Ephesians 6: Arming the Army of Light

Ephesians – God’s mystery plan

the last six weeks, we’ve marched through the book of the Ephesians in the Bible.
the apostle Paul was chained in prison when he wrote it, but his mind sweeps through all time and space.
It’s a big picture book, yet it comes down to the nitty-gritty of everyday life.
It’s all about how much Christ is worth, the gospel is worth, the church is worth,
-why John called the series: you’re worth it!
 
Paul is so excited about it all, that the first chapter is grammatical chaos. 
But it highlights three big things about God:
1 God’s lavish grace – the rich blessings he’s freely given us in Christ
2 God’s incomparable power.
3 God’s mystery plan.
A plan born in God’s eternity before the creation of the world,
hidden for generations, long ages.
Now revealed in Jesus Christ,
but tantalisingly, not to be complete until “the fullness of time”, the age to come.
A plan reaching from planet earth to the spiritual cosmos, what Paul calls “the heavenlies”, or heavenly places
It’s God’s secret purpose, his divine conspiracy
so what is this mystery plan? 
 
It’s the main point of the book of the Ephesians.
It’s this: to unite all things in Christ.
 
One day, everything and everyone will be united or reunited, reconciled, brought & held together, gathered & summed up, headed & ruled, brought to their conclusion, completed, crowned, recapitulated and renewed by and in Christ.[1]
 
We don’t see it yet down here, but Paul knows that
Christ is already seated in the heavenlies, with all things under his feet,
 
in chapter 2, as part of this, we are reconciled
first to God, then to each other
Christ demolished all the Berlin Walls that divide people:
guys and girls, MPs and street sweepers, Maori and pakeha are all one in Christ
specifically for Paul here, Jew and Gentile.
Now everyone can inherit God’s blessings and promises
United in a new community, the church.
 
This unity’s not a boring uniform monotone grey, but rainbow harmony. 
Paul calls us
the people of God- adopted together into God’s family.
The body of Christ-knitted together under one head.
Many gifts working together -as we saw two weeks ago with the body painted on the ground.
The temple of the spirit-built up together, to be God’s dwelling place on earth
 
 
So the first half of the letter outlined all we’ve been given, without doing anything ourselves.
It’s all God’s lavish grace and rich mercy
 
But it impacts our lives.
Paul found preaching Jew-Gentile unity was like eating pork on the sabbath.
It got him into big trouble, beaten up, and thrown into prison
And so, chapter 4, Paul writes: hey, I’m a prisoner for the sake of unity-so don’t break it up.
You gotta live this oneness in Christ I’m suffering for, live worthy of God’s great call.
 
So what does this mean?
We’re worth investing in -we need to build each other up,
pray for each other’s relationships with God as Marjory said.
The church is worth keeping together, and keeping pure:
We have to get rid of everything producing division and disharmony,
like impurity, anger, deceit, as Peter covered two weeks ago.
we should treat each other like Christ:
sacrificial submission, loving forgiveness, as John said last week-it’s worth compromising for.
 
The church should be the prototype, the pilot project, the vanguard of God’s mystery plan.
To show to the world, and the heavenlies, this future uniting of all things in Christ.
All to the praise of God’s glorious, boundless, lavish grace
 
It’s a beautiful picture, but chapter 6 adds a darker dimension
Yes, God rescued us from darkness to light
but the powers of evil fight back.
 
CS Lewis
There is no neutral ground in the universe:
every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.
 
there are forces that try to disrupt and destroy God’s plan
that hate God and his people
We have to stand firm, and resist
 
 
Ephesians has been summarised with three words:[2]
sit, walk, stand
what we’ve been given -we just receive it, or sit at peace with God in Christ-that’s how the Christian life begins
in light of this, how we should live, or walk
how to defend ourselves under attack, to stand
sit, walk, stand
 
chapter 6 is the stand.
It sums up the whole letter, draws its themes together in a vivid combat image.
This chart shows key words from throughout Ephesians that recur in today’s passage,
 
it’s like a general’s speech just before battle, that
1 details the enemy,
2 surveys our own status,
3 focuses on our cause and commander.
 
