I preached the following sermon last week at two of my churches. At another church I was treated to listening to our Reader preach on this passage. She had preached the first of the sermon series and sparked the idea of each week having a different statement about ourselves based on the section we had that week. It formed the basis of the prayer I used at the end of my sermon to summarise the letter.
Ephesians 6 vs 10 to 20
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been called the Queen of the Epistles – or even Paul’s gospel. It is for everyone, all Christians and sets out the new life, new society, new standards and new relationships that Jesus came to inaugurate.
Last but not least, here’s the final session looking at the letter to the church in Ephesus. It’s a bit like the news…. And finally…. And then they have the funny story. Only this is not a funny story.
It is familiar. You will have all heard of the armour of God before. Is it a summary of the whole letter? Or perhaps the practical application? It is certainly a good visual aid and the subject of many a Sunday school colouring sheet. It serves as a reminder of the themes that Paul has addressed in his letter, but does it add anything new?
I believe it does add something new. It’s the climax of the letter and contains the key to how we can live the life that Paul paints. He sets high standards, which if we try to reach by our own efforts we will fail. Day by day it is a battle to be loving, forgiving, kind etc…. that wonderful list read at weddings in 1 Corinthians 13. The power to live the Chrisitan life isn’t given to us automatically. It needs daily application and putting on. We are in an ongoing battle, keeping instep with the Holy Spirit, being filled afresh each day for whatever lies ahead.
Colossians 3 has a very similar imagery of getting dressed in the Christian virtues. We all put on clothing every day. I bet you could get dressed in the dark. You might end up with something inside out, but you could do it because it is familiar. As children we need to learn how to put our clothes on, but as adults we can do it without even thinking.
Habits are formed by repetition, until it becomes who we are, not just what we do. There are habits that we need to develop as Christians that likewise become part of who we are. Putting on the armour of God is such a habit.
It isn’t easy being a Christian. As soon as you make that commitment, you’re a target for the enemy. As soon as you step out in faith and endeavour to do evangelism or mission, you’re likely to come across problems. The enemy doesn’t like it when a church is actively trying to grow.
The enemy, aka the devil, Satan, the accuser, is real. Paul doesn’t need to convince the Ephesians. If we read Acts chapter 19, we can see that when Paul was there, he came across people who were into all sorts of spiritual stuff that wasn’t good. In a similar way, in our society, lots of people are into things that are occult. Some may seem harmless, like reading your horoscope in the paper. We all know that is a load of tosh, but some people take it further and rely on them before making any decisions. Spiritualists and mediums are seen by some as OK, but any attempt to contact the dead is forbidden by the bible. The use of tarot cards has also gained ground. I don’t want to go into any more details, but many who do dabble in these activities would probably say that didn’t believe in the devil and that it is all harmless fun, or helpful, but not of the devil.
The devil’s best trick is to persuade people he doesn’t exist and that evil is simply good people turned bad.
C. S. Lewis said: There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
Do you want to see Jesus lifted high in this area? The church to grow? The gospel to spread in this village? I’m sure the answer to that is YES. You have worked hard all these years to keep this church open and running. God’s reaction is, I am sure, well done, good and faithful servants.
Some of you may not have the physical energy of yesteryear. You may be feeling that you’ve done your bit. You may look around and the few that are here and feel weak – what can we do? Societal forces are so strong. People don’t want to come to church – they don’t see the need. Or if they do, they are too busy with work and family commitments. It is such hard work, isn’t it? It feels as though we are fighting a losing battle against the powers that are beyond our control.
But let’s not forget what God says through the prophet Isaiah:
29 ….. gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
How do we renew our strength? Putting on the armour of God will renew us and revitalise us for the battle and enable us to stand firm.
Various pieces of armour relate to truth, righteousness, faith and salvation
Daily remind yourself of the truth of who you are – chosen by God and adopted as his son or daughter. You are forgiven ALL sins of your past – don’t let the devil – that little voice – whisper in your ear anything to the contrary. Salvation is the word used to describe being forgiven and healed of sin. You are enough – you don’t have to be good enough to have God’s love. Jesus died and rose again so that you can be forgiven and can be reconciled with God – through pure Grace, not merit. Your righteousness comes from Jesus, not your own efforts. And it is freely poured out for you. Know the truth and be truthful in all that you do.
Faith is described as a shield, and it is used with other people. The Roman soldiers’ large rectangular wooden shield was about 4ft high, covered with leather on the outside. Before a battle in which flaming arrows might be shot at them, the soldiers wet the leather covering with water to extinguish the arrows. The soldiers would close ranks with these shields, the first row holding theirs edge to edge in front, and the rows behind holding the shields above their heads. In this formation they were practically invulnerable to arrows, rocks and even spears.
We need each other. We are not alone. This is why worshipping together plus fellowship and bible study groups are so important. We build each other up.
Our faith is our trust in Jesus. Faith isn’t just the agreeing with the words of the creed. It is putting our hands in Jesus’ hands and asking him to walk with us day by day, trusting that he will guide us and lead us. And we do this together.
The only weapon in our armoury is a sword. The sword is God’s word, ie the bible. We need to know it, we need to understand it and we need to use it. The sword of the spirit is linked to praying in the spirit. The bible contains many prayers and can aid us in our prayers.
And prayer is the way that we put this armour on. I don’t mean that in some sort of ritualistic, say this and say that way. I mean that our prayers will grow our faith, they will help us draw close to God to know his love, the assurance of sins forgiven and help us to take on board his words “you are my beloved daughter or son”
To pray in the spirit can be interpreted in various ways, but the bottom line is that it means having your prayers enabled by the holy spirit.
When you pray, and especially if you are not sure how or what to pray, ask the Holy Spirit to show you and to prompt you. When you go for a walk and pray for the people in the street where you live, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to pray. Keep your eyes open and as you notice things, pray about them.
In Romans 8 Paul says: 26 the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Pray for each other – if you know the needs, then ask God to fulfil them. If you don’t, then ask God to bless each other, and to show you how to pray for each other.
Now, what about those shoes putting on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace – we need to pray for each other that we will have the words of peace for those we meet. That the Holy Spirit will pop into our heads just the right words for a situation. That may happen more often than you think.
Proclaiming the gospel of peace may sound a bit over the top – placards in the market place and all that. As a church we need to discern HOW we will share the gospel with those in this community. What are the avenues to explore? How will we invite people to discover the joys of knowing Jesus? How do we make ourselves ready to share the gospel? I think the answer to that is – prayer! As we pray, as we put on our armour day by day, God will be preparing us to share the gospel with others.
Finally, please pray for me. As Paul says, pray that I will make known the mystery of the gospel to those I meet, at baptisms, weddings and funerals. That I will make wise decisions, along with the PCCs of the churches, that I will be able to do what God has called me to do here in this benefice.
And so here ends the final episode of this sermon series based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
I have made a summary of the main points on the back of the image taken from the video we watched. There is also a prayer, which I will use now, slightly adapted.
Thank you for adopting each one of us as you beloved daughter/son. Help us to remember that we are loved, forgiven and have peace with you through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Help us to live each day strengthened by the Holy Spirit to be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we grow in maturity. Give us wisdom to know what your will is for each of us every day.
Help us to worship and love you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Show us how we can share this wonderful, good news with others.
In Jesus’ name,