firm in the face of enemy attacks. We don’t run away, because we have all the resources we need to just stand firm. The devil only has control over us if we allow him to. If we stand firm he has no other way of destroying us. You see, God has provided us with spiritual armour, items more than capable of protecting us.

But what does “standing firm” look like in these modern times? To take an example, our 21st Century pilgrim might be susceptible to worry. He or she might be a member of the “what if?” brigade, always thinking up scenarios about the world and local events around us, that are destructive and threatening. So our thoughts might run this morning to “what if  the food bill is greater than I have money for”? Note two things – the event being worried about hasn’t yet happened (it probably never will), and God promised that He would meet all our needs. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:19, “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus”. Our faith is stronger that the worries we have, and we can stand firm on the Word of God, trusting Him for the solution to our dilemmas, no matter how problematic they might seem.

Notice too, that Paul said there would be a battle. In many ways, just living is a battle. We battle to earn a living. We battle with our sins. We battle in our relationships. We battle against the devil. But wait a minute! A Christian only needs to turn to God in the hour of need and the battle somehow becomes shared, or even taken from us. Romans 8:31 says, “What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” and verse 37 in the same chapter, “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.“. And then we have Exodus 14;14, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm”. 

So there we have it. Standing firm is not a “nice to have” state that isn’t achievable by ordinary pilgrims. It’s a consequence of being sons and daughters of our wonderful Heavenly Father. We just call on our Heavenly Dad when the enemy appears over the hill, heading in our direction.

Armour

Put on all of God’s armour 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.
Ephesians‬ ‭6:11-12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Well, Paul was quite explicit when he defined what we, as Christian pilgrims, are up against. As human beings, we automatically think in human terms, so anything defined as an “enemy” is something or someone situated in our physical and natural zone. The war in Ukraine is raging on as I write this blog today, and the combatants are obvious in human terms. But what Paul was saying was that there is a spiritual realm as well as our natural realm, and our real enemies are located there. An unseen world full of evil and powerful forces, which are a far greater threat to us than a military force equipped with tanks and guns.

In a recent Alpha video, there was a point when some young people were asked the question, “Do you believe in the devil?”  And the answers were revealing – one young person’s response was, “Not really”. And that is something Paul was writing about when he warned us about the “strategies of the devil”. Our enemy, the devil, is delighted if people don’t believe he exists, because then he can undertake his attacks unseen and unknown, fulfilling his aims of destroying God’s creation. 

So how does the devil manage to attack us, God’s people? One way is that he finds out our weaknesses and uses them to undermine and destroy our faith. As an example, if a Christian tends to be a worrier, the devil will bring up issues that cause more and more worry and anxiety, disrupting and weakening his or her faith in the process.

So why does the devil want to attack humans? Because he wants to be God and be in control of everything that belongs to God. That’s why he was originally kicked out of Heaven. And the problem that Christians give him is that they don’t want to be controlled by him. They want to follow God, not the devil. So the devil attacks them by distracting them, undermining them, leading them into sin through temptation, picking away at any weaknesses that he can find. And he has an army of demons, the evil spirits that Paul warned his Ephesians friends about, to help him. But the good news is that Jesus defeated the devil at Calvary. And because of that, we have all the resources and power we need to resist the attacks of the enemy. With the resources we have access to we can stand firm, resisting the devil’s attacks. James 4:7 says, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you“. We can resist him; we don’t have to fold and submit to the devil at the first attack by sinning. But sometimes we can fall into a trap and end up doing things we didn’t want to do. The old Apostle John wrote, “But if we confess our sins to [God], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness”. (1 John 1:9) So cleansed and forgiven, we pick ourselves up and move on, the wiser from the experience, more able to avoid the trap the next time the devil comes along with another ploy to trip us up.

Paul was desperate to deliver his message in person but there he was, trapped in a prison cell. But if he hadn’t been incarcerated, we would have missed out on the helpful and instructive verses in his Epistle. We thank God for him, and, now forewarned, we pray for protection from our true enemies, the devil and his hordes, safe in the knowledge that the protection we need is there for the asking.