“The enemy is camped on the hill over there.  more troops in the forest at its foot, sooner or later they will attack.
We have fewer men, but good supplies and fortifications, we can hold them off.
And remember men, all we see is one skirmish,
but the decisive battle is already won, on countless fronts the foe retreats, our King has landed,
we just need to stand firm, hold his territory fast,
soon, the hills will echo with his trumpet blasts, the ground will shake with his cavalry, and the King will come”
 

Our enemy – the forces of evil

first, the enemy: So who or what is our foe?
we love to play goodies and baddies, cowboys and Indians.
of course We are always the goodies,
the baddies are out there, in prison, wherever, whoever, whatever, we ourselves are not
 
like Paul, novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn was in prison, and as he lay on the rotting straw, he realised:
 
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.[3]
 
Scary, but true- The first opponent I face, is myself.
My own insecurity and envy, irritability and pride, selfishness or lust or greed,
This stuff in me endangers our unity.
In fact, playing goodies and baddies, rebuilds the very walls between people, that Christ died to break down.
 
 
Muslim mystics speak of 2 Jihads:
the “lesser Jihad” is attacking the evil infidel out there.  The “greater Jihad”, the one that counts, is the battle with myself.[4]  Paul talks a lot about this internal wrestling between good and evil, God’s spirit and the human “flesh”.
 
 
That’s our first enemy, but here in Chapter 6,
Our struggle is “against the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness
against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6: 12)[5]
 
 
In the New Testament, evil spiritual forces are very real.
In Ephesus itself, Christians faced demons, a pagan goddess, and sorcery.[6]
 
Those in non-western cultures often still do, but it’s mostly a bit foreign for us.[7]
Our focus should be Jesus, not evil, but it’s good to be aware
 
I suspect evil has 3 key goals:
firstly, it deceives.
Jesus called the devil  “The father of lies”.
Scott Peck titled his book.  “People of the Lie”[8]
-Christian psychiatrist, didn’t believe in evil, but had patients who changed his mind
 
So Paul says Christians must put away falsehood, and be “girdled with truth”
the evil powers make secret crafty schemes, and deceitful, wily machinations. 
The diabolical perversion of God’s good purposes in his mystery plan.
With exactly the opposite goal: not to reconcile and unite,
but divide and conquer.
-C. S. Lewis book, Screwtape Letters (1942) is a great depiction of this
 
Peck also says the best definition of evil comes from his eight-year-old son: evil is live spelt backwards.
Evil seeks not to build up, to give life, but to “steal, kill, and destroy”
Jesus called the devil “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44)
it is an anti-life lie
evil deceives, divides and destroys
 
 
I recently saw a documentary on the Spanish Armada.
As long as the Spanish ships sailed together in tight formation, they were unstoppable.
But the English sent flaming fire ships, carried by the current towards them. 
No Spanish ships were burnt, but the formation was broken up,
some ships were isolated, attacked and sunk by the English.
 
I suspect the flaming arrows of the evil one (16) are just like this.
divide and conquer
deceive, divide and destroy
 

Our armaments – God’s lavish grace

but for protection, God supplies some armour.
 
I’m not gonna work through every item.
If you’re interested, Google armour of God in Ephesians 6 and you’ll find plenty
I find surfing the net when writing a sermon gives a sense of the global body of Christ, in all its quirky variety
you can even buy these armour of God pyjamas if your kids are scared of the dark at night![9]
 
 
So what exactly are these pieces of armour we have to put on?
                – probably not pyjamas
the scholars argue
Are they God’s gifts to be received, or human virtues, godly character, to develop?
A good question
 
Paul uses this putting on metaphor in different places:
 
…the night is far gone, the day is near. 
Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light….
put on the Lord Jesus Christ,…”
(Romans 13:12-14) [10]
put on Jesus Christ – the armour is ultimately Christ himself.[11]
 
So my security is not in myself: my impure self righteousness, my own feeble faith, my dubious truthfulness.
My armour is the truth, the righteousness, the faithfulness, the salvation of Christ.
Undeserved free gifts from the God of lavish grace.[12] 
 
