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May17, 2020

Sermon Ephesians 6:11 . . .“Paul said:  ‘Put on the whole armor of God’”

“Paul said:  ‘Put on the whole armor of God’”

Ephesians 6:11

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Some five hundred years before Christ, a Chinese military strategist named Sun Tzu, a name that means, “Master Sun,” wrote a book called, The Art of War, a book he was well qualified to write.  Those who knew him said he was one of history’s very best military analysts and tacticians.  

To this day, not only is it the most influential book on East Asian warfare that’s ever been written, it still has an impact on our Western military thought, as well as business tactics, and legal strategy.  

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “I have read The Art of War by Sun Tzu.  He continues to influence both soldiers and politicians.”  Five Star General and Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Douglas McArthur always kept a copy on his desk.  Even Coach Bill Belichik, the record holder for the most Super Bowl wins in history, said he’s used it on the football field!

And while much of its thirteen chapters talk about how to fight a war without even having to go into battle, it offers tips on how to outsmart an enemy.  

For example, Sun Tzu writes, “I will force the enemy to take our strength for weakness, and our weakness for strength, and thus will turn his strength into weakness.”  And he wrote, “All warfare is based on deception.  Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity.  When near, make it appear that you are far away; when you are far away, make it seem that you are near.  Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him.  Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.”

And one more:  “If you know the enemy and you know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer defeat.  If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

As Sun Tzu wrote, “The Art of War is of vital importance to the state.  It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.  Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, had something to say about the art of war.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1245.  Ephesians chapter 6, starting at verse 10:  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:10-20).

If you’ve been with us for the past couple of weeks, you might remember that Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is one of his four “Prison epistles.”  Along with his letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, he wrote this letter to the Ephesians while he was a prisoner in Rome.

And what a beautiful letter it is, for it’s here that we find words like these--chapter 1:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”  Chapter 2:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  And chapter 5:  “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word.”

Now after he speaks of things very practical and very personal, he brings his letter to an end.  So he writes in chapter 6, verse 10:  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, there’s a battle raging all around us.  We can’t see it.  We can’t hear it.  But it’s a battle just the same.

The apostle Peter wrote:  “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith.”  The apostle John wrote:  “Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  And Joshua wrote:  “Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

But even though there’s a battle raging all around us, our God hasn’t left us on our own.  As Paul wrote in verse 11:  “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Some four hundred years after Christ, at a time when the Roman empire was beginning to lose its strength and power, a military expert and fellow Christian named Vegetius wrote a book to encourage the army to regain its strength and glory.  He called it, Concerning Military Matters.

This is what he said:  “Victory in war does not depend entirely upon numbers or mere courage; only skill and discipline will ensure it.  We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observation of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.”

So what training, discipline, and cultivation was the Roman army known for?

After taking an oath of service, each soldier was branded with the letters, “SPQR,” a Latin acronym that meant he now belonged to the “Senate and the People of Rome.”  

Then they began their training, a training that was broken down into three categories--physical, weapons, and field service.  And with such perfection in exercise and discipline, a Roman soldier was more healthy and more physically fit than any other soldier of his time.

Take marching, for example.  Now you might think marching isn’t all that physical.  But their marching was just one step short of an all out run.

Wearing full armor, their first goal was to march twenty miles in five hours.  When they could do that with no problem, they increased it to twenty-four miles in five hours--almost the length of a marathon, in full Roman military armor and pack, no less.

Then came the long jump and the high jump, running, swimming, and vaulting onto a horse--doing everything, even swimming, in full armor.

Then came field service training, helping to familiarize the soldier with battlefield conditions.  

First, they marched with seventeen days worth of food in their backpacks, with each pack weighing sixty-six pounds, performed in full armor and in perfect military formation.  At the end of the march, they set up camp.  Then each soldier was required to dig a ditch of a specified width and depth, then build a small stone wall around it.

Vegetius wrote, “No man is to be employed in the field who is not trained and tested in discipline.”  And he wrote, “Let him who desires peace prepare for war.”

Now let me ask, what would have happened to the Roman army, or any other army for that matter, if it let its soldiers, after they signed up, to just sit around and do nothing.  Imagine a Roman citizen signing up for the army, getting the letters “SPQR” branded onto his shoulder, and then being told, “Go take some time off!  We’ll let you know when the battle starts.”

Just as a Roman soldier became better and stronger in direct proportion to the time and effort he invested in his training, discipline, and exercise, so it is with Christian soldiers.  The only way you’ll ever become better and stronger is if you give it time and effort.

But as much as we might hate to say it, it’s often harder to pray than it is to perspire.  It’s harder to lift your Bible and turn its pages than it is to bench press your own weight.  And it’s harder to attend worship faithfully than it is to attend the YMCA.

But while spiritual discipline may be one of the hardest things you could ever do, you’ll never survive without it.

That’s why Paul wrote to the Ephesians in verse 14:  “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”

Notice the belt comes first, because it covers the most vulnerable organs, and holds all the other pieces of armor in place.  The breastplate covers the chest and upper abdomen.  The shoes, sandals with spikes driven through the soles, give the soldier a firm foundation.  The shield protects the soldier’s body.  The helmet protects his head and face.

And as Christian soldiers, think of God has given us--truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation.  And along with all those tools of defense comes one more, a weapon of offense--the sword of the Spirit, sharper than any double-edged sword, cutting deep between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, the very Word of God.

The year was 1845, and Captain John Franklin set sail from England to discover the Northwest passage--a seaway for ships through the Canadian Arctic, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.  And along with him came 133 specially chosen men of the Royal Navy.

No one knew for sure just what lay ahead.  Still, off they sailed in two state-of-the-art ships, one called, the Erebus, the other called, the Terror, each one equipped with an auxiliary steam engine, and a huge storeroom that could hold a twelve-day supply of coal, should steam power ever be needed during their voyage.  And the men were confident as they sailed off in imperial pomp and glory.

But they soon found out that they were completely unprepared for the ice-filled waters of north Alaska.

Two months after their departure, a British whaler made contact just off the coast of Canada.  He was the last European to see them alive.  Search parties would spend the next twelve years retracing their steps.  Eventually, some of the puzzle was pieced together.

Apparently, their expedition was stalled by icy water.  Eskimos reported seeing men pushing a small wooden boat across the ice.

Finally, a search party discovered a haunting sight--three wooden masts of one of the ships sticking up through the ice.

So what went wrong?  For one thing, the only clothing they took were their uniforms and thin overcoats provided by Her Majesty’s Navy.  For another, they found that neither ship had stocked their coal supply.  Instead, they turned the huge storeroom into a lounge filled with a 1,200 volume library, an organ, and even cupboard space for elegant place settings of china and silver for all the officers.  

And while the Franklin expedition was well-prepared for weather conditions inside the Royal Navy officer’s club, they weren’t prepared for the Arctic Ocean.

When they found their frozen bodies, thirty of them were huddled in a tent near the water’s edge, with the officers dressed in overcoats, and their silk scarves still in place.

But our God hasn’t left us on our own.  Instead, He’s given us all we need to fight the battle that rages all around us--the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

And all this He’s given to us by grace, for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son.

 

In spite of our weakness, dear Father, You are our strength.  In spite of our shame, You are our glory.  In spite of our sin, You are our righteousness.  Help us to fight the good fight of faith, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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