But as we sit in Christ, live in Christ, we grow to walk like Christ.
So these virtues become our own second nature
 
Another question: who is the armour for?
I used to think: each Christian as an individual soldier. 
But the whole letter is about unity –
the armour protects the body of Christ, it equips a whole army
 
Take the shield of faith.
This is the big rectangular shield, key to the Roman tortoise formation:
approach city walls under siege, stones and arrows would be shot down.
As long as they held together, facing the enemy, all soldiers were covered. 
But again, if they split up, like the Armada, individuals could be picked off
That’s why church unity is so important.[13]
 
 
One commentator worried the military metaphor was too manly and masculine for women,
or your sensitive new age guy.
Another noted the Greek word “full armour”, panoply, was also used for a woman fully made up, dressed to kill.
And John chose a cosmetic image for this whole Ephesians series – L’Oreal – is it a divine coincidence?
Should we rewrite Paul:
stand, your eyes lined with truth,
Put on the mascara of righteousness,
sisters, let your nails be polished with peace,
Brothers, draw the mighty lipstick of the spirit
Pastor John will now demonstrate the use of this vital equipment… J
No, doesn’t quite do it for me…
 
But, remember from last week,
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her -why?
to make her holy and blameless, washed and clean, a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish.
(Ephesians 5:25-27)
indeed, a sort of beauty treatment- we are worth it-beats anti-wrinkle cream, or botox injection
Christ’s radiant holy beauty is indeed our armour against the ugly darkness
 
 
But if you want a non-military metaphor, how about mountaineering?
I did a snow-skills course at Mount Ruapehu some years ago.
Before we left the hut, the leader would say “get your gears on” – put on your full armour, to face the weather
The harness belt of truthfulness-to rope you to other believers, who save you from falling when you slip – strength in unity!
The parka of righteousness, and faithful head to toe thermals, to warm up the freezing arrows of the winter chill,
Strap crampons on your boots, so you can stand firm on slippery ice
the helmet- so falling rock won’t rock you.
And wield with skill your ice axe, God’s word, as you scale life’s mountain.
 

Our commander’s victory – God’s incomparable power

Paul didn’t just get this image from the Roman soldier guarding him in prison.
It came from the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament.
God looks down at Israel, and is appalled at their wickedness
 
“So his own arm brought victory,
he put on righteousness like a breastplate
and a helmet of salvation on his head
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing
and wrapped himself in fury as a mantle”
(Isaiah 59:14-17)
 
God himself is the mighty warrior, dressed in fearsome armour of light.[14]
 
Here in Ephesians, we are God’s Army of light, armed with God’s weaponry.
so “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”  (1:19 and 6:10)
 
Where for Paul, was this power most seen?
It exploded into our world, when God raised Christ from the dead
now, Christ is in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion…
all those enemies are already under Christ’s feet
(Ephesians 1:20-23)
 
the resurrection was Christ’s supreme triumph,
he defeated evil, he destroyed the powers of darkness, he shattered the gates of hell, he swallowed up death in victory.
(1 Corinthians 15:54)
when the battle seems hard, take heart – this is our commander!
 
So that’s the general’s speech: our enemy, the forces of evil; our powerful armour in Christ; and our triumphant commander
 

Arming & Disarming – 2 sorts of power

When I reread Ephesians 6 this year, I thought
the Christian as a soldier – what a dangerous metaphor:
for Paul, Roman soldiers were his prison guards, and would be his executioners
but a few centuries later, the church sent Roman armies to enforce unity
A few more centuries, and Knights of Christ were blessed by the church
they put on literal armour, painted a cross on their shields, and rode into Jerusalem through enemy blood.
 
Ephesians 6:12, could be the most tragically neglected verse in scripture
“our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood”.
 
We have lists of Roman soldiers’ equipment – Paul left out most of the weapons
 
Paul even wrote to the Corinthians,
“we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human “
(2 Corinthians 10:3-4)
 
What part of “not” have christians not understood?
what’s gone wrong?
 
I think we’ve sometimes glorified this sort of [15]power – Hollywood heroes.
we remember the triumphant power of the resurrection.
But we forget, God’s power is also the suffering love of the cross.
 
On the cross Christ was stripped naked, helpless, disarmed
but by this Christ stripped off, disarmed the rulers, authorities, the hostile powers,               (Colossians 2:15).
 
a defeat of evil totally unlike the warrior gods of many religions, mediaeval crusades, or triumphalist Western Christianity
Christ didn’t conquer by big numbers, big armies, big money, big success
but by his own death.
“Christ impotently nailed upon the cross is God’s ultimate weapon.” Scott Peck
 
“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,”                                                          
yes, but “with the cross of Jesus going on before”.[16]
 
In the spirit of that cross, Paul, the ambassador of Christ, wore no rich golden chains, but rough iron fetters
 
an early Christian wrote, “The Church is an army which sheds no blood.”             Clement of Alexandria
 
True soldiers of God won’t fight with cold hard breastplate, steel capped boots, and mail clad fist of hostility
but with the warm soft vulnerable heart of Christ,
the disarming innocence of barefoot children,
and open hands of hospitality, yes, that may be pierced by those they serve.
God’s armour is very different from ours
 
 
One of my favourite Indian stories is this:
two huge armies, good versus evil, are about to engage.
At the time, the god Krishna is on earth.
Leaders of both sides ask him to help.
He can’t fight for both, so he says.
One of you can command my army, one million men, highly trained, heavily armed, fully obedient.
And one of you can have me-but I will not fight.
 
This story moves me, cos I think that’s often the choice we face.
We can rely on natural weapons and power, that we control.
Or we can trust the sort of God, who will not fight our battles, or take our orders
 
I think it’s the choice the devil gave Jesus:
have all the riches, glory, power of the nations.
Or have your God, who will leave you to hang on a cross, alone.
God’s power is very different from ours. [17]
 
Of course, the baddie leader said, woohoo, I want the army.
Like David fighting Goliath, the goodie said the Indian equivalent of
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)
 
The big question for us: What sort of armour do we trust in?
 
Goliath boasted in his 10-foot height, his 15 pound spear and 126 pounds of armour,[18]
David could have fought on Goliath’s terms – sword and spear and battle axe.
he could have put his trust in Saul’s armour
But he couldn’t move: it just weighed him down
 
David had the faith and courage to take it off.
And stand apparently defenceless against Goliath
but really, he’d put on God’s invisible armour,
 
2 sorts of armor – we can only wear one
to put on the armor of God, we have to take off our own armor.
As Ephesians said,
first take off, put away your former way of life, your old self…
Then clothe yourselves with the new (Ephesians 4: 22-24)
 
 
It’s hard to do, because Evil deceives – it says we’re worthless.
So we often feel empty, fearful, insecure, unloved, ashamed.
We put on human armour to defend ourselves, mask our weakness.
A tough shell of confidence and independence-.  We’ve ok, we don’t need no-one
like evil, human armour divides.
Try hugging someone in plate armour.
 
Of course, we’re no crusaders, but
evil can destroy with more subtle weapons:
For good Christians like us, it’s not open war, just surreptitious cloak and dagger – am I the only one?
little white untruths, ungodly gossip, pious resentments, petty bickering, indirect violence, hidden greed.
 
All this human armour and weapons Paul says we gotta take off.
We don’t need it,
we don’t need to aggressively defend ourselves,[19]
because the truth is, in Christ, we’re worth a mint
 
The forces of darkness, within and without, deceive, divide, and destroy
we’ll only have the strength to stand,
when we know who we are in Christ, when we know where we sit
 
 
so in chapter 1, Paul prayed we’d be enlightened to know three things
– a good prayer to memorise and pray for each other
1 the hope to which God has called us- God’s mystery plan.
2 The riches of his glorious inheritance – God’s lavish grace.
3 the immeasurable greatness of his incomparable power
Ephesians 1:18-19
 
Evil deceives – but these truths about God are our armour.
Evil divides – but God’s mystery plan is reconciling all things in Christ
evil destroys-God’s lavish grace pours out life-giving love
and evil is defeated- by God’s incomparable power
 
So says Paul, open your eyes, and see the big picture.
Grasp the cosmic vision of all things in Christ.
Fall in love with his body, the church
Wake up – we’re at war.
 
Don’t let the devil divide you, but take off your human armour.
 
Be strong in God’s mighty power.
Put on the armour of God, fight for unity, and stand for his church.
Because, in Christ, together we’re worth it!


[1] All are potential translations of the Greek verb anakephalaioo in 1:10.
[2] From Watchman Nee’s 1957 book, Sit, Walk, Stand.
[3] From Gulag Archipelago, his account of the Soviet concentration camps, written in 1958-1968.  He continues:
“During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.”
[4] Or, in the words of the Old Testament, “Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32)
[5] Interpretations of Paul’s “powers” differ widely.  For conservative or “fundamentalist” readers, they are supernatural demonic forces.  Recently, for more “liberal” scholars, probably a majority in the West, they indicate oppressive supra-individual systems, like the Roman Empire, multinational companies or ideologies such as the great “isms”: racism, classism, sexism, nationalism…  Mindsets like a culture of corruption or the caste system can keep people enslaved in poverty, so charity is more than helping the poor, but requires fighting these structures.  The latter interpretation produces valuable insights, but in my opinion, needn’t exclude the first. 
[6] Acts 19:1-41. The temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
[7] Last year I went to some classes on anthropology of religion. The lecturer told us about a couple of rational, secular, scientific anthropologists, who studied witchcraft, living in their study communities for years.  They started meeting things their rational secular scientific mind couldn’t explain, got very scared, and got out.
[8] M. Scott Peck, 1983, People of the Lie: the hope for healing human evil.
[9] http://www.armorofgodpjs.com
[10] Furthermore, those baptised into Christ “have clothed yourselves with Christ, so there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female – you are all one in Christ Jesus”. (Galatians 3:27-28) – Paul’s unity theme again.
[11] First suggested to me in a commentary on Ephesians written by the early church father Origen (round about 185-285 AD). Less helpfully, he was convinced the belt was a chastity belt – you shouldn’t even touch your wife!
[12] A contrast to philosophers in Paul’s day, who also used this armour language.  Especially for Stoics, the wise man knows life is a warfare, so he is self-sufficient. His courage is his fortress, defended by his weapons of reason, virtue and wise words.
[13] Long ago, in Indian mythology, an evil demon was wreaking havoc on the earth.  But he was too strong for any of the good gods to take on alone.  So they pooled their resources to make a sort of composite incarnation, a supreme Warrior Goddess, to take him out.  If you thought Xena Warrior Princess was pretty hot, think again. This was a goddess who is heavily armed – Durga.  She’s the patroness of soldiers, she blesses their weapons.  The demon was history.
Durga fights, to slightly misquote Paul, “with weapons of righteousness in the right hands and the left” (2 Corinthians 6:7).  She has 10 arms, because each of the gods gave her his weapon.  A dramatic, if slightly macabre, echo of Paul’s body image! Only welded together into a single body, can good defeat evil.
[14] In Isaiah 11, the Messiah is the warrior: protecting the poor and meek, he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, with the breath of his lips – that is the sword of his word.  Then “Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.”  (Isaiah 11:4-5)
[15] I showed an advertisement for the R15 movie “Armour of God”, with Jackie Chan brandishing a serious looking firearm.
[16] A powerful scene near the end of the 1986 film The Mission shows a crowd of unarmed villagers walking into cannon fire, led by a Catholic priest holding a crucifix.
[17] Henri Nouwen’s 1989 book, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, explores Christ’s temptations in this light.
[18] 1 Samuel 17.  A selection was read from The Message version of the Bible before the sermon.
[19] It’s been said, there are fundamentally two different ways to approach life: as a fortress or a feast, with hostility or hospitality, grabbing or giving. Sadly, I’m often the former, but try to remember, “God is my fortress; I am safe.”

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